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In recent seasons, the Washington Wizards have been known for a few things, none of which included an excellent regular season or playoff success.
Wizards owner Ted Leonsis says the time for that to change has arrived .
“We need to raise the expectations. We have to make the playoffs,” Leonsis said in the interview with NBC Sports Washington. “I’d like us to win 50 games. I’d like us to go to the Eastern Conference Finals.”
Leonsis added the Wizards have run out of excuses for perennially underachieving.
“We have one of the highest payrolls in the league with the Wizards. They have a beautiful, world-class practice facility. They’re healthy entering the year,” he said. “Alright Wizards. If you have this practice facility and one of the highest payrolls in the league and you’re getting well-tended for your health, nutrition and the like… no excuses. Let’s play ball.”
Washington’s payroll this season is $134.9 million, the fourth-highest figure in the NBA.
With so-so regular-season performances and playoff flameouts, for what have the Wizards become known?
* High-caliber backcourt play from John Wall and Bradley Beal, the emergence of Otto Porter as a solid three and Kelly Oubre as an up-and-coming wing.
* Big-time talk — remember Beal saying the Cleveland Cavaliers were “afraid” to play them in the postseason in May 2017, so they lost their final four regular-season games so they wouldn’t have to play the Wizards in the second round? — and small-time results — Washington has not been past the second round of the playoffs since the 1978-79 season.
“Cleveland didn’t want to see us. I always said that. I felt like that’s the reason they didn’t play us in the second round. They didn’t want to see us in the second round,” Beal said in an interview with CSN Mid-Atlantic. “If they were going to go down, they were going to go down in the conference finals. They didn’t want to go down in the second round.”
As proof the Wizards lead with their mouths as opposed to their play, while Cleveland rolled through the East to the Finals again in 2017, Beal & Co., presented with an opportunity to meet LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, lost a Game 7 to Boston.
* Internal strife. Last season, for example, a few of Wall’s teammates were critical of Wall, some going as far as to imply the team was better off without him in the lineup. Center Marcin Gortat, who feuded with Wall last February, was shipped to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for combo guard Austin Rivers.
Now, the Wizards have added Dwight Howard. The 32-year-old, eight-time All-Star will be playing for his sixth team this season, his fifth in the last eight seasons.
The Charlotte Hornets traded him to Brooklyn, which quickly bought him out, allowing Washington to sign him.
Former NBA big man Brendan Haywood said Howard had more than worn out his welcome in his one season in Charlotte.
— SiriusXM NBA Radio (@SiriusXMNBA) June 20, 2018
“The locker room hated Dwight Howard,” Haywood said. “I’m not sure if Charlotte is rebuilding or if they’re just trying to get Dwight Howard out of there, but it was clear the locker room did not like Dwight Howard.”
“It’s simply because of how he goes about his business day-to-day in that locker room,” Haywood continued. “Now he’s not the guy going around slapping people in the face. But [he’s] hard to deal with, doesn’t accept responsibility, cries a lot, has bad tendencies, awful body language. So all these things contributed to why he was shipped out of Charlotte … People I talked to behind the scenes, guys were just sick and tired of his act.”
For his part, Leonsis believes the Wizards can follow the lead of the Washington Capitals, winners of the NHL’s Stanley Cup for the first time last season. Leonsis also owns the Capitals, by the way.
“We’ve proven that there is no [D.C. sports] curse,” Leonsis said. “If you are patient and work hard and are committed to continuous improvement than you can win a championship.”