Breaking Down the Washington Wizards' Season-Long Collapse
Eight-year NBA veteran Spencer Dinwiddie is a respected locker room presence. Or so we thought.
Following a loss to the Grizzlies on Sunday, Dinwiddie discussed his attempt to establish himself as a leader in the Wizards locker room, which “wasn’t necessarily welcomed.”
“It’s an interesting situation,” Dinwiddie told reporters. “I spoke up a little bit early on [this season]... I try to do whatever’s asked of me. At the end of the day, everyone has a role to play.”
Dinwiddie’s comments are just a glimpse into the dynamic of the disjointed Wizards, who are just one year removed from a postseason appearance. What happened, and what’s next?
Believe it or not, Washington opened the 2021-22 season with a bang. At 13-7 through their first 20 games, it looked like their busy offseason was paying dividends. Last August, they dealt Russell Westbrook to the Lakers in a massive five-team trade, acquiring Dinwiddie, Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell, and Aaron Holiday. Throw in two promising rookies in the sweet-shooting Corey Kispert and high-upside Isaiah Todd, and things looked surprisingly sweet for the Wizards.
Their honeymoon didn’t last for long.
By December 26, the Wizards had dropped 10 out of 14 games and sunk to a 17-17 record. That night, in the fourth quarter of a 117-96 loss against the Sixers, veteran shooter Davis Bertans attempted and missed a 3-pointer from the top of the arc. A timeout was called, and Bertans suddenly began to shout and point his finger at 21-year-old teammate Deni Avdija.
It was unclear what Bertans was upset about; nonetheless, first-year head coach Wes Unseld Jr. was forced to address the conflict.
“I don’t think it’s an underlying problem or it’s going to be a recurring issue,” Unseld said. “Just put it on notice and these are what the expectations are and this is how we handle it.”
Unfortunately, the Wizards’ internal turmoil would become a recurring issue. Just over two weeks after Bertans’s outburst, Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that Caldwell-Pope and Harrell were involved in a halftime altercation in a win against the Thunder. Harrell was upset with Caldwell-Pope for not passing him the ball before the end of the first half, and their verbal exchange turned into a tussle that had to be separated by teammates.
But nothing has summed up Washington’s disappointing season better than their 35-point collapse against the Clippers on January 25. Up 66-36 at halftime, the Wizards looked well on their way to snapping a three-game losing streak. But next thing you know, Clippers guard Luke Kennard scored seven points in nine seconds to steal the win for Los Angeles in the fourth quarter.
It was an embarrassing display for a team that has had their fair share of unsightly moments this season.
“Something’s got to change, I don’t know,” Kuzma shrugged after the game. “It’s pretty comical at this point.”
Unseld Jr. echoed the same sentiment, expressing his frustration with his team’s lack of effort in the second half.
“We stopped playing,” Unseld said. “We had a good rhythm, we were playing well, and I think we thought we had the win in the bag. We just stopped playing how we played to get to that point.”
Even Bradley Beal—Washington’s leading scorer for five consecutive seasons—has experienced uncharacteristic troubles in 2022. His averages of 23.2 points per game on 45.1 percent shooting overall and 30.0 percent shooting from deep are way down from his previous two seasons, in which he scored a blistering 30.9 points per game.
There’s no denying that it’s been a messy, tense letdown of a season for Washington. And with the NBA trade deadline exactly a week away, it might be time for the Wizards to blow it up. They would be best served fielding offers for everyone on the roster, including Beal. It's a difficult situation, as Beal desires to stay with the team that drafted him in 2012. But for the first time in a while, "sources close to Beal indicate that he's not rejecting out of hand the notion of trade elsewhere," according to David Aldridge and Josh Robbins of The Athletic.
Washington has to make a decision this year. The front office can either try to swing some deals to keep the roster afloat as the playoffs approach, or tear it all down and start from scratch with their young core. The Wizards are approaching a crossroads, and the trade deadline will give fans an idea into the direction in which they will head.