The Washington Wizards’ free agency period has been among the most active in recent memory. While Russell Westbrook was traded, they now have a lot more depth with Spencer Dinwiddie, Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope coming in the same deal. It ultimately makes Wizards fans feel optimistic about the future. We had a roundtable this past week which have been broken up into multiple parts.
Here is part one.
Albert: What is your grade on the Wizards’ moves and why? And is Tommy Sheppard a better General Manager than some originally thought?
Matt Modderno: I give them an A so far. If they find a way to turn the Bertans contract into another solid 3-and-D wing then I’ll give them an A with infinite pluses. Especially with COVID still hanging around, depth is really going to be important and they won’t be so reliant on the ups and downs of a few players.
Plus, I think competition for minutes is a good thing assuming you have the coaching staff to manage the egos, which I think Wes Unseld Jr. will be able to do. Having financial flexibility long term has been so rare with this franchise that I couldn’t even remember what that looked like.
No disrespect to Westbrook, but this move just gives them so many more options. I was initially very worried about immediately signing Dinwiddie to a long-term, big-money deal but 3 years with a partial guarantee of the third year seems like a sweet spot.
I think you could already make the case Tommy Sheppard is the best GM this franchise has had since they changed the name to Wizards. He’s spent most of his time trying to wiggle out of the contractual handcuffs left by his predecessor and he has yet to make a major misstep. There’s still plenty of work to be done but I’ve been very pleased with the job Sheppard has done this offseason.
Albert: Matt, I give the Wizards a B+ but for the same reasons you said. I’m waiting for about 25 percent of the season before calling it an A, but that’s my skepticism!
Kevin Broom: Maybe I’m the Russian judge here — I give Sheppard and the Wizards a B. While I think they’ve done well to turn an injured John Wall with a massive contract into several rotation-quality players, I don’t really think they’ve improved the team’s fortunes on the court — at least not yet. Maybe that comes from internal growth. Maybe Rui Hachimura makes a leap to becoming as good as people think he is. Maybe Davis Bertans bounces back. Maybe several of the youngsters do the work and improve.
I concur with Matt that the best thing about this offseason is that the team has actual professional depth for the first time in years, and they have the flexibility to make different kinds of moves to absorb different levels of salary. Having assets to make moves and improve the team is progress. They didn’t have these kinds of options two years ago. If they’re in the playoffs race, they can be buyers. They can make a consolidation move for a disgruntled star. Or they could be sellers if they fall out of contention. Progress.
Osman Baig: I think I’m going to agree with Kevin - that the team still is about where they were last season, but I would still give them an A. At one point or another I think each of us though they were absolutely stuck with the Wall and then Westbrook contracts and they are out of them - and somehow got a first from the Lakers in all the wheeling and dealing! The team still has a 6-8 seed vibe, but as Kevin mentioned, there’s flexibility to do more now. They now have the depth and flexibility to put together a compelling package using either Deni or Rui, a contract, and picks for the right disgruntled star. They could also just roll with a deep team and continue to hunt moves on the margin to fortify weaknesses.
I think part of the grade is an indictment or recognition of how bare the cupboard was when Ernie was relieved of his position. They had Beal and not much else. They still don’t have a second star but for now, Sheppard continues to thread the needle of trying to win enough to keep Beal happy and not mortgaging the future. Will it be enough to get Brad to sign an extension this October? We’ll see.
John Morrow: I’d go with an A for the offseason so far.
Tommy Sheppard being a better GM than some originally thought may well be the case, but I want to see how his draft picks pan out as it is so crucial. I could see Deni Avdija going either way with a big step forward, or by not. I think he, and also Isaiah Todd now to some extent, will be good tests when compared to Ernie Grunfeld’s regime as far as creating a good environment for growth among players that may not be 100% ready as immediate contributors. On paper, I’d say Avdija is at risk of not being in the rotation to start the year - will they see the big picture and make sure that he isn’t yanked around like Troy Brown Jr was? I see Corey Kispert as more of a finished product who should have some sort of role right away, but both Avdija and Todd need opportunities to play and grow, even though they may not have earned good roles yet. Is that gameplan between Sheppard and Unseld Jr. going to be better than it was between Sheppard and Scott Brooks? Hopefully the days of short-sighted veteran signings who can provide marginally more than rookies now, only to then limit the long term goals, are over.
One area where he undoubtedly seems superior to Grunfeld is in negotiations. Grunfeld’s contracts constantly were a little longer than expected, or had a player option on the back end, or included something that maybe shouldn’t have been included. Sheppard seems much more financially prudent - as shown by the Spencer Dinwiddie contract as the latest example. It seems that the trade with the Lakers also indicates that he was pretty good at negotiating with other GMs as well.
As for this offseason, I think the only other route that would’ve earned an A+ from me would’ve been maximizing the return on Bradley Beal in the form of Brandon Ingram + assets, James Wiseman/Andrew Wiggins/Jordan Poole/pick No. 7 & pick No. 14 or another asset rich deal with a young building block. I’m with everyone else in not seeing that much better of a team than what we saw in the second half of last season, but if Beal wasn’t going to be traded, this alternative is about as good as it could’ve been.
The team is now younger, more versatile, and there is a ton of flexibility to continue getting better. If the draft picks from the last 3 years take steps forward, this team finally could have a path towards contention.