Ernie Grunfeld and Ted Leonsis managed to achieve something remarkable this past offseason. Remember how it started? They were stocked with cap space accumulated through seasons of planning and patience, and they were primed to spend it on a name brand free agent who would make the franchise a title contender.
Hometown hero Kevin Durant refused to even meet with the Wizards. Didn’t want to hear the pitch. He signed with Golden State — the NBA location farthest from DC.
Stalwart big man Al Horford took the meeting. He pondered his options, narrowed the field to the Wizards and the Celtics, and then chose the place he thought gave him the best chance to win: Boston.
Grunfeld and Leonsis went and used their precious cap space to award lucrative multiyear contracts to backups and scrubs. In the process, they managed to purchase next to nothing of value, and kneecap the team’s prospects for improving in the near future.
Their desperation to do something -- anything — led to a maximum contract for Bradley Beal, and lavishing $105.7 million over the next four seasons to Ian Mahinmi, Andrew Nicholson and Jason Smith.
How bad were those signings? Well, Mahinmi was coming off the best season of his career, but...it came at age 29. In a contract year. It’s the only above-average season of his career, and it came after three consecutive seasons -- 3,716 total minutes -- of replacement level performance. He plays the same position as incumbent center Marcin Gortat, and...he was the free agent prize.
Nicholson’s next above-average season will be his first. Through four seasons, he’s marginally better than replacement level. And Smith was just about as productive as Nicholson, but older.
But, the point here isn’t to mock Grunfeld and Leonsis for extravagant spending on crummy players. Anyone who’s watched the team can see that for themselves. Rather, it’s to peer into the future despair that will plague the psyche of Wizards fans. It’s to foresee the feeling that only fans of teams that engage in long-term crapitude can experience — the dawning realization that a meh team hobbled by a heroically awful bench is as good as it’s going to get. No Wizards fans, you don’t even get “next year.”
For next year, the Wizards have salaries on the books totaling $116.3 million. That figure includes an $17.7 million cap hold for Otto Porter, who’s likely to sign a maximum contract in the offseason. The salary cap is projected at $102 million; the luxury tax line at $122.7 million.
A bit of math reveals that if Porter gets a maximum salary, the team will be a bit over the luxury tax line. That’s before adding draft picks or potential free agents to the roster.
If they choose to keep the gang together, they’d enter the 2018-19 offseason in a similar situation -- committed to approximately $130 million in guaranteed salaries and still in luxury tax territory.
Meanwhile, the team can anticipate age-related declines from guys expected to be key contributors like Gortat, Mahinmi and Markieff Morris.
There are always options, of course, like giving draft picks to teams with cap space to absorb some of these bad contracts. But that strategy handicaps their chances of landing the young talent they lack.
The team’s decade of bad management is gaining on them. They’re starved for talent and lacking in the resources to acquire it.
For more discussion on this, check out Episode 2 of the Becker & Broom Podcast on Bullets Forever early next week.