Wednesday April 13, 2011 9:52 p.m.
By Frank Hanrahan
"We're going to be in the playoffs," Wizards guard John Wall recently said about next season. "That's for sure."
Wall's statement raised some eyebrows, simply because of the fact that the 'rebuilding' Wizards struggled so mightily this season, finishing with a paltry 23-59 overall record and an even more disappointing 3-38 road record.To get to the post-season for the first time in four years next season, Wall and company have a lot of work to do.
"That's our goal," Wall said. We played against teams that's in the playoffs. We beat some of them, and we lost to some of them. We've had close games against them. But I think we all are going to be mature next year, learn how to close out games learn how to trust each other more, like how we've been doing the last couple of games."
The NBA is a different animal than college basketball. On many occasions, Wall admitted as much -- that he had no idea how tough it is at the NBA level to bring it every single night and to simply win games. Perhaps Wall made that statement about making the playoffs next season, because he is starting to understand and appreciate what it will take to get there.
That's the first step.
In my opinion, if the Wizards want to make the playoffs in 2012, the culture must change across the board immediately.
Too many times this past season, I saw a team that would take losing in stride. Remember when coach Flip Saunders kicked them out of practice for being too lackadaisical? That can't happen ever again. With coach Flip Saunders and Ernie Grunfeld expected back, they must know they have to set a new tone for the team as part of this rebuild.
The Wizards would seem to wait until they really got embarrassed to step up their game and win. Remember how the team started 0-25 on the road and then finally got a victory after they had become the butt of jokes and they felt like enough was enough
I expect a different attitude next year, where the disappointing 2010-11 record should enough to motivate them to do better and maybe just maybe make a push for the playoffs.
The team will have to add more talent through the draft and free agency. The projected starting five for next season is not playoff caliber right now. Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee and Nick Young -- three likely starters if they are kept -- will also have to be much more consistent, as they will now be the veteran leaders of the team.
Wall and the rest of the team must be willing to dedicate and prepare themselves for the long 82 game haul. Weight lifting, proper diet and the attention to details will be key for them going forward. The little things do add up. Andray Blatche and Kevin Seraphin were never in the best shape all season and that simply can't happen at this level, where fitness is critical to success.
It's not crazy to think the Wizards could sneak into the post-season next year. Just look at Indiana, who made the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a 37-45 record while Philadelphia and New York got in hovering around .500.
The focus should not only be in getting into the playoffs, but to establish a winning mentality and culture that will be rewarded with not only the playoffs next season, but for many years to come.