The NBA season is right around the corner as teams across the country took part in their own media days and opened training camps. In Washington, it was what one would expect in the unofficial start to the season with press conferences and photo shoots. Players were optimistic and confident the team will see improvement following an early exit the season before. The difference was there was not any boasting, for the most part, despite the Eastern Conference no longer being ruled by LeBron James.
“The thing that I’m going to make sure that we focus on is just focus on us and playing, stop talking,” said head coach Scott Brooks. “Enough talk. The players, the team that talk are the ones that don’t usually have success.”
Go back in time one year ago. The Wizards were coming off one of their most successful seasons since 1979. They won 49 games and were just one win away, a few plays away from the Eastern Conference Finals, close to two of the biggest goals they set before the season and the goals that team owner Ted Leonsis set fourth this season: 50 wins and getting past the second round. Unfortunately, the team realized how tough of an act it is to follow.
Bradley Beal toyed with the idea that James and the Cavs “didn’t want to see” the Wizards in the playoffs. It was just one of a few signs of talking the talk instead of walking the walk. What happened was a disappointing 43 wins and a first round exit, the earliest playoff exit in the House of Guards era.
In one sense, it was a step back after a giant step forward which was similar to the 2015-16 season. Fresh after Paul Pierce’s locker room leadership and “I Called Game” legend, the Wizards were expected to go further but missed the playoffs all together leading to Randy Wittman’s firing. It put them under the radar the following season and as they got hot after a 2-8 start, they began to reap the benefits of walking the walk.
This upcoming season, the Wizards will again be under the radar. The Celtics, Sixers, and Raptors are early favorites. The Bucks and Pacers are also teams that cannot be overlooked.
There was one player who was vocal. Not particularly surprising, Markieff Morris believes the Wizards are a better team than the Celtics and Raptors when asked point-blank about the LeBron-less Eastern Conference. Internally, Washington is a confident bunch and no one would expect them to say Boston or Toronto is clearly a step above them even though that may be a general fan’s opinion.
“I think we the number one team,” Morris said. “Raptors going through a little bit, they changed DeMar DeRozan, so other than that, Boston has never been better than us. Record shows it. But, internally, we don’t think they were better than us last year. We’ve just got to play up to our ability and we’re better than anybody in the [Eastern Conference].”
The vibe I get here is not a sign of overconfidence. It looked to me that Morris is just expressing confidence in his team. D.C. fans may also have a sense of confidence this upcoming season. After all, many are still on Cloud 9 after the Capitals won the Stanley Cup.
“They opened the door for us and then look at the Mystics, they’re going to the Finals. I think they opened the door for the whole city. You’ve got to look at that as motivation,” said Wall.
Continuity will also be on their side in a league full of roster turnover.
“We still managed to keep us together. I love that Ted [Leonsis] didn’t give up on us. We continue to come in every year and we continue to talk and dig ourselves holes night in and night out,” said Beal.
How do you avoid talking and digging yourself into holes? By playing basketball.
“If you look at us on paper, we look absolutely amazing,” Beal added. “But you have to put it together.”
The core is back together. The bench is in place. The Wizards are hard at work with the first preseason game taking place Monday night.
“We just got to go out there and play. On paper, we look great, but that doesn’t mean anything until you go out there and prove it on the court,” said Wall.
If history repeats itself, Washington may find themselves with a successful season, but we will have to see exactly how successful it can be.