Lord Adrian stood atop the rubble comprised of every team’s hopes of salvaging the summer of 2016 and announced the Washington Wizards – the last loser in the Horford sweepstakes – would join the masses.
Just hours later, the Wizards emerged from the debris and signed Ian Mahinmi to a four-year, $64 million contract that became a catastrophe before the ink on the paper even dried. The team then signed two other backup bigs, Jason Smith and Andrew Nicholson to round out the team’s frontcourt and cobble something together they hoped would imitate Al Horford in the aggregate. In all, the team committed $106 million to the trio, just $7 million less than what the Celtics paid to max out Horford.
Two years later, the Wizards don’t have much to show for their 2016 spending spree. Nicholson had to be packaged with a first-round pick to become even mildly attractive to the Brooklyn Nets. Mahinmi doesn’t possess the skills to be successful in the modern era and, even if he did, commits more fouls (7.2 per-36 minutes) than any player in an NBA rotation. Smith was relegated to mop-up duty this season, only playing in 33 games and playing a career-low 285 minutes this season.
After the Wizards were eliminated from the playoffs, John Wall made it clear he thinks the front office needs to find a young big man – something he’s been seeking since JaVale McGee was shipped off to Denver. Based on how the Wizards have handled his requests in the past, you can expect more of the same this off-season – sheer sadness.
Washington is over the cap and ownership is paying luxury tax for a downright depressing team without any possibility of winning a championship as currently constructed.
So, how do they recover? The cure – at least by Ernie Grunfeld’s standards – is out there. It won’t take much scouring to find an overpaid player with unfulfilled potential the Wizards can convince themselves to take a chance on this summer. All they have to do is look at another team within the division.
The Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson reported that “there is strong support among numerous people inside the Heat to trade Hassan Whiteside” – a player who was considered the shiniest diamond in the rough a few seasons ago, but forgot (or just straight up stopped caring) about how to do the things that made him a commodity.
Whiteside, who will make $24.4 million next season and then $27.1 million to finish his contract in 2019-20, has a deal comparable to some of the top stars in the league, but his production is “not remotely close” to the league’s premier centers – and that’s coming straight from Pat Riley, the man who signed him to his current deal.
Whiteside has many of the same limitations on offense as the Wizards’ soon-to-be extinct centers. He has attempted to expand his range outside of the paint, but he’s been unsuccessful thus far. This season, he made 32 percent of his shots from 10-16 feet – which, for comparison, is less efficient than Gortat from the same area. When you think there’s nothing less enjoyable than watching Gortat settle for stiff jump shots, remind yourself that Whiteside would make the suffering more excruciating.
He hasn’t been impactful defensively, either, which is where most of his value was derived. This past season, he was decidedly average on that end. He contested 13.6 shots per 36 minutes, less than noted rim protectors like Pau Gasol, Eric Moreland, and Nikola Jokic.
The most egregious part of Gortat’s decline has been his inability to protect the paint. As is the case with any center who’s been in the NBA for a decade, his athleticism has withered, which makes him a bigger and bigger liability on the defensive end. He’s incapable of switching onto guards, staying in front of versatile centers, and he averaged less than a block per game for the second straight season.
His issues, though, stem from physical limitations – not lack of motivation. He was fourth in screen assists, box outs and was a league leader in charges drawn. Say what you will about him, but he cares about his “team’s” success enough to try, and that much cannot be said for Whiteside, who’s built like Clark Kent but has the heart of Tin Woodman.
Assuming Washington’s front office is smart enough to look elsewhere – even though evidence supports the contrary – the team won’t be left with many better options. Those hopeful of a reunion will continue to fantasize about a Wall-Boogie pairing in Washington, but even that’s become unappealing after the lumbering center tore his Achilles. Acquiring Cousins following a potentially career-altering injury and just a year after the Sacramento Kings traded him for flat Diet Coke would outdo any #SoWizards transaction Grunfeld has made in his century-long tenure as general manager.
The other players who will be available – players like Bismack Biyombo, Kenneth Faried, Tyson Chandler, and Marc Gasol – come with similar baggage and would serve as loose-fitting tourniquets on self-inflicted wounds, only temporarily stopping the sadness from seeping into the hearts of irrationally optimistic Wizards fans before reality, for the umpteenth season, sets in again.