On Monday, Bullets Forever community member Rook6980 wrote a FanPost on how he would handle the Wizards’ NBA Draft this June and free agency signings in July. The FanPost was fronted and gives an excellent example on how the Wizards could make the most out of their tight salary cap situation.
I will also say that it gives an optimistic picture assuming Wizards President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld offers team-friendly yet fair salaries to free agents. And of course, it also assumes that the Wizards don’t suffer any franchise-altering Achilles injuries like John Wall did late last January.
All teams try to give themselves some buffer room, whether it’s arbitrary salary cap space in case a player doesn’t pan out. Or maybe a team signs an extra player in a key position because a starter is prone to injury. The Wizards don’t have room for either.
Washington has tried signing extra posts as veteran pieces around the John Wall and Bradley Beal backcourt. Then-Wizards center Marcin Gortat panned out for the most part during his tenure from 2013 to 2018. But they signed Ian Mahinmi in the 2016 free agency period to a four-year $64 million deal. Let’s just say that Mahinmi’s play hasn’t been effective since he signed that deal.
Next season, Mahinmi will earn between $15.4 million and $16 million, depending on the source you turn to for salary cap news. Meanwhile, John Wall is slated to earn at least $37 million in the first year of his four-year $170 million supermax contract extension. Wall will miss the rest of this season and most of next due to a ruptured Achilles tendon.
Their combined salaries will take up nearly 50 percent of the 2019-20 salary cap of $109 million. Though Mahinmi has been known as a friendly man in the locker room and Wall has been known for his philanthropy in the D.C. area, their contracts, Wall’s in particular, are nearly untradeable.
I mentioned last Sunday that fans shouldn’t blame Mahinmi or Wall for signing big money contracts. But it is Grunfeld’s responsibility for mismanaging the salary cap over the past several years to put the Wizards in their current position. This goes for Mahinmi’s in particular because he wasn’t the only post player whom the Wizards signed in 2016.
In 2016, Grunfeld also signed Jason Smith and Andrew Nicholson to significant deals. Nicholson was traded in the first season of his contract and is no longer in the league. Smith was effective in spot minutes and a good locker room presence but he was traded last fall.
Mahinmi was signed to be Gortat’s successor if not replace him outright in the 2016-17 season. But after seeing how Mahinmi was looking and knowing that Gortat would have to be traded due to locker room issues that went public, he signed Dwight Howard. Now, Howard’s rehabbing his back after surgery.
And though sophomore center Thomas Bryant is doing a great job under the circumstances, it’s unclear how much money he’ll command as a free agent next year. Even if Bryant returns to Washington next year, the salary cap will just have to be tightened that much more because of the mistakes Grunfeld made in 2016.
As for Wall’s situation, Grunfeld or owner Ted Leonsis may have been too stubborn trying to keep Wall. Kevin Broom wrote last week that Wall’s prime is almost definitely behind him when he returns. But before the news about Wall’s initial heel surgery, there were rumors about him going to the Lakers in exchange for some of their younger stars. Now, it’s safe to say that these kinds of calls aren’t coming anymore.
With about half of the Wizards’ salary cap space going to just two players who either can’t play or provide little on-court value on the court when healthy, I find it very difficult to see the Wizards to make much of a positive impact on the court next season.
Stretching Mahinmi or Wall is only going to extend the team’s salary cap pain for a longer time rather than give a fresh start as soon as possible. So that’s not the best option obviously.
Regardless, I think next year is going to be quite glum for the Wizards. We will probably want to just forget that everything over the past couple years happened. We definitely wish that the 2016 Free Agency period NEVER happened in the first place.
And there just happens to be a song for our feelings that though it isn’t in English.
Belgian singer Angèle Van Laeken released a song last fall with her brother, rapper Roméo Elvis called “Tout Oublier” (To Forget Everything) which you can see above. This video is a bit quirky, but it is still the top song in Francophone Belgium and one of the top songs in France as well. Though the Wizards could still technically make the playoffs this season, next season will most likely be one to forget due to past mistakes by the front office.