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. In version 2.0, we decided to step out on the ledge and have fun playing out #Boogie2DC. Now we’re onto version 3.0, but before we jump into the deep end with both feet let’s quickly recap the real-life changes to the team in what’s been a busy two weeks.
In the NBA draft, the Wizards threw a curve-ball (at least to those who follow the mock drafts) and drafted Troy Brown Jr., the 6-6 wing out of Oregon. It’s tough to determine what type of immediate impact the 18-year-old will have, but he has the skill set to help the team as an additional ball handler, facilitator, and defender.
People probably thought the team was done until the start of free agency, but they made an early move and traded Marcin Gortat for another wing, Austin Rivers. Rivers is coming off a career season where he averaged 15 points per game and shot 38 percent from three. He started most of the season with the Clippers, but he’ll be filling an important need off the bench in Washington.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the Wizards also selected Issuf Sanon in the second round, but the team already announced he won’t play for the team next season, so we don’t need to worry about for this exercise.
The Wizards now have eleven players currently under contract and are above the tax line for the 2018-19 season. Although they seem to be hampered by their current cap situation, the Rivers trade shows there are still ways to reshape the roster. They still have Markieff Morris, Jason Smith, Tomas Satoransky, and Jodie Meeks to offer as expiring contracts, as well as Kelly Oubre Jr. and future picks as young assets, along with Brown and Sanon.
I’m taking a little bit of a different approach in this Mock Offseason. Now that Marcin Gortat has been traded, the Wizards are naturally being connected to second and third-tier options at center including Nerlens Noel (discussed in Mock 1.0). In version 3.0, we’ll dive more into a realistic way that could play out, given what’s happened the past two weeks.
The Current Financial Situation
Ty Lawson and Mike Scott’s cap holds are noted in italics.
As the roster stands right now, they are over the projected luxury tax line of $123 million for the 2018-19 season but do have access to the taxpayer mid-level exception of approximately $5.3 million.
A few 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 for new prospects.
- Martell Webster 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. 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.
- The Wizards will have a little over $5 million to send out and receive in cash considerations 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.
The current depth chart
If you recall, John Wall gave his state of the franchise address in his post-season press conference and had some pointed words which included his wish-list for the summer. On his list was a young athletic center, a scorer off the bench, and an additional ball handler.
The Wizards have checked two boxes with the additions of Rivers and Brown Jr.
The rest of their moves this summer should be with the intent to fill the hole at center and then add as much 3-point shooting and defensive versatility to the roster as possible. We’re in the wing era and I want this roster to be prepared for it.
Ball Handling Scorer
- Athletic Center
- 3-Point shooting
Moves to fill out the roster
The taxpayer mid-level exception is their only tool to offer a free agent more than the veteran’s minimum, so the Wizards will have to get a little creative filling out the rest of the roster.
Move #1: The Washington Wizards trade Tomas Satoransky and Markieff Morris to the Denver Nuggets for Mason Plumlee.
That was a surprise, right? Well, so was the trade for Austin Rivers. By trading two expiring contracts for Plumlee, who is under contract for the next two years at $27 million, the Wizards take advantage of the value of Morris and Satoransky before they expire next summer, at a time when the Wizards are already projected to be over the salary cap.
Plumlee only averaged 7 points and 5 rebounds in under 20 minutes per game in Denver last season, but he was stuck behind Nikola Jokic, who is on the verge of signing a max extension to stay with the Nuggets.
When Plumlee got the opportunity to start, he was solid this season. In 26 starts he averaged 9.0 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 1.5 blocks per game with a .596 true shooting percentage. He’s an athletic big man who checks the boxes for Washington; he can run the floor, he’s athletic enough to erase a shot near the basket, he’s efficient when he gets the ball inside, and at 255 pounds, he’s physical enough to where he’s not going to be pushed around near the basket. He isn’t the screener Gortat is (he only averaged 3.6 per 36 minutes compared to 6.3 for Gortat), but he does contest shots at a slightly higher clip (13.4 per 36 compared to 12.6 for Gortat).
The deal appeals to Denver because they’re set to be a taxpaying team next season with Jokic’s new contract and would prefer to reallocate Plumlee’s money to address other roster needs. Satoransky can help address guard depth, especially if Will Barton leaves in free agency, and Morris can be a reserve behind Millsap and Jokic who stretches the floor better than Plumlee does. And let’s be real: Who wouldn’t want to see Double MMA champions Markieff Morris and Paul Milsap go at it in training camp!
So now the Wizards now have their starting center but they have a hole at power forward and backup point guard. The pursuit now shifts there and what I want out of our power forward is the ability to shoot from outside, defend multiple positions, and run the floor.
Move #2: The Wizards sign Luc Mbah a Moute to a two-year, $8 million deal using the taxpayer mid-level exception.
Mbah a Moute is the quintessential glue guy who can defend multiple positions and has the ability to knock down open shots. He averaged 7.5 points per game last season with the Rockets, but his impact goes well beyond his scoring.
He had a +10.6 net rating in the regular season and was an effective defender on the perimeter for the Rockets. His ability to guard multiple positions on switches will be extremely valuable against top-tier teams in the East like the Celtics and 76ers.
Offensively, he can work without the ball, which will come in handy on a team that now has three ball-dominant players with Wall, Beal, and Rivers.
So we’re good now, right? We’re just going to re-sign Ty Lawson now that Satoransky has been traded? NOPE.
Move #3: The Wizards trade Jason Smith, Jodie Meeks, and cash to the Sacramento Kings for Garrett Temple.
The Wizards have already added two ballhandlers this summer with Rivers and Brown. They could use an additional defender in the guard rotation. He’s on the final year of his deal and isn’t in the long-term plans for the Kings. His veteran leadership and experience with Washington would be extremely useful for the Wizards next season.
Now the Wizards have a second unit of Temple, Rivers, Brown Jr., and Oubre that can switch everything on the perimeter, and they have Ian Mahinmi, who can still protect the paint when he isn’t foul trouble. Alternatively, if Oubre develops into a starter, then you can go with Temple, Rivers, Brown Jr., and Mbah a Moute on that unit and still get the same benefits.
Move #4: The Washington Wizards sign Channing Frye to a veteran’s minimum contract.
What did I say I wanted at the back end of the roster? Shooting! Channing Frye is a career 38 percent three-point shooter and shot a blistering 41 percent from downtown primarily playing the center position. Plumlee and Mahinmi, by comparison, are 0-25 combined from deep during their NBA career. Frye wouldn’t project to play every day, but he could provide a change of pace as needed and add another veteran presence in the locker room.
Move #5: The Washington Wizards sign Omri Casspi to a veteran’s minimum contract.
Casspi shot 58 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from deep last season with the Warriors, with a +5.2 net rating. He would give Washington wing shooter who can play as a stretch four in a pinch behind Mbah a Moute.
In case you’re lost, here’s the final cap accounting heading into the back end of the summer.
What I like about this scenario
- 3-Point shooting; Mbah a Moute shot 36.3 percent from three; Channing Frye is a career 38.7 percent shooter from downtown; Casspi shot 45.5 percent in Splash City, and Garrett Temple who couldn’t consistently make a shot during his first stint in Washington, shot 39.2 percent from three for the Sacramento Kings last season.
- The Wizards have established an identity: Defense. This group has good length and can guard multiple positions.
- We’ve added three front-court players who don’t need the ball in their hands to be effective. Let’s face reality, this team belongs to the guards and the ball goes through them. Like it or not, that is how the team is structured. Adding players who can contribute in other areas will help avoid some of their pitfalls from last season.
- This team has a good mix of veterans and younger players who should be able to compliment each other on and off the court well. The next time I hear Mason Plumlee, Mbah a Moute, Casspi, and Temple associated with drama will be the first time. The leadership, clear defensive identity, and acceptance of roles by new players should make this a more likable team that will play hard every night.
- The Wizards have flexibility with the final spots on the roster. If there’s a player who stands out in summer league or training camp, they would have the ability to keep them on a cheap deal.
What I don’t like about this scenario
- Depth at the power forward position is thin. Ideally, this opens up the chance for Otto to play more minutes there but only time will tell if that’s a plan they’re committed to.
- We still lack a player we can play through. One of the flaws on this team is how the group struggles late in games when the ball stalls.
- Ian Mahinmi is still here. Stretching him would put the Wizards nearly below the tax line, but the Wizards defer until next year where they can reduce the stretched amount in terms of years AND dollars or they can attach an asset to him. I’ve suggested in versions 1.0 and 2.0 that they stretch Ian, but I’m not sure that’s what they’ll choose to do this summer even though the cash savings would be immense in the short-term. If Washington can trade him and a future draft asset, it may be worth it if they can get some tangible return as well.
- The Wizards could still use a young, penetrating point guard behind John Wall and Garrett Temple. Maybe Ty Lawson can still be had or Chris Chiozza makes an impression for the summer league team.