Offseason In Review: Washington Wizards

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

  • None

Trades

  • Acquired $1.8MM cash from the Lakers in exchange for 2014 pick No. 46.
  • Acquired Melvin Ely in a three-way trade with the Rockets and Pelicans in exchange for Trevor Ariza. Ely was subsequently waived.
  • Acquired DeJuan Blair from the Mavericks in exchange for the rights to Emir Preldzic. Blair was signed-and-traded for three years, $6MM. Third year is non-guaranteed.
  • Acquired Kris Humphries from the Celtics in exchange for Washington’s 2015 second-round pick (top-49 protected). Humphries was signed-and-traded for three years, $13.32MM. The third year is non-guaranteed.

Waiver Claims

  • None

Draft Picks

  • None

Camp Invitees

Departing Players

Rookie Contract Option Decisions

The Wizards had their greatest postseason success in more than three decades last season, but it’s not as if there weren’t expectations that they would step forward. The franchise had just committed a five-year maximum-salary extension to John Wall in the summer of 2013 and traded a first-round pick to Phoenix on the eve of the season to acquire Marcin Gortat and keep its playoff hopes alive in the wake of a serious injury to Emeka Okafor. Coach Randy Wittman was under the gun, and rumors about his future with the team reportedly persisted until the Wizards dispatched the Bulls in the first round. Wittman wound up receiving a three-year extension worth roughly $3MM a year soon after the Pacers eliminated the Wizards in round two, but that was just a single step in an offseason journey that scarcely allowed time for GM Ernie Grunfeld to revel in the team’s newfound success.

NBA: Washington Wizards at Miami HeatThere was pressure on the Wizards from the time Gortat arrived to ensure that they hadn’t surrendered the pick that turned out to be this year’s 18th overall selection for a mere rental. The Polish Hammer’s value only escalated as he proved he could handle the starting center job on a team capable of making noise in the playoffs. The Wizards tried to entice Gortat into signing an extension last season, but rare is the veteran who would do so, and he hit free agency as expected this past summer, drawing interest from the Cavs and Heat. Still, neither could offer the fifth year that the Wizards included in their proposal, and Gortat quickly chose to stay in Washington for $12MM annual salaries. The commitment is not especially dire for an accomplished starting center in his prime, especially given the expected jump in the salary cap in years to come. It made it harder for the team to find the money necessary to re-sign Trevor Ariza, but it wasn’t necessarily the reason why the swingman chose not to return.

Ariza said he took Houston’s offer of the same $32MM over four years that the Wizards had on the table in part because of the lack of a state income tax in Texas. The Wizards probably could have mitigated that difference, at least to some degree, and they certainly could have stuck a fifth year on their offer as they did with Gortat. Still, Ariza felt that the Rockets simply pursued him harder, even though the Wizards seemingly put him at or near equal footing with Gortat as the team established its priorities. Grunfeld nonetheless made the best of his loss, participating in a sign-and-trade that netted Washington a lucrative $8,579,089 trade exception. He also used the full mid-level exception that re-signing Ariza would have made difficult, if not impossible, to access to make the sort of signing the Wizards hadn’t made in ages.

Paul Pierce had his sights set on returning to the Nets, and once Brooklyn failed to bend to his demands, the Clippers were next in line. In an ironic twist, current Clippers and then-Wizards assistant coach Sam Cassell helped turn Pierce on to what had been an uncommon destination for late-career veteran stars. Washington’s playoff run had positioned the franchise to convince the 10-time All-Star to join a team that’s spent much of Pierce’s career looking up at his team in the standings. The now 37-year-old clearly isn’t the player he used to be, as he’s coming off a career-low 13.5 points per game, but his arrival signals a potential turning point for the Wizards, one that nonetheless heaps additional pressure on the team to keep the momentum going.

Grunfeld wasted no time reaping another benefit from the Ariza sign-and-trade, using part of the trade exception to engineer yet another sign-and-trade that saw Washington come away with a player this time around. Kris Humphries is a 10-year veteran whose production has tailed off in recent years, but he’s still just 29 years old and seemingly capable of finding the form that allowed him to average a double-double in back-to-back seasons with the Nets in 2010/11 and ’11/’12. His arrival lends further credence to the win-now attitude that surrounds the Wizards, particularly given Washington’s decision to pass on a qualifying offer for Trevor Booker at the conclusion of his rookie contract this summer. Humphries seems capable of filling the role that Booker, now with the Jazz, played last year off the bench and as a part-time starter for the oft-injured Nene.

DeJuan Blair figures to mount a challenge for those minutes, too. The undersized big man came to Washington via yet another sign-and-trade, one that Grunfeld made possible with the trade exception that rose from the vestiges of last summer’s ill-fated Eric Maynor signing. Blair’s acquisition seemed a clear signal that Grunfeld considers depth along the front line a priority. The re-signing of late-season find Drew Gooden is further indication of that. The Wizards will certainly have plenty in reserve should Nene go down with injury again, but they’ve also positioned themselves firmly in the dwindling camp of teams that believe in the benefits of having two big men on the floor.

The Wizards also secured the services of center Kevin Seraphin for another year when they extended him a qualifying offer, which Seraphin simply decided to ink. It was somewhat surprising to see the Wizards make a qualifying offer to Seraphin and not to Booker. Even though the Wizards had triggered a bump in the value of Booker’s would-be qualifying offer, it still would have been less than $1MM greater than Seraphin’s. Every dollar certainly counted for the team as it sought to bring back Gortat and Ariza, and Seraphin, at 6’9″, can play the center position a lot more capably than the 6’7″ Booker can. Still, it’s an odd choice, particularly given that Booker saw nearly twice as many minutes per game as Seraphin did last year.

The timing of the decision came as the team opted to guarantee Andre Miller‘s $4.625MM salary for this season rather than waive him and owe only a $2MM partial guarantee, so perhaps Washington viewed Miller and a qualifying offer for Booker as an either-or proposition. Regardless, Miller, another shrewd midseason veteran acquisition, gave the Wizards stability in the backcourt, as did the re-signing of Garrett Temple. Upgrading the backup point guard position was seemingly on the team’s to-do list before it acquired Miller, but Temple clearly proved his value to Grunfeld and company, earning a deal that gives him two guaranteed seasons, including a player option on year two. The 6’6″ Temple has shown his versatility as he’s capably plugged the hole that Bradley Beal‘s early season injury had created at shooting guard, leaving precious few minutes for Rasual Butler, whom the team kept to start the season on his non-guaranteed training camp deal.

Still, even the 35-year-old Butler is symbolic of the commitment to the present in Washington. Six of the team’s 15 players have already celebrated their 30th birthdays, and Humphries will join that club in February. Neither Wall nor Beal has yet reached age 25, but there’s no mistaking that the Wizards are a veteran team built to win now. They’re still a step or two away from title contention, but even amid all the pressure surrounding the club, that’s not necessarily the only goal in mind. If the team can sneak into the Eastern Conference Finals this year, thus continuing its trend of unfamiliar postseason success, the Wizards will have furthered their status as a free agent destination, with Washington native Kevin Durant‘s free agency looming in 2016.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images. The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.

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