Wizards see long-term benefits to not tanking

Rui Hachimura, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma

The Washington Wizards hope they see a lot more of what transpired on Thursday night over the next two months. Not only did they secure a win over the Brooklyn Nets, they did so while being led by their young players. Rui Hachimura, Deni Avdija and Corey Kispert, their three most recent first-round picks, all played well.

When it comes to the debate over whether it would be better for the Wizards to strive for the lottery or the playoffs, those in the locker room are making it clear where they stand.

"Honestly, that's not how we're wired," head coach Wes Unseld Jr. "I can't coach that way and, obviously we're going to coach the group that we have, but we're trying to win. They are a byproduct of that and they're part of it. That's our approach. We're trying to win as many games as we can."

Unseld Jr. isn't the only member of the Wizards to comment recently on the subject of tanking. Now that Bradley Beal is done for the season, many fans have argued they would be better served by bottoming out and getting a better draft pick.

Kyle Kuzma seems to have heard that sentiment and pushed back on it after their loss to the Pacers on Wednesday.

"We're not going to give in. We're not just here. We know we're without Brad, we don't really know the status of [Kristaps Porzingis]. But individually and collectively as a team, we're not just out there trying to tank away games and give in how we used to do prior, a couple weeks ago in the season. We want to fight to the end," Kuzma said.


After beating the Nets on Thursday, the Wizards go into the All-Star break at 27-31. They are just a half-game out of the play-in tournament behind the Atlanta Hawks, who hold the 10th spot in the East. If the Wizards made the play-in tournament, they would have a chance to qualify for the playoffs. If they lost in the play-in tournament, they would be back in the lottery, albeit with long odds at securing a high draft pick.

One factor in all of this is the team's remaining schedule. According to Tankathon, they have the fourth-easiest schedule the rest of the way. Just a few days ago, it was the easiest schedule in the league.

Thursday's win over the Nets may have been an indication of how more of their games could go. They played a close one against an injury-depleted team and then got separation in the fourth quarter. Because they were playing a downtrodden opponent, there was a significant margin for error.

However it happens, the Wizards continue to state that the postseason is their overarching goal, in addition to developing their young players.

"As we constantly grow and develop, get some wins and see what happens. The goal is the playoffs. That goal is in mind," Ish Smith said.

Unseld Jr. hopes to have the best of both worlds. He believes they can push for the postseason while seeing players like Hachimura, Avdija and Kispert emerge. 

"I think that's also a cultural piece. Get these guys accustomed to playing the right way, winning and competing at a high level," he said.

That, of course, may sound familiar to Wizards fans. They had a similar approach to the end of the 2019-20 season when they went to the bubble in Orlando. This time, however, you could argue they have a much better youth movement on their roster. Avdija and Kispert had yet to be drafted and that was before they traded for Daniel Gafford.

Certainly, it always helps for teams to get high draft picks. But it's worth noting if the Wizards do see notable progress from their young players, it could also help their cause in trades this offseason.

What is best for the team's future is always going to be up for debate, but what isn't in question is how Unseld Jr. and the players feel about it. They want to win and plan to do whatever they can to make the playoffs.