After a disappointing 2017-18 season, the Washington Wizards enter the summer with a lot of questions. Although the Wizards are 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’re doing a Mock Offseason Series, as we explore different paths the Wizards’ front office can take as they look to give the roster a facelift. This is not a suggestion of what the Wizards should do, but rather a hypothetical look at what a version of the roster could look like if certain moves come to fruition.
In version 1.0 of the Mock Offseason Series, we looked at a path for the Wizards to get out of the luxury tax and make what we would project to be positive, but tempered additions to the roster. In version 2.0 we decided to step out on the ledge and live a little with a player who has been linked to the Washington Wizards since the 2010 NBA Draft.
Let’s have a little fun and explore the world of DeMarcus Cousins in a Washington Wizards uniform. I give you version 2.0, #DC2DC!
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.
A few other notes:
- 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.
- 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.
- Jodie Meeks salary’ is adjusted by the balance of his 19-game suspension being deducted from his scheduled salary.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Before we can start the process of getting Cousins to Washington, we have to handle the NBA Draft. The draft gives the Wizards an opportunity to add young, cost-efficient talent to an aging, expensive roster. Finding a gem in the draft should be a priority regardless of what other plans the Wizards may have up their sleeves this summer.
While most draft analysis for the Wizards seems to b focused on filling roster holes, the Wizards must realize they were the eighth seed in the East and have to evolve beyond the paradigm of their two guard tandem to get back in the discussion as a team that can contend in the East. They need additional playmaking and impact from someone other than Wall and Beal, regardless of what position it comes from.
Move #1: With the 15th pick in the 2018 NBA draft, the Washington Wizards select Lonnie Walker IV out of the University of Miami. With the 44th pick in the 2018 NBA draft, the Washington Wizards select Justin Jackson out of the University of Maryland.
Why does Walker IV make sense for the Wizards? As I’ve watched prospects leading up to the draft, Walker, the 6-5 shooting guard is an effortless athlete who has an All-Star ceiling. If it was baseball, we’d call him a five-tool prospect because he can do it all. He has the bounce, jump shot, developing ability to drive, play above the rim, and play on-ball defense.
What he doesn’t have is a ton of experience or a track record of putting those tools together often enough in his one season at Miami. He was inefficient at times which could have been a result of Bruce Brown, Miami’s point guard missing extensive time. He’s also only 19-years-old so some of the inefficiency can be expected. If he can put all of his tools together, he offers the potential of a franchise altering talent. His ability to play either wing position make him a great fit as someone who can play with any combination of our perimeter players and defend multiple positions.
Justin Jackson would provide the Wizards with a forward who likely would be drafted higher were it not for an injury which ended his season prematurely. He will need time to develop, but he brings potential shooting from the forward position and won’t be forced to contribute right away. The Wizards can allow him to develop and keep a close eye on him with the Capital City Go-Go.
To note: If Omari Spellman or Moritz Wagner slips to 44, I’d select either ahead of Jackson.
We’ll throw in another draft-day move as well:
Move #2: The Wizards trade cash and a future protected 2nd round pick to the Philadelphia 76ers for the 39th overall pick and select Landry Shamet out of Wichita State University.
Why did I trade cash and a future pick for the 76ers 39th overall pick? Have you seen the cap situation? The Wizards have $108 million in cap obligations for the 2019-20 season tied up to FOUR players. They need inexpensive talent and one of the best ways to get it is to get an early second round pick, let them develop for a season, and then project them into a rotation a year from now.
On top of that, Shamet is a great 3-point shooter for a team that needs outside shooting. He also plays the combo guard role, a role that may need to be filled after next season, depending on what happens with Tomas Satoransky.
Free Agency Moves
Before they can make their big moves, there are some housekeeping items.
As Tony East noted in his examination on how a sign-and-trade for DeMarcus Cousins would work, the Wizards would not have access to the taxpayer mid-level exception or the bi-annual exception. So before they do the trade, they should try to figure out a way to clear up some room to restore depth after the trade.
Move #3: The Wizards trade Jason Smith, a future second round pick, and cash to the Atlanta Hawks for a heavily protected second round pick.
Smith, for as good of a teammate as he’s been in Washington, isn’t worth the money he’s set to earn next season as a third string center who rarely plays meaningful minutes. Given his salary, it behooves the Wizards to find a team under the cap like Atlanta where they can unload him.
Move #4: The Wizards trade Otto Porter and Jodie Meeks to the New Orleans Pelicans for DeMarcus Cousins, who signs a three-year $80 million deal.
At long last, Boogie is a Washington Wizard as the franchise makes their signature offseason move; one that will go a long way towards defining how we remember the John Wall era in Washington.
Cousins is a high risk/high reward acquisition. More often than not, players who suffer Achilles injuries struggle to recapture their pre-injury form. However, the chance to acquire a six-time All-Star at a position of need don’t come along often. If he can get healthy, he can shift the team out of its current two-guard paradigm and force them to incorporate a player who will need the ball. He can stretch the defense out at the 5, be a force on the glass, and provide more high-percentage opportunities in the half court; an area where we routinely see Wall and Beal settle for low percentage shots late in the shot clock.
But even if Cousins can get back to full health, there are still risks because his long-standing flaws. We’ve watched Cousins get frustrated by referees and opponents, not always sprint down the floor on defense, and he turns the ball over far too often. It would be difficult to see him getting better in some those areas, but perhaps playing with an All-Star point guard will lighten his playmaking burden and allow him to focus on being more efficient.
We also can’t ignore the Wizards lose Otto Porter, a hyper-efficient wing and one of the best shooters in the game, in this deal. They will have to work to replace his steadiness and unselfishness play on a team where three players (Wall, Beal, and Cousins) will need the ball to operate.
Jodie Meeks is a throw-in to the deal. Given that Washington is assuming the injury risk with Cousins, New Orleans takes back an expiring contract on a deal that carries negative value, but is relatively manageable.
Now that the big move is done, let’s take a look at the Wizards’ cap situation:
There are three priorities now
- The Wizards need to create more spending room as they are hard capped at $129 million and still have four roster spots to fill.
- They have an absurd $55 million tied up in centers.
- As things stand, the Wizards would be just $3 million under the luxury tax in 2019 with just Wall, Beal, Cousins, their 2018 draft picks, and the cap hold for their 2019 first round pick.
This leads us to our next move.
Move #5: The Wizards use the stretch provision on Ian Mahinmi.
We discussed this in our last Mock Offseason, and the same logic applies here as well. Stretching him frees up over $9 million in cap space this season, though it comes at a price in later years.
Move #6: The Wizards sign Luc Mbah a Moute to a two-year, $7 million contract.
The veteran from Houston would bring defensive versatility, a reliable 3-point shooting, and a stable veteran presence to this team. He can slide in behind Markieff Morris and also play alongside him in small-ball lineups.
*Writer’s note: I would love to offer a deal to Trevor Ariza and start him alongside this trio, but I think it’s unlikely he leaves Houston with what Washington has to offer
Move #7: The Wizards re-sign Ty Lawson to a one-year contract for the veteran’s minimum.
Lawson played meaningful minutes for the Wizards in the playoffs, just days after wrapping up a season in China. You might wonder why Ty Lawson is being re-signed with Satoransky on the roster, but with Otto Porter now in New Orleans and depth behind Kelly Oubre thin, Tomas Satoransky is going to be needed on the wing for Washington. Bringing back Lawson gives them a penetrating guard and allows the Wizards to take their time with Shamet.
First, let’s take a look at the final roster and salary situation:
What I like about this scenario
- Buzz! This trade moves the needle for this franchise. There will be a lot of questions as to how it would all work out but this would be the biggest offseason move of the Leonsis era. I’ve often seen the Wizards’ interest in Cousins labeled as Grunfeld-esque, but when have the Wizards ever been in the middle of high profile player movement?
- Washington lost their best 3-point shooter but drafted three capable shooters, including one of the NCAA’s best in Landry Shamet, who shot 44 percent from deep on nearly four attempts per game last season. In free agency, the Wizards acquired Mbah a Moute, a 37.5 percent shooter from deep the past two seasons and in their trade for Cousins, the Wizards acquired a center capable of stretching the floor from the 5 position.
- Washington was able to keep Marcin Gortat, a solid insurance policy on an expiring deal to the injured Boogie Cousins. As a reserve anchoring the second unit, Gortat should be able to exploit some matchups with his hustle down the court. Additionally he provides a capable fill-in starter on days where Cousins may have to rest on back-to-backs while he recovers. Additionally if/when Cousins is fully up to speed, Gortat could be movable as a rental near the trade deadline.
- The moves made allow the Wizards to maintain some flexibility. They are still approximately $8.4 million below the tax line with the mid-level exception to spend. Since they have several players on expiring deals, I think it would be best to let things play out this summer and keep options open next summer, as they look to replace Marcin Gortat and possibly Markieff Morris.
What I don’t like about this scenario
- There’s a lot of pressure on Kelly Oubre to produce and contribute consistently as Otto Porter’s primary replacement. They’ll need a better version of the player they saw before the All-Star break rather than the struggling shooter who was pressing down the stretch.
- I don’t love the Markieff/Boogie pairing. Neither one is a rim protector, and they can be lackadaisical in transition. In any scenario where Cousins comes to Washington, the Wizards would be better off having a stretch option at the four who can run the floor better than Morris.
In coming up with this Mock Offseason, coming up with the right parts to fit around Cousins was more difficult than I anticipated.
Finding smart, capable role players to surround Wall, Beal, and Cousins would determine the team’s ultimate upside. I often found myself trying to find a way to keep Otto Porter to place next to Cousins, but unless his value is lower than any of us expect, it’s unlikely the Wizards would be able to acquire Cousins without him. Even if they do, the question remains, would they be better off than where they are right now?