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When the Wizards pulled off a surprise trade for Kristaps Porziņģis just before the Feb. 10 NBA trade deadline, the consensus around the league was that, at the very least, Washington would be receiving the best player in that deal. Porziņģis had been out for an extended period of time with a knee bruise, but when he was on the court, he still showed flashes of the player who was a 2018 NBA All-Star for the New York Knicks.
The acquisition of Porziņģis was supposed help the Wizards get over the hump and give them a bonafide offensive threat that would allow the team to stay afloat without Bradley Beal, who is out for the rest of the season due to a fractured wrist.
Porziņģis made his debut March 6 against the Indiana Pacers and is averaging 19.8 points and 7.0 rebounds per game for the Wizards, but he has only played in five games. When Porziņģis is on the floor, opposing teams have no choice but to pay attention to him with defensive help and that leaves other Wizards players with open shots.
But so far wins have been elusive and the trade deadline deals have not worked as planned for a team still struggling to find its identity. Since the deadline, the Wizards are 5-10 and have lost five straight games as their dreams of making the playoffs dwindle. The Wizards still have one of the worst defensive ratings in the league and that showed in the team’s 127-109 loss to the Denver Nuggets earlier this week.
“We really struggled on that end,” Wizards head coach Wes Unseld Jr. said. “I think it’s one thing to say [Nikola] Jokić and a guy of his caliber beats you, he has an impact for sure. But we can’t let their bench guys get loose like they did. Fifty-plus points off their bench, now everybody’s part of it.”
Unseld himself has been a reason for the Wizards’ recent struggles. His inflexibility when it comes to pre-set rotations is hurting the team, and while every coaching staff goes into a matchup with a game script and ideas of how they want to rotate players against their opposition, the mark of an intuitive head coach is being able to make adjustments on the fly. Unseld has not shown the ability to make timely changes in games. The honeymoon period for the first-year head coach is coming to a close, and the Wizards need to assess how they can better support Unseld. Washington has one of the most inexperienced coaching staffs in the entire NBA.
The Wizards have also struggled to develop new players on the team. Dāvis Bertāns and Spencer Dinwiddie, the two players sent to the Dallas Mavericks in the deal that brought in Porziņģis, were supposed to be key pieces but never panned out. The Wizards signed Bertāns in free agency before the 2020-21 season to a five-year, $80 million contract. Dinwiddie, who came to the Wizards via sign and trade in free agency before this season, signed a three-year, $54 million contract that was supposed to make him the team’s answer to the point guard position for the next three seasons.
It’s too early to tell if that transaction can be classified as a win or loss, but there is enough evidence to pose questions to Wizards leadership about why the Dinwiddie situation did not work out like it seems to be in Dallas. In 12 games with the Mavericks, Dinwiddie is averaging 17.9 points on 50 percent shooting from the field and 43 percent shooting from the three-point range. More importantly, the Mavericks are 10-2 with Dinwiddie in the lineup and that includes two victories in which he has hit game-winning shots.
Before he was traded, Dinwiddie was vocal about his frustrations with his time in D.C. On March 5, Dinwiddie told reporters that his role with the Wizards changed abruptly during the course of the season. “When the role changed and they wanted me to pass more, they felt like I was scoring a lot, I did that. I took my foot off the gas scoring-wise because that’s what they felt like the team needed,” Dinwiddie said.
So much of the NBA is about fit and Dinwiddie clearly fits in much better with the Mavericks than he did with the Wizards this season. But it is clear that a scoring threat like Dinwiddie was not allowed to flourish in Washington. Unseld was diplomatic when asked about Dinwddie’s frustrations about his role change with the Wizards.
“I’m not going to get into the accuracy of that statement,” Unseld said. “It’s one of those things where, organizationally, it worked and he was aggressive early. We won a lot of games … Bottom line, we had to make a change [at the trade deadline] and to get something we had to give up something. He’s a really talented guy, he’s playing well and he’s healthy. We look forward to seeing the benefit of that trade. It is what it is. I think it’s one of those things where we just have to move on and get past it.”
The Wizards are moving on, but victories still haven’t arrived. Only 14 games remain for the team to chase its playoff dreams. The Wizards will need to show far more progress during that time for the trade deadline deal to be considered a success.
Photo by All-Pro Reels, used under the Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 license.