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April Mailbag Answers: How should the Wizards approach the immediate future?

Here are our answers to selected questions in April’s mailbag. They all centered around what the team should do in the months ahead.

Washington Wizards v Sacramento Kings
Many of our questions center around veterans like Russell Westbrook and younger players like Deni Avdija.
Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Thank you for your questions in April’s mailbag. Selected questions are answered below. Our next mailbag will be in mid-May!

What is more likely to happen first: Beal trade or Westbrook trade? (gavalon55)

Matt Modderno: All year I would have said a Beal trade because I couldn’t imagine anyone trading for Westbrook based on how he looked for the first few months. Westbrook has looked good enough lately that I could see another team talking themselves in to taking on that contract. I would still say Beal is more likely because he would bring back the most in return. I wouldn’t expect to see either of them moved anytime soon though. Next year’s trade deadline seems like the most likely scenario because “No Tank” Ted will want to build on this recent momentum next season.

Yanir Rubinstein: Beal. There simply is a market for the Panda.

Why is there such a high level of frustration with the wizards?

Everything seems to be down with regards to the Wizards. Local sports talk shows rarely if ever talk about them, fan optimism is down, local TV ratings have always been down, merchandise sales are always near the bottom and national TV appearances are few and far between. Compared to other local teams when they’re down, the Wizards fanbase’s displeasure with the team seems to be more volatile. I have my ideas as to why but I was wondering what your thoughts were? (WizOneWord)

Marcus Atkinson: It’s really simple, winning cures a lot of problems. The Wizards, unlike the other teams in town, don’t have a recent history of winning.

This team hasn’t won a championship or the conference finals since the 1977-78 season, and they have only won one division title the 1978-79 season. If we really think about it, this team has gone a whole generation of fans without any meaningful success so it takes away the fervor from fans and takes a lot of support away, especially from younger people.

While the Washington Football Team has historically been resistant to a decay with its fanbase in the D.C. area, they too have been increasingly maligned over recent years as well as we have moved to almost 30 years since their last championship. While their old team name has a lot to do with it, the lack of winning doesn’t help either.

The Wizards need to build a winning culture to really win back fans for the long term. It starts with Ted Leonsis making a commitment to a winning product on the court. It then trickles down to the coaches and the players to perform. If fans don’t see results from all of those things, the Wizards will continue to be an afterthought in this area. That’s unfortunate because this is an area that has a rich basketball history at pretty much every other level besides the NBA. This area supports its basketball teams when they are doing well (i.e. the Washington Mystics in the last few years, the Maryland Terrapins and Georgetown Hoyas men’s and women’s basketball teams when they are doing well nationally).

Matt: If the owner is seemingly apathetic to the team (other than a few weird tweets flexing whenever they have a decent stretch) why should anyone else care? They’ve been bad more years than they’ve been good. And there’s very little hope for contention anytime soon. I think people just have Wizards fatigue. Very few people cared about the other local teams (other than the Washington Football Team) when they were bottom feeders.

Should the Wizards go with a “soft” or a full rebuild? Which direction would you take and what roster and staff moves would you consider smart in consequence? (WhyNotTyler)

Matt: What SHOULD the Wizards do? Or what do I think they’ll do? I don’t see this team ever going for a total rebuild so I think “retooling” seems like the best of the realistic options. Gafford seems like a real piece and he and Bryant make for a competent center rotation. A compete, veteran 3-and-D wing and then a few more young wings with some upside would be my offseason priorities.

Albert Lee: I agree with Matt. The Wizards have given all indications that they are trying to compete while trying to show that they can add some younger players who can make an impact like Rui Hachimura, Deni Avdija, Thomas Bryant and now ... DANIEL GAFFORD.

I still don’t see this team changing course or doing a true rebuild until Russell Westbrook’s and Bradley Beal’s contracts are off the books. Trading Beal won’t be a problem, but trading Westbrook will be difficult to say the least.

What kinds of contracts can the Wizards offer – Mid Level Exception? The Biannual Exception? What kinds of players would sign those level contracts? (Wizards Comments)

Albert: In short, the Wizards can pick up a player with the non-taxpayer mid level exception but they don’t have the biannual if they used it last season. That said, every team has some combination of these exceptions.

Matt: I was thinking about doing a more in-depth article on this but I would target 3-and-D wings. A veteran guy who is slightly on the decline and, therefore, affordable would be a good place to start. And I’d look for a young wing who has underachieved on his current team but still has enough upside that you might be able to revitalize their career. But I’m tired of seeing this team try to shoehorn guys (Troy Brown Jr. and Deni Avdija for starters) into a 3-and-D role when it doesn’t fit their games.

Can Deni Avdija really seamlessly fit with this team, especially as someone who is raw and needs time on the ball to develop?

And if not, should we package him with a pick to get a player who can (i.e. Jerami Grant, Harrison Barnes, etc.)? (nolagoated)

Yanir: Deni would thrive somewhere like the San Antonio Spurs or Golden State Warriors where he could fit into a positionless system. In D.C. the system is too much “role” based for him to express his full talents. The Wizards under Brooks is not the best place for him. Jerami Grant would be a nice trade scenario actually,but the salaries might be tricky to match without a third team or some other cap maneuver.

Plus, the luxury tax would get closer for the Wiz with that kind of salary - Grant-Bertans-Beal-Russ would be already over the salary cap.

Marcus: I actually like Deni’s game. I think he will at least be a quality rotation player for years to come, but I don’t think he fits this team with the way Brooks plays his teams (iso-heavy) and with two ball dominant guards. Deni would thrive much better in a system that allows him to have the ball in his hand more. With that said, the other issue that I see is I think he will eventually be more effective as a power forward (stretch 4).

Deni is probably not quick enough to guard most small forwards consistently and I also don’t think he’s strong enough to guard power forwards quite yet. So if that truly is his trajectory then something has to give between him and Rui. When he was drafted I said that I don’t think the two can co-exist long term and I truly believe one of them should be traded at some point in the future.

If the Wizards are able to get someone like Jerami Grant to go with Beal and Westbrook, I think that elevates the team to another tier. I preferred Grant over signing Bertans in the off season just because of his improving offensive game and versatile defense, but to get him now, the price tag will be high given how much he is getting paid. The other question is, who are they willing to part with to get Grant, if he becomes available.

Ben Mehic: Sure, the Wizards can make the playoffs. A healthy Thomas Bryant and an athletic center in Daniel Gafford is an upgrade to the team’s current front court, and a healthy Russell Westbrook for an entire season could change the Wizards’ record. However, the team should have higher goals than just making the playoffs in a bad Eastern Conference. The goal should be a championship, always - and the real question should be: can the Wizards win a championship with the current core? If the answer is no, then the Wizards should consider making some serious changes. Merely making the playoffs in the East is not an accomplishment, especially with the play-in situation.

If the Wizards keep the same core lineup, draft an unknown player, re-sign Alex Len, Garrison Mathews, Issac Bonga and Raul Neto, do you think this team is making the 2022 NBA Playoffs? (GreatWallOfWizards)

Matt: Another year of Gafford plus the return of a healthy Thomas Bryant would certainly make for a better team than this current group, but I still don’t think that drastically increases their playoff prospects. That sounds like a 6 or 7 seed to me at best.

Yanir: I don’t think so. The East is getting more competitive too. And there might not be a play-in anymore. This year the Raptors are tanking; they won’t be next. The Wizards will end up around the 9th to 11th in the East with it’s current construction.

Albert: To Matt’s point, a No. 7 seed may not even be good enough to guarantee a playoff berth if the play-in round becomes a permanent thing.

Is this one of those rare, rare instances where we’re actually better than our record? (We beat some good teams this year.) (TomKozelko22)

Matt: I definitely think so. Although, I don’t think they’re significantly better than their record. I projected they’d be slightly below .500 before the season and I still think that’s about the ceiling for this group. Integrating a massively high-usage player like Russell Westbrook takes time. And with all of the COVID-related issues the Wizards had a lot less time than they needed. Their schedule to start the season certainly didn’t make things any easier on them.

If the Wiz continue to stink up the Eastern Conference, do you think there is any chance Westbrook could: Demand a trade like Harden did? Or could he buy himself out like Griffin did?

If Westbrook chooses either of these options, where is his likely landing spot? (SkullDog)

Albert: Given that there’s just one month left in the regular season, I don’t see Westbrook asking to get his contract bought out. As for a trade, it seems like he is more likely to request one this summer, especially if they don’t make the playoffs.

A trade will be difficult as well, since the Wizards will have to acquire a player with an equally “bad” contract. Westbrook is earning $44.2 million next season, which is on par with Harden (Brooklyn), Chris Paul (Phoenix) and John Wall (Houston). I don’t see Washington being able to trade for any of these players unless they want to get Wall back, who’s averaging 20.4 points and 6.7 assists per game. Since the Rockets are not playing well this season despite Wall’s bounce back year, I just don’t see it.

Perhaps the Wizards could get Klay Thompson from the Warriors, who will earn $37.9 million next season and is out this season from an Achilles injury. It will be interesting to see how the backcourts for both teams shape out after such a deal, especially for Washington.