Three weeks from the trade deadline, every signal from the Wizards is that they plan to keep sharpshooter Davis Bertans and attempt to re-sign him in the offseason. Whether that’s the right move isn’t a simple question, however.
Sure, there are the usual complexities of cost and production, as well the uncertainty of letting any player hit unrestricted free agency. But for the Wizards and Bertans the question marks are less about Bertans and are more about their long-term strategic plan and how that plan and Bertans interact with John Wall and his return from three seasons of injury.
The decision on Bertans balances on the razor’s edge of the team’s best guess about how Wall is likely to play once he gets back on the court. If they believe he can get back to something near his 2016-17 level — third team All-NBA in his last healthy season — then retaining Bertans, even at a high salary, makes sense.
Wall was among the best at collapsing defenses and making pinpoint passes to all areas of the court. That would pair well with Bertans’ elite shooting, constant movement, and ability to get his shot off on the move and closely defended. With a high draft pick and some smart role player acquisitions, the Wizards could be right back in the mix for top four or five in the East.
But, will Wall be that good, or even anywhere close? While the focus is mostly on the Achilles injury, it’s worth remembering that Wall missed at least half the team’s regular season games due to injury in the two previous campaigns. The Achilles tear is a major injury by itself. His other serious injuries add a layer of complication.
As I wrote last May, All-Stars who miss that much time due to injury tend to suffer significant drops in performance when they get back on the floor.
If the Wall who gets back on the floor is significantly diminished, the Wizards may contend for the playoffs, but they won’t be a serious threat to the East’s best teams. If the best guess is a diminished Wall, it may be wise to trade Bertans for whatever future assets they can get and focus on building for the future.
And, it’s important to emphasize the words “best guess.” The Wizards know more about Wall’s condition than anyone else, but there are no certainties in recovering from a series of serious injuries. Medical science is better than ever, but Wall will still be a 30-year old guard who relied on his athleticism returning from three seasons of injuries, one of which was an Achilles. It’s impossible to know how good he’ll be, and it’s foolhardy to assume he’ll be as effective as he once was.
Bottom line: if Wall doesn’t come back at least at All-Star level, the Wizards won’t be contenders regardless of whether they trade or re-sign Bertans.
That doesn’t mean the Wizards should just give Bertans away. He’s a valuable commodity who could be a difference-maker for a contending team. If a team is willing to give up a young player and a package of draft picks that includes a first, the Wizards would be wise to listen.
If the offers amount to a second round pick or two, they can wait for the offseason to re-sign him — if they’re confident they can keep him from departing to a contending team. If Wall plays like the Wall of old, Bertans can be a significant contributor over the next few seasons. If Wall is significantly diminished, Bertans’ shooting will remain valuable and the team can always trade him at some point in the future.
But, the decision to keep or trade Bertans isn’t as simple as noting that he’s a terrific shooter and would be a good fit with what’s remembered of Wall’s playing ability. That Wall is likely gone, and a new Wall will hit the floor next season.
The front office needs to weigh the value of assets like Bertans — who has significant value over the next 2-3 seasons — against the long-term value of assets they can acquire if they trade him. It’s not an easy decision because there are so many variables that don’t have clear answers.