Wednesday, June 19, 2019


The Washington Wizards have been wrong more often than not in the 40 years since they last won 50 games.

They were wrong in letting Michael Jordan run the operation. They were wrong in replacing Jordan with Ernie Grunfeld. They were wrong in trusting Gilbert Arenas to be a leader. They were wrong in betting on John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter as a Big Three.

The Wizards‘ track record inspires little confidence and less faith. But that’s exactly what owner Ted Leonsis is asking for as Washington enters Thursday’s NBA draft: “Trust me.”

Goodness knows we’d love to.

We want to believe that the same steady hand behind the Washington Capitals can similarly guide the Wizards to being perennial contenders, if not hang a championship banner from the rafters. But at this moment, that vision seems as far-flung as ever under Leonsis’ watch.

There’s no clear path forward and — not to slight interim GM Tommy Sheppard — there’s no one leading the way as Washington faces another crucial decision, another chance to get something right or to fail miserably in trying.

I’m not talking about which player to select at No. 9 in the draft. Making a smart pick at that slot would be awesome, but there are no expectations of landing a transformative talent.

No, the best chance to substantially alter the franchise’s direction rests on one player. And he’s already on the roster.

It appears that every franchise within sniffing distance of the playoffs is interested in acquiring Beal, the Wizards‘ two-time All-Star with two years left on his extremely reasonable contract. He turns 26 next week and could be the missing piece for a half-dozen teams in an NBA turned topsy-turvy with injuries and the anticipated movement of several prominent free agents.

Washington could have its choice among a variety of tempting packages containing young players and future draft picks. Teams are under pressure to make major acquisitions — so much so that many buyers in this market, concerned about striking out completely, may be willing to overpary.

The Wizards will never have more leverage than this summer, when desperate suitors can get two years of Beal’s services instead of a one-year rental.

As much as we like Beal and appreciate everything he has done in D.C., trading him seems to be the prudent course of action, the quickest way to lift Washington from the ranks of middling mediocrity.

The Wizards could begin an earnest rebuild and Beal could get a fresh start with a contending team, a win-win for both parties.

Or, Washington could go in the opposite direction — charting an inexplicable, though Wizards-like, course — by doubling down on the present miasma. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, that’s exactly what the Wizards want to do, keep Beal and sign him to a three-year, $111 million extension that he’s eligible for in July.

Excuse me?

Unless you consider his butts-in-the-seats factor, Beal is worth more to Washington as a trade chip than an All-NBA caliber player.

He can have another stellar season averaging 25 points, five rebounds and five assists while the Wizards miss the playoffs again. Wall, his backcourt mate, will still be a question mark the following season, still recovering from a torn Achilles. Washington won’t suddenly become a chic destination for top free agents.

If there was a certified leader aboard, maybe he’d get the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he could sell us on the notion of Beal and playoff contention existing in the same scenario. But Leonsis said the next head honcho won’t be hired anytime soon, leaving Sheppard in charge at this vitally important juncture.

“I’m confident we’ll execute both the draft and free agency in an expert manner,” Leonsis said Tuesday in a statement to The Washington Post. “Having that confidence has given me the freedom to continue the conversations I’ve been having on how to build a great organization and, as a result, I don’t expect to make any decisions before the start of free agency.”

Actually, refusing to make a selection is a choice unto itself.

And like so many choices in the franchise’s recent history, it has all the earmarks of a bad move.

You can have conversations about being great from here to eternity without ever taking a step toward the goal. It says here that the Wizards‘ first step shouldn’t be offering an extension (risking the shame of Beal politely declining), it should be obtaining the best deal and wishing him Godspeed.

There’s nothing to lose.

If that’s the wrong decision, it’d merely be par for the Wizards‘ course.

⦁ Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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