51Q: Are the Wizards doing anything more than treading water?

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We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For the past few weeks, and through the start of the NBA season, we tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season.

The Wizards and Clippers were the only teams to win playoff series in 2014 and 2015, but neither advanced past the second round. With both teams trying to break through, Paul Pierce exemplifies the difference in strategy.

The Clippers identified Pierce as someone who could help and offered whatever they could to get him (a three-year contract). That fit a plan of throwing small forwards against the wall to hope one sticks. They also traded for Lance Stephenson and Jeff Green.

The Wizards, on the other hand, were much more prudent. They signed Pierce to just a two-year deal to preserve 2016 cap space, and Pierce opted out after only one season. In fact, they got Pierce only after refusing to give Trevor Ariza a long-term contract.

Why was Washington so intent on keeping its book clean? Kevin Durant.

Durant would’ve lifted the Wizards into the NBA’s upper echelon and made them a true threat to LeBron James‘ Cavaliers in the East. Even if the odds were against Washington landing the superstar, the upside justified the pursuit.

Unfortunately for the Wizards, their hometown savior opted for the Warriors. All that careful planning went to waste.

What now?

Washington spent the bulk of its cap space on former Pacers center Ian Mahinmi. Mahinmi is a standout defender, and his offense has developed nicely. But how much value does he add on a team that already has Marcin Gortat? At 29, Mahinmi probably won’t provide more than he has already shown.

Beyond that, the Wizards signed Andrew Nicholson, Jason Smith and Tomas Satoransky and traded for Trey Burke. All are fine. None move the needle. It mostly appears Washington just rearranged, if not downgraded, reserves with Jared Dudley, Nene, Garrett Temple and Ramon Sessions departing.

There are reasons for optimism. The Wizards’ core – John Wall (26), Bradley Beal (23) and Otto Porter (23) – is young enough to improve naturally. Kelly Oubre (20) has plenty of raw potential. Washington went 18-13 after trading for Markieff Morris last season, and he returns. Scott Brooks should be an upgrade over Randy Wittman.

But this still looks like a team that will top out with a playoff-series win or maaaybe two – which is right where the Wizards were two and three years ago. They accepted a step back last season in hopes of something bigger. It didn’t work.

Back at square one, do they have another plan forward? Or are they content biding their time after shooting for the moon led to a disappointing season outside the playoffs?