Wes Unseld Jr. told Russell Westbrook he doesn't think Wizards are 'far away'

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Wes Unseld Jr. doesn't think Wizards are 'far away' originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

In his first NBA head coaching opportunity, Wes Unseld Jr. is not coming into a rebuild.

He'll be tasked to win right away, and not just enough to get to the playoffs either. With a team led by Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook, winning in the playoffs will be the goal. 

The good news is Unseld Jr. has a lot of belief in the team he's inheriting next season. 

"It's an extremely talented [group]," Unseld Jr. told NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller. "You know, I said this to Russell, I said 'We're not that far away.' You know, you fell short with the playoffs, you didn't have a winning record. But you look at COVID, the injuries and all the litany of things that some people say are excuses. I look at them as more reasons."

The Wizards struggled to field a full roster for most of the 2020-21 season. A COVID-19 outbreak forced them to miss seven consecutive games that had to be made up later in the year, and several injuries to key players turned into a 17-34 start to the season. 

But once everyone got healthy and the Wizards traded for Daniel Gafford at the trade deadline, they made a 17-6 push down the stretch to clinch the eighth seed in the East. A play-in win over the Pacers secured the team's first playoff berth in three years, but it's fair to wonder whether Washington could've gotten higher in the standings with better injury luck.

"We saw that stretch where, you know, they were unbelievable," Unseld Jr. said. "Now, is that who they are collectively? I'm not sure that's tangible for 82 games, but it's there. I think if you look at all the metrics, the analytics, it's not that far away. It's easy sometimes to get daunted by the scope, but find those little things. There are incremental gains from each man, down the line.

"I think we're going to be set up for a really good season next year."