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January Mailbag Part 3: More Wizards and Mystics questions

Checking the comments for the last part of our mailbag.

Boston Celtics v Washington Wizards
Let’s get to the last part of our mailbag.
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Here is the third part of our mailbag. Our first two parts are above.

The next mailbag will be in Feburary. Thanks!

Do you have a prediction that when Daniel Gafford’s salary extension kicks in, he is still a foul trouble guy who can’t create his own shot without a passing point guard? Do you think that the Wizards already overpaid Gafford?

Also, if Thomas Bryant returns back into form and starts shooting long 3s again minus defense, is it still ok to keep Gafford before that extension kicks in? Or trade them both and take a gamble on Mo Bamba?

Should Bryant also get $12-13m per year? (GreatWallofWizards)

This is a multilayered line of questioning, so I’ll go over them in bullet points:

  • On whether Gafford is still a foul-prone center next year and if he is overpaid: It’s hard to say that a player will remain foul prone next year, especially since Gaff is just 23 years old. So I will say that Gaff won’t be foul prone. He is not overpaid right now.
  • On whether it is okay to keep Gafford if Thomas Bryant hits the ground running: Yes. The two are centers, but Bryant has a different dimension to his game (stretch 5) than Gafford (shot blocker and rim finisher). They could even play together in some big lineups.
  • Should the Wizards trade BOTH for Mo Bamba? No. It’s not like Bamba is looking like a borderline All-Star this season for the rebuilding Magic.

The honeymoon period is over. On the other hand, it’s the first season on the team for a lot of core rotation players and the head coach...

Would you rebuild/overhaul the roster or run it back next year? If so, whom would you try to trade, which positions would you try to upgrade? How and why? (WhyNotTyler)

The Wizards need to make some trades and overhaul the roster, whether they’re rebuilding or not. They have too many centers and forwards who could be flipped for additional backcourt depth. especially someone who is a stronger backup point guard and shooting guard. The Wizards also remain one of the worst three point shooting teams in the league and can use more shooters regardless of position.

Since Washington started out 10-3 in the regular season, they’ve been one of the worst teams in the East, and it seems that they should seriously consider rebuilding for a post-Bradley Beal future. They won’t have to get rid of all their centers (ex. Daniel Gafford was re-signed) and recent first round draft picks (Rui Hachimura, Deni Avdija, Corey Kispert). But for Washington to move forward in a new direction, whenever that is, they’ll have to do so without Beal.

Assuming the team isn’t going to fully rebuild any time soon (i.e. not trading Beal; trying to make the playoffs):

1. Can the team effectively develop all its young players (all of whom are forwards/centers)?

2. What are the realistic trades that will improve the team’s chances of making the playoffs this season? Who among the young players would you trade to reach that goal? (Gaboshyn)

My answers:

  1. No. It’s not a bad thing for a roster to have depth and be “two men deep” in every position. But young players also need time to play to develop.
  2. I’m not a super trade-wizard in terms of who should come to the Wizards specifically. but the Wizards need to trade one of their three centers (Gafford/Montrezel Harrell/Thomas Bryant) and at least one of their veteran forwards (Kyle Kuzma/Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) for more picks or more backup guards.

Do you expect the NBA to continue with the health and safety protocols throughout the season/playoffs?

With the current RNA-based vaccines not being as effective as before against the omicron variant, and more boosters possibly being counterproductive over time, there really doesn’t seem to be a way to stop the spread with the current tools we have available.

The CDC, who is guessing just like any of us, now projects that most people will get the coronavirus at some point. Without knowing how much immunity is built from infection, we could see continuous on and off positive tests. Will the NBA just accept this, or continue to prevent infected players from playing? (TBGJC)

I’ll address the second part of your question first. With ongoing pandemics, government authorities like the CDC will be guessing. But that doesn’t mean that they are making wild guesses in terms of what to do since there is data on what happened with past respiratory diseases. That’s why the face mask and vaccine mandates are in various places worldwide, and I’ll leave it at that, since I don’t want to write about this topic more than necessary.

That goes to the first part of your question on whether the NBA will let players with the coronavirus play while testing positive. I find that unlikely for the rest of this season, including the playoffs. It remains to be seen what COVID-19 policy there is next season, however.

Personally, I’d rather see players take off a few days after testing positive for COVID or the flu. If there’s anything we learned from this pandemic, we learned that it is okay to take a few days off after getting a respiratory illness, symptomatic or not, coronavirus or flu or cold. Given NBA players’ travel and work demands, they can REALLY use that since they’re breathing on each other all the time and then getting in contact with older adults like coaches and other family members.

Will the Mystics be a contender this year? (Anthony Reid)

WNBA free agency negotiations have just started and there have been some reported moves with other teams, like Sue Bird staying at least one more year with the Seattle Storm.

As for the Mystics, I don’t think they’re in serious contention for the title. Sure, Elena Delle Donne may return from her injury this year. Alysha Clark may not miss a step after missing last year. And they may get Tina Charles and Myisha Hines-Allen back. That said, Delle Donne’s injury history is very worrisome. Clark is on the wrong side of 30. Charles may not come back.

And I’ll repeat it one more time, to kalorama’s delight (or to kalorama’s “say it like it is” approach): It’s better that the Mystics make a clean break from Emma Meesseman because she hasn’t been fully committed to Washington the past several years; Editor-at-Large Diamond Holton wrote at length about that recently. And to be honest, I’m very reluctant to write about Meesseman until we get closer to the FIBA Women’s World Cup Qualifiers, because, to be quite frank, she’s no longer a Mystics player in our (Diamond’s and my) eyes.

If all of these players return to Washington with Delle Donne being healthy, the Mystics will contend as a dark horse, especially if EDD is healthy, Meesseman returns AND fully commits herself to D.C. as opposed to UMMC Ekaterinburg and the Belgian national team. But again, the latter seems unlikely. But without a scenario like that, the Mystics are likely a Top-6 team with a semifinals appearance as their ceiling at best.

There seems to be some perception that the Mystics were likely to be a juggernaut in 2020 and 2021 but I never thought of them that way because of their lack of multiple superstars, especially in the backcourt, outside of Delle Donne and Meesseman. That said, I always thought they would be a dark horse contender at their peak. Washington won their 2019 championship due to their juggernaut offense, as well as taking advantage of the newfound chemistry between Meesseman and Delle Donne. But they weren’t favored to win the title in the preseason to begin with, and Breanna Stewart’s Achilles injury that year also tipped the scales significantly in Washington’s favor from Seattle’s. That’s something Diamond and I disagree on.

To be fair to the Mystics, they did make some solid moves in paper to stay relevant in 2020 and 2021 in free agency, but most of those moves haven’t helped due to injuries and the pandemic. If anything, Washington is closer to a full-scale rebuild than one last dance as WNBA Champions due to an aging roster and seeing some other talented key players, like Meesseman, leave for nothing in return.