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Wizards 2019-20 season preview: Will Washington retain Ian Mahinmi for the season?

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The veteran Washington Wizards center had a rough tenure in the nation’s capital. Let’s take a look at what to expect from him this season.

Washington Wizards v Los Angeles Lakers
Ian Mahinmi returns to the Wizards, but he may not stay for the entire season depending on how they perform.
Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images

Ian Mahinmi is entering his fourth season with the Wizards as they enter the 2019-20 season. Without going into a deep analysis of his play, I think we can all agree that the Wizards primary free agent acquisition in the Summer of 2016 has been a disappointment and strain on the team financially during his time here. This issue is magnified by Mahinmi’s play, which often doesn’t even allow him to play and as a result ends up in a DNP-CD.

The purpose of this post is not to re-litigate blame for the signing. The engineer for that move has already been relieved of his role. As the saying goes, It is what it is and the Wizards are three-fourths of the way through it. Neither is the purpose here to take a shot at Mahinmi, who by all accounts has been a model citizen inside the locker room and frankly didn’t offer himself that contract.

Now that the organization is entering the last year of his contract, there are options available to them which may not have been previously realistic. With a revamped front office in place and a lot of new eyes and ears at their disposal, it’s time to move on from the past and figure out what’s next.

To stretch or not to stretch Mahinmi, that is the question

“Stretching” is a must in nearly every aspect – except maybe if you’re talking about an NBA contract!

The stretch provision has been out there as an option with Mahinmi. Now entering his last season under contract, the Wizards can stretch the last year of his deal over three years. Doing so would stretch his $15,450,051 salary over the next three three seasons at a charge against the salary cap of $5,150,017 per season. If the Wizards were to do this, their overall payroll for the upcoming season would drop from approximately $129 million to $119 million.

At this point in the calendar year, creating additional room on the surface does not really benefit the Wizards, especially at the cost of more than $5 million in cap room for the two following seasons. Also, the Wizards are probably not getting a suitable player in return.

The Wizards, however still have several trade exceptions including one for Tomas Satoransky ($5,000,000), and Jason Smith ($3,386,480). They are also still waiting to hear from the league, whether or not they will receive a Disabled Players Exception for John Wall, one which would be valued at $9,258,000.

Again, you might ask what good is that now, but those exceptions would carry throughout the season and based on the season shakes out, there could be opportunity for the Wizards to be a buyer, potentially landing a player from a team that pivots to seller, or perhaps netting an asset for taking on salary. The $10,300,034 in savings the Wizards would incur via the stretch is more than enough to fit salary into any of their potential exceptions.

The stretch would also give the Wizards a roster spot; something that could be valuable with John Wall perhaps being unable to play this season and the pre-training camp injuries to Isaiah Thomas and Troy Brown Jr.

The Wizards need as much depth as possible, but they also need to throw as many darts at the board as they can to help replenish their roster. Having another available roster spot means another lottery ticket, whereas we know what the Wizards have with Mahinmi and that he is not part of their future plans. You could argue it would behoove the Wizards to take a flier on a young player and see if they can catch lightning in a bottle for the second straight summer (Thomas Bryant).

What can the Wizards do besides stretching Mahinmi?

The stretch provision isn’t the only option. Trading Mahinmi likely would have cost the organization substantial draft capital in the past two to three seasons. But as an expiring contract this season, there may be some trade options available assuming a few things:

  • · The Wizards are willing to take on more salary then they’re sending out;
  • · The Wizards are willing to take on a contract that runs beyond the 2019-2020 season.

The Wizards currently are approximately $2.7 million below the luxury tax line with that figure likely to move as they trim the roster to 15 and we get clarity on the status of some non-guaranteed contracts (Jordan McRae, Jemerrio Jones, Justin Robinson and Justin Anderson). In trades, teams can take on 125 percent of the outgoing salary plus $100k. That means Washington can trade Mahinmi for an income salary of up to $19,421,563 (while likely being mindful not to go into the tax).

Why would Washington do this? Well, if they get a slightly better player than Mahinmi, on an expiring deal from a team looking to shed salary, why not? He isn’t in the team’s plans and while the team is retool mode, they also want to be competitive and show Bradley Beal that they are serious about improving the roster around him. If they can get a rotational piece and/or an asset for Mahinmi by taking on extra money; well something is better than nothing. Tyler Johnson, Allen Crabbe, and Evan Turner spring to mind as players who financially fit that bill.

The Wizards can also pursue another type of trade; one where they take on salary beyond this season. For Washington to pursue or consider such an opportunity, they would have to 1) get the better player in the trade or 2) be incentivized to do so. Teams that could be in play for such a scenario are teams that want to position themselves for the 2020 free agency period. Teams that could fit this mold include Miami, which has the contracts of James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, and Dion Waiters as potential matches, or perhaps Dallas with Tim Hardaway Jr.

The Wizards front office have to decide if sacrificing next summer’s financial flexibility would be worth the incoming player or asset. That could largely be dictated by how their season is going and how that incoming contract affects their long-term planning, if at all. It would be hard to imagine the Wizards taking on salary beyond the 2020-21 season because that runs alongside Beal’s current deal.

Tommy Sheppard’s predecessor made a habit of making moves that in the short term, seemed beneficial but also lacked the gumption to take the team beyond their ceiling. The Markieff Morris and Ariza/Okafor trades fit this mold; and in each case they chose the certainty over chancing the market and the selling point was they landed their free agents before the summer even began.

What should the Wizards do with Mahinmi?

Though the Wizards have options on how to move Mahinmi’s contract, they probably should do nothing. Mahinmi’s contract run will run its course. Or perhaps, they could offer a buyout after the trade deadline. That approach would still create a roster spot with time to use a portion of their exceptions. Financially, this makes the most sense as it gives them a clean slate but there is no immediate help to the roster.

I would not expect any major alteration to their approach from last summer. If the opportunity exists, Sheppard and company will have to be prudent in deciding if there’s an option out there which exists, that makes them better in the interim but does not conflict with their future.

It’s nothing different than the tap dance he has endeavored since assuming the interim tag as he tries to simultaneously be competitive in an effort to retain Beal, while retooling and thinking big picture.