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January Mailbag answers: Turning the Wizards’ season around, the Mystics’ frontcourt rotation and more

Our answers to your questions in this month’s mailbag are below.

Phoenix Suns v Washington Wizards
Deni Avdija’s improvement could play a big role in whether the Wizards could be a long term contender in the coming seasons.
Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Thank you for the questions in this mailbag. Answers to selected questions are below. We will have our next mailbag in mid-February. Thanks!

What should be the goals for the Wizards after a bad start, Thomas Bryant’s injury, postponed games, Russell Westbrook’s injury etc.? How do you turn the season into a positive? (WhyNotTyler)

John Morrow: It’s early enough in the season for the goal to remain making the playoffs. I personally think getting the 6 seed and avoiding the play-in games is a serious long shot but it’s still very early. The difference, hopefully, between this Wizards team and the previous ones that were aiming to contend is that we should not see trades to only prioritize making the playoffs.

I think if the team continues to flounder and/or is just outside of playoff positioning, we’ll see a move into sell mode as opposed to using assets to fill gaps. The question then becomes if that leads to a trade of Beal, but I think that outcome will depend on if/when Beal requests a trade and how he does it.

How do you rank the top teams in the Eastern Conference, for the regular season and for potential playoff matchups? (WhyNotTyler)

John Morrow: Here are mine:

  • Contenders — Milwaukee, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Boston
  • Potential contenders if tweaks are made — Indiana, Miami, Toronto
  • Play-in/one and done — Atlanta, Charlotte, Washington, Orlando, Chicago, New York

As for potential playoff matchups, it’d be hard to say at this point. The Wizards have a long way to go to even be considered competitive in a playoff series.

Let’s say Tommy Sheppard doesn’t trade Bradley Beal. In two years he gives him the supermax because Beal makes the All-NBA team. What does the team look like at that point as far as salary cap and ability to compete? (athlete’sfeat)

Albert Lee: For the salary cap, the Wizards are tied until the 2023-24 season when Russell Westbrook’s contract comes off the books. As for competing, that’s a different matter.

If the Wizards sign Beal to the supermax, the team will still have their hands tied in 2022-23 because they will still have Westbrook in the last year of his deal. Since that’s a player option and he would be 34 at that point, I think he will take the option to get paid $47 million that season and Washington will still have $100 million committed to multiple players.

From 2023-24 on, the only players who figure to be in Washington are Rui Hachimura who would likely be in the first year of his second NBA contract where he may be earning a salary of around $15 million or so (if not more) while Deni Avdija would be in the last year of his four-year rookie contract if Washington picks up his options (and they probably will). So in 2023-24, Washington would likely have about $35-40 million in committed salaries which includes Davis Bertans’ fourth year of his five-year contract.

In terms of the Wizards’ ability to compete, it is going to be heavily dependent on how Hachimura, Avdija and Bertans improve and/or gel together with Beal and Westbrook in the next two seasons. If Hachimura or Avdija play like All-Stars, then that could really improve Washington’s prospects by 2022-23, but two seasons is still a long time from now.

What do you think the Mystics’ front court will look like next season and what will Myisha Hines-Allen’s role be in it? (Nancy Wimberg, email)

Albert: In short, I expect Elena Delle Donne, Tina Charles and LaToya Sanders back along with Hines-Allen. Beyond these four, it looks unclear.

The Mystics will have EDD back because she is still on a multi-year contract and Tina Charles has pledged to return despite being an unrestricted free agent. Also, Sanders has to negotiate her next contract with Washington since she was suspended last year for opting out of the 2020 season along with Natasha Cloud.

The big question is if they can re-sign Emma Meesseman and/or Tianna Hawkins. Hawkins could return but I think she can earn a salary higher than the $71,400 she made last year. And if she comes back this season, Meesseman is going to miss significant time in 2021 for Women’s EuroBasket in June and perhaps the weeks after that to train for the Olympics a month later for Belgium.

As for how Hines-Allen fits in, this may be a hot take, but I think she will play a role similar to what Meesseman did in 2019 as the Mystics’ No. 2 scoring option, and perhaps No. 1. Last season, she was an All-WNBA team mention and was among the most improved players in the league.

Like our site’s writers struggled with in 2019 with Meesseman’s role on the team for that season, we may be struggling with whether Hines-Allen should start alongside Delle Donne or if Charles should instead. I’m looking forward to seeing what Hines-Allen will provide for Washington this summer.

Why didn’t Tommy bring in a solid front court defender in free agency to complement the offensive firepower from a season ago? Out of the suggestions, what Free Agents front court players do you think you would bring in before deadline to manage better lineups? (BFfromtheGrave)

John Morrow: Great questions.

To your first question, I think the unfortunate reality is that the Wizards aren’t seen as a desirable destination for free agents at this time. That combined with Sheppard’s stance on Thomas Bryant as the incumbent starter played a role. Players who were paid more than Robin Lopez: Tristan Thompson, Serge Ibaka, Derrick Favors, Montrezl Harrel & JaMychal Green went to contenders. Christian Wood was out of the price range and Mason Plumlee on a three-year deal was undesirable.

Of those who were paid less, Nerlens Noel is a popular name but likely would’ve chosen playing in New York City over Washington. Marc Gasol valued playing for a contender. The Wizards passed on Hassan Whiteside and Dwight Howard, who are great talents but not good locker room guys. So the ones who we should question passing on were Bismack Biyombo, Willie Cauley-Stein, Noel, and Aron Baynes.

When you think about it in that context, Noel seems like he would’ve been a good fit but I can live with the decision to sign Lopez. He’s been as advertised so far and has years of experience as a starter so with Bryant going down, the Wizards could be in a worse spot if some of the other names had been signed.

To your second question, Potentially Dewayne Dedmon. I think we could see a marginal move to trade one of Jerome Robinson, Isaac Bonga or Troy Brown Jr. for a center, especially with all of them in flux for rotation spots. Personally, I hope they give Lopez & Wagner chances and don’t prioritize the next few months over the next few years.

If the Wizards resume play, will Cassius Winston get a chance to contribute for the Wizards? - CDKA

Yanir Rubinstein: I’d love for Cassius to become that next Fred VanVleet.

However, alas, given that the Wizards opted out of the G-League Bubble in Orlando. The only Go-Go players to participate in that bubble are Jordan Bell, Yoeli Childs, Caleb Homesley and Marlon Taylor (as Go-Go’s flex-affiliate players with the Erie BayHawks), and, finally, Scott Brooks’ win-now-or-be-fired status will likely lead him to rely on his vets at point guard...

John Morrow: I doubt it. There is a hierarchy under Scott Brooks and even with Westbrook missing time, Brooks values playing time for both Ish Smith and Raul Neto. His best chance would be if the Wizards continue to flounder and end up combining Ish Smith’s salary with Troy Brown Jr. or another player in a trade which could open up minutes.

Would you trade Russell Westbrook this season? The Knicks are still desperate for a star and the Clippers want to make a playoff push any way they can. (GreatWallofWizards)

John Morrow: Not until he regains value. They’re already one first round pick in the hole from acquiring him. Sacrificing more to move him again would be detrimental.

As for your trade ideas, regarding the Knicks, they would be one of the more likely teams to think about Westbrook. With the Knicks cap space they would also not have to send back matching salary like a majority of the league. The question would then become what salaries they want to dump and the answer likely would be Dennis Smith Jr., and maybe Kevin Knox or Frank Ntilikina but it would be a tough sell for them to take on the remaining years on Westbrook’s deal. The Knicks are well positioned to make a trade for a player who fits the timeline of their youth better, or to just sign a free agent this offseason.

Then if Westbrook went to the Clippers, LA would need to match salary. That likely means Marcus Morris, Pat Beverley, Lou Williams & Patrick Patterson. Those are 3 rotation players and Westbrook’s fit is very questionable there. It’d likely require the Wizards including a young piece. I really do not see it, why would the Clippers want him? His fit is very questionable, he’s been injury-prone, and his openness to a lesser role is in doubt.

Do you think Westbrook really fits his play style in the Wizards’ system? (GreatWallofWizards)

John Morrow: So far, no. Once (if ever) the team figures out effective rotations that surround him with shooting and not redundant point guards who fill the same role (Ish Smith) I can see it working. So far, it has not been a fit offensively due to spacing concerns and his propensity for mid-range jumpers.

Defensively, his rebounding is a plus but his inattention is a problem. It’s surprising for a player of his stature to continually lose focus on that end, especially as he’s one who’s pushing younger players and leading them.

Marcus Atkinson: Let’s start with this. What exactly is the Wizards playing style? They like to play more uptempo on offense in particular, but they often struggle between sharing the ball and playing heavy isolation with one of their star players. That’s pretty much been the team’s offense throughout Brooks’ tenure. And on defense, there is no semblance of any identity.

So if we are looking at Westbrook, in particular on offense, he could fit if he is used right. He needs to be in a lineup surrounded by shooters and perhaps a pick and roll/pick and pop mate (i.e. Thomas Bryant). I think optimally even with Westbrook being hurt, you saw some flashes of what could work. What won’t happen no matter what the style is, is fixing the erratic shooting, the turnovers and the bad defense that exist with his game. That’s just a part of who he is, so while those things are damaging, none of those things would be fixed by putting him in a different system.

I think with the right lineups on offense and defense, he can be good and maybe at times a very good player, but he has been hampered by injury and poor coaching. I don’t know if we will see much change until one of those two things change.

If it hasn’t already, how more guard-centric will the offense be with Thomas Bryant out for the season? (gavalon5)

John Morrow: I don’t really see how it can get more guard-centric. I think the current model will continue but Bryant’s touches will go instead to Rui Hachimura, and hopefully we see Deni Avdija with an increase in usage rate.

With Bryant out for the season, will players like Bertans, Avdija, or Neto get more involved in scoring? (gavalon55)

Albert: They will have to once the Wizards start playing again. Bertans and Neto have already had their scoring moments this season. But as John mentioned earlier, Avdija will have to be a bit more active looking for his shot. Right now, he’s a small forward version of a very young Emma Meesseman. We’ll answer questions on her later.

You make it seem like 2021 is the Mystics’ “Last Dance” for a title. Do you really think they have to rebuild in 2022? (various emails)

Albert: I hate to say it, but I do think it is the Mystics’ last dance. There are younger teams like the Seattle Storm and the Las Vegas Aces who probably have the upper hand against Washington in a playoff series as of now.

Furthermore, Washington just doesn’t have much salary cap space this season. They also have to save long-term space for Ariel Atkins and Myisha Hines-Allen. They don’t have the cap space to sign veterans like Cloud, Meesseman, Aerial Powers, Hawkins and Sanders after this season unless some of them want to take a significant pay cut.

If the Wizards knew that Victor Oladipo was on the trading block, couldn’t they have put together a package for him that was better than Indiana ended up getting for him? I would have preferred Victor over Russ. (Don Buerkle, email)

John Morrow: I would think they knew he was on the trading block. But his fit with the Wizards was a question as he plays the same role as Bradley Beal. Also, the way that Westbrook was acquired was through John Wall’s salary and Indiana likely did not see value in acquiring Wall with Brogdon already in place as its point guard.

Plus, Wall’s salary is quite higher than Oladipo’s so it would’ve been Oladipo plus other players for Wall. Unless the Wizards had included multiple firsts, it would not have happened, and that would have been a terrible decision for the Wizards with Oladipo’s pending free agency and his rumored intentions to join the Miami Heat this offseason.

Could Sam Cassell or Mark Jackson be potential head coaches for the Wizards? (Darin March, email)

John Morrow: Jackson had a contentious exit from the Golden State Warriors and rumors have circulated throughout the internet about some of his behavior and actions through the years. It’s hard to know how much of it is based in fact, but it’s fair to question his fit.

Cassell was very well-liked in D.C. but he did end up leaving on his own accord and he was passed up when Scott Brooks was hired. His connection to Beal holds value but I would hope the coaching hire, if and when Brooks is no longer the coach, comes down to more than trying to appease one player who could very well not be long for D.C. due to constant mismanagement around him.

That said, I could not agree more on the need for accountability on this team. Brooks either doesn’t do enough to try to hold players accountable on the defensive end or they have tuned him out. The vast majority of fans want a change, and for good reason.