Welcome to Hoop Dreams, a season preview unlike any other you’ll read before the 2016-17 season tips off. The premise is simple. We’ll be providing 30 of these fictional forays because it simply stinks that only one team can win the title each year. The list of contending teams seems to shrink with each campaign, and we wanted to provide something to those fans who only get to dream of Larry O’Brien during the offseason. Before October, every team can win the NBA title. Don’t believe us? Then keep reading. – Ed
The Washington Wizards spent an entire year planning their future around the acquisition of Kevin Durant and, frankly, it is hard to blame them. Ted Leonsis, Ernie Grunfeld, and Co. had the natural draw of Durant growing up in the area and the “coming home” narrative was in vogue after the high-profile return of LeBron James to the Cleveland Cavaliers. In an instant, though, Durant broke the hearts of the DMV with a letter and a pledge to join the Golden State Warriors, leaving Washington in a lurch.
So we thought.
Before the calendar flipped to 2017, the Wizards were generally overlooked. Impact acquisition Ian Mahinmi missed the start of the season following knee surgery and the other new pieces, highlighted by Trey Burke, Tomas Satoransky, and Andrew Nicholson, were slow to acclimate under new head coach Scott Brooks. Washington stayed afloat, though, on the strength of John Wall, who looked to be every bit of the player he was prior to an injury-plagued 2015-2016 season.
Wall’s elite-level defense combined with a breakout start to the season for Bradley Beal (who was unnervingly healthy) and the Wizards were able to hold a modest lead in the underwhelming Southeast Division as the All-Star break neared. From there, Wall suffered an unfortunate (freak) injury to his jaw, sidelining him for a handful of weeks, but in his absence, Brooks captained the team to a new and wildly entertaining identity.
Former NCAA Player of the Year Trey Burke took the reins from Wall, and while he wasn’t quite as good, the former Michigan Man (and Utah Jazz guard) played lights-out basketball, averaging 16 points and seven assists per game in Wall’s absence. Perhaps more importantly, Beal took yet another leap forward, staying on the court to fully realize his NBA potential for the first time, filling it up from deep to the tune of 24 points per game and leading the way offensively for Washington.