You’d be hard-pressed to look around the league and find a better perimeter trio than John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter. Outside of Golden State, there may not be one in which each guy brings as much to the table as these three. Wall is still an All-World point guard despite an injury-riddled season, Beal has developed into a great secondary ball-handler and shooter who turns up his game in the playoffs, and Porter is one of the league’s very best shooters and quietly added some more versatility to his offensive game last season. Unfortunately for the Washington Wizards, it’s the moves that have surrounded these three that have let them down year after year. Since drafting Kelly Oubre in 2015, it’s not just that the Wizards have whiffed on their draft picks; they literally haven’t made any. Now, they’ve surrounded Wall, Beal, and Porter with an older generation of players and don’t have the youngsters coming through the pipeline every team needs to sustain a period of playoff runs. As such, it’s imperative that Washington hit in this year’s draft, if only to put some cost-controlled talent on their not-very-deep bench.
Like a number of teams throughout the league, the summer of 2016 continues to harm the Wizards’ flexibility. After missing on some bigger names, Washington settled on former Pacers center Ian Mahinmi, who had a standout year in 2015-16 and looked to be the Wizards’ center of the future with Marcin Gortat getting older. Two years later, Gortat is still entrenched as the starter and Mahinmi hasn’t brought the offensive punch or ability to avoid fouling to wrestle the job away. It’s possible that Washington will be able to move one or both of these guys in a trade this summer, but for a team that has been so devoid of draft talent over the past two years, using more draft picks to dump bad money may not be the smartest move.
Barring a big trade, Washington will be in the tax for the second consecutive season. News came down on Tuesday that Jodie Meeks opted in to his $3.5 million contract for next season, officially moving the Wizards $1.8 million over the $123 million luxury tax threshold. It was likely that they were going to get there either way, as their first-round draft pick will add another $2.7 million to their team salary, but owner Ted Leonsis will probably have to foot another small tax bill around this time next year. Luxury tax bills are calculated at the end of each league year, so the Wizards have plenty of time between now and the trade deadline in February to sneak back under the tax if Leonsis requires them to do so.
Re-signing their incumbent free agents will also impact that tax bill, though they really only have one guy who is worth mentioning here. Mike Scott was salary-dumped from Atlanta to Phoenix at the 2017 deadline and promptly cut by the Suns, raising questions about whether his career in the league might have come to an end. Washington took a chance on Scott as a bench big who could space the floor and score in the post and that investment paid off in a big way. His 76-game season of career-high efficiency has created the opposite problem for the Wizards: will they be able to afford Scott this summer? He’s an unrestricted free agent and Washington only holds his Non-Bird rights, which won’t be nearly enough to keep him around next season. Dipping into their mini mid-level exception ($5.3 million) is the next option, but that restricts their other free agency options. More than most teams spent through the tax, Washington is really going to feel the difference between the non-taxpayer mid-level exception and the taxpayer mid-level exception this summer.
Between their draft pick and limited free agency options, Washington’s key to the summer is getting deeper across the guard and wing positions. Wall, Beal, and Porter form a strong starting trio, but it gets ugly after that, with Oubre, Meeks, and Tomas Satoransky as the bench options across the backcourt. The Wizards turned to Ramon Sessions and Ty Lawson in key spots last year, which goes to show you just how weak their backcourt depth was after Wall went down. Oubre and Porter can both swing up and play some power forward and Washington already has a host of other big men in Gortat, Mahinmi, Markieff Morris, and Jason Smith, though Smith is basically entirely dead money at this point. Still, their wing depth needs addressing, as well as backup point guard, but it seems unlikely that they’ll be able to plug all their holes with so little flexibility.
Oubre will be extension-eligible this fall after completing the third season of his rookie-scale contract, but there’s very little reason to think that he and the team will be able to get a deal done. Oubre hasn’t shown enough to warrant starter-level money, but he and his agent have to think that he can get there in the very near future, especially in the Wizards focus on guard and wing depth in free agency and he gets more time playing small-ball four for Washington next season. When Oubre shares the floor with Porter, it’s not always clear who is playing which position, but when they ran Oubre out in small-ball units with their Big 3 and Gortat, the results were staggeringly impressive: +15.5 net rating across 432 possessions in 2017-18. The scarcity of money this summer may influence Oubre to sign a cheaper extension out of fear of what may happen in 2019, but the odds are very good that he’ll play out the season and hit restricted free agency next summer.
Washington has the star pieces at the top of the roster but have consistently struggled with filling out the rest of it. They’ll likely be constrained to just the mini mid-level and their draft picks, but if they play their cards right and make a couple of good bets, they’ll be able to make a push up the Eastern Conference standings and perhaps into the second round of the playoffs.