Newly hired Washington Wizards head coach Wes Unseld Jr. will look to revive a Wizards franchise that’s been downright putrid for the better part of 40 years since his dad Wes Unseld Sr. — the greatest Bullet/Wizard player in history — led the squad to its only NBA championship in 1978.
Poor Wizards fans haven’t enjoyed playoff basketball since the days of Westley Sissel Unseld. #NBAPlayoffs
— Jerry Tauber (@JerryTauber) July 21, 2021
Unseld Sr., who passed away in 2020, was a game-changing talent. In his first season in Baltimore in 1968-69, Unseld’s arrival translated to 21 more wins for the Bullets and the franchise’s first playoff appearance. Those were the glory years.
The energy Unseld Sr. brought to the franchise on the court decades ago didn’t translate in his stints as head coach and general manager. The Wizards haven’t advanced past the Eastern Conference semis since losing in the NBA Finals in the ’78-’79 season. It’s been a rough road for the franchise since the ’80s.
In 1981, Unseld Sr. was named the Bullets/Wizards vice president and served in that role for six years before being named head coach in 1988. He resigned following the 1994 season with a losing record (202–345). He was named the general manager in 1996 but only made the playoffs once during his seven-year tenure.
The next-generation Unseld is looking to reach into the family magic of the past to set a new course for the Wizards’ future while building upon his dad’s established Washington legacy.
Bradley Beal says the Wizards made the “right decision” in hiring Wes Unseld Jr.
— Chris W. Crouse 🏙 (@NBACrouse) September 28, 2021
2020-21 Season: The Start Of Your Ending
The bad luck Wizards couldn’t shake that tag this past season. Injuries to star players John Wall and Bradley Beal, bad leadership, and signing average free agents to robust contracts plagued the organization.
Who can forget the plethora of bad draft choices this franchise has made in the draft since 2000? Kwame Brown, Andray Blatche, and Jan Vesely are just a few of the top picks that fizzled and flopped for the Wizards.
The John Wall saga is in the rearview mirror (he was traded for Russell Westbrook prior to the start of the 2020-21 season). Wall, who was carrying a huge contract, hadn’t played in nearly two years before being dealt as he recovered from numerous injuries, namely a torn Achilles.
The trade for Westbrook was done to get Wall’s enormous contract off the books. Westbrook struggled at times in D.C. on most nights but still managed to rack up those triple-doubles that had little impact in the win column.
Russell Westbrook tonight:
21 REB (playoff career-high)
He’s the second Wizards player ever with a 20r/10a playoff game, joining Wes Unseld in 1971. pic.twitter.com/xFVJskdYDF
— StatMuse (@statmuse) June 1, 2021
End Of The Road
Westbrook and Beal formed a potentially dynamic duo, but the writing was on the wall. They could go no further than their five-game opening-round loss to the Sixers, who closed them out absent superstar Joel Embiid after he was injured in Game 5.
The subsequent hiring of Unseld Jr., whose offense is based on more ball movement, less hero ball and tough hard-nosed defense really didn’t fit what Russ has been comfortable with his entire career.
Unseld Jr.’s focus on defensive principles really doesn’t mesh with Beal’s style of play either, but the Wizards had to make a choice and decided to keep the younger Beal, who has competed for scoring titles in the past few seasons.
Westbrook Trade Marks New Culture In DC
The Westbrook trade was the beginning of a new culture in Washington. To be able to trade a perennial All-Star like “Russ Brook” and land Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a sound talent grab and gives Unseld Jr. something to work with.
Adding the likes of Spencer Dinwiddie and Aaron Holiday via free agency, and Corey Kispert in the NBA draft has the nation’s capital thinking playoffs.
Unseld Jr. has a much better roster than when he inherited the team back in July. His roster includes some solid veterans with championship experience and a young nucleus that he can mold in his identity. His coaching philosophy is already leaving an impression on his team.
Daniel Gafford spoke very highly of Wizards new head coach Wes Unseld Jr. after practice today.
"I really just can't wait for the season to come around because obviously he really wants to win." pic.twitter.com/iYhACy3XyY
— Becca Winkert (@BeccaMVP) September 28, 2021
Unseld Jr. has a tough task ahead trying to compete in a much-improved Eastern Conference where the super team Brooklyn Nets and the world champion Milwaukee Bucks reside. His advantage lies in the fact that his dad was also head coach and general manager of the Wizards after retirement, so the 45-year-old Junior grew up with the cheat code.
Experiences and observations that he packed away in his memory bank and became the foundation for his rise to one of 30 coaches in the world’s elite basketball league.
This is a fresh, clean slate for him to begin his head coaching journey. Unseld’s got to figure out how to make his system fit the roster he’s been given. If things go as planned and the players buy into what he’s selling, this team could be a playoff team.
Brooklyn, Milwaukee, Philly, Miami, Boston, and Atlanta as the probable locks to be playoff teams in the Eastern Conference. Those last three spots, including the play-in game could easily come down to Washington, Chicago, Charlotte, New York, and Indiana.
Wizards training camp begins this Friday at their training facility in Congress Heights, Washington, D.C.