In an effort to get the team under the luxury tax (and back in Ted Leonsis’ good graces), Ernie Grunfeld began shedding salary early in the season. The Milwaukee Bucks, who took on Jodie Meeks’ contract before the season began, were willing trade partners.
When Jason Smith opted into the player option Grunfeld foolishly gave him, Grunfeld tried to right his wrong and traded Smith to the Bucks in a three-team trade that landed Sam Dekker in Washington.
Saying goodbye to Smith, who was the team’s official stepdad for a few seasons in D.C., wasn’t easy.
While the Wizards were a playoff team during Smith’s time in Washington, they were rather miserable this past season — but the constant losing, locker room bickering and trade rumors never got to J-Smooth. He remained a consummate professional — cheering for his teammates every chance he got, whether they were up 20 or down 20.
Trading Smith hurt — because the Wizards were a mess, and Smith was the only veteran left on the roster with a soul.
Sam Dekker had big, goofy shoes to fill. And, for the most part, he did that.
Positives this season
Dekker, like Smith, hustled — hard. Unlike a lot of his peers, some of which he shared a locker room with, Dekker knew his role. He was determined — he chased every rebound, dived for every loose ball and put his body on the line for charges.
The hustle probably didn’t warrant giving up valuable developmental minutes to Dekker (and Ron Baker) that could’ve gone to Troy Brown, and at that point, Devin Robinson. But I digress.
It’s not Dekker’s fault that Scott Brooks was short-sighted — or near-sighted — or whatever sort of eye-impairment would’ve caused him to think Baker and Dekker should play over Brown.
There’s no doubting Dekker’s enthusiasm — and given the lack of effort from the team at the beginning of the season, his excitement for the game was welcomed, and needed.
Spots for improvement
Unfortunately, the heart Dekker plays with doesn’t really translate to points on the board.
At 6-9, Dekker is probably too small to play at center, yet he was relatively efficient under the basket.
For Dekker to find consistent minutes in the NBA, he must develop a jump shot. He made less than 29 percent of his threes in Washington and was mostly effective when moving without the ball, and finding himself open inside.
Had Dekker developed an outside shot, he probably wouldn’t have had such a nomadic career. In a league where 30-foot threes have become normal, Dekker has to become at least average from deep.
The Wizards are in salary cap hell. The eventual GM will have to fill out the roster with cheap talent, because the team has five players under contract — three of them being John Wall, who will make supermax money despite a torn Achilles, Ian Mahinmi, who’s a candidate to get waived via the stretch provision, and Dwight Howard, whose situation is too confusing to explain.
Washington can use a player like Dekker, because, one, he’s just happy to be there, and two, the locker room needs energy.
The Wizards will probably be bad next season. There’s a good chance their best player won’t play the entire season — and even if he does, there’s no guarantee he’ll ever return to all-star form after the devastating injury. Washington has no assets to flip for talent right now (and because Grunfeld is gone, the lottery pick is likely safe).
Dekker is only 25 — so he still has time to improve his jump shot, and if he does, he has the chance to become a regular part of a team’s rotation. Nowadays, big men routinely focus on improving their jumpers and return as capable shooters. Blake Griffin — while obviously an elite player — added a 3-point shot to his arsenal overnight. That doesn’t mean Dekker has to become prolific from deep, because if he can merely command attention, it will probably be enough to get consistent minutes on a team like the Wizards.
Dekker won’t command a ton of money — returning for the veteran’s minimum is likely. Re-signing Dekker isn’t the worst way to use a roster spot, especially since the team knows what they will get out of him — hustle.