Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard has learned in his time as an NBA executive that patience is very important, to the degree he wears bracelets every day with the word 'patience' on them. Last year, that virtue meshed well with the team's plan of reworking the roster with young players. But this offseason, patience will have to be weighed against what are certain to be higher expectations once John Wall and Bradley Beal return.
The Wizards will hope to make the playoffs next season, but they also can't mortgage the future to an extreme degree, knowing the newest Wall-Beal iteration carries with it some uncertainty due to Wall's age and injury history.
Sheppard summed up that give-and-take well last week when addressing the media.
"We’re not that far off, but we do have a long way to go," he said.
Another way of looking at it, as Sheppard explained, is maintaining a methodical approach to building the roster and resisting the urge for a quick fix. That doesn't necessarily rule out a major trade, but he has to be careful in favoring proven (and expensive) veterans over young players on rookie contracts. Young guys can be hard to win with, but they also keep a team's options open.
"There's no shortcuts to anywhere we’re going to," Sheppard said. "That’s the hardest thing is to step back and look at a team and say ‘hey, there’s ways we can probably artificially inflate this team up’ and grab a couple players and get a couple more wins and feel a little bit better at the end of the year. But is that really about winning at a really large scale, and where we want this to be? So, you’ve gotta lay a foundation that is really for the future. I take that very seriously."
The question there becomes how much can the Wizards actually improve their roster in the short-term while also staying patient. It would probably have to involve some collection of their young players turning into real difference makers.
That could be players already on their roster like recent first round picks Rui Hachimura and Troy Brown Jr., emerging big man Thomas Bryant or maybe even Isaac Bonga, Moe Wagner or Jerome Robinson. They will also have the ninth and 37th picks in the 2020 draft.
If they could somehow find an All-Star caliber player out of that group, the Wizards would be in really good shape. In the meantime, the safe and repeatable plan may be just to bolster depth with as many solid rotation players as possible.
Sheppard said one of his main takeaways from the Wizards' experience in Orlando is how deep the playoff teams are. The Wizards were missing their three top players - Wall, Beal and Davis Bertans - but other teams were also without key guys and still won games.
"I salute [the Nets] and I salute a lot of these teams watching them," Sheppard said.
Patience and depth are great and important, but there is an argument that risk-taking pays off in the NBA. Just about every team contending for a title this year pulled off a big trade to get there; the Lakers, Clippers and Rockets being the most recent and extreme examples. But big trades were made in the construction of the Mavs, Celtics, Thunder and others as well.
It isn't easy building a true NBA contender and Sheppard has no simple answers. All we know for sure is that next year will be judged much differently than this past one.
"As I told everyone in our exit interviews, you’re in the business of winning games," Sheppard said. "It’s a results-driven business."