A recent tweet by our @NBCSWizards account was met with outrage and ratioed into the oblivion, and here is all that it said: "Wizards hope to compete for playoffs without Bradley Beal."
It seemed fairly innocuous and also sort of expected that the players left on the roster would feel that way. But many Wizards fans on Twitter made themselves clear that at least a vocal faction of them would prefer the team to bottom out and tank for a better draft pick.
Whether that is truly possible may be a separate debate. There is only one-third of the season left and the Wizards have the easiest remaining schedule. They play the NBA-worst Detroit Pistons three times. Washington currently has the 11th-best lottery odds and is seven games clear of being in the top-five. Conversely, they are only one game back from the final spot in the play-in tournament.
But when it comes to that simple choice, whether it would be better if the Wizards made the postseason or instead gained more ping-pong balls on lottery night, you could argue the most important result for the organization doesn't directly involve either. They have already made a series of first round picks in recent years and already have a group of young players developing in their system. And noticeable progress from those players down the stretch of this season could have tremendous benefits for the team's roster-building outlook.
Those players would be Rui Hachimura, Deni Avdija, Corey Kispert, Daniel Gafford and Thomas Bryant. The first three were selected in the first round of the draft from 2019 to 2021. The other two were acquired from other teams. Hachimura, Avdija, Kispert and Gafford are all under contract past this season.
If some collection of those players can emerge, the Wizards will have more options to either build around or trade for more established players. Maybe that can be done while losing enough to increase their odds. Making the postseason would probably require those guys playing well. But the worst-case scenario would arguably be both losing and seeing those same players plateau or regress.
Player development is pivotal for any team and especially one like the Wizards. While they hope to have more success in free agency someday and have utilized the trade market to make upgrades, drafting can be the foundation for everything.
Ascending young players help build a winning culture free agents may want to join. If they perform well on rookie contracts, they also help create financial flexibility by offsetting larger salaries. Financial flexibility, of course, is crucial for signing free agents.
When young players show potential, other teams looking to rebuild will take chances on them in trades. If the Wizards want to acquire another star player to pair with Bradley Beal, that may involve trading young players. The only way for that to work is if they have trade value.
The Wizards are now in Year 3 with Tommy Sheppard atop their front office and their trajectory so far has been a reminder of just how important drafting well is. They have traded and signed many veterans over the past two-plus years, yet still their upside seems largely contingent on how their recent draft picks turn out.
Part of the equation is time. For example, Avdija continues to show promise but he's only 21 years old. He may be five years away from reaching his peak.
Perhaps with more minutes and larger roles, Advija and the other young players on the Wizards can take advantage. There are two months left in the season and how they perform during this stretch will help determine what the front office can accomplish in what should be a pivotal offseason for the organization.