The Washington Wizards must add plenty of bodies this offseason with only five players currently under contract. J. Michael and I tasked each other with filling out the roster as we see fit while assuming Kevin Durant isn't an option. We both said keep restricted free agent Bradley Beal, but our decisions swerved from there. Next on my priority list, Charlotte Hornets swingman Nicolas Batum. Here are the pros and cons of that potentially delicious and delusional call.
Pro: I'll start by sharing some thoughts from NBA analyst Matt Moore's mid-season article titled, "The Hornets' Nicolas Batum is the modern NBA wing every team needs." His game has looked more versatile and effective than ever. Everything about his game is fluid and smooth. He's slim and impossibly long, with a reported 7-4 wingspan. He's always been the kind of player that lights up scouting reports due to his combination of size, length and skill. He can handle, he can shoot, he can drive and finish, he can pass and defend. Batum may not be the top tier star of a team, but he is certainly a guy you want playing on the wing for your team."
Yes, what he said. The Wizards have a dynamic backcourt assuming Beal stays with John Wall. Marcin Gortat gets it done at center. Markieff Morris added needed athleticism at power forward. What they lack right now: A proven two-way NBA wing for the modern game.
Con: What the Wizards have at small forward now is Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre Jr., otherwise known as their last two first round draft picks. Adding a hefty max contract player would seemingly put a high dollar roadblock on their road to developing. Porter becomes a restricted free agent next summer.
Pro: A creative coaching staff can figure out to use all three often and perhaps at times together. We're watching Oklahoma City use lengthy lineups to flummox Golden State's offensive machine. Ponder the full court possibilities with a pair of 6-foot-8 forwards in Batum and Porter Beal (6'5") and Wall (6'4") in the backcourt with Morris (6'10") at stretch-5. Everyone can sink 3's and run. Each perimeter player made at least 35% of their attempts from beyond the arc last season. Put in Oubre, who still needs to prove he should receive heavy minutes, and this small ball lineup gets even longer.
Con: With the salary cap projected around $92 million next season, an eight-year veteran like Batum is eligible for a per season max contract around $26 million. (Beal, entering his fifth year, would max out around $22-23 million). The Wizards can make that figure work and pay Beal, but then the back half of the roster would include a host of minimum contract players. That's a risky proposition considering all the bumps and bruises over an 82-game regular season.
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Pro: As OKC is demonstrating, those 10-12 player rotations found during the regular season often shrink to eight or so in the playoffs*. If you play fewer players and don't have a true elite option or a dynamic duo (Kevin Durant/Russell Westbrook) or a Big 3 (Cavaliers), then you better have as much playmaking talent as possible within that eight. Batum's ability to play all over court helps offset any depth chart/injury issue.
(* Seeing as the Wizards didn't make the postseason in 2016, talking about playoff rotations defines putting the cart before the horse. Doesn't mean you don't think big picture and plan accordingly, especially since a coaching upgrade and good health puts Washington into top 2-4 seed mix.)
Con: If we're saying Batum isn't an elite player, then why pay him like one? Of the players truly on the open market this summer, the 27-year-old is a top 10 free agent and not all of those players are poised for max deals based on age. With more than half the league armed with oodles of cap space, Batum gets paid if he wants the full Brinks truck treatment. Even if he leaves a little on the table so a team can spend on others, that's still big bucks.
Pro: Batum's presence can help Washington's best player and the Wizards when that best player sits. He's not a point guard, but Batum's 5.8 assists ranked behind only Draymond Green and LeBron James among forwards. Add that type of threat and Washington can give Wall, who is coming off knee surgery, more of a blow during games and the season. The ball movement in general often declined when Wall watched from the bench.
Con: Pay Batum and Beal -- combined zero All-Star nods -- and now Wall becomes Washington's third highest paid player. Yeah, that could lead to chemistry issues if the three-time All-Star lets it.
Analysis: Stylistically, Batum is where the game is going. Add his versatility alongside the interesting talents on the roster and the Wizards will truly enter the modern NBA. Money, however, is an issue. Washington has enough, but so do others. Charlotte can pay him the most. The Wizards aren't going to spend over the luxury tax so add Batum and it's a fantasy football strategy of (no offense future Wizards)"stars and scrubs." But stars win in the NBA. Maybe Batum isn't elite. He'll make all better, including Wall and Beal. That's because he's the modern NBA wing every team needs. That's something worth considering.
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