The Washington Wizards have treated the last month-plus as an evaluation period, one that was to help them decide how they would treat the 2019 NBA trade deadline on Feb. 7. That time to figure out what this team is capable of in the context of whether to make deals is nearing its end.
With the deadline on Thursday, the Wizards have only two more games left before rosters will mostly be set for the rest of the season. That makes Monday night’s match-up with the Atlanta Hawks, set for a 7 p.m. tip-off on NBC Sports Washington, a bit more magnified.
The Wizards remain 2 1/2 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They are eight games under .500 despite having gone 9-7 since they learned star point guard John Wall would be lost for the season.
Even after losing three of their last four, the Wizards have reason to believe they can make the postseason and majority owner Ted Leonsis has made it clear in recent interviews that is absolutely the goal. The Wizards have no intention of making a major trade to ship out one of their best players, most notably Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. or Wall, who would be tough to trade at the moment anyways due to his injury and contract.
What games like Monday’s could determine, however, is how serious the Wizards take the offers that are being and will be made for some of their role players. They have a host of players on expiring contracts who could help contenders looking for that final piece for a deep playoff run.
Forwards Trevor Ariza and Jeff Green stand out above the rest. Forward Markieff Morris, who appears close to return from a neck injury, could also fit the bill.
If the Wizards want to make the playoffs, trading any combination of those players would provide a hindrance. Ariza has emerged as perhaps their most reliable defender since coming over in a December trade. Green has proven invaluable as a scorer, lately off the bench but at times this season as a starter.
Morris’ return would give the Wizards a nice boost offensively and they could use one. With Porter back in their starting lineup, the lack of depth on their bench has become more clear.
It still appears highly unlikely the Wizards would become sellers in any traditional sense. Their ceiling this season is only going to be so high with Wall out for the year and starting center Dwight Howard not close to returning after having back surgery in November.
Given the injuries and the fact trading their draft picks would be ill-advised given their place in the standings, they don’t have an ideal set of assets to make a win-now trade. The trades they could most likely make would be for future assets, i.e. draft picks or young players from contenders ready to mortgage their future for a veteran.
One game against the Hawks at home on a Monday in February doesn’t seem pivotal in the grand scheme of things. But consider the possibility of a loss. That would mean four in five games for the Wizards, including one to the Cavs and one to the Hawks, two of the five worst teams in the NBA.
After that, they head to Milwaukee to see the best team in basketball on Wednesday, the final game before the deadline. In a worst-case scenario, they would reach the deadline 10 games under .500.
For just one game, a win on Monday would change their outlook quite a bit.
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