What will be missing when the 2016-17 starts is a third star to go along with John Wall and Bradley Beal, but there’s a vision in place for the Wizards. It’s just that missing out on Kevin Durant — and never been granted a chance to pitch to him — causes everything else to look like a blur in comparison.
As reported by CSNmidatlantic.com before free agency opened July 1, the Wizards would be content to stick with their starting five and retool the second unit if necessary.
They struck out on their Plan B, Al Horford, and Ryan Anderson grew out of their price range and Luol Deng opted to go elsewhere so they went to Plan C: Ian Mahinmi ($16 million average per), Tomas Satoransky ($3 million), Andrew Nicholson ($6.5 million), Trey Burke ($3.3 million) and Jason Smith ($5 million). The road map being drawn for some moves are obvious, though that's not true of them all:
The purpose of Mahinmi
The 6-11 center is a good player and anyone who says otherwise hasn't watched him.
He was good enough for the San Antonio Spurs to draft him in the first round and their track record for identifying international talent is top-notch. Mahinmi, who was the backup big to Tyson Chandler during the Dallas Mavericks’ 2011 championship run, took a while to develop.
He’s better than Timofey Mozgov, who got the same deal from the L.A. Lakers in this crazy market. But Mahinmi is a role player and not a centerpiece. He’s more physical than Marcin Gortat and a good defender. Better defense, especially inside the paint now that Nene is gone, was a priority identified by president Ernie Grunfeld and majority Ted Leonsis upon hiring Scott Brooks.
Rewind to what was said when Brooks was hired
"This day and age with NBA teams, you need two-way players to compete night in and night out.”
There wasn’t as much talk about pace-and-space and launching threes in an effort to be like the Golden State Warriors. While their stats are modest, Mahinmi and Nicholson fit that description, and while Smith isn’t the most athletic big he plays with an edge (some would say dirty) that the Wizards have sorely lacked. Free runs to the rim are less likely to be allowed.
Nene despised Smith for good reason, because he gave it to the big Brazilian as well as he took it.
About Gortat being on the trading block ...
There has been no indication any such move even has been pondered, multiple league sources have told CSNmidatlantic.com since Mahinmi’s acquisition. That doesn’t mean the Wizards still can’t or won’t do something else when they figure out the rest of the pieces.
Who knows how Jaleel Roberts, for instance, will show in Las Vegas summer league. Gortat makes an average of $12 million a year, $4 million less than Mahinmi, so such a question is predictable. However, this simply is a function of a ridiculous spike in the salary cap based on league revenues. Mahinmi is making four times the salary he made as the starter with the Pacers this past season. In this market, Gortat makes $20 million. Or in the market when Gortat signed his deal a few years ago, Mahinmi is making around $7 million.
Being too fixed on the number here fails to take into account salary inflation. That’s no longer an indicator of who is the starter or role player, but if Gortat starts having the lapses defensively that he had last season Mahinmi is more than capable of taking over or playing in the last two minutes of close games.
What happened to the youth movement?
Just because the bigs are 30ish doesn’t mean this direction has changed. Look at the rest of the roster: Kelly Oubre (20), Sheldon McClellan (23), Otto Porter (23), Bradley Beal (23), Burke (23), Satoransky (24), Jarell Eddie (24) and John Wall (25). This roster has gotten younger.
The departed -- Jared Dudley, Garrett Temple, Nene, Ramon Sessions -- are all 30 and over. And all cost more per year than all of those names except Wall and Beal who are the best players and no longer on rookie scale contracts.
Gortat (32) and Mahinmi (29) weren't starters early in their careers. They don't have the same mileage as Dwight Howard, who has had back surgery. But there's room for veterans on every roster, and ideally those vets can play. All of these can though how Smith ultimately fits is worth questioning since he's not known as a three-point shooter. A spread five would be ideal since Nicholson is pretty new to being a three-point shooting big and Markieff Morris is evolving as a shooter from distance, too. Last year the ratio was 2-to-1 older vs. young. Now it's the opposite. But that's also going to put more pressure on Wall and Beal to do a better job leading than last year. And Morris (26) is experienced but still young.
Remember part of this explanation of why Brooks was hired ...
Unlike Randy Wittman, who refused to play younger players because he didn’t have the job security of Brooks, younger players will get more of a chance to develop.
If Wittman was going to fail, he was going to fail with a veteran. Brooks is noted for his handling of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City and comes highly recommended. Youth should be better served and an investment in development that the Wizards have been correctly criticized for lacking should take hold. The dividends from this could take time to show, but they've got to start down this path at some point.
A side benefit for skewing young though mostly unknown players
Trading older players limits your options because they’re at their ceiling (and more injury-prone).
With the Wizards going with youth, even if those players don’t peak here, they can be flipped into other assets based on unrecognized potential. That’s how Burke ended up in D.C. The point guard, a 2013 lottery pick for Utah, is gained for a second-round pick in 2021. There’s still time for him to live up to his draft status and if he doesn’t his rights could be renounced after this season. And if you're of the mind set that second-round picks are of high value, they can be gained pretty easily.
If Burke remains a mid-level sort of player who is worthy of keeping as Wall’s backup, he’s restricted if the Wizards make a qualifying offer next summer.
Drew Gooden still is on the roster because ….
The soon-to-be 35-year-old forward’s $3.6 million salary for 2016-17 is non-guaranteed.
The Wizards have to make a decision before July 15 or it becomes fully guaranteed which means they can no longer waive him without penalty under the cap. Getting rid of his non-guaranteed salary now would be foolish. In the NBA it’s not about the player as much as it is about the salary slot.
If another team has a player who is a close salary match who they want to unload but could be a good fit in Washington, they could swap that player for Gooden. In theory, the Wizards would get a player they can better use and fit into their system while the other team could waive Gooden without penalty to clear the salary and open the roster spot. It’s a classic case of win-win.
Eddie is non-guaranteed as well but the 6-7 shooter is likely to stick around as long as he holds up his end. At less than $1 million in salary, he’d be a bargain and there’s always a spot for shooters in the NBA.
How many more roster moves are left?
That’s impossible to predict though they’ll have to figure out what to do behind the frequently injured Beal.
Satoransky is envisioned as a combo guard but whether he’s ready immediately is unclear. Eddie, who was smothered by Wittman, could log more time there. McClellan is a partial guarantee so he can be waived at minimal cost to clear a spot. Who knows what can be fetched for Gooden’s salary and that creates a domino effect.
The guess is the Wizards will stay fluid and fill only 14 of the 15 maximum roster spots or have one or two non-guaranteed deals heading into the regular season to give them flexibility until the February trade deadline.