Going into the off-season fans are often positive about next season. Every team has a chance to win it all before the games start. In that spirit, this series looks at each team’s best case scenario in the off-season. Using salary cap gymnastics that would make Daryl Morey proud, we’re going to look at what is the best vaguely plausible assembly of talent a team can put together this off-season. Plausibility will be looked at in the forms of trades and team decision making. Whether a particular player will want to go to a destination will largely be ignored, as that is not something a team has much control over and is often borderline impossible to predict. With all of that being said, this week’s topic is the Washington Wizards.
To say this season was a disappointment would be an understatement. The team ended up finishing 32-50, good for 11th in the East. The NBA draft lottery was not kind to them, and they slipped three spots to ninth in the upcoming draft. Things do not look great for this team. John Wall, upon entering the first year for his 4-year $170 million extension, suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in January and is expected to be back in around the same time in 2020. It’s a real question whether he’ll return the same player when he gets back, as he has a significant injury history. In addition to the recent surgery on the Achilles tendon, he has had two procedures on his left knee, one on his right knee and one on his left heel. Few players come back from the Achilles injury the same, as can be seen in the recent cases of Kobe Bryant and DeMarcus Cousins. The team has also managed their draft assets incredibly poorly, trading away three of their last five first round picks and all but one of their second round picks from the years 2016-2023. Dwelling on the past is not the focus of this column though, so let’s talk about how this team can move forward.
The Wizards current position is what many would call salary cap hell. They will be paying Wall Beal and Ian Mahinmi over $80 million next season alone. Outside of that, they have a decision to make on Jabari Parker’s $20 million team option, and they need to decide on their many free agents, four of which were in the top five for minutes played for the team. They have no route to cap space anytime soon thanks to Wall’s extension, and they have little room for improvement due to the lack of young talent or other tradable assets on the team. The only asset on the team with significant value is Bradley Beal.
Unless there is a team willing to take on Wall’s salary via trade, there is simply no way this team can compete anytime soon. It’s difficult to formulate trades that would make any sense for Wall. A team would have to be looking for a big name to sell tickets and not be worried about the hefty price tag, which is essentially non-existent, as if a team is worried about selling tickets, they can rarely afford the price tag. In addition, they’d have to believe Wall can come back from his injury and resemble his former self, which few around the league do. One unlikely possibility includes trading Wall to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Kevin Love and Larry Nance, a trade where the money differs by just $4.14 million over the life of the deals, and the Cavaliers might be desperate enough for a big name to take a shot at Wall. Assuming a Wall trade does not materialize, this team has to trade Beal.
With two years left on his contract, Beal’s trade value will be at its peak this off-season, and with so many teams looking for a star, there will be plenty of suitors. The best case scenario for the Wizards is if Anthony Davis ends up going to the Clippers, as I discussed last week, leaving the Los Angeles Lakers desperate for a star. One of the problems for many teams with the Lakers’ trade package is that their players are on the older end for prospects and nearing the ends of their rookie contracts. This means they’ll be up for a raise soon, but this isn’t a problem for the Wizards, as they don’t have the opportunity to have cap space anytime soon. I imagine the Lakers’ offer will be very similar to what they offer for Davis, something along the lines of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and the seventh overall pick. This would give them a nice talent base moving forward.
What they will do depends on the owner’s willingness to pay. Unfortunately, I can’t know for sure what Ted Leonsis, owner of the Wizards, will choose, so I will just say what’s best for the team long term. I would try to sign all the team’s free agents to long term deals that decline, meaning they are paid the most in year one and less every year after. In the NBA, teams are allowed to have a player’s salary decline up to a maximum of 8 percent a year provided the player agrees to it. This makes it so the players can get the money they want, and they become a better trade asset as time goes on, as they’re being paid a lower salary. The idea is that none of these players are likely to be on the next version of the Washington Wizards that competes, so they best way to maximize the team’s talent is to resign them now and trade them for future assets later. This means declining Parker’s option and trying to resign him to a longer term deal, bringing back veterans Jeff Green and Trevor Ariza on two or three year deals and signing the teams restricted free agents, Tomas Satoransky, Bobby Portis and Thomas Bryant, to the best deals possible.
This will require a patience from ownership, as they understand that this team will not be good for a while, but if you’re looking at the long term, I think this is the best case scenario for this team. Will this happen? No one knows for sure, but we will stay tuned to find out.