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What Thomas Bryant reaching the starter criteria means for the Wizards this summer

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NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Washington Wizards Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Who would have thought at the start of the season that Thomas Bryant would have more starts this season than every other Wizard besides Bradley Beal? On Monday, he started his 41st game, which means he’ll go down having started at least half of the team’s games this season. It also means the Wizards will need to tweak their plans for this summer, as Bobby Marks of ESPN noted.

Here’s how the starter criteria works, as explained by CBA FAQ:

In order to make their free agent a restricted free agent, a team must submit a qualifying offer to the player between the day following the last game of the NBA Finals and June 29. The qualifying offer is a standing offer for a one-year guaranteed contract, which becomes a regular contact if the player decides to sign it. This ensures that the team does not gain the right of first refusal without offering a contract themselves.

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However, a player coming off a standard NBA contract (not a Two-Way contract) may qualify for a higher or lower qualifying offer based on whether or not he met the “starter criteria” in the previous season, or in the average of the previous two seasons. The starter criteria are based on starting at least 41 games or playing at least 2,000 minutes in the regular season.

If a second round pick or undrafted player met the starter criteria following his second or third season in the league, his qualifying offer equals the amount of the qualifying offer applicable to the 21st pick in the first round of the draft class whose rookie scale contract is now finishing, if this amount is higher than the qualifying offer he otherwise would have received.

The Wizards ran into this situation a few years ago when Trevor Booker started 45 games in the final year of his rookie deal. Washington extended the higher qualifying offer to maintain his restricted rights, but declined the offer sheet he signed with the Jazz later that summer. It looked like Washington would run into a similar issue with Kelly Oubre Jr. this summer until they traded him. Tomas Satoransky will likely reach starter criteria as well this season, but his qualifying offer will be higher than the 21st pick because of the structure of his contract, so he isn’t affected.

Washington now has more flexibility to match an offer sheet for Bryant thanks to their cap-clearing moves at the trade deadline. Rook detailed how a team could still theoretically pry Bryant away in free agency, but they would have to clear at least $9 million in cap space to make such an offer. As impressive as the 21-year-old has been this season, it seems unlikely a team would offer Julius Randle-level money to get him. And even if they did, Washington could always make some additional moves to make room to match his offer sheet with cap space.

That extra flexibility Washington got at the deadline also gives them some leverage in negotiations this summer. Now they can match an offer sheet without paying extra tax dollars, which will probably deter other teams from wasting their time with an offer sheet in the first place, which drives down his market.

Bryant reaching starter criteria goes to show just how important it was for Washington to clear room this summer. While we can quibble with how they got there (goodbye, second round picks) and how they’ll use some of that space (how much longer do we expect Trevor Ariza and Jeff Green to be serviceable?) but cobbling together a team next season with Bradley Beal and Otto Porter surrounded by guys on minimum deals wasn’t feasible and it would take away from what little they have in terms of young assets.