Bullets Forever mailbag: NBA Draft talk, free agency and more

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

You ask, I answer. It's the first edition of the Bullets Forever mailbag.

Nearly two weeks ago, a bunch of you asked me questions for a Bullets Forever mailbag. It's been a while, mostly because I've been tied up with NBA Finals stuff, but I finally found the time to answer the questions you sent. Buckle up, because this is going to be a long one. Enjoy.

If you asked me a question, it got answered, unless yours was similar to another question I got. If I missed you, let me know and I'll return for an answer.

In no particular order, the mailbag.

***

Where do you stand on what to do with Martell [Webster] if we draft Otto [Porter]? I'm in the camp that it's fine to re-sign him (assuming it's at a reasonable rate), then use [Trevor] Ariza as trade bait and just let him walk if we can't get back good value. I understand the logjam issue, but it doesn't bother me for one year.

Yeah, a lot of people are suggesting that drafting Porter (BF scouting report | SBN scouting report) would mean saying goodbye to Martell. I would dispute that for several reasons:

  1. Even if Martell is retained, it won't be for any more than the value of the mid-level exception, since that's all Washington can use to keep him. At that price, there's no reason he can't ultimately transition into a reserve role if Porter proves to be the better player in the starting unit. Lots of contenders have MLE-level players coming off the bench, and the Wizards' situation is particularly palatable because they would have Porter and Bradley Beal occupying starting roles at rookie salaries.
  2. There might be a one-year logjam at small forward, but a) Webster can play some 2; b) Porter, given his length and shooting ability, could play some 4 in small lineups; and c) Ariza, like you said, is a trade asset, and even if not, he's in the final year of his deal.
  3. I don't think Webster really cares about starting or coming off the bench at this point in his career. He'd also probably start as Porter gets his feet wet.
It's true that drafting Porter might make it easier to accept losing Webster if he gets a big-money offer, but that's different than saying it provides his one-way ticket out of town.

***

What's the most significant and realistic bounty you think the Wizards could get by trading the No. 3 pick and any combination of players, trade down, inclusion of next year's pick, etc.?

I think you're hearing about the kind of offers teams are presenting for No. 3. Your Ersan Ilyasova +No. 15, your Derrick Williams + No. 9, those kind of deals. That's about the upper limit of a bounty that I'd expect to see, which is why I'm very much against trading the pick. I'd be shocked if a legitimate All-Star player was put in play for the pick in this draft.

***

What excuse is Ted Leonsis now hiding behind to change the name after seeing two franchises decide to change their name within the span of one season? He claimed it was a long, drawn out process that would cost a ton of money, but that didn't stop two franchises from doing it asap (one immediately after a franchise purchase, the other after the announcement of the first).

I got a couple name-change questions, so I emailed Ted himself to see if he wanted to respond. I'll let you know if he gets back to me.

UPDATE: Leonsis is out of town, but his spokesman issued this response to the question:

As you know, there are numerous factors to consider when changing a team nickname, primary logo, colors or uniform design. From our experience and from what has been recommend to us, it may take approximately 18 to 24 months to fully implement and integrate a new name and a new identity. We have reintroduced the Wizards red, white and blue color scheme and added some fantastic new marks, but our current focus is on ways to improve our team, not change its name.

***

Regardless of what happens with our No. 3 draft pick and modest decisions we make with free agency this summer, it can't possibly be too early to look ahead to the summer of 2014, at which point we will hopefully be coming off a playoff appearance -- and we will have several large contracts coming off the books.

While getting ready for this summer, you would hope the front office is taking the long view -- so why not BF? Any initial thoughts about the state of our salary cap situation for the summer of '14 and what, if any, potential moves we might be able to make?

Scanning the list of potential FAs in 2014, is it worth noting that with [Emeka] Okafor and Ariza off the books, we could put in an aggressive bid for, say, Larry Sanders, who would complement the roster in 2014 and beyond and help reboot the forgettable run of interior players we drafted in 2010 and 2011?

(Obviously, the caveat is that the strategy clearly is influenced by whether we get Porter, [Anthony] Bennett or [Nerlens] Noel, assuming that constitutes the top of our board.)


I don't think the Wizards are going to have as much cap space as people think in 2014. Currently, this is where the Wizards stand:

  • Nene: $13 million.
  • Bradley Beal: $4.5 million
  • 2013 No. 3 pick's salary: $4.3 million* (this is using Beal's salary this year as an approximation).
  • Jan Vesely (if the Wizards pick up his option): $4.5 million.
  • Chris Singleton (if the Wizards pick up his option): $2.6 million.
That's just $28.9 million, which is well under the likely salary cap. But the following costs need to be added:
  • A possible max contract for John Wall, signed either this summer or next. Regardless of whether Wall gets a four- or five-year max contract, his first-year salary would be about $13.7 million.
  • A new deal for Webster. Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that he signs a three-year deal starting at $3.5 million a season. Next year would be Year 2 of that new deal.
  • The 2014 draft pick salary, somewhere between $1-2 million if the Wizards are an average team.
  • The cap holds for Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza, which will be very large. Here's a great explanation on how cap holds work. Basically, if the Wizards want to maintain any hope of keeping either, they must keep their Bird Rights, which creates a cap hold that drains any remaining cap space. They would have to renounce them and essentially let them go BEFORE they sign a different free agent, not after.
Add all this up, and suddenly you're getting pretty close to the 2014 cap level. It's possible that they'll have room to chase some useful free agents (I'd be shocked if Sanders wasn't locked up this summer by the Bucks, so I'd get his name out of your head), but it's equally possible they won't.

That's why I think it might be a better strategy to look to trade Ariza and/or Okafor plus other assets for future core pieces already under contract. Ironically, an Ariza/Ilyasova deal that doesn't involve the No. 3 pick would be a nice thing to pursue, though I doubt the Bucks bite.

Player development appears to be a real weakness of the Wizards organization. Sure, we see significant improvement in players like John Wall and Bradley Beal, but far more often we're disappointed by the development of guys like Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton, Kevin Seraphin, Nick Young, etc. What steps could the team take to improve its player development? What do you see other teams doing that the Wizards are not? How does a team San Antonio turn castoffs and lower draft picks into solid contributors like Danny Green and budding stars like Kawhi Leonard? (Or are they just scouting better than us?)

The San Antonio Spurs have just won the NBA Western Conference this year. They may have an aging core that includes Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, even Tony Parker is now over 30, but at the same time, this franchise just seems to have a very keen eye for getting younger players to contribute effectively including Tiago Splitter, Kawhi Leonard, DeJuan Blair and Danny Green. Even Ginobili and Parker were not lottery picks when they were drafted. What do you think the Wizards need to do to have a front office not unlike the Spurs which can consistently find and develop younger players who can contribute in a positive manner?

Going to take these two questions together. Jonathan Tjarks has two really good pieces (here's the second) about this subject on Real GM. Basically: the Spurs:

  1. Don't waste picks -- everyone is selected for a purpose.
  2. Constantly sift through the so-called "scrap heap" for contributors. No selling of late second-round picks to meet an operating budget. Constant monitoring of the D-League and Europe for undervalued players, rather than stopping their research at guys already in the league.
  3. Identify certain kinds of players that they can mold into their style of play.
  4. Have a great existing infrastructure in the Duncan/Parker/Ginobili trio that forces those picks to fit into a role while simultaneously giving them a great chance to learn from true pros.
  5. Aren't afraid to play youngsters to see how they function. The point Tjarks makes about Gregg Popovich not forcing his GM to acquire a veteran backup point guard when George Hill was struggling as a rookie really hit close to home. The Wizards' youngsters, unless they are Wall or Beal, rarely receive that kind of trust.
The bottom line is the Spurs appear to treat each and every one of their draft picks as assets rather than liabilities through every step of the process. You would never hear the Spurs' GM and coach suggest that they don't want to use all their draft picks, for example.

***

What is up with the Wizards second-round pick from last year, Tomas Satoransky? How did he do this year? He seems like a good fit, will be play summer league again this year?

Truth About It owns the Satoransky beat. Here's their latest update on his status.

***

When Ted says he wants to build the Wizards into a contender, what does he mean and what does contender (rather than merely a playoff team) mean to you? Which teams from this year's playoffs would you consider contenders?

I'm not exactly sure what he means, but I suspect it's a lot simpler than folks realize: he wants a team that consistently makes the playoffs and at least threatens to do damage once there.

As far as what a contender means to me, I stick to Daryl Morey's five-percent theory, stated in this brilliant Zach Lowe piece:

"If you've got even a 5 percent chance to win the title - and that group includes a very small number of teams every year - you've gotta be focused all on winning the title," says Rockets GM Daryl Morey.

Thinking about this year and this year only, I'd say the Heat, Spurs, Pacers, Grizzlies, Thunder, Clippers, Nuggets and Knicks apply.

***

People who have been Wizards season ticket holders for at least the last three years (starting with the 2011-2012 NBA season) have been given a "price freeze" on their tickets. The 2013-2014 season is the last year of that price freeze while the team still hasn't won that many more games. Should season ticket holders feel anxious about a sudden jump in ticket prices that "prices them out" of their seat locations, in particular if the Wizards do not perform up to expectations (meaning a Playoff berth)?

This is another question I deferred to Ted. If he responds, I'll let you guys know.

UPDATE: From his spokesman again:

We will determine and announce our season-ticket pricing for 2014-15 during our February 2014 renewal campaign. Our pricing is the result of a thorough analysis and evaluation, and it's simply too early to comment or make any decisions regarding the 2014-15 season.

***

What do you think of John Wall's development in the pick and roll game? I remember you said he played in a post oriented offense in Kentucky and didn't run much of it. He also struggled early on because the Wizards bigs were such bad screeners. But how has it developed to this point?

He's significantly improved, in large part because he's now a threat with his jumper. Teams don't go five feet under the ball screen now as much as they used to, and that opens up so many driving and passing lanes.

Often times, it's not about how good a shooter you are, it's about how good a shooter you can fool the other team into thinking you are. Derrick Rose is a really good case study here. In 2010-11, the year he morphed into the MVP because of a supposedly-better jump shot, he actually shot six percentage points worse from 16-23 feet. The difference was that he started attempting three-pointers (4.8 a game after barely attempting one a game in 2009-10) and hitting them somewhat reasonably (33 percent). Teams started to believe he was a good shooter and played him tighter, opening up driving lanes. According to the percentages, it would have still been smart to go way under screens and make him shoot, but Rose kept shooting, and sure enough, teams and players would see him make enough to get worried and change their coverages.

That's why I often didn't have a problem with Wall firing mid-range jumpers. He needs to shoot to be able to eventually fool teams into giving that shot more respect than it deserves.

***

I am interested in what an average replacement player looks like in free agency for every position. I think this is especially relevant in this draft. It seems to me that it is relatively easy to find a SG that can shoot every year, like Courtney Lee. But what about SF, PF and C?

I think it depends on what your team needs, how it's constructed and who is available on the free-agent market. You can always find someone cheaply at any position that fits your needs. It just so happens that there's a lot of teams that would find a spare shooter useful and a lot of players that can shoot.

The concept of a "replacement player" is a baseball term that I don't think applies well to basketball because the game is so much more system-based. A "replacement player" in Washington's scheme is different than a "replacement player" in Miami's.

***

I was wondering if you could do some in-depth analysis on the second unit with AJ Price playing point after John Wall came back. The team was obviously performing at a higher level as a whole, but I'd like to know exactly how much Price hurt us when he was on the floor. I really couldn't stand the stagnation when he was out there. If the numbers are that bad, we need to make backup PG our #1 offseason priority. I'm just looking for simple +/- numbers, Price's PER, team's pace, etc.

This is a great resource to use. Play around with it and search out Price's name.

There are 16 five-man units that played at least 30 minutes together this season. Five of those included Price. Surprisingly, the one with the best plus/minus was when you kept the other four starters in and replaced Wall with Price. The other frequently-used lineup involving Price was the one we saw often at the beginning of the season that also featured Beal, Ariza, Booker and Okafor. That five-man unit was dreadful.

Price certainly has his faults, but the team often performed decently with him on the floor, as cringe-worthy as some of his play was. For a backup point guard making the minimum, he was a sound investment. Whether a better player more capable of swinging between both guard positions could duplicate or exceed Price's plus/minus numbers with more lineup versatility is a different question entirely.

***

Has anyone ever discussed #wittmanfaces with coach Wittman?

I'm not sure if anyone has off the top of my head, but Michael Lee used the meme in a midseason story on the coach, so I would not be surprised if Lee brought it up with him.

***

1) How does Anthony Bennett (BF scouting report | SBN scouting report) compare to two of the biggest busts of the last two drafts Thomas Robinson and Derrick Williams?

2) Could/should the Wiz go after Thomas Robinson from the Rockets? What would it take to get him?

The first one seems like a loaded question. I'm not a big fan of Bennett, but like any prospect this high, he compares to some busts and some potential stars. I do think there's a chance that his game, predicated on raw scoring rather than on-court intelligence, may not translate well to the next level, and the struggles of Williams and Robinson offer cautionary tales because both were somewhat undersized for the power forward position and lack the kind of floor game that other 4s had. But similar things could have been said about Jared Sullinger, Kenneth Faried, Patrick Patterson, Carl Landry and even Tyler Hansbrough, all of whom have carved out decent niches in the league. I think you use current player comparisons as a means of understanding a prospect's game, not as a way to open/close the book on them.

Robinson is not going to be an option because the Rockets are looking to shed his salary to open up more cap space for a run at Dwight Howard. That means their trade partner has to be a team that has cap space, non-guaranteed contracts and/or a trade exception big enough to fit Robinson's $3.4 million salary. The Wizards don't have any of those three things.

***

Given the poaching of our current execs, is there anyone that Ernie and Ted would block from leaving. It seems to me that my only hope for a regime change is that Ernie retires and Ted promotes from within (HR is not Ted's thing). Is there a scout or exec that you would be excited about if they became GM? Is hoping for Ernie to retire after his contract a pipe dream?

Hard to say at this point. The Wizards have lost Pat Connelly, their director of player personnel who figured heavily in draft scouting, to the Suns, and they're potentially losing Milt Newton, one of Ernie Grunfeld's two senior advisors along with Tommy Sheppard, to the Timberwolves after the draft. It's rare to see teams block any executives from leaving, so I don't think the Wizards have anyone like that.

Sheppard has been rumored to be poached by teams in the past, and his name surfaced in conjunction with the Nuggets' opening, so I guess he'd be the best candidate if the Wizards promoted from within.

***

How possible is it that Alex Len (BF scouting report | SBN scouting report) will be a better player than Otto Porter?

On the blog it's all Otto-Otto-Otto all the time. I'm know he's the more polished player. But Len is 7-1 and athletic and he can shoot. He's not as developed as Otto, but his ceiling might be in the Pau Gasol territory. 18 pts, 10 rebs, 80% FTs, and the occasional made 3 would be an awesome complement to the young perimeter guys the Wiz have. Geez, John Wall keeps talking about a 4 who can shoot - Len might be the elephant in the room, the really obvious choice.

And in terms of building a Big 3, doesn't a big guy add more different things to the existing pair or perimeter players, than another perimeter player would?

Don't get me wrong, I like the diversity in Otto's game. I love it when guys fill the stat sheet, assists plus steals plus rebounds plus 3's. That's awesome. But I worry about the athleticism, and I worry about a possible low ceiling with a #3 overall pick, who should be a cornerstone guy. Len is more likely to be a bust, but seems also more likely to be a star.

I wonder if Wiz fans look at Alex Len thru Ernie Grunfeld / Jan Vesely / Maryland Terrapin-colored glasses, and they see a bust waiting to happen. They overlook his obvious talent. Len seems pretty likely to be one of those guys whose game will be better in the NBA than in college. If our vision of Len is clouded by Vesely, maybe we should try to get over it. Len can shoot, and Len is already adjusted to playing in America. He's a different player.

I don't know what the Wiz should do, but I'm aching for them to get it right. It would just be devastating for us to draft Otto and watch Len develop into Dirk Nowitzki with better rebounding numbers. But it would also suck to draft Len and watch him stumble around a la Vesely, while Otto becomes the next Pippen.

It's possible, sure. There's a reason Len is high in most mock drafts despite what many feel was an underwhelming season at Maryland. Things could very well work out in his favor.

But there are very legitimate reasons for people to be scared of him that have nothing to do with Jan Vesely. Len too often shrinks from contact, doesn't impact the game as well as someone his size should (Canis Hoopus makes a great point about his underwheming athletic numbers) and has a serious stress fracture injury he's rehabbing.

I think you're selling folks down on Len short by implying that this is a racial/European stereotype. Many Terps fans who watched him play all season don't like him. Many do. Many non-Terps fans watched him play all season and don't like him. Many do. He's pretty clearly being evaluated on his own merits.

I'd think about him for a second at No. 3 were it not for the ankle injury, but that scares me away. I also think center's a pretty deep position in this year's draft, so I don't think there's a good reason to pick Len just because he's a center.

More BF draft coverage:

  • All of BF's scouting reports.
  • All of SBNation.com's scouting reports.
  • The Wizards' workout database.
  • Wiz split on Porter vs. Bennett?
  • Atlantic Division trade targets
  • Central Division trade targets
  • Southeast Division trade targets
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