When describing the state of the Wizards' organization and the thinking behind their offseason roster changes, managing partner Ted Leonsis and general manager Tommy Sheppard mostly framed it as a 'reset' and not a 'rebuild.' Leonsis does not want the team to go through an extended tanking period, and perhaps that was best explained when he threw out a rhetorical question last week in an interview with ESPN: "why can't this be quick?"
Leonsis clearly doesn't want to tear it all down. He doesn't want to trade Bradley Beal, and as long as they hold onto him and John Wall they will stop short of a full rebuild.
Though Beal could net the Wizards a lot in a trade, there is some merit to not tanking if you look at recent NBA trends. The Toronto Raptors just won a title without a single lottery pick. The NBA's MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, wasn't a lottery pick. And now that the draft lottery odds have changed, tanking offers fewer guarantees than ever before.
Leonsis sees a path to re-establishing the Wizards as perennial playoff contenders with Beal and Wall in the mix. He believes the Wizards can make quick progress by developing young players around them and clearing cap room to be players in free agency. Next summer, they can make their case with a new set of pitchmen in Sheppard and the recently hired Sashi Brown.
But completing a quick turnaround probably won't come via free agency. Though the Wizards will clear Ian Mahinmi's $15.5 million salary off the books next summer, some of that will be offset by other contracts scaling up, including Wall's, which will increase by about $3.1 million.
As they stand now, the Wizards will be roughly $9 million under the cap next offseason. That isn't much and it will also be a free agent class devoid of stars. Unless Anthony Davis doesn't re-sign with the Lakers, the top guy available could be Draymond Green.
Free agency offers no assurances anyways. In order to take major steps forward, the Wizards will likely have to do so by developing their own players or by making trades. The Wizards' best bet for a quick turnaround is a combination of the two.
They already have a head start with Beal on the roster, as he is an ascending player in his prime. Getting Wall back to something near 100 percent will be pivotal.
But the Wizards' best chance of making Leonsis' wish come true is for their young players to show enough promise to become valuable trade pieces. Recent first round picks Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr. and Moe Wagner are the most obvious ones. And maybe Thomas Bryant could help them land a difference maker if he continues to develop.
Working in the Wizards' favor is that they do have a lot of young players now. They basically have a handful of lottery tickets, some with better odds than others. If any combination of their young players have breakout seasons, the Wizards could put together a decent package.
Washington also has draft picks to build with and their first round selection next season seems likely to fall in the top 10 for the second straight year. They could find themselves in a place next offseason with Beal, a promising young core of recent draft picks and a fully-healed Wall. That could set them up well, with a higher long-term ceiling than they have had in years.
But the biggest question for Leonsis' vision is whether the turnaround can be quick enough to fit Beal's own personal timeline. He has two years left on his current contract and, though he has been offered an extension, could very well turn them down in part because he wants to play for a winning team.
If Beal turns down their extension, it will make next summer very important for his and the Wizards' future. It is very risky to let a player enter his walk year without a long-term commitment. Just ask the Charlotte Hornets, who saw Kemba Walker leave just a few weeks ago.
The Wizards seem like they are in good shape to make real progress over the next calendar year. But whether their timeline will match up with Beal's remains a question worth considering.
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