WASHINGTON -- Late Wednesday night, following the Wizards' overtime loss to the Chicago Bulls, Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard walked through the hallway outside the locker room with Davis Bertans' agent. It's unlikely any real negotiating occurred given the time and place, but it was just one of what will likely be many conversations between the two in the months leading up to the Feb. 6 trade deadline, and perhaps beyond if the Wizards decide to hold on to Bertans in hopes of signing him long-term.
Bertans, 27, has emerged as one of the most popular subjects in NBA trade rumors. He's on an expiring contract and, with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson injured, has emerged as arguably the best three-point shooter in the NBA. He is shooting 46.2 percent on 8.6 three-point attempts per game.
The Wizards are a franchise in transition, looking more towards the future than at the standings. On the face of it, trading him for a future draft pick could make a lot of sense. But there are arguments for both sides and variables that are difficult to predict, namely how much the Wizards could get in a trade and how much Bertans could command on his next contract, knowing the 2020 free agent class is thin.
We know where the Wizards stand as of now. No sourced info was needed to figure it out. Sheppard went on the Wizards' 'Off the Bench' podcast this week and stated clearly the Wizards' intentions to keep Bertans long-term.
Anyone who downplayed that message as posturing from a general manager or asked 'what is he supposed to say?' doesn't know Sheppard or how he operates. Sure, he gets how to control a narrative more than most as a former public relations official, but he's also allergic to beating around the bush. It's also worth noting how the subject came up, how he wasn't even asked but made a point to get what he said out there.
The Wizards will not be able to sign Bertans to a new contract until the offseason due to the fact he is on a two-year deal. But, as Sheppard said, they plan to work something out when the time is right.
The argument to keep Bertans is not hard to figure out. He's a very good player and only 27 years old. His best skill, three-point shooting, has never been more valuable in the NBA.
And, he fits the Wizards' timeline. Chairman Ted Leonsis has indicated in a series of interviews he wants the Wizards to be back in the playoff mix sooner than later. As he put it over the summer, "why can't this be quick?"
Sheppard, of course, has to follow Leonsis orders as general manager and he has another person to keep in mind. Bradley Beal has signed a contract extension and has expressed patience with the team's rebuilding phase. But surely he doesn't want to wait long to get back to the playoffs, either.
Bertans would help them do that. He would also be the perfect player to have in the lineup once John Wall returns from his ruptured Achilles. Wall is one of the best passers of his generation, a guy who has long made players around him better three-point shooters because of his ability to penetrate and create open shots. Imagine the chemistry he could develop with Bertans trailing him on fastbreaks.
Wall may also not have the same quickness and speed once he returns from such a devastating injury. Having the best catch-and-shoot player in the league in Bertans, a guy who all he needs is a well-timed pass, could be an excellent security blanket for Wall running the offense.
Now, as strong as the argument for not trading Bertans is, there is also a substantial case for trading him. And it is not simply about acquiring as many future assets as possible.
No, the best argument for trading Bertans has more to do with money and how much of it he could make in the summer of 2020. David Aldridge of The Athletic recently reported his salary could fall within the range of $15-20 million annually. One league executive told NBC Sports Washington his best guess is three years for $51 million.
It Bertans can be signed for closer to $15 million per season, then it could easily be justified. With Ian Mahinmi's $15.5 million coming off the books, Bertans could simply take his place on the payroll.
But if Bertans' average annual value creeps up closer to $20 million or higher, the Wizards might need to reconsider. The reason is with Wall's supermax contract, and the uncertainty of his game post-injury, they can't afford to overpay anyone. And for $20 million per season, they probably need to either have a player much better than Bertans or use that money to fill out their rotation.
As one league executive told NBC Sports Washington, "they can't do what they did with Otto Porter." Meaning, give star money to a player who is not a star. Porter got a contract for the Wizards that on its own may have been fine, but was magnified within the context of their salary cap.
Too much money for Bertans could limit the ceiling of the team. With so much money committed to Wall and Beal moving forward, it leaves a complicated financial puzzle for Sheppard and assistant GM and salary cap expert Brett Greenberg to sort out.
If the Wizards determine Bertans is going to get more money than he's worth in the summer, they should trade him by the deadline. And even though Sheppard said what he said, the Wizards are still going to get plenty of calls leading up to Feb. 6. After asking around the league, the Sixers, Hawks and Lakers appear to be teams to watch.
If the Wizards do decide to trade Bertans, expectations should be set accordingly for such a deal. Many out there have speculated whether the Wizards could get a first-round pick for Bertans and the track record of those deals isn't all that conclusive for how they would apply to the Wizards.
Bertans is in a unique situation as an expiring contract. That means he is likely to only interest contenders and they, by nature of them being contenders, can usually only offer picks late in the first round.
Interestingly enough, the Wizards have been on the other end of some of the more notable cases of first-round picks being traded for players in recent years. So, technically they are very familiar with the framework.
In 2017, they sent a lottery-protected first to Brooklyn for Bojan Bogdanovic, who was on an expiring contract, in a deal that also included some fringe roster throw-ins. The Nets ended up taking Jarrett Allen with the 22nd pick.
In 2016, the Wizards sent a top-nine protected first to Phoenix (along with Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair) for Markieff Morris. Morris, though, had recently signed a long-term contract. In 2013, the Wizards traded a top-12 protected first (along with Emeka Okafor) to the Suns for Marcin Gortat and three roster-fringe guys who never played for them.
Other teams have traded first-round picks, too, not just the Wizards. The Nuggets just recently sent a top-10 protected 2020 first-round pick to the Thunder for forward Jerami Grant. He is on a two-year deal with the second a player option.
In 2016, the Nets got a first-rounder and a second-round pick from the Pacers for Thaddeus Young. The first-round selection ended up being 20th overall and Brooklyn took Caris LeVert.
Also in 2016, the Kings got the 22nd overall pick from the Hornets for Marco Belinelli. Both Young and Belinelli, though, were on multi-year deals when they were traded.
Given Bertans is on an expiring deal, whether the Wizards can both get a first-round pick and one high enough to be worth their while is unclear. Anything less and it might make the Wizards' decision to hold onto Bertans a bit easier.
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