Bradley Beal buried his head into Drew Gooden‘s shoulder as the Washington Wizards season came to an end in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. The feeling that carried over the Verizon Center and the NBA was a new contender was born in the Wizards.
While the Indiana Pacers were moving on to the Eastern Conference Finals to face the Miami Heat, the Wizards had arrived fittingly on the shoulders of Beal and John Wall.
Not only had the Wizards accomplished their goal of making the playoffs for the first time in six seasons, they had established a new set of goals for next season — win the Eastern Conference.
All general manager Ernie Grunfeld had to do was not fumble their chances away in the offseason with veterans Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza being free agents. The Wizards immediately set out to re-sign the two, making them reportedly both “Plan 1A”.
The team’s contingent flew out to Poland and Los Angeles to convince Gortat and Ariza on staying with the franchise. From there everything else would fall in place, like re-signing Drew Gooden and picking up the option on Andre Miller.
Instead one week officially into NBA free agency, the Wizards team will look totally different from last year’s group that took the NBA by storm. And for what?
Grunfeld has put his chips “All in for KD.”
That’s Kevin Durant. Grunfeld has scrapped the idea of competing for a spot in the NBA Finals next season for a chance to convince the league’s MVP to play for his hometown Wizards two years from now in the summer of 2016 when he possibly could become a free agent.
As a consequence Ariza walked out the door to a four-year deal with the Houston Rockets. Grunfeld was unwilling to commit big dollars on Ariza beyond the 2015-16 season, as it may have constricted with his plan to land Durant.
Certainly that’s not a bad idea, but could Grunfeld’s plan be fool’s gold’?
“All In For KD” is based on the fact that Durant becomes unhappy with his current situation in Oklahoma City. It’s based on Durant’s willingness to leave a boatload of extra money on the table with the Thunder for a chance to play in D.C. with Wall and Beal.
It’s based on the fact the Thunder, who played in the Western Conference Finals last season, will not win an NBA title in the next two years. All of which presumably would have to happen before Durant even considers leaving the franchise that drafted him in 2008.
It appears Grunfeld is willing to take that risk. Meanwhile, he has re-constructed the Wizards’ roster. Gone are Ariza, Trevor Booker, and possibly Kevin Seraphin, welcoming Paul Pierce, Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair in addition to re-signing Miler and Gooden.
Carefully putting together team-friendly contracts that leave the Wizards with flexibility in 2016.
On paper the names coming in trump the names going out. But in reality, the Wizards are losing one of the best wing defenders in the NBA in Ariza. He is someone who can hang with the best swingmen in the game today. Something that at the age of 36 will be difficult for Pierce to do.
In an era where arguably four of the top 10 players in the NBA play small forward, losing Ariza could be the biggest sting of Grunfeld’s project. Throw in the long-term health concerns of Blair, who playing without an ACL in either knee, on top of concerns that already exist with Nene, and Pierce’s declining play and it could be a long two years.
Rejecting a long-term commitment to Ariza, Grunfeld is basically trading the Wizards’ short-team aspirations for a bigger long-term goal. A goal that could never come to fruition.
Instead of being one of the East’s top three teams with the death of the Big Three era in Miami, the Wizards fall back into the middle of the pack with the rest of the developing playoff teams in the conference. Again, it’s all for KD.
Grunfeld has bought himself extra time, hinging everything on a possibility. The Wizards will take a more experienced but slower and riskier roster into the next two seasons. Protecting themselves from any backlash with the hopes of Durant wearing the red, white, and blue in 2016.
Hopes of winning the Eastern Conference have been put on hold for the big catch.
Meanwhile, the hysteria of KD to DC in 2016 has begun. From ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith to NBA expert Chris Sheridan, the reports of insiders are starting to surface about the chance of Durant considering Washington in two years. Even Twitter has joined in with the #KDinDC2016, thus starting the countdown to July 1, 2016.