It didn’t seem possible for the Wizards’ playoff chances to get any slimmer, but Dāvis Bertāns has proved that wrong. The Wizards’ power forward, who had a breakout year in Washington this season, announced he will not rejoin the team when training restarts in Orlando on July 7.
Bertāns, who averaged career-highs in points (15.4) and rebounds (4.5) per game while coming off the bench in his first season with the Wizards, was the second-highest scorer on the team behind Bradley Beal. He was poised to take a bigger role as the team pushed for a playoff position. Not anymore.
The Latvian forward is set to hit free agency this offseason, and after his leap in Year Four of his NBA career, he will be much-sought after in the open market. Perhaps the Wizards’ initial postseason chances dissuaded him from risking major injury or sickness as he enters what could be a lucrative offseason for him.
While the Wizards will be in the running to re-sign him, Bertāns very well could have played his last game in a Wizards uniform. The absence of the sharpshooting forward in Orlando means the Wizards will be without their second-biggest offensive threat as a team that plays practically zero defense.
Without Bertāns, rookie Rui Hachimura and third-year center Thomas Bryant will be relied on to step up their production. Moritz Wagner will likely get more playing time off the bench at the four as well. All three are promising young players who look to be solid contributors in the foreseeable future, as both Hachimura and Wagner were selected to play in the Rising Stars Game at All-Star Weekend this year, but none are capable of being the second option on a playoff threat, at least not at this point in their careers.
Already at a disadvantage in terms of playoff chances, the Wizards will really need to rally the troops in order to have any shot at qualifying. The team needs to win two more games than the Orlando Magic or Brooklyn Nets in order to force a play-in tournament, and they will have to do so as the underdog in every matchup, without their usual second option on offense.
I went over the potential eight-game schedule when the restart plan was announced, but with scheduling conflicts and overlaps, it may be changed. Taking into account the current expected schedule, the Wizards will play the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks twice each, meaning half of their schedule is against top three teams in the East. It was going to be a tall task with Bertāns, so any hopes will be seriously hindered without him.
In the grand scheme of things, the Wizards aren’t losing too much; it’s not like they were favored to make the playoffs to begin with, much less expected to challenge for the championship, so this is the smartest move for Bertāns, who has also suffered two ACL injuries in his career. What will be interesting to watch is how many players follow suit. Others have speculated sitting out the restart, but Bertāns is the first to actually commit to it.
Whether it’s other Wizards’ players, or stars on other playoff teams, the players who also choose to sit out could dramatically alter the postseason. I wouldn’t imagine major pieces on contenders like the Bucks or both LA teams passing up a chance to win a championship, but any lower-seeded team that remains mostly intact could make a serious run if surrounded by higher-seeded teams that lose one or two important players.
There are still a lot of question marks entering the NBA restart, but Bertāns just opened up a bunch of doors for the league, while also likely shutting the door on the Wizards’ playoff chances.
(Cover Photo Credit: Nick Wass/Associated Press)