The Nick Young free agency derby is set to begin this week, and soon, we'll find out if the restricted free agent will be a member of the Washington Wizards next season. Michael Lee of the Washington Post reports that several teams are interested in signing Young, in addition to the Wizards of course. Those teams are as follows.
The Washington Wizards intend to retain him but realize that they will have competition from several teams, including Chicago, Denver, New Orleans, Sacramento and Phoenix, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.
That's an interesting list of suitors. Chicago has only the mid-level exception to offer. Phoenix is pretty close to the cap level, but could create even more cap room if they use the Amnesty Clause on someone like Josh Childress. New Orleans has a good amount of cap room, but they also only have five players under contract. Sacramento and Denver have lots of money to play with.
That's a lot of teams who could offer Young a fairly substantial contract. If that happens, the Wizards cannot be afraid to let Young go.
We've gone over this before, and a lot of what was written there remains my point of view today. If you haven't read that, I encourage you to do so. The key point to remember is that the problem with giving Young a substantial contract is not Year 1 or even Year 2. It's further down the line.
Fitting Nick Young into the team's current cap situation is not hard right now. The Wizards have given themselves plenty of flexibility for this year. But as much as we hope for big things from the Wizards every year, this is not the year that we should be concerned about. It's those years after that, when John Wall's rookie contract comes up and the team is ready to contend, where the issue arises. When those years come up, the Wizards have to be able to have the means to make significant upgrades to the roster. That's going to be more difficult if the cap number for Young is approaching $10 million down the road once you account for normal raises.*
Nick Young certainly isn't a bad player. It's tough to find people who can put the ball in the basket, and Young can put the ball in the basket within the flow of the offense. But he is a limited player, and you have to have an incredible amount of faith in him to believe he'll become a significantly more complete player. Developing court vision is one of the most difficult things in the league to do, especially when you are needed to provide so much scoring for your team. Developing as a rebounder may even be more difficult. Being more of a slasher that can finish in traffic requires a major physical transformation. Developing on-court concentration needed to effectively defend off the ball is possible, but requires rewiring 15-plus years of on-court basketball sensibilities. You don't pay someone expecting all of that to happen. It's asking too much.
All this is fine if Young is a part of a big cog. He can play to his strengths and serve the team well. But once you get past that mid-level kind of contract, you're paying for more than a part. You're paying for a foundational piece. If you believe Young is a foundational piece, you're believing that he can make significant strides in the areas we discussed above. A foundational piece that is as weak as Young is in those categories is problematic, and it's financially risky to invest a lot of money hoping he'll solve those problems.
In the short-term, sure, losing Young may hurt. But the Wizards aren't going to be doomed at shooting guard forever. There's one young player with promise already on the roster in Jordan Crawford who can step into the position next year. Maybe he ends up being the answer, maybe he doesn't, but there's the immediate, obvious guy to fill in. There will be scores of options that will become available as free agents, draft picks and in trades in the future. Maybe the Wizards change coaches and will need their shooting guard to do different things. Maybe Harrison Barnes falls into the Wizards' lap in the draft. Maybe the world ends next year. (OK, maybe not).
The point here is that demanding an immediate fix to the Wizards' shooting guard position in the event that a player like Young becomes too expensive is silly. How can one advocate a slow rebuild, then overreact to the possibility of losing a player who has demonstrated three decent months of play? Every dollar counts, especially with the soft cap now harder than ever.
Hopefully, this problem never comes up. Hopefully, all of those teams aren't interested enough in Young to overpay to steal him away. Hopefully, the Wizards can retain him for the mid-level or less, where the financial pain if it doesn't work out isn't quite as severe. But as with most things, the Wizards need to exhibit sound long-term management here. Young isn't worth much more than the mid-level right now even at his best, and paying too much for a player and hoping he'll develop his all-around game more to be a foundational piece is a major risk. Good rebuilding teams minimize risk, and the Wizards need to do the same if it comes to it.
For the record: I predict Young returns, and I predict his new deal will not be for more than the value of the mid-level, making most of this moot anyway..
* : For those wondering if the Wizards can frontload Young's new contract: it sounds good in theory, but it all assumes Young himself would agree to it. Seeing as how there are very few contracts around the league that decrease, it's not something to easily count on.