Thanks to their excellent play over the last three months, the Washington Wizards have put themselves in a position that most pundits couldn’t imagine in November—the possibility of a high seed for the NBA playoffs and, miraculously, a Southeast Division title.
Entering a March 5 matchup against the Orlando Magic, the Wizards held a two-and-a-half game lead over the second-place Atlanta Hawks in the division. If Washington continues to hold on and captures the division, it would be the first title of any kind for the franchise since 1979.
For many top-tier franchises, such as the Lakers, Spurs or Celtics, divisional titles aren’t that big of a deal—those teams have decades of success behind them, and for them, NBA championships are the only meaningful measures of success. But for lifelong Bullets/Wizards fans, the opportunity to claim a division title actually matters.
When fans attend a Wizards game at the Verizon Center, they see no banners of success. The only banners associated with the franchise date back to the “Golden Era” Bullets of the late 1970’s…and that’s it. No players have had their jerseys retired—although John Wall will eventually have his jersey lifted to the rafters if he keeps up his current pace—and there are zero titles of any significance.
It would be nice to be able to look up in the rafters next season and have a banner to recognize what this team is currently accomplishing: the franchise’s best regular season in 37 years.
Going into last week’s trade deadline, the team needed to shore up its second unit. General Manager Ernie Grunfeld was able to do just that by trading for Brooklyn Nets swingman Bojan Bogdanovich. Washington parted with its first-round selection in the upcoming NBA Draft, along with the massive contract of Andrew Nicholson, to get their man. Since joining his new team Bogdanovich has been outstanding so far as a Wizard, averaging 18 points a game and 65 percent shooting from three-point range in the last five games including a 27-point/eight 3-pointer explosion vs Orlando on Sunday.
The second unit also needed a point guard that could run the offense at a reasonably competent level—something they were not getting from backup guard Trey Burke. Amazingly, they were able to pick up veteran Brandon Jennings, who was cut by the New York Knicks. Jennings has only been with the team for less than a week, but this pickup could pay huge dividends if he can contribute and, most importantly, play well enough to afford Wall and Bradley Beal some meaningful rest during their upcoming games.
Only 22 games remain on the schedule, including two West Coast trips, so having more depth on the roster was paramount. The new guys must get acclimated to the Wizards’ winning formula quickly if they want to help the fan base feel a sense of euphoria and accomplishment that the last few generations of fans have never felt: the feeling of being a champion.