Earlier this summer, after the Wizards had made most of their key free agent decisions, John Wall was asked what he thought the Wizards needed to do to fill the last few remaining spots on the roster, and his answer focused on addressing the lack of depth at small forward:
I think in the Eastern Conference you need three or four 3 men in order to defend LeBron. I know you’re not going to be able to stop him, but just a lot of different bodies just try to wear him down, and then if you get in foul trouble you have multiple guys that can guard him. That’s what you really need to go against him and compete.
To date, the Wizards haven’t done much to address Wall’s concerns. The team signed Danuel House to a partially guaranteed deal for training camp, and opted against getting into a bidding war with the Clippers for Alan Anderson.
As things stand, the Wizards only have 12 players locked into guaranteed deals. They can still use the Room Exception (worth $2.9 million over 2 years) and minimum deals to sign players at this point, which is fine because there really isn’t anyone left on the market who could demand more than that.
With that in mind, here’s a ranking of the slim pickings left at small forward on the free agent market.
1. Dorell Wright
Wright joined the Heat at the end of the regular season after a stint in China and gave the team some nice minutes on short notice. He won’t help the Wizards much on the defensive end, but he can certainly hold his own on the other end with his outside shooting.
2. Lance Stephenson
The nuclear option. He’s certainly the most talented player left on the open market, but there’s a reason why three teams have given up on him the past two seasons. If Scott Brooks could get him to fully commit to being a defensive stopper, he could be a useful piece in Washington, but it’s far more likely he’d disrupt the flow of the offense, which could hinder Tomas Satoransky and Kelly Oubre’s development.
3. Josh Smith
He’s definitely more of a 4 (or even a 5) than a 3 at this point in his career, but if Washington is looking for someone who can hold his own against some of the bigger small forwards in the East, he could work in short spurts. Problem is, it would be nearly impossible for Wall and Smith to play together unless one takes a major step forward as a shooter.
4. Branden Dawson
Dawson only played 29 minutes during his rookie season with the Clippers, who have struggled to develop young talent as of late. He spent most of the year bouncing around in the D-League. Since the Clippers didn’t have a direct affiliate, he was forced to play for three different teams, which made it hard to find any consistency. Perhaps he could do something more in a situation where the team put more of an emphasis on player development.
5. Cleanthony Early
The big question here is whether or not he can still live up to his potential after he was shot in the knee during a robbery attempt last December. His performance after he returned to the court for the Knicks in late March wasn’t impressive enough for him to keep his roster spot in New York, but he’s still fairly young, so he might be worth a flyer in the right situation.
6. P.J. Hairston
Didn’t show much with the Hornets or Grizzlies during his first two seasons. He only shot 34.8 percent from the field and 29.5 percent from deep. More importantly, his defense just hasn’t been good enough to gloss over those struggles. He’s still only 23, so there’s certainly still time for him to develop into something more than what he’s shown to this point.
7. Caron Butler
If Tuff Juice winds up back in Washington, it will probably be as a mentor more than for anything he can provide on the court. If we’re being honest, he really hasn’t been all that good since he left Washington. He hasn’t posted a PER over 15 since 2009. Last season, he only played in 17 games for the lowly Kings and averaged a paltry 3.7 points per game.
8. Chase Budinger
He hasn’t been the same scoring threat since he underwent knee surgery back in 2013. He’s still an okay passer on the wing, which is harder and harder to find these days, but that’s about all he brings to the table.
9. Tayshaun Prince
Prince logged quite a few minutes with the rebuilding Timberwolves last season, but didn’t do a whole lot with them. He was the only player in the NBA who played at least 15 minutes per game who did not average at least three points per game. He also only shot 16.7 percent from beyond the arc, which is not good in any situation.
10. Dahntay Jones
Jones provided an unexpected, but welcome spark at some key moments for the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. However, that may have been the last few drops he had left in the tank. He turns 36 in December, so he won’t provide much more than a veteran presence and the occasional hustle play at this point.
11. Mark Cooper
Had a nice preseason run with the Warriors a few seasons back, but has been off the NBA radar ever since. He still might be worth a look.
As you can see, there’s not a lot out there. Wright, Stephenson, and Smith are the only guys who might have a shot at being rotation-level players next season, and even that’s questionable. Barring an unforeseen trade, it looks like the Wizards best shot may be riding with what they’ve got and hoping Porter and Oubre are ready for the challenge.