Feature photo courtesy of Keith Allison.
The Washington Wizards are not championship contenders. And it’s good they’re keeping it that way.
This offseason, the Wizards could have pursued big-name free agents, such as forwards Lamarcus Aldridge and Paul Millsap. Instead, they signed role players to short-term deals to compliment the team’s young backcourt.
Washington probably won’t contend with the Cleveland Cavaliers to win the Eastern Conference next season.
Backcourt duo John Wall and Bradley Beal are 24-years-old and 22-years-old, respectively. Forward Otto Porter Jr., who broke out in the playoffs last season to average 10 points, is also 22 years old. Those three are, and should be, the Wizards’ building blocks for now.
But, imagine if the Wizards decided to clear cap space and sign an accomplished forward to a long-term, max deal, this summer. Would they compete with the Cavaliers? Maybe. But it’s not worth the risk of trading and releasing assets to possibly sign someone.
Washington is going after a star in the 2016 free agency poll, which is headlined by D.C. native Kevin Durant. This offseason, the Wizards paid $65,000 to resign players, according to HoopsHype. Next offseason, the Wizards have players under contract for about $33,000, according to HoopsHype.
Signing a star to a long-term deal is more realistic next year. So, instead of signing replaceable role players to long-term deals that would take up cap room next summer, the Wizards made the right move by signing free agents to one-year deals this offseason.
In a trade, the Wizards received forward Jared Dudley from the Milwaukee Bucks, serving as a replacement for forward Paul Pierce after his one-year stint in Washington. Dudley is on the last year of his five-year contract.
Washington also signed guards Gary Neal and Alan Anderson to one-year deals.
In 2016, the Wizards can unload all three of their recent signees. They can also decide to not resign forward Nene, who is the second highest paid player on the roster -behind Wall -with a $13 million salary in 2015-2016.
Nene hasn’t found a comfortable role in the Wizards’ rotation in three seasons with the team. With small-lineups becoming more common in the league and with the Wizards transitioning to a faster play style, Coach Randy Wittman may use forwards to play the “stretch-four” position, making Nene less valuable with center Marcin Gortat on the floor.
The Wizards are also trying to get younger and allow their wing players, such as Porter and rookie Kelly Oubre Jr., to develop. By releasing forward Rasual Butler, a 36-year-old who played 20.1 minutes per game last season, they did just that.
With the three additions, the Wizards will play for a top seed in the Eastern Conference next season, and D.C. will remain an attractive destination for future free agents.
If veterans headlined the Wizards’ roster, then making a splash in free agency makes sense. But this team isn’t constructed that way.
Wall, Beal and Porter have a future together. A future of all-star appearances, and more importantly, a future of contending for championships.
But contending starts in the 2016-2017 season.
The Wizards are stuck in the middle of the Eastern Conference right now. Next season, the Wizards’ identity will probably be similar to the previous two seasons: an above-average playoff team with a small chance to surprise top contenders in the Eastern Conference.
But that’s OK. Washington’s front office has their eye on Durant and Co.
Next summer, expect a splash.