Washington's small forward situation -- once the strength of the team -- has suffered a major setback with the news of Martell Webster's surgery to repair a herniated disk in his lower back. This has ripple effects all over the roster and will assuredly put the pressure on management to strike a deal with Trevor Ariza early on in free agency before they're forced into a bidding war for his services.
Webster is a bit of an enigma since signing his four-year, $20 million deal last summer. He's a key component of that locker room and a favorite among the coaching staff. Even after a banner year in 2013, he willingly gave up his starting role to Ariza in training camp while accepting a vastly different undertaking off the bench.
Still, he's rightfully judged on his new contract. He was a sieve on defense in 2014, incapable of chasing shooters around screens and was routinely caught sinking too low into the paint as a help defender around pick and rolls.
You could attribute some of these shortcomings to his health. He only missed a total of four games all season, but pushed through a sore ankle for the better part of December and a sore back down the stretch of the season. There's a reason for all of that. He has a provision in his contract that guarantees the final year of his deal if he manages to play in 102 games over the next two years. Anything short of that and Washington is off the hook for just a piece of that final year.
Which brings up another dilemma: this is his third back surgery in four years, one that will require 3-5 months of rest before he's able to participate in basketball-related activities. Washington's training staff has played it safe with injuries in the past, but will Webster acquiesce knowing the stipulations of his contract?
As a 27 year old, he should recover just fine. But as Dr. Ray Solano of WizardsXtra and Fox 5 news states, there's always the possibility of him needing additional surgery or even a cleanup procedure from a previous surgery.
There's obviously a lot at stake here for both sides. It's an especially tough break for the Wizards because this is coming on the heels of Ariza's free agency courtship as well as Otto Porter's return to Summer League. Suddenly, there's a lot up in the air about this team's small forward position.
How this plays into Ariza's free agency
The Wizards have made it clear that Ariza is a priority, but they've lost some leverage in light of Webster's injury. They can't fall back on Porter alone because they frankly know nothing about him. He didn't get a ton of run in the regular season and they won't have the benefit of seeing what he does in Summer League either.
But maybe we're overthinking all of this. I wouldn't put it past management to give Ariza what he wants anyway because it's exactly what they did with Webster a year ago. Remember, Ariza performed well to end that year, and this was just days after they selected Porter with the third pick. They had the leverage back then. But they ended up shelling out the full mid-level exception anyway rather than just a portion of it like we expected.
And now they're well aware of the need for a great wing defender. They saw how Ariza shut down D.J. Augustin in the playoffs and how he held his own against Paul George. More importantly, they saw what Webster couldn't do. Beyond any health concerns, Webster was dreadful on that end of the floor. Even in his best year with a clean bill of health, he never really moved the needle much on D.
He was so good offensively that the drop off was worth it then, but this year, it got worse. He was inattentive away from the ball and was always a step or two behind his man off screens. Watch as he ball watches for a split-second, giving Mario Chalmers enough time to find Allen along the baseline.
And for good measure, look at how Otto shrewdly leaves his man at the top of the key to stunt to Ray Allen in the corner. This should conceivably buy Webster enough time to clog up the lane on Chris Andersen's roll to the rim and retreat back to Allen. But instead, Webster falls asleep and makes a half-hearted attempt to close out.
It'd be easy to say that Porter should just be plugged into the rotation. For all his faults, Porter rarely slips up with his rotations on defense and he has the length to fit right into Randy Wittman's scheme. Yet the Wizards can't go into the season relying on the former Georgetown product to play a huge role given how poor he was everywhere else as a rookie.
There's a gaping hole now on the wings, and I'd be shocked if the front office goes in a different direction. Cheaper options can be had, but they're a loyal bunch that believes in continuity. Ariza is a good bet to return.
What does this mean for Otto?
Never has so much hinged on a Summer League performance, but here we are. Porter absolutely needs to take the bull by the horns in Las Vegas. Other than Glen Rice Jr, there won't be anyone that has a clear chance to make the Wizards roster. Tomas Satoransky won't be there, nor is there a second-round draft pick this year either.
Porter will have to do a bit of everything offensively. I won't look into what he does on defense, because you won't be seeing much of it in Vegas anyway, but he'll need to show a refined jump shot and improvement with his ball handling. He was a zone buster in college that excelled with his touch from mid-range and ability to pick out cutters from the high post. If his rookie season proved anything, it's that he can't get by just doing those same things.
This is his chance to make some headway. He will be the backup small forward in training camp and preseason, and unless Webster makes a full recovery in time for the regular season, Porter will be the man.