I often get into debates with friends as to which team in the DC area besides the Washington Kastles WTT team (which won the league title for two years in a row, three in the last four years, AND is currently on a 34 game winning streak) has the best chance of being a perennial contender in its league. Last year, it seemed to be the Redskins because Robert Griffin III plays in our city, and the Nationals were the National League East Division champions and now appear to have a brighter future, though their record has dropped a bit this year. But here is what I have to say in regards to how well the Monumental Sports teams are equipped for perennial success.
The Capitals are the team that's best built to contend today, but patience is thin as to why they haven't advanced past the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Alex Ovechkin Era.
The Capitals are already a perennial contender since they're already at the playoff stage and are winning division titles at a regular clip, having won five out of the last six Southeast Division championships (more on that later). The issue is that they just have to get past the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and to be honest they should have made the Conference Finals at very least already in my opinion. If any team in Monumental Sports has followed the Ten Point Plan to a T, it's the Caps because their model is what started all these debates among Wizards fans especially as to how such a plan can and/or should be implemented.
There is top, nationally recognized talent on the Caps, especially home grown draft players starting with their captain Alex Ovechkin who won the the Hart Trophy (the NHL MVP award) three times including this past season where he scored a league leading 32 goals in the lockout shortened 2013 season, and first line center Nicklas Backstrom. In addition, defenseman Mike Green and goalie Braden Holtby are additional Capitals draft picks who have played major roles, and Green in particular has been one of the NHL's best scoring defensemen when healthy but that has been a concern for him the last three seasons.
New Head Coach and Hockey Hall of Fame player Adam Oates started off the 2013 NHL Lockout shortened season on a bad note, but the team turned things around nicely by the end of the season despite their first round playoff exit to the New York Rangers. One stat in particular that pleases me the most is that the Caps were the #1 team in the NHL in power play conversions where 26.8% of their power plays resulted in a goal. Also for the offseason, I hope that the Capitals can find a reliable second line center which is something that fans have been clamoring for quite some time. And already with NHL free agency underway, we are seeing that at least one possible option at center, Mike Ribeiro signed with the Phoenix Coyotes as an unrestricted free agent, and he was second on the Caps last year in points. This piece from Japer's Rink also discusses more on their building through the draft, which in my opinion is the most important thing for any team to do when rebuilding.
But like many other Capitals fans out there, my patience is thinning, and there needs to be a playoff run that goes to at least the Conference Finals, if not the Stanley Cup Finals at the very least within the next couple years at the very most. Unlike the NBA at least, actual playoff seeding usually doesn't matter as much since higher seeds lose early quite often, and the Caps have certainly been on the bad side of a playoff upset quite a few times. In addition, the NHL has changed its division structure for the 2013-2014 season, and the Caps will be in Division D (which is yet to be named) which will be a stronger division than the Southeast was on a perennial basis so it's not going to be as easy for them to get high playoff seeds as in the past.
The Wizards appear to be ready for the playoffs in the 2013-2014 NBA season. If they do make the playoffs, can they avoid the "Treadmill of Mediocrity" given the starpower of the NBA's elite teams?
I feel that the Wizards are in second place among the Monumental teams in terms of being a perennial contender. Like the Capitals when they decided to move on from the Jaromir Jagr era in 2004 and not too long before Ted Leonsis became the majority owner of the team, the Wizards started their youth movement in 2010 by moving on from the Gilbert Arenas/Antawn Jamison/Caron Butler era, in particular after the guns in the locker room incident. Even without it, the core was past due for a blow up from hindsight.
Deciding to rebuild the Wizards in a pretty similar fashion to the Capitals basically put the team on course for several seasons with many losses, which has been going on since the 2008-2009 NBA season when the Wizards only had 19 wins. In addition, the Wizards had to deal with immature players like Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee whom the team eventually parted ways with in 2012 because they needed to change their culture as much as they had to with their personnel.
But at the same time, the Wizards had three Top Three picks in the NBA Draft over the last four seasons and now there appears to be some clear core players for the future. Two of them, John Wall and Bradley Beal are poised to be core pieces, even nationally recognized stars on a strong Wizards team in future years, and their 2013 first round pick, Otto Porter, fits right in with the Wizards' system and should be a core contributor right away. The Wizards made some veteran acquisitions, such as Nene, Emeka Okafor, and Martell Webster, but neither of them inhibit Wall's or Beal's progress though we'll see with Porter. The big questions for them at this point is can they stay healthy, finally get into the playoffs with multiple Eastern teams blowing up, and what will they do with several other draft picks who have not panned out as well in the last several seasons? If there's one thing the Wizards haven't done as well as the Caps, it is developing players who aren't lottery draft picks, and most of the picks they made in the last several years haven't been core contributors.
This upcoming season, a lot of Wizards fans, including me are very excited and are hoping that this crucial season turns out to be a great one. But another question looms on the horizon. If they make the playoffs, are the Wizards bound to be on the "Treadmill of Mediocrity"? First, if they make the playoffs, there is no mathematical chance at an Andrew Wiggins or a Jabari Parker in the 2014 NBA Draft assuming they go pro after their freshman college seasons. (They will.) Then you also have to consider that there are a number of teams that are still better than DC for the short term on paper, even in their own conference, such as the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers among others. If the Wizards can make the playoffs and draws one of these teams in the first round, it's unlikely that they'll be able to beat them in a 7 game series. Look at teams like the Atlanta Hawks in the last several years where the team was clearly very talented with players like Al Horford, Josh Smith (who signed with the Detroit Pistons according to league sources), and Joe Johnson (who is now with the Brooklyn Nets), but still weren't good enough to truly beat the elite teams in the conference in the postseason. That is something that I do fear, even though the Wizards haven't even been mediocre the last several seasons.
Still, given the long period of losing NBA basketball in DC, the fact that this is John Wall's last year on his rookie contract plus the last year of Emeka Okafor on his, the Wizards pretty much have to give their best shot in 2013-2014 by making the playoffs instead of trying to get in the Wiggins Sweepstakes, and then perhaps making some noise once they're in the playoffs. Should the Wizards advance a round or even two in the 2014 NBA Playoffs, this could help make DC a high-profile free agent destination, given that Wall and Beal may make one of the NBA's most dynamic backcourts in the near future and we've seen signs of that this past season.
The Mystics just started to rebuild their team after a combined 11-57 record in their last two seasons, but they have a new head coach who is the best out of the three Monumental teams and he could get them in contention sooner than expected.
The Mystics are the farthest away from being a contender of the three teams as of today, but it's mostly because they just started their rebuild this season after winning only 11 games in the last two years combined. Another reason why I think the Mystics are the farthest away is because unlike the Wizards and Capitals' rebuilds, new General Manager and Head Coach Mike Thibault didn't make the tough decision to blow up the 2012 core (Crystal Langhorne/Monique Currie/Matee Ajavon) yet. Whether the core hasn't been broken up because Thibault honestly believes they are the future or because he is playing them up for trade value remains to be seen. But if he keeps the core, that would be going against Point 3 in Ted's rebuilding plan in regards to blowing a team up if it has no realistic championship hopes.
Though it seems like I'm putting down the Mystics, they do have one significant advantage above their brother teams: the Mystics have the best head coach for his league among the three teams. Mike Thibault has had more success as a head coach in the WNBA than Adam Oates does for the NHL (last year was his first season as a head coach and he inherited a playoff-ready roster) and Randy Wittman does for the NBA (his overall record is 147-291 with no playoff appearances mostly with some talent-deficient Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves teams). To just repeat real quickly for those who know enough about him, in the ten years before he came to DC, Thibault led the Connecticut Sun to eight playoff appearances, five Eastern Conference Finals appearances, and two Finals appearances. After leading the Mystics in his first season to a 6-6 record, he now has more wins than any other WNBA head coach with 212 wins. So it appears that the Mystics rebuild is going with a proven coach, while the Wizards and Capitals appear to be going with coaches who could grow with the team. No path is necessarily better or worse than the other, but I found that interesting.
However, like the question I have with the Wizards this upcoming season, the Mystics need to worry whether making the playoffs even this season could be making them get on the "Treadmill of Mediocrity." This season, many WNBA teams have had injuries to key players on their rosters such as those to Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm or Becky Hammon of the San Antonio Silver Stars and that could inflate their record in some ways. Also, their wins have primarily come from the aforementioned 2012 core group, and other veteran players such as Ivory Latta. Though this could be me just being greedy as a fan, the Mystics also just don't have a nationally known star on their team like most other teams in their league do and I still wonder who on this team can be that player.
There's another thing that's going on with the Mystics' rebuild that is deviating from what's happened with the Wizards and Capitals. While Coach Thibault has four rookies on his roster, including his 2013 first round pick Tayler Hill, who is the team's first major draft pick of this rebuild, Hill is not being thrown into the fire as a core piece immediately, like John Wall and Alex Ovechkin were as rookies, or at least not yet. But nevertheless, the Mystics are trying to build a younger core group given that Hill and two other rookies play regular stretches of minutes every game. If the Mystics make the playoffs this season and/or next season and perhaps advance a round or even more, Hill and the rookie group will have likely played a major reason why, or at least they should have. The Mystics' dedication to youth and the Draft, regardless of where they pick in future years will likely play a major factor as to how their rebuild will shape out.
Obviously, there are a ton of things that can be nitpicked on each of the teams and they can all be their own posts, but these are just some thoughts I had on all the Monumental Sports teams as of right now at a very macro-level. And as for me, I equally want all three teams to have perennial success and of course, bring championships to the nation's capital.