The Washington Wizards are Eastern Conference contenders if they maximize the talents of their three max contract players, John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter.
Whether that’s possible when Wall returns from his season-ending heel surgery is among the biggest questions for the organization going forward.
Despite some true highs during the trio’s six seasons together, that’s a height never quite reached.
Time may be running out. Washington is over the 2019-20 salary cap with only five players under contract including that highly compensated triumvirate. These challenges for a team with a contender mindset are why a running narrative involves trading at least of the three.
So who should the Wizards consider a trade for? We broke down the arguments for each of the big three.
Bradley Beal (5-year, $127 million contract expires in 2021)
Reason to move: Unless he demands a trade, there should be a hard stop on the idea of dealing Washington’s leading scorer even with the allure of young talent and draft picks in return.
“How do you ever get a player better than Brad if you trade Brad? If I'm them I'm looking at this like I'm trying to get Brad something to win with rather than I'm going to use him as a carrot,” one former NBA general manager told NBC Sports Washington.
Reason to hold: Beal is on pace to set career-highs in scoring (24.8), rebounding (5.0) and assists (5.0), His numbers went next level over the past 10 games. The guard likely receives All-Star recognition for a second consecutive year. Making an All-NBA team for the first time seems possible.
At 25, Beal remains an ascending talent with leadership skills and a clear focus on carrying Washington to the postseason despite injuries elsewhere. Hold indeed.
Otto Porter (4-year, $106 million contract expires in 2021)
Reason to move: It’s become impossible to discuss Porter, 25, without the contract he signed in 2017 taking center stage. Basic stats won’t justify the amount of salary cap space.
Washington could open needed salary cap space next season if dealing Porter means taking on expiring contracts along with picks.
Reason to hold: That contract combined with his primary statistics often leads to the forward receiving the short straw in who-must-go discussions. Based on conversations with league sources, front office members league-wide take a different view.
One former league executive told NBC Sports Washington: “The way I look at it, why not just let him earn the number he's on with you? If you get to the trade deadline and are clearly not a playoff team, I still wouldn't do anything with Otto because I think you have to look at John [Wall] as whatever he gives you in the future is gravy.”
Gauging Porter strictly on statistics completely overlooks the beauty of his subtle game. However, for the numbers crowd, note the following:
Per 36 minutes averages, Porter scores 13.2 points on 11 field goal attempts and sinks 36 percent of his 3-point tries playing with Wall. Without, 20.9 on 16.5 with a 43.4 percentage from beyond the arc while team’s net rating flips to what would be a league-leading 12.9 points per 100 possessions.
“If you trade Bradley, you get worse. If you trade Otto, you're probably just making a bad deal to get out of the money,” the former league executive said. “I'd look at Otto and Brad as the guys I got to build a winner around.”
John Wall (4-year, $170 million starts with the 2019-20 season)
Reasons to move: There are three primary considerations: Injuries, finances, and style.
The season-ending surgery is just the latest procedure undergone by the point guard.
Wall's $37.8 million salary next season eats into a large chunk of the team’s cap space. That’s fine if he’s the 2015-16 version that earned All-NBA honors and played often. By season’s end, he will have missed 91 of 164 games over the last two seasons.
Finally, style. Don’t think better or worse, but different.
Washington’s current ball movement approach, necessary without Wall’s one-on-one skills, has sparked higher numbers from across the team.
With Thursday’s win, Washington is 8-5 this season without Wall. Over the last two regular seasons, 28-26 without, 34-39 with. This season, based on points per 100 possessions, the Wizards are + 5.2 points better when Wall is off the court than on.
Reason to hold: League consensus deems Wall’s contract untradeable, though a team seeking a star might give a longer look next summer after striking out in free agency.
For the hopeful, here’s why that’s cool.
The modern NBA requires several All-Star level players for a chance at conference or league contention. Washington has three such players – but only if the Wizards maximize their talents.
Convincing Wall, an elite talent when healthy, to downshift at times from his ball-dominant ways might get them there. Doing so – and holding Beal and Porter -- offers the quickest path for reaching the conference finals for the first time since 1979.
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