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Roundtable: How much better would the Wizards be if they had Al Horford right now?

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NBA: Washington Wizards at Boston Celtics Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Jake Whitacre: Wednesday's game against the Celtics got me thinking again about the Al Horford saga. We all know that things did not go well and the backup plan has gone even worse than most of us would have expected.

But that said: Would Horford have really made a major impact this season? Of course, he would be an upgrade over all their current frontcourt options, but he's also posting the worst true shooting percentage since his rookie season, his PER is down to its lowest mark since his sophomore season, and the Celtics' Defensive Rating has only been slightly better than the Wizards.

Also keep in mind the Wizards would have had almost no room to sign anyone else to more than a minimum deal this summer if they had snagged Horford. So believe it or not, the Wizards' bench probably would have been even worse than the current offering, which would have forced the Wizards with Horford to still log heavy minutes just to keep their heads above water, just like the current team.

Even if everything had broken right with Al Horford, it's hard to see the Wizards with Horford being anything more than the third-best team in the East, a notch below the Cavs and Raptors. And if that’s the case, was it a bad idea to go after Horford in the first place? Perhaps the Wizards would have been better off using the time they spent chasing Horford to go after some of the players that locked into deals earlier in free agency.

Alan Jenkins: I think the Wizards would be slightly better and battling for a 4-6 seed rather than being a fringe playoff team. Having Horford would be nice as all five starters would be shooting threats. Horford adds a different dimension in that effect and watching him and Wall run a pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop would be fun. However, he would be a small downgrade from Gortat on the defensive end who's quietly having a very good season.

Also, the bench still remains inconsistent and historically bad. Roster spots 6-14 on the Wizards are arguably the worst in the NBA. The Wizards would have only been able to sign lower level players (salary wise) but with all due respect, they already have lower level players who they are just massively overpaying.

On paper it sounds fun, but I don't think Horford would be the panacea to all of the Wizards problems and catapult them into say, the two or three seed in the east.

Lyndie Wood: Two things - First, I don't know that the bench would be much worse if it was rounded out with minimum guys.

Second, we have to think about it in the context of who Horford would be taking usage from. If Horford were replacing some of Morris's inefficient usage, that would be a very good thing.

Depth would still be an issue, but the Wizards would be a better team.

Nick Bilka: They would have had no room to sign anyone (except tomas Satoransky), and then they would have still had the room exception, which would be more attractive if Horford would have signed. The bench would be Morris/Oubre/Sato the 3 undrafted rookies and whoever they could get to sign for the room exception/minimum. I think that is actually better than their current bench because you are basically subbing Morris for Smith.

Kevin Broom: Horford would have made the Wizards better by a minimum of 4-5 games this season because he’d have moved Markieff Morris to the bench. I also think he could be performing better with the Wizards (this is something of a down year for him) because he’d be able to work with Wall, and he’d have quality shooters like Beal and Porter.

And, the Wizards bench could not be worse. They’d still have been able to get Jason Smith if they’d wanted, but it would have been for the minimum. “Missing out” on Nicholson and Mahinmi would have been no loss at all. They could have gotten the same level of play from some D-League signees or undrafted free agents. They still could have brought Satoransky over, signed McClellan, traded for Burke. At minimum, they’d be no worse off. I think their bench would be better because of Morris. His best season was as a reserve.

Preseason, my forecast was that the Wizards win 41. With Horford, I’d boost that to 48-49. Not elite, but one of the stronger teams in the East.

Mike Prada: Significantly better. I'd go with the record Kevin cited as a minimum level of improvement, to be honest, and I think they could push 50+ wins.

Horford's a perfect fit in the starting lineup because of his ability to be moved around the court like a queen of the chess board -- he can spot up in the corner on Wall/Gortat pick and rolls AND run them himself. It'd give the Wizards two of the best screeners in the game, combined with one of the league's elite pick and roll operators and two great shooters spotting up. I really think this'd be a top-5 offense. Horford's skills are a better fit here because the Wizards have two good guard scorers, not just one. You wouldn't need to rely on him as much to create his own looks.

Plus, like Kevin said, it'd move Kieff to the bench, and it's not like Horford was that much more expensive than Mahinmi. You could use Horford as a backup 5, alleviating the need for Ian. You'd then give Kieff his space to breathe without him stealing shots from Wall/Beal/Porter. Backcourt depth would still be shaky, but the frontcourt depth issues are mostly solved assuming Kieff accepts his bench role.

Gotta also consider the intangibles Horford brings as a quality pro and locker room guy. I think Wall and Beal would have benefited from his steady approach and we'd have fewer games where the effort yo-yos.

Al would have been a godsend and that's why it's painful the wild finish didn't go the Wizards' way.

Mike Sykes: Honestly still crying from this tweet:

But there is no question they'd be a lot better. Horford was never going to be a guy who put up huge numbers, but would screen, give them size and strength at the 4 and be able to consistently hit spot up looks from most areas on the court.

There's no way they could be worse with Markieff Morris playing less minutes. I think he's an okay player at this point, but he is what he is. And Horford is a clear upgrade.

The lineup that got torched to start the fourth quarter against the Celtics on Wednesday was Morris + bench. Imagine if that was Horford and the bench.

Jeff Newman: Correct. Horford is a guy you have zero qualms playing through, even if he isn't as effective as he once was. Morris, uh, is not that.

If Mahinmi comes back and plays well, I think the discussion may change a little. But I still don't think they'd be any better. After all, this was the backup plan to the backup plan. Whatever way you cut it, things just aren't great right now.

Kevin Broom: I don’t think Mahinmi changes much of anything. Last season was the only above average season of his career. At age 29. In a contract year. The preceding three seasons – 3716 total minutes – he performed at replacement level. Even without injury, he was a strong candidate for a painful regression.

Jon Munshaw: The current bench couldn't get much worse, so I think they'd be a slightly better team. As others have mentioned in this thread already, Morris' minutes have been inefficient (his PER is currently 12.4, versus 14 in the 27 games he played for the Wizards last year), and Horford would most likely have stolen his minutes. Then we could have filled out the bench with minimum guys and the not-Trey Burkes of the world.

The other thing to think about, too, is if signing Horford would have pushed the Wizards to trade Gortat? Does anyone think it's possible that they sign Horford, say they're going to use him at the 5, and Gortat requests a trade?

Lyndie Wood: They could trade Gortat, but I think Horford can play power forward still. You can split his minutes at both positions, depending on the matchup. So you could trade Gortat, but I think a post rotation of Gortat/Horford/Morris is really strong and gives you a lot of flexibility.

Jake Whitacre: Two more things to stir the pot:

  1. Like Mahinmi, Al Horford has had some injury issues in the past. Just something to factor in here maybe.
  2. If the Wizards' ceiling with Horford is 52 wins, do you still lock into that deal considering there would be almost zero flexibility to add to the team beyond that point?

Kevin Broom:

  1. He has had injury issues, but the past two seasons he played 76 and 82 games.
  2. They really don’t have much flexibility going forward anyway. They’re at $110.4 million counting salaries that are on the books and Porter’s cap hold ($11.8 million). The cap is estimated to be $102 million. They’d have about $12.3 million under the luxury tax threshold…until Porter signs his max or near-max contract. Assume Porter signs for the max, and the Wiz would be OVER the luxury tax line by $1.4 million. They’d need to offload salary to avoid the luxury tax, pay for their draft picks (assuming they don’t trade whatever they have in stock), and improve their bench.

Mike Sykes: I'm not as concerned about injury history as I am with just improving the team. Horford has played enough and is a clear roster upgrade for them. And the Cavs haven't had flexibility in two years, but have still managed to add piece after piece to the team.

Flexibility is overrated. The goal is to build a team that can compete. If you have to sacrifice future flexibility to do that then so be it.

Lyndie Wood: To riff off of Mike: As long as you don't have albatross contracts, you don't need to have a lot of flexibility. If you really need to you can move decent players on okay deals. Jason Smith is untradable, because Jason Smith is overpaid. Jason Smith on a smaller deal is a player teams would be willing to take to address injury concerns or what have you.

To Jake's point about a 52 win ceiling: I don't have a problem with that. It's really, really hard to get the talent for a 55+ win team. If it's that or bust, to be totally honest I think the Wizards need to hire Sam Hinkie and bottom out. But if you're okay with being the Raptors rather than the Cavs - a team that isn't topping anyone's contender list, but is good enough to make the conference finals - then signing Horford would have been a great move.

Albert Lee: What Lyndie said.

  1. The Wizards would be better offensively for sure.
  2. The Wizards would have legitimate post depth and Gortat doesn't have to play 36-38 minutes a game.
  3. The Wizards' core players have been to two straight 2nd round playoff appearances, so if they're a 52 win team, that's a ok. They could very well be an ECF team because of the additional depth in the post.

Instead of Horford, you have Jason Smith as your most reliable big and three other posts who hardly play.

Ben Becker: Hey Jake -- just wanted to tell you you're the worst.

Best regards,
Ben