The NBA Trade Deadline is less than a month away. To date, things have been pretty quiet at the rumor mill, especially for the Wizards. That said, things have a way of getting hot very quickly as we close out January and move towards February. At this time last year, no one thought Andre Miller would be expendable. Heck, George Karl wasn't even in a position to bring his old point guard back to Sacramento because he was still a coaching free agent at the time. A lot can change between now and the February 18.
So before things start to heat up, let's take a look at the questions the team will need to answer before they can enter serious trade discussions next month.
Are the Wizards still all-in on KD2DC?
Washington can't do anything until they answer this question, because if they're still all-in, it affects who they can acquire in deals. They don't have much flexibility to add players with money beyond this summer and still have enough room to sign Kevin Durant. They can still make some moves along the fringe, similar to last year's Miller-Sessions trade, but they can't make a sexy move without cutting bait on the dream.
But is there any dream left to go after? A lot has changed since the KD2DC hype peaked over the summer. On the bright side, the Warriors and Spurs have established themselves as a notch above the Thunder this year. If Durant wanted to shake things up to try to latch on with someone who has a better shot at winning a title, it would be understandable.
At the same time, Washington hasn't done a great job making the case things would be any better in D.C. with how they've performed this season. They're on the outside of the playoff picture at the moment, Wall has been up-and-down, Beal has been hurt, and Otto Porter hasn't taken quite the leap some would have hoped.
Unless the Wizards can turn it around quickly, their only good selling point to Durant is the opportunity to come back home. Is that small chance worth putting a freeze on major moves before the league goes on a wild spending spree this summer? The Wizards need to make some serious risk/reward calculations this month as they come face-to-face with opportunities to get better that may not involve KD.
Will the Wizards be buyers or sellers at the deadline?
Two-thirds of the league is asking themselves this question right now. There are three serious title contenders right now (Warriors, Spurs, Cavaliers) three very serious lottery contenders (76ers, Lakers, Nets) and then there's everyone else still trying to figure out where they fit and what they need to do.
Considering the Wizards have been below .500 most of the season, you'd think they'd lean more to being a seller, but that doesn't appear to be the case at the moment, according to Ken Berger:
You could be the Washington Wizards (16-19), who league sources say are hoping to put together a rare 10-12 game stretch at or close to full health before deciding whether they're going to be sellers in the trade market with the deadline approaching Feb. 18.
The problem now is, it's looking more and more like they may not get that healthy stretch. Alan Anderson is still a few weeks away, Kris Humphries, Drew Gooden, and Otto Porter are still fighting through nagging injuries, and Bradley Beal is on a minutes restriction for the foreseeable future.
While the team probably doesn't want to give up on the team before they've had a chance to prove themselves, they can't afford to double-down without some tangible evidence. The Wizards were trapped in this cycle with the Arenas-Butler-Jamison era for years and they can't afford to make the same mistake again with John Wall's prime.
But let's play along and assume the Wizards can get healthy and show they deserve to stick together. That begs another question:
If the Wizards are buyers, what assets can they use to get better?
Assuming the Wizards want to keep Wall, Beal, Porter and Gortat together, the Wizards' best assets are last year's first-rounder Kelly Oubre and their first round pick for 2016.
Oubre has two things going for him: He's exceeded expectations as a rookie but he hasn't entrenched himself as a critical part of the team yet. Obviously, the Wizards don't want to give away a 20-year-old for no good reason, but he's not untouchable if you can get a clear upgrade.
Considering the Wizards' first-round pick will land somewhere in the 10-20 range, most of the things we just said about Oubre apply to the first round pick as well, assuming the Wizards put sensible protections on the pick.
Otto Porter isn't entirely off the table here either, but you need to get back something very good.
If the Wizards are sellers, do they have anything anyone wants?
Expiring contracts are great filler to make trades work because it helps teams move young assets on small deals for good players on big deals, but it's hard to center a deal on an expiring deal because it's just a rental. Plus, teams aren't really desperate to acquire expiring deals these days because the cap is going up and they can use the stretch provision to lessen the hit if they just want to get rid of someone.
There may be some interest in guys like Jared Dudley and Ramon Sessions, but teams aren't going to give up much. Let's not forget, all the Kings got for Sessions at the deadline last year was a decaying Andre Miller, and all the Bucks got for Jared Dudley last summer was a heavily-protected second round pick that will probably vanish into nothingness. Funny things can happen at the deadline as supply and demand changes, but if you're hoping for more than a second rounder, you'll probably be disappointed.
However, if the Wizards decide they want to let go of the KD2DC dream, be sellers at the deadline, AND shake up the roster, they could probably field some interesting offers for Marcin Gortat. He's on a good contract and he's putting up numbers that are just as good, if not better than last season. If the Wizards wanted to retool and get all the team's core pieces closer to Wall & Beal's age, this would be the time to do it. There's a window of opportunity now that you may not have next year if Gortat's production drops off.
On the flip side, if you give Gortat away and can't replace him with someone comparable, then you just created an even bigger issue. That's probably why you won't hear him mentioned in trade rumors as the deadline approaches, but if the Wizards decide they need to go in a new direction they should at least consider it.
And of course, the Wizards could always explore trading Bradley Beal if they're getting cold feet about giving him a long-term extension, but this isn't the time or place to talk about nuclear options.
Why not go after Markieff Morris?
Morris is probably the most talented player that's readily available in a trade at the moment, he's on an extremely cap friendly deal, and he plays at a position where the Wizards could really use a long-term solution. It's a win-win-win situation, until you remember why Phoenix is so desperate to get rid of him.
If you're still willing to take the plunge with Morris, even though he's still dealing felony assault charges and the Wizards don't have his brother Marcus to keep him happy, you have to ask yourselves the following questions:
- Who is the veteran leader who is going to help mentor Morris and keep him out of trouble? Remember, you're probably going to have to move Jared Dudley to make this deal work.
- Morris is on a cheap deal, but it's still expensive enough that it could jeopardize the Wizards' ability to offer someone a max deal this summer. Do you want to give that up for someone you may be sick of within a year?
While you may still want to push ahead in spite of those problems, past history would suggest the Wizards probably pull out before talks get serious for any and all of those reasons.
Why not go after Ryan Anderson?
Anderson is the other big name that seems to be popping up in early trade rumors, which makes sense seeing as how he's on an expiring deal and the Pelicans probably aren't going to make the playoffs after a disappointing, injury-riddled start to the season. Like Morris, Anderson would be an upgrade offensively as a stretch four, and he'd help with rebounding as well.
The other thing that's nice about Anderson is that he's on an expiring deal, which sounds great, but there's a catch. Odds are, you're going to have to give up more than your standard two month rental price since Anderson will be in demand. And if you're going to pay that premium in trade assets, whether it's giving up a future first rounder, or Oubre, or Porter, or whatever else, you better make sure you lock Anderson up beyond 2016 to make the investment worth it.
But if you make that investment beyond 2016, you're giving up on Kevin Durant. If you really think he isn't coming, then maybe you should just go get him, but there's always going to be a segment of the audience who will look at Ryan Anderson as the guy the Wizards went after instead of the hometown hero.
Are the Wizards going to do anything?
Last year I put myself out there and said there was no way the Wizards would do anything at the deadline, only to be fooled by the Miller-Sessions trade. Because of that, I won't go as far as to say the Wizards definitely won't make a move, but my strong lean is the Wizards do not make a big move before the deadline. Perhaps they make a small swap, but a big deal would go against everything they've planned for the past two years.
For better or worse, the Wizards have gone too far down the KD2DC path to give up now. Their best shot at slingshotting up into title contention is to ride the season out, hope the team gets healthy enough to make another head-turning playoff run, and see what happens this summer. It may be a long shot, but it's the only one that can take the Wizards beyond where they've already gone at this point.