Wizards' improbable playoff run opens doors long-term

Wizards' improbable playoff run opens doors long-term
April 30, 2014, 11:30 am
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CHICAGO -- The full extent of the Wizards' playoff run, which now has led them to at least the East semifinals, remains to be seen. There's a ripple effect that will come after this run is done, when they'll be about $18 million under the salary cap this summer with a chance to land a max player or several quality free agents. That's when the fun really starts. 

The Wizards won 44 regular-season games, secured a No. 5 seed and eliminated the Chicago Bulls 4-1 on Tuesday night, winning three of those games at United Center. 

Owner Ted Leonsis greeted coach Randy Wittman outside the Wizards' locker room, embraced him and said: "Proud of you."

Regardless of what happens from this point forward, the Wizards are in better position to retain their key free agents, Trevor Ariza and Marcin Gortat, and lure new ones to get even better. 

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It's not about the additional revenue playoff games bring in because of the extra home games, but the playoffs showcasing the franchise. Do well, even in defeat, and it can create a positive impression that a corner has been turned. For teams such as the Wizards, who didn't have a single national TV game, that's especially important. Lip service is one thing. Seeing is believing.

Quality, big-name free agents tend to not sign with non-playoff teams with little playoff prospects. Where did Andre Igoudala end up this year. Golden State. Why? The Warriors had beaten his previous team, the Denver Nuggets, in a first-round playoff series. Where did Jamal Crawford end up two years ago? The L.A. Clippers. Why? With Chris Paul they suddenly became a playoff team. Paul Millsap left Utah for the Atlanta Hawks, a playoff team a year ago, too. See a pattern emerging? 

Seasoned veterans have two objectives: Cash in on what's likely to be their last big contract and compete in the postseason. There won't be a lot of depth out there this summer in free agency, but the Wizards are in position to meet both needs. Their chances of retaining Gortat or Ariza have multiplied, though the demand outweighing supply could be the fly in the ointment. 

This run isn't done yet, but when it is the bar for the 2014-15 season already has been raised to heights previously assumed to be unthinkable -- but still in reach.