#9 The Washington Wizards

When the Knicks failed to make the postseason last year I figured, fiiiine its basketball, I’ll watch the Eastern Conference Playoffs. But maybe not the anti-climactic Heat Sweeps. And definitely not the Pacers-Hawks who-gives-a-shit contests. And, I don’t really care much for the Nets either….

Hmmm, WAIT THE WIZARDS! A young, fun team. None of whose young stars had glimpsed the postseason before. A no-risk, high-reward situation where any success would be huge for one of the league’s sorrier franchises. And the Wizards did very well for themselves, upsetting the Chicago Bulls in the first round before dropping a close one to a Pacers team that was finally able to kick itself in the ass enough to wake up and play basketball. A great start for a team that looks to improve this season and possibly reach the Eastern Conference Finals.

Who will be joining them this year? Why our old friend Paul Pierce who decided to leave the geriatric group falling apart in Brooklyn and move to the nation’s capital to play a similar wise-vet, crunch-time scorer, general asshole role in mentoring the Wizards and their young backcourt. There’s a lot of evidence pointing to Pierce still being a significant contributor. He never quite looked as old as KG in Brooklyn and has enough competitive instinct to stay in front of the ball while playing defense, in addition to a litany of old-man moves that allow him to still score whenever he wants. Pierce literally carried Brooklyn during the Toronto playoff series and must be looking forward to a basketball situation where he can play fewer minutes and receive more credit for the team’s success.

But that backcourt though!! John Wall made the All-Star team last year, slammed home the Dunk Competition, led the league in generating juicy, juicy corner 3 opportunities, and is looking like one of the few PGs capable of averaging a 20-10 over the course of a season. Bradley Beal is coming into his 3rd NBA season as a top-3 lottery choice and CAUGHT FIRE during the Wizard-Bulls series. In a series where some of the games failed to reach even 80 points, Beal looked like a man among boys when it came down to scoring and converting tough shots. There is a cliche that the third season is most frequently the breakout one for talented players, and Wizard fans must be hoping this is true.

There has been a lot written about the Wizards’ contract extension for Marcin Gortat and how the team may be mortgaging their future for a team whose ceiling may not be much higher than a 2nd round playoff exit. The Wiz also have to deal with the oft-injured Nene, though they took moves to retain a backup in grabbing Kris Humphries from the Celtics and Drew Gooden filled in for him quite capably last year. Still, this is a team that is more remembered for Gilbert Arenas’s locker-room gunshow and Javale McGee’s Shaqtin’ a Fool highlight reel than any actual real basketball success, so it may be worth retaining last year’s crew for another shot at the postseason. In an Eastern Conference that now looks to be won by the Cavaliers or Bulls, but is still without an established superpower, the Wizards could go further than people expect.

X-Factor= Otto Porter

Another top-3 selection, this one from the 2012 lottery season, Otto Porter rarely saw the court last year. Once again, he will be a substitute, backing up Pierce instead of Trevor Ariza. However, a strong summer league showing and a commitment from the organization will give him more playing time. If he can absorb some teaching from Pierce and display improvement, the Wizards have a very powerful young core going forward.

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