The Washington Wizards just enjoyed their most successful season in nearly a decade, winning a playoff series for the first time since 2005. However, that doesn’t mean John Wall is satisfied with his team’s standing in the Eastern Conference. Discussing his goals for the upcoming season after practicing with Team USA, Washington’s All-Star point guard said, “All you can ask for now is the finals.”
And after earning his first career all-star appearance and playoff berth last season, Wall aspires for much more as an encore.
“The Finals. All you can ask for now is the Finals,” Wall said from Team USA training camp in Las Vegas when asked for his goals for the upcoming season. “We’ve been to the second round. We know what it takes to win. We know what we need to do. We know everybody needs to get better individually…”
Despite the loss of prized wing Trevor Ariza in free agency, Wall is clearly pleased with his team’s offseason makeover. He’s especially encouraged by the addition of battle-tested veteran Paul Pierce.
“…I think [the front office] just did a great job of adding pieces, great veteran guys that know what it takes to win.
“…We got great veteran guys that’s going to come in and push all of us…
“Yeah. I knew he was thinking about going to the Clippers and things like that, to be with Doc” Rivers, Wall said of Pierce. “He’s coming to us to see how the organization has changed, saying he wants to play with me and Brad. We feel like we’re a young team that’s developing and people are taking us more serious than the Wizards in the past. It’s a big honor to me.”
Wall is right that Washington GM Ernie Grunfeld did well to replace Ariza with Pierce. The future Hall-of-Famer offers the Wizards shot-creation, big-game experience, and lineup flexibility that few players on the open market could have. Ariza, though, will still be sorely missed.
Though Ariza is hardly a legitimate stopper, his length and anticipation were great importance to Washington last season. Pierce is smart, seasoned, and can capably defend elite wings for small stretches, but he’ll be worn thin on the other end if asked to make a full-blown commitment defensively. And though he’s a better pure scorer than Ariza, it will take time for Pierce to develop the synergy with Wall that allowed Ariza to become one of basketball’s premiere marksmen from the corner. It’s not like the Wizards need another ball-dominant player, either – Wall, Bradley Beal, Nene, and the re-signed Marcin Gortat each offers varied means of isolation scoring.
Coach Randy Wittman and company are surely counting on internal improvement from Summer League standouts Otto Porter and Glen Rice, Jr. to help make up for Ariza’s absence and ease the burden on Pierce, too. Both youngsters showed immense promise in Las Vegas earlier this month – Rice even won Summer League MVP – but face a steep trek to NBA legitimacy after mostly invisible rookie seasons.
The Eastern Conference is wide open, and there’s an argument to be made that the Wizards got better this summer. Pierce, Kris Humphries, and DeJuan Blair is indeed a quality offseason haul, and Wall and Beal will continue making strides, too.
But Ariza’s departure still looms large in Washington, and how the Wizards react to it will help decide whether or not Wall’s “Finals or bust” boasts prove prophetic or foolhardy.
Where will Washington rank in the East this season?
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