The Feb. 7 NBA trade deadline isn’t some all-or-nothing moment for the Washington Wizards.
The final 38 games of the regular season won’t define the franchise.
However, there’s a connection between the two markers. Three weeks from now, we’ll have a better sense of the organization’s on-court direction this season and beyond.
While the Wizards look ready to at least compete for a playoff run after the past week of impressive games against the top teams in the East, the team has more than just this season to think about.
Financial projections show Washington already careening into 2019-20 salary cap concerns with only five players under contract.
That is unless moves are forthcoming. The first sell opportunity, one with perhaps three-quarters of the league playing the role of buyer, comes over the next three weeks.
Two of the five players with contracts beyond this season, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr., typically take a perception back seat to Wall, the five-time All-Star. It’s understandable why. Wall arrived first and with red carpet hoopla as the No. 1 overall selection in the 2010 NBA Draft. With help, a turnaround eventually followed.
Watching the Wizards over the last two seasons with and without their point guard has some believing it’s time for a change. The alterations could occur in multiple ways: Moving one or more of the top three players, changing their roles or finding more suitable pieces to put around them.
Should Beal, who has taken his game to elite levels, and Porter will Washington into the playoffs with a pass-heavy approach that also saved the prior season from potential collapse, style changes are on the table.
At least they should be. There’s a universe where, if their talents are maximized, a Wall, Beal, Porter triumvirate lifts the Wizards to the Eastern Conference finals, a level the organization hasn’t reached since advancing to the 1979 NBA Finals.
Reaching such lofty heights seemed inevitable following a 49-win 2016-17 campaign. At least to those not burdened with the knowledge of Bullets/Wizards history from the prior four decades.
The possible fixes are tricky but exist.
“The number one thing you can do if you're the Wizards is pick a point in time where you think you can be elite and don't mess anything up for that,” a former league executive told NBC Sports Washington. “You're not elite now. This isn't binary. It's not win or tank. You don't have incredible trade assets. Put yourself in the best position you can in small steps.”
Does a recent surge put more emphasis on a fifth playoff appearance in six seasons? Should Washington regroup for a larger goal once Wall returns next season? Decide the current mix needs an overhaul?
By the early February trade deadline, we may have a window into those evaluations and priorities.
Cutting bait seems prudent. Trade the expiring contracts of Trevor Ariza, Jeff Green, and Markieff Morris, and regroup for a Wall return with more assets. Consider bigger changes.
In the coming weeks, we’ll see what the Wizards decide.
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