The slip changed the plan for Wizards team president Ernie Grunfeld and the organization.
As the NBA trade deadline week approached, Washington expected quiet. The team improved considerably after the opening weeks when frustration ruled and losses piled up. Perhaps some moves on the margins to reduce their luxury tax payment or tweak the roster.
Though already dealing with the absence of five-time All-Star John Wall for the season following left heel surgery, the chance for a postseason berth remained. Expectations put Wall back on the court for the start of next season. Though salary cap and roster concerns existed, the core pieces from recent successes would return. Compete now, seek needed changes during the off-season.
Then came the slip. There went the quiet
Wall suffered a ruptured left Achilles on Jan. 28 with a fall in his home. He told the team orthopedist a day or two after. Further examination revealed the rupture -- and created a new timeline.
Wall would remain sidelined for approximately 12 months and possibly the entire 2019-20 season. The update had the Wizards shelving their plan.
"We felt that with John's injury situation we had to adjust our thinking,” Grunfeld told NBC Sports Washington Thursday evening shortly after the deadline passed.
Wall’s fall was not the first misstep. Washington reached the postseason in four of the prior five seasons, but previous transactional missteps created future financial and roster concerns. The cumulative effect led to the deadline maneuvers.
The Wizards adjusted their thinking, their roster and their financial “flexibility” with two trades Wednesday that shipped out their long-time starting forward tandem of Otto Porter and Markieff Morris.
Porter, the no. 3 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, was shipped to the Chicago Bulls for forwards Bobby Portis, Jabari Parker and a 2023 second-round selection.
Trading the team’s highest paid player with $55 million remaining on his contract created ample future cap space where none existed. Combined with savings on Morris’ deal to New Orleans, Washington eliminated its potential luxury tax payment.
Dealing Porter did something else: Removed a player once thought central to the team’s future.
“We drafted Otto. He improved every year. He’s a true professional, a great teammate,” Grunfeld said. “It’s always disappointing to spend five or six years with a player, develop not only a professional but a personal relationship. That part of it is very difficult. I’m proud of what he accomplished and what kind of person he is.”
Washington shipped Morris, one of three unrestricted free agents traded at the deadline, and a 2023 second-round selection to New Orleans for guard Wesley Johnson’s expiring contract. Morris remains sidelined with a neck injury. The power forward last played Dec. 26.
The selection acquired from Chicago is Washington’s only second-round pick until 2023.
The other two UFA forwards, Trevor Ariza and Jeff Green, remain on the roster for reasons short and long-term. NBC Sports Washington reported Wednesday that the Wizards intend to keep both players with the hopes of re-signing this summer.
Grunfeld cited value in their leadership and ability to help the Wizards remain competitive this season among the reasons the team passed on trading the veteran pair.
Parker, the no. 2 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, and Portis, a restricted free agent this summer, join the frontcourt this season. Hypothetically both have a chance over the remaining 28 games for the 22-32 Wizards to show they are potential pieces for the new plan, especially the 6-foot-10 Portis.
Despite Parker’s scoring talents, the Wizards are not expected to pick up the $20 million team option for the 2019-20 season.
“The deal covers a lot of different things for us,” Grunfeld said. “It covers some of the goals we wanted to accomplish. Stay competitive. Gives us flexibility moving forward and get some young players we can look at that could be part of that core moving forward.”
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