SNIDER: Wizards are relevant once more with Westbrook


The Wizards just became a true contender. Wake up Washington, it's time to remember at its core this is a basketball town with a team now worthy of cheering.

The Wiz slipped to the fourth pro team in a town that it once ruled in the 1970s. But after nearly 40 years of mostly mediocre-at-best teams, they have a short-term chance to rejoin the elite. Maybe even the best in the Eastern Conference.

And it feels great.

Trading John Wall and a 2023 first-rounder for Houston's Russell Westbrook gives Washington two stars in Bradley Beal and Westbrook. While it's sad to lose Wall after 10 years as a No. 1 overall selection, it was time. Wall was returning from nearly two years off with injuries and had not played a full season since 2016. There's no telling what he will do, which is why the Wiz needed to throw in a first-rounder to complete the deal.

The scary part for the Wiz was whether Wall could return as Beal's wingman. This is Beal's team now and Wall spent his career as the foundation. The chemistry might not have worked.

Then again, we're looking at the same thing in Westbrook, who was known as not the best teammate with Kevin Durant during their Oklahoma City days. But, Westbrook is healthy and costs about the same as Wall, so it was a no-brainer to make this deal and hope coach Scott Brooks can split enough shots to satisfy Beal and Westbrook.

The key to winning the NBA title over the last decade has been having three star players. The Wiz don't have the third – yet. But, if Rui Hachimura progresses, off a promising rookie season undercut by injuries, and sharpshooter Davis Bertans delivers, that may be enough to win the East.

Westbrook has two years remaining on his deal and is 32 years old. He's not quite the great player of a few years ago, but he's still one of the league's top scorers. Given Wall is 30 and often hurt, taking an older player in Westbrook wasn't really a gamble. Indeed, it might be the safer choice given Wall's injury history.

The Wiz are on the clock to make this work now, though. If Westbrook walks or retires in two years given he's 34, the team hits the reset button again with no first-rounder in 2023. Maybe Westbrook finds long-term success in Washington, but for now it's second years and we'll see.

And that's OK. Wiz fans will finally see a good team after mostly a generation-plus of duct-tape approaches. Washingtonians have always loved basketball, but this team didn't love them back. Now maybe full houses (whenever that's allowed) will support the local team instead of cheering opponents. The Wiz will compete with the Football Team, Nationals and Capitals for fans instead of being an afterthought.

There's nothing better than an exciting pro basketball team. The '70s were awesome in town. It's just that no one under 50 remembers them.

It's time to believe the Wiz are worth watching again.

Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @Snide_Remarks

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