Amico: Michael Winger Must Save Wizards From Basketball Muck

New head of basketball operations Michael Winger comes to a Wizards franchise that is stuck in NBA Antarctica.Wizards logo center court

It’s not a terrible place to visit, but you probably don’t want to stay.

In the NBA these days, there are few things less exciting than the Wizards. They certainly have their diehard followers and the roster undoubtedly has some upside. But for the past decade, Washington has been spinning its wheels. John Wall got injured. Russell Westbrook didn’t work out. Bradley Beal looks more like a No. 2 option on a winning team.

That’s not intended to be a shot at Beal, either. He’s great. But he’s probably not the man who’s leading you to a title. Or anymore, even the playoffs.

Previous GM Tommy Sheppard at least deserves some credit for trying. The Wizards landed Kyle Kuzma from the Lakers in the Westbrook trade. They got Kristaps Porzingis from the Mavericks. But Sheppard also sent Rai Hachimura to the Lakers and no one is really sure why, beyond the Lakers just telling him to.

Winger’s first order of business will be to hire a lead assistant executive. Think of it as the GM to his team president. That individual will be in charge of scouting and player evaluation, per Josh Robbins of The Athletic.

After that, Winger and whoever he hires has to figure out what to do with the roster. Do you continue to try to build around Beal by going out and finding another star? Do you make a run at Grizzlies free agent Dillon Brooks? Do you bring back Kuzma in free agency or do you orchestrate a sign-and-trade?

At least we seem to know the Wizards are keeping coach Wes Unseld Jr., undoubtedly the right move. Unseld should retire with the Wizards, either as a coach or in a front office role.

Anyway, there are thousands of questions regarding the immediate future of this franchise and a lot of work to be done. Winger will have to hit the ground running.

During the Sheppard era and even the era before that, the Wizards seemed to be just winging it. It was almost as if the plan were to make a trade, cross your fingers, and otherwise just accept being average.

Here are the Wizards’ records over the past five seasons:

  • 2022-23: 35-47
  • 2021-22: 35-47
  • 2020-21: 34-38
  • 2019-20: 25-47
  • 2018-19: 32-50

Yuck, yuck, and double yuck. That is what’s known as spending your existence on an NBA treadmill. You’re running, and sometimes fast. But you’ve gone absolutely nowhere.

I’m not about to tell Winger how to do his job. There’s a reason I sit behind a keyboard for a living. But I do have some advice and it is this — come up with a plan. Either go all in, or play the lottery. Like, really play it. Don’t just finish with the eighth-worst record and hope you win. That rarely works.

So yes, one of Winger’s options has to be to gut the team. Can you think of a good reason not to?

OK, there is one. And that would be to pull off a deal, using Kuzma, Porzingis, Beal … whoever, and start over while trying to make a run at something.

Either plan would be acceptable. There just has to be a plan, which again, would be a major development for this franchise.

Basically, despite the new team president’s name, there can be no more winging it. For the Wizards, that’s just resulted in more of the same — and that same old stuff has been nothing worth noting.

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