Wake-up call: Wizards want to lighten load on starters -- like Spurs

Wake-up call: Wizards want to lighten load on starters -- like Spurs
July 23, 2014, 6:00 am
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Why is so much depth being accrued by the Wizards going into the 2014-15 season, with contingencies for contingencies? They're aiming high to improve on a 44-win season, with dreams of Kevin Durant in 2016 and looking to the San Antonio Spurs' dynasty for guidance on how to build for the future.

Last season, coach Randy Wittman relied heavily on starters John Wall and Bradley Beal in the backcourt. Nene was unreliable as he missed 29 games because of foot and knee injuries. He only started 37 games as he faced a minutes restriction, part of which was self-imposed. Beal played 34.7 minutes per game but that number was significantly reduced (he was averaging more than 40 at one point) because of a minutes restriction, too, for a recurring stress reaction in his lower right leg.

The emergence of Glen Rice, MVP of the Las Vegas summer league, should assist in keeping down Beal's minutes. Otto Porter, who joined Rice on the all-tournament first team, should allow Wittman to keep Paul Pierce's minutes in check. This was the plan all along, even before summer league began July 11, to give the rising second-year players more time if they could earn it.

It wasn't a luxury the Wizards had last season because of injuries to both, their lack of experience and a playoffs-or-else edict from owner Ted Leonsis to a staff that was in a contract year. Wittman did what anyone else in their job would do, sticking with what he knew after a 2-7 start to the season. He couldn't waste time trying to develop players in live action when he needed to lean on veterans to dig out of a hole. When Wittman did try to experiment with resting starters in games that appeared to be blowout wins, such as a 21-point lead March 21 at the Los Angeles Lakers, the Wizards quickly fell in danger of losing. 

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Now with Drew Gooden re-signed, Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair acquired in sign-and-trade deals -- and for now Kevin Seraphin back in the fold -- depth in the post shouldn't be a problem.  Andre Miller, even though he is 38, can get more burn as Wall's backup. Beal doesn't miss a beat when he shares the court with Miller. 

The Wizards would like to do a better job resting key players, particularly at the end of the season, to make sure everyone is fresh for a postseason run. 

The Spurs are a high benchmark, but look at how often their best players played en route to winning their fifth NBA championship because of coach Gregg Popovich's deep rotations and willingness to rest aging starters on back-to-backs: Tony Parker missed 14 games and averaged 29.4 minutes per game; Manu Ginobili missed 14 games and averaged 22.8 minutes; and Tim Duncan missed eight games and averaged 29.2 minutes. And while solid, their bench isn't a list of future Hall of Famers. 

In doing so, the Spurs still won 62 games and were the much fresher team than the Miami Heat who were dispatched in five games. 

Maybe that's too much of a reach for 2014-15 for the Wizards, but having a goal and the pieces in place to reach it is a start. They made a 15-game improvement last season. At least 50 wins and a Southeast Division crown are well within reach.

Now comes the difficult part in all of this -- execution.