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Sorting out the Wizards’ options in free agency for this upcoming offseason

The Wizards are going to have to spend lots of money to keep this team in tact. But where should it go?

NBA: Orlando Magic at Washington Wizards Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The season is winding down. The Wizards have just one regular season game left, and then 16 playoff games before they hoist the trophy after sweeping their way through the playoffs (okay maybe they won’t do that, but while we are trying to predict the future, we can have some fun).

As you know, after the playoffs comes the offseason, and like most Wizards offseasons, the upcoming one presents many challenges for Ernie Grunfeld and the Wizards’ front office. The Wizards only have nine players with guaranteed contracts lined up for next season, and they have basically no cap space to work with, so what can the Wizards do this summer? Let’s take a look.

Restricted Free Agents

Otto Porter, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Trey Burke will all be restricted free agents, as long as the Wizards extend qualifying offers before they enter free agency. The qualifying offer is structured as a one year offer at 125 percent of the player’s salary from the previous season. As long as the team extends the qualifying offer, they’ll have “match rights” which allow them to match any offer sheet the player signs in free agency and keep the player at that price, even if they go over the salary cap. If the Wizards choose not to extend a qualifying offer to any of those three, they go straight to unrestricted free agency.

Brandon Jennings is a “non-bird” free agent. The non-bird exception allows a team to re-sign a player to a deal that starts at 120 percent of the player’s salary from the previous season, even if they’re over the salary cap. This would allow the Wizards to sign Jennings to a deal that starts at $1.44 million in the first season, and can be at that value for anywhere between one to four years.

Sheldon Mac and Daniel Ochefu both have non-guaranteed contracts for next season. If either player is waived before July 1, 2017, they won’t count towards Washington’s cap sheet next season. However, if Mac is still on the roster at that point, $50,000 of his 2017-18 salary is guaranteed. Other than that small guarantee, the rest of the contract is prorated up until the league-wide guarantee date on January 10. If they’re waived at any point before then, the Wizards only have to pay them for the games they play that season.

Knowing those rules, let’s look at some different scenarios that could play out this summer and how it would affect Washington’s future plans.

Everybody Leaves

Let’s start with the most catastrophic scenario: Porter gets offered more than the Wizards want to pay, some other team offers Bogdanovic and Burke too much, Jennings gets offered more money than Washington can afford, and Mac and Ochefu get cut. At that point, the Wizards would have roughly $10.2 million in cap space to fill six roster spots. They could bump that up to around $11 million if they unload their second round pick elsewhere and don’t take any cap space back as part of the deal.

Those are tough parameters for team building. Add in that there would be an $8,406,000 standard mid-level exception and a $3,290,000 bi-annual exception and it becomes a little easier, but still challenging. Jared Sullinger and Wesley Johnson got the MLE last summer, if that helps show you the ability level of players who typically get the MLE. There are a few players who would possibly be worth around that $8.4 million mark this season who will be free agents next season. Nikola Mirotic, Zach Randolph, P.J. Tucker, Tyreke Evans, Thabo Sefolosha, Amir Johnson, and (puts up shield) Jeff Green are a few that come to mind, though some of them may be wishful thinking at just an $8 million-ish salary level.

The bi-annual exception would be a little harder to use. It is a multi-year low salary contract, and there aren’t many players who want to lock into a two-year, low-salary deal. Additionally, using the bi-annual exception prevents a team from using it the next season, so it is imperative that it is not wasted. A few potential candidates who might be willing to take the BAE include Brandon Rush, Mike Scott, Kevin Seraphin, and Luke Babbitt. Any of these players would be welcome additions, but…

In order to use these exceptions, a team needs to be over the cap. So before any of these potential signings could even come into the team, the Wiz would have to fill 3 roster spots with $10 million of cap space. The smart strategy, considering that Bogdanovic and Otto would be gone in this scenario, would be to dump all of the money on a starting caliber wing. Some of the MLE candidates fit into this spot, but the goal with this contract would be to have it be longer term. CJ Miles and Tyreke Evans could be good candidates for this spot.

So, let’s hypothetically say it all goes to a 3-year/$30 million deal for Miles. Then the MLE goes to Sefolosha and the BAE goes to Rush. Then the depth chart would look something like this:

PG: John Wall, Tomas Satoransky, XXXXXXX

SG: Bradley Beal, Thabo Sefolosha, XXXXXXX

SF: C.J. Miles, Kelly Oubre Jr., Brandon Rush

PF: Markieff Morris, XXXXXX, Chris McCollough

C: Marcin Gortat, Ian Mahinmi, Jason Smith

So the Wizards would have a second round pick and minimum contracts to fill the last 3 spots. Hey look, DraftExpress has the Wizards drafting right around the pick slots for Kyle Kuzma and Nigel Hayes. Let’s say with pick 54 the Wizards grab Kuzma. He slots into the empty PF slot on the roster (let’s be real even with this depth chart Smith would be the backup 4). So, two minimum contracts are needed for guard depth. Let’s just make up some players around that ability level. Marcelo Huertas and R.J. Hunter. Not exactly a murderer’s row.

Show Me The (Tax) Money

So there is the worst case next season roster for the Wizards. Almost every position gets worse from the season before, except for center. Any injuries would force players without much skill or experience to have a meaningful role with the team. This would not be ideal for the team, but isn’t off the table.

So now let’s move on to Option B, the one with the least roster turnover. This one is easy! (Almost) everyone comes back! Trey Burke gets another chance! Even Mac & Ochefu stay on the roster. The only decision the team has to make is what to do with their second round pick since all the roster spots would be filled. (Do they trade it for cash? Stash it overseas? Use the new two way contract?)

It’s the easy way out, but it comes at a steep cost. Let’s say that Otto gets the max, Bogdanovic gets a reasonable deal for him, $12 million per year, and the other 4 potential free agents get the minimum they can be paid (Jennings gets $1.4 million, Burke gets his $4.2 million qualifying offer, Mac & Ochefu both individually make $1.3 million).

This would put the Wizards’ payroll at $137 million - $14 million above the projected luxury tax threshold. That’s quite the hefty price for the Wizards to pay – especially to not even add any contributors to the mix. It’s hard to see how the Wizards could justify spending that much. So let’s try to find the happy medium.

What Will Actually Happen

So, chalk this up as my official prediction for the offseason. First and foremost, they will almost certainly extend the qualifying offer to Porter and Bogdanovic. This will make them restricted free agents, so if the Wizards want to keep them they can. They will likely not extend a qualifying offer to Trey Burke, as his production isn’t worth $4.4 million.

As for Mac and Ochefu, they will probably get held onto until the Wizards know what the price is for Porter and Bogdanovic. Jennings will almost certainly get offered the $1.4 that the Wizards can offer him, but he will decline as he could get way more than that on the open market.

With all this in mind, it is pretty likely that Burke and Jennings are not Wizards next year, so two of the six upcoming free agents are gone. The Wizards will still be over the cap after extending the qualifying offers to Porter and Bogdanovic thanks to their cap holds (which are technically impossible to predict until the moratorium period), so losing Burke and Jennings (who play the same position) is problematic. Before even thinking about Mac and Ochefu, the Wizards would still need four players to fill out the roster.

So first thing, the 54th-ish pick in the draft in one of those four players. Again, Kyle Kuzma or Frank Mason can be our example players. Let’s say Mason is picked this time.

The next important thing: Timing. What are Otto’s and Bojan’s contracts going to be, and when will they be signed? The Wizards will still have the MLE and BAE (from the “everyone leaves” scenario), but the value of the MLE goes down if the Wizards are a taxpaying team.

This means they will have to hurry and try to sign players to these contracts (if they plan to use the exceptions) BEFORE they resign Porter and Bogdanovic, as those guys would put them over the tax. Unfortunately, they are restricted free agents, so any team could make them an offer and force the Wizards to match the offer within three days of it being signed, meaning the timing of all these signings will be crucial. If the Wizards wait too long to sign someone to the MLE, it could go from the standard MLE with a value of $8,406,000 down to the taxpayer MLE at $5,192,000.

Hypothetically, let’s say they get Sefolosha for the MLE (the one valued at $8 million) and then, let’s say they get Mike Scott for the BAE. Going into contract negotiations with Bojan and Otto, the roster would look like this:

PG: Wall, Satoransky, Mason Jr.

SG: Beal, Sefolosha, XXXXXX

SF: (Otto), (Bojan), Oubre Jr.

PF: Markieff, Scott, McCollough

C: Gortat, Mahinmi, Smith

All that and they are over the cap, meaning that anyone else they want to add has to be for a minimum. Before resigning Porter and Bogdanovic, with this roster, they would be close to the tax line set for next season.

Signing both Porter and Bogdanovic would certainly make them a tax team. Otto would surely be resigned for anything up to and including the max, which he will probably get. So the tasks for Ernie Grunfeld would be as follows:

  1. What is Bogdanovic worth?
  2. Can he convince Ted Leonsis to pay the tax dollars for him?
  3. If not, who is available at the minimum who can play on the perimeter?

It’s hard at this point to speculate who could be available at the minimum, especially since players who go undrafted will factor in here as well. However, this could be good news for Sheldon Mac. The Wizards would still need a third shooting guard, and having a non-guaranteed guy who knows the culture of the team could be perfect for the Wizards to keep around. They could even cut him in January if they want a roster spot for the buyout market.

So, this whole situation comes down to if Ted is willing to pay somewhere in the $125 million – $130 million range PLUS tax fees to keep Bojan for $10-15 million per year. His worth to the team is for the Wizards to decide, but being a restricted free agent means other teams could dictate his market. Without Bojan, they likely aren’t a tax team (the tax line is projected at $122 million) so it has to be decided if his salary improves the team enough to make it worth being a taxpaying team.

As you can see, there are a lot of factors in play for the Wizards in the upcoming summer. Six upcoming roster spots creates a tough situation to be in, so how will the front office solve it? That all depends on how much Ted is willing to pay.