This is not the conversation that the Washington Wizards’ team, staff, or fans wanted to be having so early in the season. This is not the conversation they wanted to have after two consecutive years of advancing to the conference semifinals in the 2013-14 and 2015-16 seasons. Nonetheless, this is the conversation that needs to start happening after a dreadful 2-7 start with discontent and lack of direction becoming major issues.
Marcin Gortat put it best, even though he later tried to walk his statement back, when he said, “I think right now, as far as I know, I think we’ve got one of the worst benches in the league right now.”
The bench is awful. The starters don’t seem to have any cohesion. The offense doesn’t have a centralized focus. Are they an up-tempo team (which would make sense with Wall and Beal)? Are they a half-court, grind it out with good possessions team (which would make sense with Gortat and Morris)? They have no identity and the wheels are falling off fast.
Rather than sit and wait for things to go completely awry with more players speaking out with their discontent, it’s better for Washington to really take a look at some rebuilding efforts. As currently constructed and with their salary commitments for the upcoming years, this team does not have a path to success.
Lack of Financial Flexibility
Washington has spent plenty of money and committed long term dollars – just not on the right players. Consider the following facts to help understand how undesirable their situation is for a 2-7 team that is heading in the wrong direction:
• Washington has the 11th highest payroll in the NBA with $104 million committed
• In 2017-18, they will move up to 9th in the NBA
• In 2018-19, they jump to 4th – behind only Cleveland, Portland, and OKC
Ian Mahinmi is currently being paid more than John Wall, and will take $16 million per year through 2020. He hasn’t played a game yet. Andrew Nicholson is going to collect $6 million-plus through 2020, and we know about Bradley Beal’s max deal that will command $22, $23, $25, $27, and $29 million through 2021. Beal and Mahinmi aren’t going anywhere because no team is going to want to take on that much guaranteed money for a two-guard that is currently underachieving and injury-prone, or for a 30-year old center that has averaged 5 points and 4 rebounds for his career.
Given the lack of quality small forwards in the upcoming free agent market, coupled with the recent emergence of Otto Porter’s on-court play, it would make sense for Washington to sign him to an extension next season when he will become a restricted free agent.
Markieff Morris has been a solid addition to the team, is young, and is signed to a very favorable contract through 2019. The rest of the roster is expendable except for two players, and this is where things become very uncomfortable because these two players are responsible for most of the success that the team has achieved over the past several years. But when a team is in the position that the Wizards are currently in, it pays dividends to consider all options, even if it is not something that was imaginable just two seasons ago.
John Wall and Marcin Gortat – Sell High
Wall and Gortat have done nothing wrong. In fact, all they have done is play hard, produce, and lead the team for years. Unfortunately, that is what makes them expendable at a time when a future rebuild is looking more and more necessary. Wall is averaging a career high 22 points and 8 assists per game. He’s 26 years old playing in his 7th season, which means he’s entering his prime. His value will never be higher than it will for the next couple of seasons, barring injury. Wall has one of the most favorable contracts for someone of his caliber with only $35 million due in total over the next two seasons.
Gortat is averaging 11 points and a career-high 12 rebounds in 34 minutes of play per game. While he has nine seasons under his belt and is 32 years old, he played sparingly in his first four years as he started a total of only 17 games. His contract expires after the 2018 season, like Wall’s, and he is owed a very reasonable $26 million total the next two years.
There will be a bidding war for the services of Wall and plenty of suitors for Gortat and his productivity at a low cost. If Washington is serious about building a future rather than wading in mediocrity or worse, then they will begin making the necessary phone calls to move their most desirable assets in order to pick up young talent with upside as well as stockpile draft picks. They will not be able to win free agency wars. They shot for the moon with Kevin Durant and ended up with Ian Mahinmi. The only way for them to build is through the draft and by developing young talent.
Potential Moves are Plentiful
Hypothetical trades can be made all day, but to illustrate a point, a trade with a team like Boston would make perfect sense and should be Washington’s first phone call. Boston is a superstar away from becoming an NBA Finals contender. They have young talent that is tradeable, expiring contracts, and numerous draft picks. Sending Wall and Gortat for Isiah Thomas and the expiring deals of Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko as well as a 2019 first round draft pick (from LA Clippers) would make sense for both teams. Washington is able to shed salary, pick up an up and coming point guard in Thomas to replace Wall and pair with Beal in the backcourt, and adds another first round draft pick to help rebuild the roster inexpensively over the next few years.
This trade isn’t meant to do anything but show that there are certainly more avenues for Washington to improve their future prospects rather than deal with the eventual departure of Wall and Gortat in a few years while meddling in the bottom half of the conference. How they choose to progress is in the hands of ownership, but for Washington fans to have something to look forward to, changes are going to need to be made. The longer they wait, the less leverage they will have. The time to act has arrived – sooner than anyone wanted, but here nonetheless.