We’re a day into the 2018 edition of NBA Free Agency and things have been happening at a frenetic pace. LeBron James, Lance Stephenson, and JaVale McGee are together on the Lakers! DeAndre Jordan is going to the Mavericks, for real this time! Trevor Ariza is a Sun for some reason!
And the Washington Wizards?
Things are quiet on their front, as they have been for a while.
From the sound of it, Ernie Grunfeld is content with running it back with the current core – the same core that was bounced out of the first round in a rather uncompetitive series by a Toronto Raptors team that was swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were on the verge of implosion, in the second round.
As our own Osman Baig has detailed in his Mock Offseason pieces, the Wizards are over the luxury tax and don’t have much financial flexibility. If they want to make significant moves, it will have to happen through trades. Grunfeld did this before—and he’s done it already this summer by trading Marcin Gortat for Austin Rivers.
Roster spots will still have to be filled, though, but don’t expect many Woj Bombs – instead prepare yourself for some Grunfeld Grumblings. Here’s a quick, simple guide on what to expect from the Wizards in free agency, and how you’ll try to talk yourself into it.
Wizards to push Satoransky further back on the bench, again
It’s an annual occurrence. There was Trey Burke, Brandon Jennings, Tim Frazier, Ramon Sessions and Ty Lawson. The Wizards love relegating their only reliable backup point guard to the bench by signing inefficient, undersized replacements.
Washington had years to observe Tomas Satoransky at the point guard position before signing him in 2016. Two years into his career with the Wizards, the team’s brass still isn’t convinced he’s right for the position.
At 6-foot-7, Satoransky is one of the tallest point guards in the league – and when paired with another creator, it makes for an effective offense. The NBA has evolved and has become increasingly smaller, but having a tall point guard on the floor can still be advantageous. He is versatile—he moves well without the ball and has improved as a spot-up shooter—but his court vision, which is arguably his most important attribute, becomes nullified when the ball isn’t in his hands.
Given Wall’s health concerns, it makes sense to add some depth at point guard, but the Wizards won’t be signing another point guard merely for insurance—they will be getting one to be Wall’s main backup. Re-signing Lawson seems like the best bet. He had a mini-renaissance in the playoffs, where he supplanted Satoransky in the rotation, scoring 14 points with 8 assists in his debut.
Washington has mismanaged Satoransky and it would be surprising if he doesn’t join the list of players who go on to thrive elsewhere outside of the nation’s capital.
Positive pixel: Lawson might actually be a serviceable backup. He’s better than, say, Frazier or any of the other backups the Wizards have signed recently. He is a career 36 percent 3-point shooter and solid distributor, making him, at worst, a passable fit alongside Satoransky.
Re-signing Mike Scott will be a priority
Grunfeld’s tenure as Wizards president includes a long list of mishaps, but beneath the poor free agent signings and historically awful draft picks are a few veteran acquisitions that turned out to be steals.
Mike Scott joined Martell Webster, DeShawn Stevenson, and the late Rasual Butler as a sneaky good free agent get last off-season, becoming the team’s most reliable bench player. He averaged 8.8 points and shot 40.5 percent from three—and from a viewer’s perspective, he was basically automatic. Scott was an insta-bucket from everywhere on the court – the paint, mid-range or behind the arc. The dude can flat-out score.
Scott is in the Wizards Killers hall-of-fame, but now he “[loves] the Wizards, the organization and the coaching staff.”
Washington once had an influx of bigs, but the frontcourt is looking thin heading into the 2018-19 season. Gortat is gone, Mahinmi can’t stay on the floor and Jason Smith will make $5.45 million next season for handing out high-fives on the bench. Re-signing Scott will—and should—be a priority.
The roadblock will be giving Scott a raise. Unless they dump a contract via trade, Washington will only have the taxpayer mid-level exception, worth $5.3 million to spend on Scott. In hindsight, the Wizards should have signed Scott to a multi-year deal last summer—not Jodie Meeks.
If the Wizards do re-sign Scott, they must hope his output wasn’t just a product of him being in a contract season.
Positive pixel: In an otherwise blah season, Scott was one of the lone bright spots for the Wizards. The team’s bench was in the bottom half of the league in scoring, so replacing Scott with another veteran (like Channing Frye, for instance) and anticipating similar production could backfire.
You’ll miss Gortat
There are going to be moments when you’ll miss having Marcin Gortat around. You’ll remember his screens, box outs and charges and forget about the missed bunnies because the Wizards are probably going to replace him with someone worse.
Grunfeld is pretty good at keeping his cards close to his chest, but if the Wizards were going to get a game-changing center, it would have leaked by now. DeAndre Jordan hasn’t been linked to the Wizards and neither has DeMarcus Cousins. Those dreams are basically dead.
But, Alex Len is around.
"The Wizards are considered a sign-and-trade possibility [for DeMarcus Cousins], though sources have told me that's a longshot, with Suns center Alex Len a more realistic target."— J.E. Skeets (@jeskeets) July 1, 2018
It’s a more realistic move than a sign-and-trade for Cousins or signing Howard—and it’s such a Wizards signing.
The former Terrapin hasn’t lived up to his draft selection after being taken fifth overall in 2013. More importantly, he doesn’t help the Wizards get better in the areas Gortat was deficient. He’s 71st in block rate and can’t score away from the basket. He’s the 25-year-old version of 34-year-old Gortat.
The even more #SoWizards signing would be Brook Lopez - a five that can space the floor, take some scoring pressure off the backcourt and alleviate some stress in the locker room. He’s a tough cover for defenders—just look at his shot chart—and he’s super lovable. But, he can’t defend and is the opposite of the youthful, energetic big Wall was hoping his team would sign this off-season.
Positive pixel: The Suns are a mess and Len does have some talent. You don’t accidentally average 15 points and 13 rebounds per-36 minutes. Lopez, especially on a one-year deal, could end up being a steal. Washington needs a scorer and Lopez is an unconventional one. If Ian Mahinmi could stay healthy, signing Lopez wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
Extra: Signing a big-time name, but way too late
About two weeks into free agency in 2014, Grunfeld and Co. surprisingly convinced Paul Pierce to sign with the Wizards—an inexperienced team coming off an upset playoff series win against the Chicago Bulls. Pierce replaced Trevor Ariza, giving Otto Porter another year to develop as a reserve, and the Wizards went on to have their most memorable season since 1979.
This off-season is a bit different. The Wizards are no longer inexperienced—they have three max players on their roster and a playoff-tested core. The reasoning behind landing a big-name free agent past his prime go beyond leadership.
Washington has a void to fill at center and could have another void at power forward depending on Scott’s future.
There are a couple of popular names that aren’t yet free agents, but could soon hit the market if/when they’re bought out: Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard.
Signing either of those players in 2010 would change a franchise and possibly propel them among the league’s elite. Today, it’s a novelty signing that would help sell some tickets with the possibility they would show a flash or two of their former selves.
The Brooklyn Nets traded for Howard without any intention of keeping him—that much became clear after they signed Ed Davis on the first day of free agency. Howard would fill an obvious need for the Wizards, and while he’s no longer a first-option, he’s still capable of dropping a double-double on a nightly basis. Last season with the Charlotte Hornets, Howard played 81 games– the third season in a row he’s appeared in 71 or more games – averaging 16.6 points and 12.5 rebounds. Washington lost their most durable player in Gortat, but Howard has been reliable.
The problem with Howard isn’t on the court, even if he never really found a touch with his back to the basket. He’s still a lob-threat, runs well in transition, sets hard screens and blocks shots. The problem remains in the locker room.
At this point, Howard has no one else to blame. The Houston Rockets were a legitimate championship contender last season and were a game away from upsetting the Golden State Warriors – and that wouldn’t have happened with Howard on the roster. He lasted just a single season with the Atlanta Hawks and Hornets.
Maybe a one-year deal would give Howard incentive to relax and focus on basketball, and perhaps playing with John Wall would reinvigorate his passion for the game.
The same might be true for Anthony, who opted into the remaining year of his contract with Oklahoma City and will get $27.9 million. The Thunder re-signed Jerami Grant to a $27 million deal and agreed to a four-year, $137 million contract with Paul George. The luxury bill is going to be hefty, so they will probably try to dump or stretch Anthony.
Financially, Anthony is an awful fit for anyone, but might be worth a small gamble if he’s bought out.
Anthony, like Howard, needs to find his appetite for basketball again. Playing back home near Baltimore might be the change of scenery he’s sought. Washington could slot Anthony at the starting power forward position, stunt his minutes so spends most of his time with the bench, and give fans reason to come to games.
Positive pixel: Neither one of these signings will make the Wizards a contender, but there’s no denying the team would be more fun to follow – and after the last few years, the light emanating from a dumpster fire is more appealing than continued darkness.