- The Wizards won out by standing pat last summer. After a second-round playoff exit, they'll now look to take the next step.
While the NBA playoffs are still going, the 2017 off–season is rapidly approaching for many teams with massive decisions to make. CBA expert Danny Leroux breaks down the major challenges and opportunities for the Washington Wizards in The Crossover's NBA Summer Preview series.
The Lay of the Land: Last summer, the Wizards waited on re-signing Bradley Beal to take their final shot at adding new talent through free agency. After not getting a meeting with Kevin Durant and then narrowly losing out on Al Horford, general manager Ernie Grunfeld signed big men Ian Mahinmi and Jason Smith (instead of giving John Wall a raise) with most of that money. One year later, Washington finished with the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference and made the second round of the playoffs. As expected, the decisions they made last summer largely locked in their roster for seasons to come but they still have some fascinating challenges.
Here are three key storylines to watch for the Wizards this off-season:
Otto Porter’s restricted free agency: The third overall pick in the 2013 draft flourished in his second season as a starter, shooting 43.4% from three and averaging a career-high 13.4 points per game. Wing players are in high demand now so even a non-star with potential like Porter should be able to get a lucrative offer sheet, like Harrison Barnes getting a max deal from the Dallas Mavericks in 2016. Teams know the Wizards will match so that could chill the market a little but someone would force Grunfeld’s hand if the two sides do not come to an early agreement. Keep an eye on the possibility of Porter taking less than his full maximum for five seasons, which is still more than another team could offer, similar to DeMar DeRozan last summer.
Bojan Bogdanovic’s restricted free agency: Washington’s deadline deal with the Brooklyn Nets accomplished two goals: unloading Andrew Nicholson’s onerous contract and adding the talented Bogdanovic to their bench. At 28 years old, the swingman is older than most restricted free agents but scoring subs will always have value around the league. His three months with the Wizards were hit and miss, including some defensive struggles in the Boston series, but a lack of suitable alternatives means they need to match any reasonable offer. That could stall the market for him, as Washington can simply wait it out without losing anything.
Strengthening the bench: The Wizards possess a strong starting five, finishing with the league’s ninth-best starter Net Rating at +3.9. However, they had a bottom-10 bench that gave up some significant advantages in the regular season and playoffs. Mahinmi and forward Kelly Oubre will likely be part of the solution but Grunfeld will need to retain Bogdanovic and secure talent using the Taxpayer Mid-Level exception assuming ownership is willing to pay the luxury tax for at least a season or two. If not, they will need to rely on improvement from 2016 signee Tomáš Satoranský and forward Chris McCullough, another part of the Brooklyn trade.
Potential Free Agents: Otto Porter (Restricted), Bojan Bogdanovic (Restricted), Brandon Jennings (Unrestricted), Trey Burke (Restricted), Daniel Ochefu (Non-Guaranteed) and Sheldon McClellan (Non-Guaranteed)
Likely Summer of 2017 Cap Space: None
Realistic Maximum Summer of 2017 Cap Space (using $101m estimate): None
2017 Draft Assets: No first round pick (traded to Brooklyn) but have their own second rounder (52nd overall)
Potential Targets: The Wizards can make a compelling case to point guards and wings looking for a high profile bench role since they should be a playoff team next season. However, a strong starting five means little chance at greater responsibility barring injury and they will only have the Taxpayer Mid-Level exception (about $5.2 million for the 2017–18 season) to offer free agents. Ty Lawson and CJ Watson could be options at point guard while Matt Barnes or Justin Holiday could give them defense on the wing if they are looking for what Washington is offering.
Pressure Scale: 4. The sheer lack of flexibility makes this a different type of summer for the Wizards. That said, their front office will need to make the most of their limited means to build a bench coach Scott Brooks will trust in the regular season, ideally with one player good enough to be a part of the narrowed playoff rotation. Considering they also do not have a first round pick, the Mid-Level exception will have to do the heavy lifting since the only other options will be minimum contracts and a $2.5 million trade exception from the Nicholson deal they should use to claim the best minimum salary player cut in early July or at the end of training camp.
State of the Franchise: Maintaining. The Wizards’ decision to largely stay the course last summer paid off for the most part, as they should be relevant in the Eastern Conference playoff picture for the next few seasons. However, they will need to make the most of their limited teambuilding means in order to maximize their window with Wall, Beal and the rest of their key contributors.