Owner Ted Leonsis and general manager Ernie Grunfeld are being ridiculously stubborn. The Washington Wizards are in a terrible position, and it is because of them. For the second consecutive season, the Wizards have held off on a necessary decision to begin a full-on rebuild. Now, after the events of this season, their future is practically mortgaged, and little to no light lies at the end of a faraway, narrow tunnel.
The abundance of miscues starts with the extension the team handed to a now former star, point guard John Wall. This is the final season in which he will be paid under $20 million, and his increase in salary destroys the Wizards’ cap situation. Wall signed a four-year, $170 million extension that will begin next season. The problem is that Wall will likely not play for at least the next 12 months. After initial surgery ended his season, Wall fell down in his home and had to undergo another surgery following the incident. So, Washington will be paying Wall nearly $38 million for next season, and he won’t even touch the court. His salary rises every year, and by the final year of his contract, when he is 32, he will be making just under $47 million.
There isn’t much hope surrounding Wall’s future. He didn’t have a great 2017-1018 campaign and wasn’t having a good year this year, either. He was shooting just 44 percent from the field and 30 percent from the 3-point line on over five attempts per game. The Wizards went 11-21 when he played this season but have gone 18-18 without him.
After being pretty durable through the first seven seasons of his career, Wall has appeared in just 73 games over the past two seasons and will miss next year as well. His level of play has decreased, he’s aging, and he has become injury prone.
Washington had a chance to get Wall off the books earlier this year, when teams gauged the interest the Wizards had in moving him and Bradley Beal. Washington stood pat, and is now locked into what could end up being the worst contract in the NBA.
Teams also checked in on the availability of swingman Otto Porter Jr. The Wizards initially turned away any offers for the 25-year-old small forward but then sent him to the Chicago Bulls in a throwaway trade. The Bulls sent back the corpse of Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis. In 13 games since being traded to Chicago, Porter is posting career numbers. He’s averaging 18.4 points on 48.6 percent shooting from the field and a scorching 49.3 percent shooting from distance. He’s also averaging six rebounds and a career-high three assists per contest.
Portis has played well for the Wizards but will be a restricted free agent in the 2020 offseason. Washington will have no incentive to pay him, considering it does not have a winning ballclub. Parker is pretty much dead money, with a team option for $20 million next season. Washington would have to be insane to pick that option up, and while their mindset is flawed, I don’t think even the Wizards would pick up that horrid option.
The Wizards could have moved Porter in a deal that involved a young player or a pick, but instead settled for two players that do not have a future with their franchise. It was an opportunity to recoup assets for a needed rebuild, and they blew the opportunity.
Speaking of rebuilding, the Wizards would’ve put themselves in the right direction to do so by trading Bradley Beal at the trade deadline. Instead, they held onto him. Beal is a fantastic player, and has put up exuberant numbers with exceptional efficiency this year. He would have netted a plethora of assets for Washington to jump-start a new beginning. Yet, Washington did everything but start its needed rebuild this season. Along with trading Porter, the Wizards traded Kelly Oubre to the Phoenix Suns for 33-year-old Trevor Ariza. Like Porter, Oubre has broken out with his new team. Meanwhile, Ariza hasn’t played well since the trade, and will be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason.
In the process of looking for youth on Washington’s roster, there isn’t much to observe outside of a few players.
Troy Brown, a rookie wing out of the University of Oregon, has barely played this season, and is just now starting to get consistent minutes. He appeared in the last eight games, and had his best performance in a loss against the Charlotte Hornets. He played 17 minutes off the bench and contributed 10 points, eight rebounds, and two assists on 4-7 shooting from the field and 2-2 shooting beyond the arc.
Brown is the best young piece on Washington’s roster, which isn’t saying much considering what the Wizards have in that regard, but he is still a good prospect. He’s just 19, is lengthy at 6-7, and has the potential to become a good two-way player. The Wizards would be smart to dole out as many minutes as possible the rest of the season while allowing him to progress at his own rate.
Washington has also mined a gem in Thomas Bryant, whom they claimed off waivers in the offseason. At 21, Thomas has the potential to develop as the Wizards’ starting center, or become a very useful big man option off the bench. He has averaged 9.8 points and 5.7 rebounds in 19.3 minutes per game this season while shooting an uber-efficient 62.4 percent from the field and 35.8 percent from deep.
The Wizards have stayed on par in making bad choices, and have moved Bryant to the bench in favor of Portis in late February. Not allowing one of their few young talents all possible opportunities to develop and learn is a grave mistake, but it’s not surprising that the Wizards are doing so.
There are plenty of other issues surrounding the Wizards. Dwight Howard, who has played in just nine games this season, has a player option for next year. Scott Brooks has failed to maintain and improve a winning culture as the team has collapsed under his guidance.
The failures of the franchise lie on the shoulders of Ted Leonsis and Ernie Grunfeld, who refuse to begin the inevitable rebuild hovering over the team. They’ve destroyed their collection of assets and done everything they can to make the impending rebuild as difficult as possible. The future in Washington appears rather bleak for the time being.