Offseason In Review: Washington Wizards

November 5 2013 at 6:15pm CST By Chuck Myron

Hoops Rumors is in the process of looking back at each team’s offseason, from the end of the playoffs in June right up until opening night. Trades, free agent signings, draft picks, contract extensions, option decisions, camp invitees, and more will be covered, as we examine the moves each franchise made over the last several months.

Signings

Extensions

Trades

Draft Picks

  • Otto Porter (Round 1, 3rd overall). Signed via rookie exception.
  • Glen Rice Jr. (Round 2, 35th overall). Signed via minimum salary exception for two years, $1.31MM. Second year is partially guaranteed for $400K.

Camp Invitees

Departing Players

Rookie Contract Option Decisions

The pressure’s on in Washington. GM Ernie Grunfeld, like coach Randy Wittman, is entering the final season of his contract, and owner Ted Leonsis says he expects the Wizards to be a “playoff-caliber team” this year. That’s not quite a playoffs-or-else declaration, but it’s about as close as it gets. It would be surprising to see either Grunfeld or Wittman still on the job if the Wizards miss the postseason, and that’s evident in the trade the team pulled off just before the regular season began.

The news that Emeka Okafor‘s neck injury threatens to keep him out all season broke shortly after the Wizards traded him to the Suns. The Wizards had no doubt known already that Okafor could miss significant time, so Grunfeld pulled the trigger on a deal he’d been working on for a few weeks. The acquisition of Marcin Gortat, a replacement at center for Okafor, came at the cost of a first-round pick, a precious commodity these days made even more so by the likelihood that the pick will go to Phoenix this coming year, meaning the Wizards will miss out on a heralded draft class. The selection is top-12 protected for 2014, meaning there’s a disaster scenario in which the Wizards miss out on the playoffs and lose their 2014 first-rounder. The trade had a negligible financial impact, and Gortat’s on an expiring contract, so there’s a chance that come July, the Wizards will have nothing to show for having done the deal. That’s why it served to tighten the screws on a postseason mandate.

Still, not all of Grunfeld’s offseason moves were made solely with the present in mind. The Wizards committed a five-year maximum-salary extension to John Wall, banking on the notion that a brilliant second half of the season in 2012/13 is a harbinger of the point guard’s future performance. The five-year deal makes Wall the team’s designated player, essentially meaning Grunfeld and company are confident they won’t draft a superior talent either of the next two years. That’s probably a safe assumption, but it was nonetheless a risky move to give max money to a player who hasn’t definitively proven he’s worth it. That’s doubly so since the Wizards could have waited until Wall hit restricted free agency next summer to either do the same deal or match another team’s offer sheet that would have locked Wall up for only four seasons.

Wall was the first player eligible for a rookie-scale extension this summer to sign one, and the Wizards wasted no time getting their other major deals done, reaching agreements with Eric Maynor and Martell Webster on the first and second days of free agency, respectively. The Wizards re-signed Webster to a four-year deal for the full value of the non-taxpayer’s mid-level exception. It’s another potential overpay, especially considering Webster’s not in the starting lineup, but the sixth overall pick from 2005 is still just 26 years old, so he should still be producing at his current rate when his contract expires in 2017.

Maynor lost out to Reggie Jackson for the backup job in Oklahoma City, but he recouped some of his value when he helped shore up Portland’s bench after a midseason trade. Using the biannual exception on him somewhat limits the team’s flexibility for next summer, since, as the name suggests, the biannual can only be used every other year, but few teams make use of it as frequently as that. Like Webster, Maynor is a bench player and doesn’t figure to see too much time at the point behind Wall, but perhaps Maynor will see significant minutes in small backcourts alongside Wall.

The Wizards were fortunate in the lottery this past May, moving up to the third spot, though that luck was tempered by the weakness of the draft field. Grunfeld went with the hometown choice in Georgetown’s Otto Porter, a small forward with polish but limited potential. The team’s high-profile draft failures of the past, and former No. 6 overall pick Jan Vesely in particular, might have made Grunfeld hesitate to go with a bolder choice. Porter’s selection and the speed with which the team came to a long-term agreement with Webster is an odd juxtaposition, since they primarily play the same position. The team’s desire to make a playoff run this season also likely factored into their decision to draft Porter, since the 20-year-old was supposed to be able to contribute immediately. Of course, an injury prior to training camp caused him to miss all of preseason and the start of the regular season, so there’s been no immediate return on the team’s investment.

It’s possible that minimum-salary addition Al Harrington makes a greater impact than Porter does this season. Harrington missed most of last season with a staph infection, but he’s only a year and a half removed from playing a key role on a Nuggets team that made some noise in the postseason. He’s a stretch power forward who duplicates some of the same skills that Martell Webster has, but he offers Wittman a chance to field an intriguing lineup of Harrington, Webster and Bradley Beal, all of whom offer the outside shooting that Wall and the team’s centers don’t.

The Wizards might have hoped they could pencil Vesely in at power forward this year, but they instead began the season by declining his 2014/15 team option. The Wizards also did the same for former 18th overall pick Chris Singleton, further underscoring the need for Porter to at least hit the relatively low ceiling most draft analysts predicted for his career.

Wittman is already drawing mention as perhaps the coach most likely to meet an end to his tenure at midseason, and while Grunfeld seems like a safer bet to at least finish the season, these are nervous times in the capital city. The Wizards are married to Wall and Webster for years to come, and Nene‘s contract doesn’t run out until 2016, but next summer represents a chance for Leonsis to green-light major changes to the roster. If the Wizards on the court look different this time next year, expect the Wizards in the executive suite to have new faces, too.

Luke Adams contributed to this post.

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