How will team chemistry affect Wizards' offseason plans?

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How will team chemistry affect Wizards' plans? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

WASHINGTON -- Team chemistry may be the ultimate intangible when it comes to constructing an NBA roster. Front office executives have ways to evaluate the character, personalities and backgrounds of individuals, but predicting how a group of people will coexist is very difficult to do.

The Wizards found that out the hard way this past season, as after starting out 10-3 they finished the season 12 games under .500 with well-documented issues among players in the locker room. The players openly complained about it, even after some of the players involved in those disagreements were traded away.

Team chemistry, or lack thereof, was a defining trait of the Wizards' 2021-22 season, but team president Tommy Sheppard feels that from his perspective, with decades of NBA front office experience, some of it was overblown. Sheppard commented on the matter several times, including after they made a series of trade deadline moves and then again in the offseason.

"I think certainly [chemistry is] an element you consider every single day, that you monitor… [but] it’s the same team that started out 10-3 and all we heard was how great the chemistry was," he said in February.

"You’re tied to your record, certainly. I think people deal with success a certain way and sometimes success can have success strain. Maybe we didn’t do as great of a job managing success early."

After the season, Sheppard seemed pleased with how the team came together after the trades he made which notably shipped out Spencer Dinwiddie, Davis Bertans and Montrezl Harrell. Over the final two months of the regular season, Sheppard thought some of the locker room problems had been solved.

"I think at the end of the season we saw, okay, this is going to be our team. Bradley [Beal], even when he was injured was with us on several trips and was at all our home games. I think those guys genuinely pull for each other. I think when you do go through adversity and you come out on the other side, you have a chance to get even tighter. That can only help us in the future," Sheppard said.

There were some momentary signs of progress for the Wizards after the trade deadline. Although they went 11-18 during that stretch, key deadline acquisition Kristaps Porzingis was only available for 17 of those games. While he was in the lineup, they peaked by winning five of seven games from March 25 to April 5. It was their best run since the 10-3 start.

Rui Hachimura thought the Wizards were developing some cohesiveness in addition to the winning, adding some support to Sheppard's claim.

"I feel like [those] two weeks we got together and we had a better chemistry. We started winning," Hachimura said. "So, I think for us we just need to, this offseason we need a little more time together and we'll have a good chemistry so we can come back stronger next season."

Part of developing chemistry is continuity and the Wizards didn't enjoy much of that this season. They suited up a franchise-record 29 different players and underwent two major roster overhauls in a span of about six months -- one in the offseason and then again at the trade deadline. Along the way, Beal was lost for the season due to injury and a collection of players passed through as hardship exemptions due to COVID-19.

But there were also some issues voiced by the players the Wizards may need to pay attention to in order to prevent similar problems in the future. Take for instance Kentavious Caldwell-Pope describing what happened after the team got off to a hot start.

"I thought when we started 10-3 we were going to keep it rolling," Caldwell-Pope said. "Everybody was on the same page, everybody had their role which they wanted to play. I felt like it was going to be great. Our mindset was playoffs from the start."

"When all that transpired, a lot of things - egos and a lot of things - took over, so that changed the dynamic of the locker room and stuff like that. That was shocking."

Sheppard himself lent credence to that notion by saying the team "didn’t do as great of a job managing success early."

What they can do to avoid a repeat of that in the future is unclear. Perhaps Wes Unseld Jr. simply not being a rookie head coach anymore will help, as he will have gone through the experience already.

There is also what Kyle Kuzma said in January when the Wizards were at perhaps their lowest point, following a 35-point collapse against the L.A. Clippers.

"We're still trying to fit multiple guys into the rotation. We're still trying to figure out roles after 40, 50 games... You would think that as a collective group we would have our roles figured out, but we don't," Kuzma said.

That might suggest the need to define roles earlier in the season than the Wizards did. Though complicating matters in that regard were the delayed debuts of Hachimura, who missed the first half due to personal reasons, and also Thomas Bryant, who was out for months due to ACL surgery.

Again, team chemistry is undefined and abstract. But the Wizards can probably take something from the experience that was the 2021-22 season and, they can hope, prevent it from happening again.