The storyline of the Wizards’ 2016 free agency was that they couldn’t get Kevin Durant to look at their direction, and lost to Boston in the 11th hour in the Al Horford sweepstakes. Therefore, they settled by giving Ian Mahinmi a mega deal to be Marcin Gortat’s backup (for now), Jason Smith mid-level-esque money, Andrew Nicholson, and Daniel Ochefu to fill in the rest of the bench post rotation.
On paper, the bench looked deeper. But in reality, Smith has been out of form all year, Nicholson’s minutes have gradually dwindled, and Ochefu is wondering whether he’ll get to play ... at all. Meanwhile, Mahinmi got injured in the preseason and has yet to play a game. If you’re looking for a silver lining, Tomas Satoransky is quickly eating up Burke’s minutes. But either way things aren’t looking good.
Well, I hate to write about more negative news surrounding Ernie Grunfeld and the front office, but apparently it looks like they “let another one get away from them.”
Earlier this week, J. Michael of CSN Mid Atlantic reported that now-Houston Rockets forward Ryan Anderson felt that he was going to sign with the Wizards last summer during free agency. From Michael’s piece:
Anderson expected to be in a Wizards uniform, multiple league sources confirmed at the time. He'd even told John Wall via text that he believed that he was headed to D.C. But president Ernie Grunfeld never called back after an initial conversation in free agency and wasn't willing to go that high to acquire his services.
Anderson signed a four-year, $80 million deal with the Rockets in July. Michael also added that the Wizards were not aggressively pursuing Anderson in free agency because they were going after Horford. Once Horford didn’t sign with the Wizards, they went to Mahinmi.
So much for being the Wizards’ “top free agent target.”
From this, here are the main takeaways I see from the Wizards’ non-signing of Anderson:
Anderson would have been a good if not critical “stretch four” for Washington
Last year, Anderson averaged 17 points and 6 rebounds for the Pelicans last season, and shot 36.6 percent from three and averaged two made threes a game. This season, he’s averaging 12 points a game and is still making over two threes on average.
Though his two point shooting percentage has hit a career-low 36.7 percent so far, the bottom line is that the Wizards could have used a true stretch forward on the bench. No post on the Wizards’ current roster truly has that skill.
To be fair to the Wizards, they were right to go after Horford
Now, let’s go to the salaries. I get why the Wizards may have been wary about paying near max-level money for Anderson. If it looked like they were like to get Horford, I can understand to a point.
Let’s assume that Washington did sign Horford. That would lead to the inevitable question on whether the Wizards would put Marcin Gortat on the trade block. His contract is favorable, and it could have yielded some additional players who can help the team. Grunfeld has made good trades over the years, and I’m sure he can make something work if that happened. Perhaps that was the plan if Horford did sign with Washington.
But it didn’t happen.
Why couldn’t the Wizards have kept a line of communication with Anderson during the Horford negotiations?
The thing that makes me unhappy is that Anderson was looking forward to playing in Washington, and he has a skill that would help the team right away. Since he is such a good shooter, Anderson would still play close to starter-level minutes like he did with the Pelicans last season if Markieff Morris remained the starter.
And that’s where the Wizards missed the mark. They didn’t bother getting back to him after an initial conversation. By not signing a stretch four like Anderson, the players they did sign don’t have the skills to compete at an NBA level or they’re injured.
And worst of all since we’re on the subject of stretch fours: the Wizards are making less threes than anyone else in the league. With Anderson, they wouldn’t be averaging seven threes a game. Though they are 12th in the NBA in three point percentage. But when the Wizards take very few threes while allowing opponents to perform like the Warriors every night, no wonder why Washington’s 4-9 right now.
Are we just looking at the grass being greener on the other side?
It is important to note that Anderson has been a bit injury prone in the last few years. The one that raises eyebrows will be a neck injury he suffered in the 2013-14 season. Also, Akbar Naqvi also added that he may not be a good basketball fit even if he was realistic as a target.
But no, I don’t think I’m just looking at the grass being greener on the other side.
The Wizards signed Mahinmi for a lot of money as well and who knows how he’s going to fit in once he’s back from injury. The Wizards’ other backup post options are a net negative on the court.
And finally, there’s something to be said when players are genuinely interested playing for a particular team and texting the franchise player about that possibility. Should the Wizards simply sign Anderson to make Wall happy if that’s what he wanted? No. But should Grunfeld give more than one call to Anderson during free agency? Yes.
I didn’t mind seeing Anderson as a free agent target, and I felt he could be a good option. Is $20 million a year steep? Yes. But we’re in the new salary cap era now, where many players are earning far more than they would have if they were free agents last year.
You can add Ryan Anderson to the list of good free agents that the Wizards had a chance to get, but ultimately said “thanks but no thanks” to him by literally giving him the cold shoulder. I’m not unhappy that Anderson isn’t a Wizards player in and of itself. As a free agent, Anderson should go where the money is, and to a team that wants his services.
What I am unhappy about was that the Wizards needed additional shooting help, needed to get someone to fill in that void, and didn’t bother trying to explore the genuine interest Anderson had with Washington. It seemed that the Wizards were adamant about adding traditional posts. Unfortunately, all of their free agent signings have underwhelmed so far while Anderson’s Rockets are in the middle of the NBA’s Western Conference playoff race.