30 Teams in 30 Days: Wizards look to future amid another rebuild
NBA.com Global on Sep 07, 2019 08:23 AM
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 5: Bradley Beal #3 of the Washington Wizards shoots the ball against the San Antonio Spurs on April 5, 2019 at Capital One Arena in Washington, DC. (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)
Like most summers in the NBA, the 2019 edition was chock full of trades, free agent news and player movement. From the defending-champion Toronto Raptors to just about every other team in the league, change was the most applicable word when it came to describing team rosters for the 2019-20 season.
With the opening of training camps just around the corner, NBA.com's Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise as it sits today -- in order of regular-season finish from 2018-19 -- as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.
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Today's team: Washington Wizards
2018-19 Record: 32-50, did not qualify for the playoffs
Key additions: Rui Hachimura (Draft), CJ Miles (trade), Isaiah Thomas (free agency), Davis Bertans (trade), Mo Wagner (trade)
Key departures: Tomas Satoransky, Jeff Green, Bobby Portis, Trevor Ariza, Dwight Howard
The lowdown: The gradual growth of the John Wall-Bradley Beal era took a sharp detour and plunged to a new (and perhaps permanent) low when the club failed to make the playoffs for only the second time in five years. More devastating that that, though, was losing Wall with yet another major injury. Wall underwent heel and Achilles surgery, was done after 32 games and isn’t expected to play much, if at all, in 2019-20. Furthermore, the Wizards are on the hook for his supermax contract, which kicks in this upcoming season. The potential career-threatening loss of an All-Star guard coupled with his mammoth contract threw the franchise for a loop with no easy answers or resolution.
The Wizards had to change their philosophy almost overnight and ponder a rebuild as they weren't among the Eastern Conference's elite any longer. Beal, meanwhile, delivered the best season of his career (25.6 points, five rebounds, 5.5 assists per game), becoming one of the league’s most dangerous shooters from all areas of the floor. Unfortunately for Washington, the All-Star guard he had little help most nights. Dwight Howard was held to nine games because of injury and the remaining cast was simply too inconsistent to be relied upon every night.
The club traded Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr. and got virtually nothing in return for them. This annoyed a restless fan base that had grown weary of GM Ernie Grunfeld’s string of questionable personnel decisions (Grunfeld was fired in early April). Tomas Satoransky and Thomas Bryant stepped into the roles vacated by Wall and Howard and showed promise, yet in the end, the Wizards went south in a conference that wasn’t especially loaded with powerhouse teams.
Summer summary: At 16 years, Ernie Grunfeld had the longest tenure of any GM who didn’t at least win a conference championship. That spoke to the patience of chairman Ted Leonsis but also the frustration of the fan base, which howled about Grunfeld constantly. The fan base ultimately won.
Grunfeld’s teams never won 50 games and endured two rebuilds. He whiffed often in the Draft and his trades were spotty. In 2009, for example, he traded the No. 5 pick for one season of Mike Miller and Randy Foye. He also doled out eye-opening contracts to Gilbert Arenas, Ian Mahinmi, Otto Porter and yes, even Wall.
Leonsis finally pulled the trigger and conducted a GM search that lasted for weeks … and then chose Grunfeld’s deputy, Tommy Sheppard, to clean up the mess after they failed to get Denver’s Tim Connelly. That raised reasonable questions about whether the Wizards needed to make a clean break from the Grunfeld administration, but Sheppard came with his own ideas which won over Leonsis, then went to work.
Stripped of almost all assets with the exception of Beal, Sheppard had a tough job this summer. But he was productive, given the circumstances. He let all the Wizards’ free agents walk, refusing to tie up future money in Portis, Satoransky and Parker. He dumped Howard’s contract on Memphis while getting Thomas on the cheap. Speaking of cheap, he got young talent in Bertans and Wagner, then signed Bryant, a developing 21-year-old athletic big, to three years and $25 million.
Essentially, Sheppard was careful and mostly clever with the payroll, avoiding any major money mistakes and keeping the Wizards as flexible as possible.
He took Hachimura, a power forward with a smart game and solid mechanics, in the first round with hopes he'd become a good compliment to Bryant.
With the blessing of Leonsis, Sheppard also offered a three-year, $111 million max extension to Beal. While some in NBA circles wondered if Sheppard might unload Beal to get an Anthony Davis-like return (Draft picks, young talent), the Wizards intend to at least hold Beal’s rights for the next five years (Beal has two remaining on his current deal). That would give them options to either keep Beal, or swap him in the near future and if so, those multiple years left on the contract would make him more attractive to teams.
What Sheppard couldn’t do is make Wall disappear -- meaning, he couldn’t pull off a miracle. How many teams want a player recovering from an Achilles injury, someone who depends on speed, who’ll make $170 million over the next four years as he ages into his mid-30s? It could be the Wizards are stuck with Wall at least for the next two years. Even if they can find a taker, Washington will be forced to add sweeteners (Draft picks, young players) or take back an equally bad contract. If Sheppard can somehow swing a Wall deal in Washington’s favor, he deserves twice as many years as Grunfeld got on the job.
The Wizards didn’t do anything this summer to suggest they’ll be a playoff contender in 2019-20. That’s not particularly bad, because if nothing else, Sheppard didn’t take any enormous risks with Washington’s future. Another rebuild now beckons and at least there’s someone else in charge this time.
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