- The Washington Times - Monday, April 28, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

One fact about the modern world of professional sports has become increasingly clear lately as the Wizards and Caps switch places in the area’s pecking order.

The Wizards are on the rise, the Capitals are going the other way. Yet for both, the offseason won’t be very easy and may not be much fun. Whether you’re high or low these days, offseasons have become a pain in the backside.


SEE ALSO: Former Caps GM George McPhee: ‘It’s not the end of the world’


The Caps’ season ended miserably as the team failed to make the playoffs after a six-year postseason run. They’ll be bringing in a new general manager and a new coach. They’ll be making roster assessments and may have to make some difficult decisions involving some very popular players.

As for the Wizards, even if they don’t win another game (and they will win at least one more game), the season has been a raging success. They qualified for the playoffs after a six-year absence and take a 3-1 lead into Tuesday night’s game against Chicago in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

If you weren’t sold on the Wizards before, Sunday’s victory in Game 4 should have done the job. The team was in an interesting place. After winning the first two games in Chicago, the Wizards lost Friday night’s game at home and lost Nene for Sunday’s game when he was suspended for his part in a late-game scuffle. Losing Game 4 at home would have undone all the good the Wizards did in Chicago and likely been a blow from which the Wizards couldn’t recover.

All they did was come out and score the game’s first 14 points. They dominated from start to finish to re-establish control of the series. A fragile team doesn’t do that. A tough team does.

So no matter what happens from here, the Wizards ought to be able to sit back, maybe pop some champagne and toast themselves for a job well done. They’ve proven they’re a good team on the rise.

But nope, it doesn’t work that way anymore. Whenever the season ends, the Wizards’ braintrust needs to dig in and figure some things out and make some decisions that will have a big impact.

Here’s the biggest: What’s the deal with Trevor Ariza?

We know the deal this year. He may be the team’s most valuable player, no disrespect to standout young guards John Wall and Bradley Beal. Ariza has been a scorer and standout defender. He had 30 points in Sunday’s victory. He’s been, to be concise, incredible.

He’s a free agent and given the year he’s had, it should be a no-brainer that the Wizards will do everything they can to sign him.

He’s only 28, but the Wizards are the sixth team he’s played for in his nine-year career. The 133 games he’s played as a Wizard are more than he’s played for any of his other teams.

Is Ariza a journeyman who is having an exceptional year or is he a late-blooming star who has made himself indispensible? Just a guess, the latter seems likely. So now the Wizards have to ask, at what price?

He’s in the final year of a massive contract he signed with Houston in 2009, only to be traded by the Rockets a year later. He makes $7.7 million a year now. That will perhaps double. Do the Wizards go all-in (and yes, they should)?

General manager Ernie Grunfeld faces a similar decision with Marcin Gortat, acquired in the offseason from Phoenix. For his $7.7 million this year, Gortat has delivered 13.2 points and 9.5 rebounds. He, too, may double his income.

With the Wizards? We’ll see.

While the dynamic backcourt of Wall and Beal is the heart of this team, you don’t win without players like Ariza and Gortat.

At least the Wizards can figure out their strategy with the backdrop of some recent success. The Caps, who have been way more successful over the long haul than the team they share Verizon Center with, can’t. Their arrow is clearly pointing down and it is going to take the right hiring decisions and some slick roster moves to reverse it quickly.

Let’s hope they’re smart and hire a general manager before they hire a coach. The ability to bring in your own coach, one who shares your views on players and player development and strategy and all those pesky details, is a perk that makes the Caps general managing job attractive.

Yes, there are proven coaches out there you may want to snap up like Peter Laviolette and Barry Trotz. But showing patience, finding the right general manager and letting that GM pick his own coach is the way to go. Then the two of them need to sequester themselves and figure out how to answer the roster riddle.

What they have to figure out is a lot more complicated than what the Wizards have to figure out. That doesn’t mean either of them will have much fun in the offseason. It just doesn’t work that way anymore.