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Wizards Mock Offseason v. 1.0: Exploring a path for Washington to get financial flexibility under the luxury tax

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NBA: Indiana Pacers at Washington Wizards Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

After a disappointing 2017-18 season, the Washington Wizards enter the summer with a lot of questions. Of the ten players under contract, only four are under contract beyond the upcoming season. Although the Wizards are seemingly hampered by their current cap situation, with six players on expiring deals, two draft picks, and a team that needs a bit of a makeover, this coming offseason could provide more intrigue than you think.

In anticipation of the summer, we’d like to kick off our Mock Offseason Series, as we explore different paths the Wizards’ front office can take as they look to give the roster a facelift. The first path looks at how the Wizards can restore some financial flexibility.

The Current Financial Situation

As previously mentioned, the Washington Wizards enter this summer with ten players under contract. As the roster stands right now, they are already over the projected luxury tax line of $123 million for the 2018-19 season.

The tax is real and it can be painful. Bobby Marks with ESPN.com wrote about the Wizards and how they’re situated with the cap recently and explained their situation as follows:

The projected $6 million tax penalty projects to jump to $14.5 million if minimum salary free agents are signed to the remaining three roster spots. Using the full tax midlevel exception would cost the Wizards an additional $9 million in penalties.

A few other notes:

  1. We’ll project Washington keeps Devin Robinson on his two-way contract at least through training camp. It’s possible, if not likely, that if Robinson has a strong summer league and training camp his contract will be converted to a standard NBA deal. That would allow the Wizards to fill a roster spot with the cheapest possible contract and free up both two-way spots to add new prospects.
  2. Why is Martell Webster still showing up? Because he was waived using the stretch Provision which spread out the $2.5 million cap hit from the final year of his contract over three seasons. Thankfully this is the last year this will count towards the Wizards’ cap figures.
  3. Jodie Meeks salary’ is adjusted by the balance of his 19-game suspension being deducted from his scheduled salary.
  4. Speaking of Jodie Meeks, we will assume that he exercises his player option, along with Jason Smith, because why wouldn’t they?
  5. I’ve included cap holds for Mike Scott and Ty Lawson, the only two veteran free agents I think the Wizards will have an interest in retaining. Sorry Chris McCullough, Ramon Sessions, and Tim Frazier.
  6. One other note from Bobby Marks; the Wizards can receive up to $5.1 million cash in trades and can send out up to $4.4 million in the 2017-18 season. They will have a little over $5 million to send out and receive once the new NBA year starts on July 1, 2018.
  7. A point of clarification; any player signed will slide into a minimum salary slot so the hit against the cap won’t necessarily be $1 for $1. For example, if the Wizards decide to retain Ty Lawson at slightly more than his vet minimum using his non-Bird rights, the cap and tax impact will only be the difference between that salary and the minimum salary.

The current depth chart

Washington has more needs than can be filled via the draft alone, hence the theme for Mock Offseason 1.0 is to get under the luxury tax!

The 2018 NBA draft will provide the Wizards their first and possibly best avenue to address needs at a reasonable cost.

Move #1: With the 15th pick in the 2018 NBA draft, the Washington Wizards select Donte DiVincenzo out of Villanova. With the 44th pick in the 2018 NBA draft, the Washington Wizards select Billy Preston.

For the purposes of this mock, I’m assuming Robert Williams and Kevin Knox, two names who have been commonly linked to the Wizards are off the board. I’m also going to resist the urge to follow ESPN’s live mock draft which landed Michael Porter Jr. in the nation’s capital.

Why does DiVincenzo make sense for the Wizards? It’s simple; the Wizards have so many needs that pigeonholing their first round draft pick to a certain position just isn’t in the organization’s best interest. He was a 40.1 percent shooter from beyond the arc in his junior season and flashed playmaking ability in college.

He also tested off the charts athletically at the combine. The Wizards have long had a need for a combo guard and he would fill it. With the NBA’s move to position-less basketball, there would be opportunities for the Wizards to play the combination of John Wall, Bradley Beal, and DiVincenzo at the same time. Adding another playmaker to a team which relies so heavily on just two would be a welcome addition and would make the Wizards much harder to defend. It might be a reach to take him at 15, but if he can shift the dynamic on this team by adding another playmaking variable to the equation, the Wizards will have done well.

Taking Preston, the five-star recruit who started the year with Kansas and finished the season in Bosnia, would be a shot in a dark, but one with upside. He has the frame and tools to be an NBA player. Letting him develop with the Capital City Go-Go gives the Wizards a chance to get a talented (but raw) young big into their development pipeline.

Post-draft, the updated depth chart looks like this:

Moving on to free agency, the priorities are filling needs while getting out of the luxury tax. To do both, the Wizards will have to make some painful moves, but moves that should enable them to move from only having the taxpayer mid-level exception (worth over $5 million per year), to having the full mid-level (worth over $8 million per year).

Move #2: The Wizards trade Jodie Meeks and cash considerations to cover his salary to the Atlanta Hawks for a heavily protected second round pick

Jodie Meeks was a free agent failure and giving him a player option is going to prove to be costly for the organization. Even after his suspension, Meeks will still be due around $2.7 million next season.

While the Wizards need 3-point shooting, his limitations as a defender and playmaker make it difficult to keep him in the rotation. Shelling out cash to Atlanta (in much the same way they did in the Sheldon Mac trade) is cheaper than keeping Meeks and paying the tax on top of what he’s owed.

Move #3: The Wizards trade Marcin Gortat and Tomas Satoransky to the Sacramento Kings for Zach Randolph and the rights to their 2018 second round pick (Hamidou Diallo)

The Sacramento Kings will enter the 2018 offseason with potentially up to $53 million in cap room, so they will be in position to take on some salary in exchange for an asset from the Wizards.

This trade frees up approximately $5 million in salary for Washington, and they also get a player who can still produce. Randolph averaged 14.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game on 47.3 percent shooting from the field in just over 25 minutes per game. He also attempted a career-high 2.5 3-point attempts per game, while shooting at a respectable rate (34.7 percent).

The Wizards have garnered a reputation for toughness over the past couple of seasons, but some have questioned if it’s more bark than bite. A patron saint of Grit-N-Grind would remove those doubts and be a welcome presence to a locker room which has previously embraced veteran mentorship from the likes of Paul Pierce and Al Harrington.

Tomas Satoransky is the cost to reduce the Wizards’ salary load. He could fill in as a backup to De’Aaron Fox and also play alongside him at times. Additionally, he’s a restricted free agent next season, which will make it easier for Sacramento to retain his services beyond 2019. Getting a high second round pick back helps offset the loss, but it would still be a tough pill to swallow.

Diallo gives the Wizards a chance to develop a wing who can contribute to the lineup in the future. The soon to be 20-year-old has the athleticism and length necessary to develop into a disruptive defensive force on the perimeter and he showed potential as a slasher at Kentucky. If he can develop his shooting (he shot 33.8 percent from deep this season) the Wizards would have another solid 3 & D in the pipeline, which is important given Kelly Oubre’s contract situation and Otto Porter’s pesky hip.

Move #4: Stretch Ian Mahinmi

The summer of 2016 is the gift that keeps on giving. Ernie Grunfeld’s signature move of that summer was the acquisition of Ian Mahinmi, a move that unfortunately has never worked out and seemed doomed from the start. Though he played better this season, his propensity to foul and turn the ball over, coupled with an exorbitant salary, makes his contract one of the worst in the Association. At any point prior to his contract expiring, it will be viewed as an anchor and will require significant assets to move.

Given the Wizards’ situation, the most pain-free solution is the stretch provision. It allows for the Wizards to release him and spread out the remaining $31.3 million on his deal over five years instead of two. Stretching Mahinmi would keep him on the books until the end of the 2022-23 season, but it would free up money to spend this summer.

We are out of the red! Through the salary dumping moves and roster shuffling, the Wizards are now $7.6 million below the tax line with access to the mid-level exception….and they’ll need it. The roster has gone from center-heavy to center-thin and once again, the Wizards need a backup point guard behind John Wall.

Move #5: The Wizards sign Nerlens Noel to a two-year, $12 million contract (Player Option in Year 2).

The Wizards are in desperate need for a rim-running center, and Noel is in desperate need of a fresh start. He won’t give Washington much offense but he will provide them what they need on the other end as an athletic five who can erase shots at the rim and defend on the perimeter when needed.

It may not be the deal Noel had in mind after turning down a four-year, $70 million extension last summer, but an injury-mired season, a trip to Rick Carlisle’s doghouse, and a drug-related suspension did not do him any favors. In Washington, he would have an opportunity to rebuild his value and re-enter the free agent market at age 25 next summer.

Plan B: Make the same offer to Dewayne Dedmon

The 28-year-old center is coming off a career year. He doesn’t provide the defensive upside Noel does, but he has a more stable track record and developed into 3-point threat last season, shooting 35.5 percent from deep on 2.3 attempts per game.

Move #6: Sign Michael Beasley to a one-year, veteran’s minimum contract

This was the slot previously occupied by Mike Scott a year ago. Scott played well enough where he is in line to earn more than the veteran’s minimum contract he received last summer. Given the Wizards’ financial constraints, they have to find their next version of Scott at as low a cost as possible and Beasley could fill the mold. He has turned himself into a productive scorer although he doesn’t offer much beyond his scoring. Thankfully, that’s all the Wizards really need out of this role.

Plan B: Make the same offer to Jeff Green or Trevor Booker

Neither offer the instant scoring impact of Beasley or Mike Scott, but Green and Booker should both be able to fill an immediate spot in the rotation and contribute.

Move #7: Re-sign Ty Lawson to a one-year, veteran’s minimum contract

Lawson played meaningful minutes for the Wizards in the playoffs, just days after wrapping up a season in China. Despite the long trip and the jet lag, he didn’t appear to skip a beat when he was asked to play point for the bench unit in the playoffs. Although his shooting was streaky, he had no problem creating opportunities for himself and others.

The Wizards’ current roster issues give Lawson an issue to re-establish his value on a contender after spending the last two years with the Kings and in the Chinese Basketball Association. His experience in two point guard lineups with the Nuggets make him an intriguing player to play both behind and alongside John Wall at times.

After all those moves, the Wizards have 13 players on the roster. They can fill their final two spots with Aaron White, Devin Robinson, or training camp invites, depending on how things play out in Summer League.

Conclusions

First, let’s take a look at the final roster and salary situation:

What I like about this scenario: The priority needs going into the draft were identified as 3-point shooting, wings, a young rim protector, an additional playmaker, and a penetrating backup point guard.

  • 3-Point Shooting: Divencenzo (40 percent in college), Beasley (39.5 percent), and Randolph (34.7 percent) all bring additional shooting to the roster. The Wizards could always use more and with their two empty roster spots could look for additional shooting via camp invites.
  • Rim-Protection: Nerlens Noel provides the athletic rim protecting five John Wall was likely looking for when assessing the team’s needs.
  • Playmaker: Divencenzo displayed playmaking ability in Villanova’s run to the NCAA title and followed that up with a strong NBA combine. He potentially has the ability to be a secondary ball handler and playmaker.
  • Backup Point Guard: Ty Lawson came in during the playoffs and on a team he had no experience with, showed an innate ability to get to the basket and find teammates for easy looks

While leadership wasn’t listed as a major need, Randolph’s experience would be valuable here as well.

Most importantly, this scenario provides the Wizards with the financial flexibility which they sorely need. They will have $3.5 million in breathing room below the tax line with several expiring contracts and a trade exception they would pick up in the deal with Sacramento.

What I don’t like about this scenario: Wings have been and will continue to be a need for the team in this scenario. Getting Diallo in the pipeline is good, but he’s more of a developmental prospect likely to spend time with the Go-Go than contribute to the Wizards right away.

The Wizards are also able to reshape the roster here, but still lack the go-to scorer in the frontcourt who can create high percentage opportunities late in games, an area where Washington struggled last season. Sure, Michael Beasley can get some buckets now and then, but he’s not the guy you want to rely on, especially late in games.


Up next is version 2.0, DC to D.C.?