Keeler: Time is now for Wizards

This could be the year.

The Washington Wizards may not get a better opportunity to win the Eastern Conference. The East is wide open, with LeBron switching to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and who knows how long Chicago’s Derrick Rose will stay healthy.

To me, the Wizards have as good of a shot to win the Eastern Conference as any other team. Last season the Wizards showed they were for real by knocking out Chicago in the playoffs. Washington put up a fight against Indiana before losing in the second round of the playoffs.

Now it’s time to take that next step. The biggest loss for the Wizards in the offseason was Trevor Ariza. However, they replaced him with Paul Pierce.

The veteran forward known as “The Truth” brings plenty of experience and has won an NBA title. At 36, I still think Pierce has something left and will certainly provide some great leadership, which is important to any championship team.

I’m a little biased since the former longtime Boston Celtic is one of my favorite players, and it also gives me another reason to root for the Wizards this year. One of the biggest things I think Pierce adds to the team is toughness.

The Wizards already had some of that with guys like Nene and Marcin Gortat, but Pierce is a vocal guy and will make sure that the Wizards don’t back down from anyone.

Pierce is a physical, hard-nosed player and will give the team an added toughness that could prove pivotal in the playoffs, especially against a team like the Chicago Bulls.

I think he will fit in very nicely with Washington coach Randy Whittman’s blue-collar mentality. I’ve even some announcers already compare the Wizards to the “Bad Boys” from Detroit’s championship team.

The Wizards also picked up DeJuan Blair and Kris Humphries, who I think will add some solid depth to the team.

Washington should have a strong inside game, and should do well in the half-court, which is where championships are won in the NBA. I think the Wizards have a good stable of veteran leaders who will help them have even more success in the playoffs.

Of course, the team is built around one of the best, if not the best, guard combo in the NBA in Bradley Beal and John Wall. Beal is out right now with a broken wrist, but he should be back at some point, and I still expect him to have a great season.

Wall is 23 and Beal is 21, and if the Wizards can keep them together they can be quite a force in the NBA for years to come. There’s even been some buzz that the Wizards will go hard after Kevin Durant, who is from the D.C. area, in two years. If that happens you have to like the Wizards’ chances of getting D.C. a championship that seems to keep eluding them.

I don’t think the Wizards will win it all this year, but with a few breaks it’s certainly possible. Last year the Wizards won 15 more games than they did in 2012-13, and I truly believe they could win at least 10 more games this season.

It’s hard to say how the Miami Heat will be without James, and I think winning the Southeast Division is a good possibility. If they can get one of the top seeds in the East, the Wizards will have a serious shot at getting to the NBA Finals, and from there anything can happen.

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or