The Washington Wizards made the 2020-21 NBA playoffs via the league’s play-in tournament only to lose to the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the last season’s playoffs, winning only one game in the best-of-five series.
The knock on this team was that they didn’t play much defense, that then-coach Scott Brooks was thin on x’s and o’s and that the roster with Russell Westbrook as a focal point was a bit flawed and in need of shaking up.
Westbrook was traded in the offseason to the Lakers for Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Montrezl Harrell. Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard decided to move on from Scott Brooks after five seasons, and embarked on a long, thorough coaching search.
That search ended with name familiar name to Wizards fans: the son of Wes Unseld. Big Wes was the heart of the franchise in 1978 for its sole NBA championship over the Seattle SuperSonics.
Unseld served as the team’s coach for several seasons before becoming general manager as the team changed names and moved to what was then MCI Center in downtown D.C.
Wes Unseld Jr. spent his childhood at his dad’s side and went directly from college to being an NBA scout for the Washington Wizards.
Unseld spent 15 year years working as a coaching assistant, a scout and player development expert. After leaving the Washington franchise, he moved to Denver where, as an assistant, he is credited with helping the Denver Nuggets become a top defensive team in the NBA.
Sheppard brought Unseld home at a time when defense and offense scheming — the x’s and o’s — were viewed as part of the reason the Wizards at times struggled and couldn’t achieve, and sustain, a more than .500 record.
The team now has a different looking roster with Westbrook gone and a pre-season camp that includes first-round draft choice Corey Kispert, the three players netted in the Westbrook trade and free-agent acquisition Spencer Dinwiddie coming in to be point guard.
They will try to mesh with star guard Bradley Beal, who revealed during the team’s media day to open the season that he is not vaccinated, Wizards big man Thomas Bryant who has been recovering from injuries and swingman Rui Hachimura, now on an excused personal absence.
This is a big year for the franchise as Beal can opt out next season, so either the team has to sign him to an extension or trade him away for players in return. On the team’s recent media day, Beal said he was impressed with the new coach. Beal, team senior member and a leading scorer in the NBA, also said he voiced excitement about the versatility and athleticism of members of the roster.
The elements of the team will be on display beginning Oct. 20 with the regular-season opener in Ontario, Canada, against the Toronto Raptors.