The 2014 NBA Draft is slated for this Thursday, but the Washington Wizards will have no first round draft picks unless they can conjure up a deal. They spent their last pick on center Marcin Gortat as they scrambled for an Emeka Okafor replacement (herniated neck). The move earned the Wizards their first Playoffs run in six years, but in hindsight, left the franchise with some nagging questions. One of those questions has to do with 2014 NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, and whether Washington will ever draft the talent they need to compete for an NBA Championship.
San Antonio Spurs forward Leonard became the youngest Spurs player to earn Finals MVP honors since teammate forward-center Tim Duncan in 1999. Duncan helped the Spurs--who joined the NBA in 1976--to all five of their NBA titles (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2014). Having Hall of Famer David Robinson helped, too, but no one shaped the Spurs more than Duncan over the last 17 years. Now it's time for Leonard, or so the story goes, a small forward with a 7-3 wingspan who coulda, shoulda, woulda been a Wizard.
In 2011 Leonard went 15th overall to San Antonio, while Washington had the 6th pick and selected one Jan Vesely. That left such names as Kemba Walker, Klay Thompson, and Kenneth Faried on the board, in addition to Leonard. In the case of Faried, who ended up 22nd, the Wizards picked Chris Singleton (18th overall); the 2011 NBA Draft was not Washington's shining moment, and they haven't had one in a long time. Names like Vladimir Veremeenko, God Shammgod--and what will ever happen with Tomas Satoranksy?
Vesely had perhaps the most memorable Draft day kiss in the history of the sport, but his play on the court flirted with disaster. Nothing illustrates that better than his career 40.8% from the free throw line after three seasons; the confident, bold Draft day kiss painted a picture of a European powerhouse that would never surface, at least not in a Wizards uniform. Would he have thrived as a dunk machine in San Antonio? It's hard to say, but what we know is Vesely had no "Plan B" to his game.
The Wizards franchise hasn't had a Spurs-like Draft since 1968, when the Bullets drafted the legendary Wes Unseld. It's been Kwame Brown this, and now Jan Vesely that, for the last decade. Even John Wall was considered a bust by some critics late in 2013, while the young guard struggled to knock down anything other than layups. Now the question is whether Washington can make the right changes--and keep the right pieces, like Gortat--to support Wall's growth.
The Dallas Mavericks have shown interest in both Gortat and Pau Gasol, and if Washington loses Gortat, that'll put the franchise in a bad spot. Most of Washington's key veterans are up as Free Agents this summer, including Trevor Ariza and Trevor Booker. Ideally, the Wizards would need both Ariza and Gortat for a Playoffs return. Kevin Seraphin and Chris Singleton are also on the list, with Drew Gooden, Al Harrington, and Garrett Temple. Washington might not get to draft much help this year, but they are going to have one heck of a busy summer as they figure out who they can keep and who they will need to acquire.
The good news is Washington is sitting on the 46th pick of the 2014 Draft, which--if lucky--could land the Wizards a Danny Green-like gem. Meanwhile, the Spurs have the 30th, 58th, and 60th picks, and they're sitting on an NBA Championship.