Times have changed in Washington. A franchise that was once unable to keep its top talent signed arguably its best talent ever to an extension. John Wall will be a Wizard for at least five more seasons after signing a four-year, $170 million deal, with a player option on the final year of the deal.
This isn’t Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Richard Hamilton, and every other talent the Wizards have let slip through its grasp. Wall is here to stay through his prime rather than taking his talents elsewhere. And he’ll continue to grow alongside Bradley Beal and Otto Porter.
That alone makes Washington a power in the Eastern Conference. No, they didn’t make any splashy signings or bust out a trade for another superstar. But retaining talent also counts for success. And over the last two seasons, there has been no team that has done that better than Washington.
Why Washington’s stability makes them a better team next season
Just take a look around — the rest of the conference is in turmoil. Jimmy Butler and Paul George have already been traded to the Western Conference, Kyrie Irving may be joining them before the end of the summer. There’s also a certain star small forward who’s possibly halfway out the door in Cleveland, too.
I’m not saying Washington will be better than the Cavaliers next season even if Irving is traded. They’ve still got LeBron James and Kevin Love, who are two of the top players in the conference. But the top of the totem pole will certainly be weakened next season, if Irving is dealt.
The Boston Celtics are the only team in the conference that has gotten demonstrably better this offseason with the addition Gordon Hayward. They’ll still be good and hunting for the top seed in the conference again this season. But don’t forget Washington took them to seven games last season with a putrid bench that couldn’t muster up more than five points in the decisive game of the series.
The Wizards had one of the best starting lineups in the league last season, posting a +8.1 net rating. It was the fourth-best mark in the league among lineups which played at least 300 minutes played last season. They did that in the first year playing in a new system under Scott Brooks. It’s only getting better from here.
Washington will be a destination moving forward
Sure, Wall’s signing is a function of the new collective bargaining agreement strengthening mechanisms enabling teams to hold their star talent in place. But, as we’ve seen this summer, those built-in advantages haven’t been enough to keep other stars from making moves.
Irving just demanded a trade from Cleveland, even though he knows a trade would make ineligible for any designated veteran player extension in the future. Earlier in the summer, George told the Indiana Pacers he had no intention of re-signing with them in 2018, even though he could have gotten eligibility for a “supermax” deal if he made an All-NBA team next season. Organizational stability matters.
Players make their decisions based on their comfort over the long-term — not because of who can offer the most money. And Wall chose to remain in Washington. That’s huge. Players around the league see that, and it will make them more inclined to be a part of it in the future.
The rumors have already started swirling. People around the league believe DeMarcus Cousins has interest in playing with Wall, according to the Washington Post’s Tim Bontemps. If that’s happening it will be in Washington. And why not? They take care of their players.
If the Pelicans don’t get any indication from Cousins, they may not want to let him go for nothing next summer. The Wizards could offer up either Marcin Gortat or Ian Mahinmi’s salaries and some combination of Tomas Satoransky and/or Kelly Oubre to make things work. Cousins is only making $18 million next season, so it wouldn’t be hard for them to match salaries while keeping their Wall-Beal-Porter core together.
The Wizards could also do the same thing with DeAndre Jordan, should things not work out in LA next season and they choose to move on. It would take a bit more salary, but by now you get the point.
There’s no clear path to the Wizards’ improving the roster right now, but if players are willing to come, then there are ways to get things done. And as we’ve seen this summer, if a player wants to play for a team they’ll find a way to make it work out. Just look at what the Rockets did with Chris Paul.
Over the last three seasons, the Wizards have dolled out more than $400 million to keep their best players in the fold. They’ve got the second best player in the East, another guard playing at a position where dearth of star talent, and a forward who doesn’t need to shoot the ball to play well.
That’s an enticing core. Players around the league see that. The returns might not be evident immediately, but they’ll come. The Wizards have put themselves in a place where the league knows what they have. If they keep improving like they should as a young core, it will get easier to attract talented players to join them in Washington.