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Offseason Outlook: Washington Wizards

Guaranteed Contracts

Non-Guaranteed Contracts

  • None


Restricted Free Agents/Cap Holds

  • None

Unrestricted Free Agents/Cap Holds

Draft Picks

  • 1st Round (19th overall)
  • 2nd Round (49th overall)

Cap Outlook

  • Guaranteed Salary: $64,650,940
  • Non-Guaranteed Salary: $0
  • Options: $6,644,327
  • Cap Holds: $11,559,645
  • Total: $82,854,912

A year later, the Wizards wound up right where they had been. Washington came closer to the title than it had in more than three decades last season, and this year, the Wizards repeated their run to the sixth game of the conference semifinals against the East’s No. 1 seed. If the three-point shot from Paul Pierce that officials waived off after a replay review at the end of Game 6 against the Hawks had left Pierce’s hands a moment earlier, the Wizards might still be playing. Still, Pierce’s mere presence on the court that night signaled the progress the Wizards have made in the past 12 months, even if the results in the playoffs didn’t show it.

March 23, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) dribbles the basketball during the second quarter against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Wizards 107-76. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

A 10-time All-Star still capable of making a significant contribution such as Pierce wouldn’t have chosen to sign with Wizards if he didn’t find them capable of going far. No one, and probably Pierce included, would have mistaken this year’s Wizards for a title contender, but it’s a franchise with at least a few of the basic ingredients necessary to become one in the near future. John Wall further established himself as an elite point guard, taking fewer shots and dishing more assists. He averaged 10.1 assists per game in the regular season and an even more impressive 11.9 in the playoffs, and he said at the team’s end-of-season press conference that what he’d learned from Pierce this season had a profound impact, as the Wizards Twitter account relays.

Much of the future for the Wizards depends on how much Wall, who’ll turn 25 in September, and Bradley Beal, who won’t be 22 until next month, can improve before they hit their respective peaks. Still, in spite of coach Randy Wittman‘s apparent belief that Pierce will play again next season, the 37-year-old veteran of 17 NBA seasons is making no such guarantees, and even if he does choose to come back, it’s not certain that he will do so with the Wizards. Pierce can become a free agent this summer if he turns down his player option, and as he showed in the playoffs, he probably still has enough left to command a salary similar to the more than $5.5MM he’d make on the option.

Backup center Kevin Seraphin already has his sights set on a starting role, signaling that he’s on his way elsewhere, with Marcin Gortat only one year into a five-year contract. Drew Gooden, another frontcourt rotation player, is also a free agent this summer. Washington is already knocking against the projected $67.1MM salary cap, so the team has little capacity to replace the players who walk away. The most significant financial weapon that GM Ernie Grunfeld is likely to have at his disposal will probably be the $5.464MM non-taxpayer’s mid-level exception, though he’ll also have the $2.139MM biannual exception two years after the ill-fated biannual signing of Eric Maynor. The signings that teams make with the mid-level and biannual are hit or miss. The Clippers were the only team to use the non-taxpayer’s mid-level to its full extent last summer, and they probably regret doing so for Spencer Hawes, while the Rockets held on to their biannual into the season and used it in December to nab Josh Smith, who was key in helping Houston oust the Clippers in the playoffs. In any case, the Wizards would be fortunate to find a player who can produce like Pierce did this year at those price points.

Grunfeld and the Wizards were creative in acquiring Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair via sign-and-trade last summer when they didn’t otherwise have means to sign them for more than the minimum, and while neither of them had an outsized impact, it shows there’s another way to upgrade. Washington has a pair of trade exceptions, one worth $4.625MM and the other more than $2.252MM, to facilitate those sorts of deals.

The Wizards could engender a more significant shakeup if they take heed to Gortat’s preference to play next to a stretch four. Nene doesn’t fit that description, and he’ll be on an expiring contract next season, when he’ll make $13MM. That salary won’t be easy to swap, particularly since many of Nene’s numbers were down this season amid fewer minutes per game than he’s seen since 2007/08, and he’ll turn 33 in September. It’s possible that Grunfeld could find a team with win-now aspirations that would be willing to take a short-term risk, like the Hornets, Kings or Raptors. However, unless one of those teams would be willing to send back an asset of real value, the Wizards are probably better off sticking with Nene and further reducing his role if Pierce, whose teams have played well with him at power forward, returns. Washington can always explore trades for Nene during the season if he grows discontent with his role, and the Wizards needn’t rush to add long-term salary to fix a short-term issue.

However the Wizards spend money in the offseason ahead, it’ll be with the summer of 2016 in mind. It’s no secret that the Wizards would love to persuade D.C. native Kevin Durant. set for free agency that summer, into a homecoming. The Wizards already have about $29MM in guaranteed salary for 2016/17, when preliminary projections show the salary cap surging to $89MM. An estimated starting salary for Durant in his next contract, based on that figure, would come in around $25MM. That would entail roughly $54MM for just three players, since Wall and Gortat are currently the only Wizards under guaranteed contracts for 2016/17. Nene is set to become a free agent that summer, and Otto Porter has a rookie scale team option for 2016/17 that season that the Wizards will surely pick up by the deadline to do so, which comes this year on October 31st. That’s also the last day the team can give an extension to Beal.

The Wizards are reportedly committed to giving Beal the max, and coach Randy Wittman signaled this week that the team intends to keep him around for the foreseeable future. The team has apparently been planning an extension for Beal for quite some time, but a five-year extension this summer is out of the question, since Washington already made Wall its Designated Player. The Wizards could sign Beal for five seasons if they wait until he hits restricted free agency after next season, and as Ken Berger of noted, that would mean a significantly lower cap hold for Beal entering the summer of 2016, affording the team greater flexibility to chase Durant and others.

Regardless of when it happens, a max arrangement for Beal would mean he’d be making significantly more per season than Wall does, since the max salaries are escalating right along with the salary cap. The max for Beal would start at around an estimated $21MM, about $4MM more than Wall is scheduled to make in 2016/17, the season in which Beal’s next deal, whether in the form of an extension or a new contract, will begin. That might be too much for the shooting guard, even in the adjusted NBA economics that the surging salary cap will bring about, particularly given that he’s never posted a PER as high as 15.0, the mark of an average player. That metric is unfair to Beal, since he’s clearly more valuable than it suggests, but in any case, the Wizards seem poised to make a deeply consequential investment in the Mark Bartelstein client.

Washington didn’t make the progress in the postseason it might have hoped for this season, but the franchise is still in a much better position than it had been for many years, and more importantly, still seemingly a contender for Durant. Upgrades this summer would further the cause of attracting a superstar when the Wizards will have money to play with in 2016, but Washington is largely boxed in financially for now. A creative approach from the front office would help, but patience will be the key word for Grunfeld and company this summer.

Cap Footnotes

1 — The cap hold for Pierce would be $6,366,000 if he opts out.
2 — The cap hold for Temple would be $947,276 if he opts out, but he said he’s likely to opt in.

The Basketball Insiders Salary Pages were used in the creation of this post.

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