In the past, we have heard very specific goals proclaimed by the Washington Wizards, from the players all the way up to ownership. Oftentimes, those goals have not been reached, and consequences have followed.
For this season, their goals are not as easy to define. Surely, expectations are high after the team traded for Russell Westbrook, but how high?
It sounds like start with the postseason and go from there.
"Playoffs," head coach Scott Brooks said when asked for his expectations. "We’ve got a good team. We’ve added some good players. Russell and his ability to lead a team and get a team better, he has a track record of that. Obviously, things have to go our way. The league is fighting Covid, as the world is. That’s obviously a factor. We can’t relax in that regard. Injuries, we’ve gotta get lucky there."
There are, of course, different degrees to the postseason. Qualifying as an eight-seed and getting blasted by the best team in the conference rarely feels like a success, maybe only for a young team that is ahead of schedule. With Westbrook and Bradley Beal as accomplished and well-paid as they are, the eight-seed would most likely be seen as a failure.
At the same time, the Wizards all of a sudden vaulting into title contention would be a surprise. They are coming off a 25-47 season last year and Westbrook can't fix that alone. They also still have a roster full of young players who have yet to be exposed to the pressure of playing for a good NBA team. It isn't the development year they had last season, but there remains a learning curve for a good chunk of their rotation.
What seems like a fair expectation for the Wizards is they make the playoffs, but fall somewhere in the 6-to-7 seed range. Anything worse and it will be fair to ask about Brooks' future, as he's in the final year of his contract, and the overall direction of the franchise. Anything better, and contract extensions may be handed out.
The big variable here, however, is health. As Brooks says, injuries always play a role. And this season has the looming threat of Covid-19. If one player isn't careful, it could affect the entire team. It could cause them to play games without key players or postpone games entirely.
There are always unforeseen circumstances and Westbrook, a 12-year veteran, can't get past that when looking ahead. He was asked for a key to the Wizards getting off to a good start. His response was, basically, don't jump to conclusions.
"It’s a long season, man. You’ve gotta realize that. A lot of people put pressure on starting the season how it goes, like that’s how it’s going to go. The season, it’s a lot of ups and downs and things that may happen that you can’t predict," he said.
Getting off to a good start this season may be more important than in others. With 72 games on the schedule instead of 82, each one matters more. Results will be magnified.
The Eastern Conference is also deeper, and likely less forgiving, than in years past. And the Wizards may have an early advantage over teams that made deep playoff runs and aren't nearly as well-rested.
The Wizards could be in position to capitalize and, if they do, they will have a better chance at reaching their goals, whatever they are, of course.
Tune in at 6 PM to NBC Sports Washington on Wednesday for complete coverage of the Wizards season opener against the Philadelphia 76ers.