Wizards

Sheppard took a risk with Bertans, but backed it up

Wizards

Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard made his bet on Davis Bertans all the way back in February. It took nine months, but he finally backed it up, reaching an agreement on a new contract worth $80 million over five years to keep the Latvian Laser in Washington.

It took plenty of negotiation to get the deal done. The news, first reported by ESPN, broke just before 10 p.m., nearly four hours after the negotiating window opened. The Wizards entered talks hoping to sign Bertans for $15 million per year, while Bertans was seeking closer to $20 million, according to multiple people familiar with their discussions. 

Bertans cashed in and got the total money he was looking for, but Sheppard brought the yearly number down closer to where he wanted it to be. You could argue it was a win-win for both sides, but there is no question Sheppard had more riding on this than Bertans did.

Bertans was going to get paid, by one team or another. If the Wizards couldn't strike a deal to retain him, they would have been left with limited directions to turn. They were able to re-sign Bertans because they had his Bird Rights, which allows them to exceed the salary cap with his contract. If he walked, they wouldn't have been able to spend the same money on another player.

Sheppard went all-in on Bertans back at the trade deadline in February. He rebuffed offers from multiple teams, hoping to re-sign Bertans in free agency. Bertans was an unrestricted free agent, meaning he could have left without the Wizards being able to match an offer sheet from another team.

 

Meanwhile, Bertans notched a career-best season highlighted by his 42.4 three-point percentage on 8.7 attempts per game. He more than doubled his scoring average from the year before in San Antonio, from 6.0 points per game to 15.4.

At the age of 28 and with two ACL tears in his history, Bertans was out for top dollar to secure his financial future. He saw this as the best opportunity of his career to do so.

Bertans has been Sheppard's best acquisition so far since he took over as GM last spring, first in an interim capacity. He snagged Bertans from the Spurs in a three-team deal in which the Wizards gave up former second round pick Aaron White, who has yet to appear in the NBA five years after he was drafted.

Sheppard turned nothing into something substantial, and now Bertans can serve as a core piece of the Wizards' future. Moving forward, the expectations will be much higher as he can no longer easily exceed his contract value. Bertans has to produce and consistently to live up to the money he is being paid.

Sheppard has now been able to convince two players to stay in high-profile negotiations. He convinced star guard Bradley Beal to sign a max extension in October of 2019 when many doubted the deal would get done. He then faced immense pressure to re-sign Bertans and got the result he wanted.

Bertans received interest from the Hawks and Knicks, NBC Sports Washington was told, as well as others interested in sign-and-trade deals. Bertans' camp used the leverage they had to drive a hard bargain. 

But once Danilo Gallinari signed a three-year deal with Atlanta, that took away some of their standing. It is likely part of the reason the price went towards the $15 million per year side of the scale instead of the other direction.

The Wizards have generally had success keeping their own players, going back many years to when Sheppard was their assistant GM. They got Beal to sign two extensions to stay, same with John Wall, and they also re-signed former third overall pick Otto Porter Jr. when his rookie deal was up. Bertans is the next in line.

That practice has produced mixed results, and Bertans has plenty of work to do to reach the bar that has now been set. But this is what Sheppard wanted to get done. He essentially called his shot months ago and, for that, the Wizards have good reason to celebrate.