The Wizards enter 2021 free agency fresh off an eventful draft day that saw them bring in six new players in total between two trades and two draft picks. They are left with a roster that has depth and versatility, but no starting point guard. They will have limited money to spend, but perhaps more flexibility to make trades with more rotation-quality players on cheaper contracts.
Before the storm arrives when negotiations begin at 6 p.m. on Monday, here's how things are looking for the Wizards...
What are their resources?
The Wizards created some breathing room by trading Russell Westbrook and his supermax contract to the Lakers, but the cap room flexibility won't really be felt until next offseason. They are still over the cap and therefore will have to rely on the mid-level exception ($9.5M) and the bi-annual exception ($3.7M). For context, last year they used the MLE on Robin Lopez and the BAE they used to sign Jodie Meeks in 2017.
Point guard tops the list
The Wizards' biggest need is at point guard and they are likely to acquire two of them; a starter and a backup. As NBC Sports Washington wrote last week, Cassius Winston is unlikely to be slotted into one of the top-three point guard spots entering next season given his lack of playing time as a rookie due to the coronavirus shutting down the G-League. The Wizards are expected to sign a starting point guard and then evaluate Raul Neto and Ish Smith against other external options for a backup role alongside Aaron Holiday. Holiday, though, projects to play a similar role to Neto and could amount to his less-expensive replacement with Neto likely to get a raise after a career year.
Who will they sign?
The most realistic options for the Wizards if they want to use the mid-level exception include Derrick Rose, Reggie Jackson or Cory Joseph. The latter two show up well in defensive plus-minus, which is a stat the Wizards honed in on when they signed Neto and it also backs the case for trading for Holiday. They could also explore sign-and-trade options with guys like Lonzo Ball and Spencer Dinwiddie. Ball, in particular, would be a great fit for their roster, if they could somehow acquire him.
As far as non-point guards go, Svi Mykhailiuk is a name that is being linked to the Wizards, though he is a restricted free agent, so OKC can match any offer. He's a shooter and it will be interesting to see how much the Wizards go after shooting, given they have improved that area already in the draft and via trades.
With Thomas Bryant unlikely to start the season on time due to his recovery from ACL surgery, and with Daniel Gafford being prone to foul trouble, the Wizards will explore signing a low-priced big man. Isaiah Hartenstein and Harry Giles are two to keep an eye on. They could also look to re-sign Alex Len, which they have at least some interest in doing.
The Wizards have indicated some interest in bringing Smith back, but he could chase history by going to another team. He has played for 11 different NBA franchises, one short of tying the all-time record. There are four players who have played for 12 teams and they are Chucky Brown, Jim Jackson, former Terp Joe Smith and former Terp and current NBC Sports Washington analyst Tony Massenburg. To join that list, Smith would have to sign with a team that is not the Wizards, Pistons, Sixers, Suns, Magic, Thunder, Rockets, Pelicans, Bucks, Grizzlies or Warriors.
Neto will draw interest around the league
Going back to Neto possibly getting a raise from the $1.8 million he made last year in Washington. After setting career-highs across the board, including in scoring and efficiency, Neto is going to get a good deal of interest. According to sources around the league, the Knicks kept coming up as likely suitors. New York has three point guards entering free agency in Derrick Rose, Frank Ntilikina and Elfrid Payton. Neto is a good defender, which they like, and he can make threes, which they need. Also, keep an eye on the Pistons who could use a veteran in the mix with Cade Cunningham and Killian Hayes, and especially someone who can defend smaller guards.
Would Dinwiddie make sense?
There have been various reports linking the Wizards to Dinwiddie, possibly in a sign-and-trade scenario. Dinwiddie is a good player, but there are some pros and cons to weigh in going after him. He can defend and get to the rim, the latter being an element the Wizards have to replace with the departure of Westbrook. The last year he was healthy, in 2019-20, Dinwiddie was ninth in the NBA in drives per game.
The operative word in that sentence, though, is 'healthy' and that brings us to the cons. Dinwiddie is coming off surgery to repair a partially torn ACL. To sign him, the Wizards would have to be okay with having two players in their rotation, and possibly their starting lineup, in the same boat with Bryant also coming back from the injury. Also, Dinwiddie is equally inefficient to Westbrook. Since he entered the league, his 47.8 effective field goal percentage is nearly identical to that of Westbrook (47.6%).
Keep this in mind
A sign-and-trade would likely be necessary for the Wizards to afford Dinwiddie or some of the other point guards out there like Ball. But it should be noted that sign-and-trades are rare in the NBA because the collective bargaining agreement includes some hurdles that essentially discourage them. It mostly affects players seeking max money, as they earn less on sign-and-trade deals. But it also hard caps the team that signs the player, meaning they can't go into the tax for the rest of the season. The Wizards would also have to give up players to make the deal happen.