2019-20 Previews: Washington Wizards

Losses: Tomas Satoransky, Bobby Portis, Jabari Parker, Trevor Ariza, Dwight Howard, Sam Dekker, Jeff Green, Chasson Randle. My hot take here is that Sato is the only one who matters.

Additions: C.J. Miles, Davis Bertans, Ish Smith, Isaiah Thomas, Rui Hachimura, Admiral Schofield, and the contracts they took off the Lakers after the Lakers screwed up the salary cap mechanics on the Anthony Davis trade: Mo Wagner, Isaac Bonga, and Jemerrio Jones.

Likely Starters
Guard: Ish Smith, Bradley Beal
Wing: Troy Brown Jr., Rui Hachimura
Big: Thomas Bryant (possibly Davis Bertans at the 4 or 5?)

Predicted Record: 29–53 | 26th in NBA | 12th in East

There was a brief moment somewhere along the way where I remember saying out loud that John Wall was my favorite player in the NBA. At his peak, he surged through the game electrically, and sometime around 2015-16 that electricity started to flow out of him like laser beams. He was, for a little while, one of those special superstars who sees plays happening before everyone else, and he had, for a little while, the athleticism to leverage the advantages his mind was giving him. He was a wonderful basketball player.

That’s all over now, it seems. There may be a second act for Wall, but his litany of injuries—culminating in a ruptured Achilles tendon (it happened at home, where he was already missing significant time recovering from surgery to remove bone spurs from his left heel)—will have likely sapped much of his electricity by the time he plays basketball again. If he misses this entire season, he’ll be 30 when that happens.

Everything in that last paragraph is why the supermax extension he signed in July of 2017—it just kicked in this summer—is at this very moment the least team-friendly contract in the NBA. There’s a cliche in the NBA that there’s no such thing as an untradable contract, but John Wall is going to opt in to a $47.4M team option for the 2022-23 season. That’s happening. Even if the Wizards tether him to a reasonably-paid star like Bradley Beal, it’s hard to imagine any other team seeing that combination as a smart way of team-building.

All of this is pretty bleak for the Wizards, and that bleakness makes the Wizards kind of interesting to me. When there’s no hope, you have to find hope; that’s how hope works. When the Nets were the most depressing team in the NBA, they wormed themselves out of it by scouring the league for interesting second draft types (they hit on D’Angelo Russell), using their cap space to pick up assets in exchange for taking on bad contracts, and evaluating talent well. The Wizards have an opportunity to find their own wormhole out of this nightmare.

And for all the bleakness, the Wizards have Bradley Beal, who turned 26 this summer and last season posted career bests in usage rate, assist rate, rebound rate, steal rate, and block rate while leading the league in minutes. In a 30-team league, the Wizards have one of the 15-20 best players. Would you rather be a Wizards fan or a Hornets fan right now?

Consider the following:

  1. In C.J. Miles, Davis Bertans, and Ian Mahinmi, the Wizards have $31M in expiring salary they can send out in a deal after December 15th. That’s enough to bring back a star on a max contract should one become available.
  2. They have all their first round picks moving forward.
  3. They are smartly dipping their toes into the world of distressed and undervalued assets, picking up Isaiah Thomas on the cheap and taking a flier on Mo Wagner and friends from the Lakers.

You look at it all, and maybe it doesn’t seem so bad. After years of terrible, short-sighted decisions under Ernie Grunfeld, it appears that the Wizards are beginning to be sensible. Yes, things will be rough in the standings for a little while, but there are fun players on this team. In the NBA, you don’t generally get to plateau. You are either climbing or falling. After years of falling, my read on this is that the Wizards are climbing, and they’ve packed well, and I’ve heard there are good views up there, and look at that sky; it’s actually a pretty nice day.

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