The Wizards / Martell Webster Signing FAQ — Is he really worth the money?
On Tuesday, the Washington Wizards and free agent Martell Webster agreed to a four-year, $22 million contract–the full Mid-Level Exception—with the fourth year being partially guaranteed. The move was celebrated by many Wizards fans, but not all, and it was surprisingly and widely panned by many national pundits. How did this happen? Here are answers to four questions you’ve been asking—The Wizards / Martell Webster Signing FAQ.
#1) Is Martell Webster really worth four years and $22 million (with the fourth year partially guaranteed)?
Totally…. IF. There’s always an ‘if’, so let’s start with the main argument against giving Webster this much money. He had a career season in what most would consider a “contract year,” and has been injury-prone in the past. Do the Wizards really expect Webster to keep up production that beware buyers should view as an anomaly?
The counter is that Webster’s past injury woes mostly involved his back, which was finally cleared up prior to last season after problems since 2010, perhaps earlier. Webster originally had a microdiscectomy surgery (a minimally invasive method of fixing a herniated disc) in October 2010 and then again in September 2011. Herniated disks can be treated and maintained without further complications, and Webster, who turned 26 last December, spent the summer of 2012 getting his back right, also training with the renowned David Thorpe at the IMG Academy in Florida. When he signed with the Wizards for one-year, $1.75 million last August, Webster proclaimed: “This is the best my body’s felt in the last five years.”
And Webster shot like it, making a career-high 42.2 percent from 3-point land for Washington. Webster came close to that rate his first season in Minnesota, 2010-11, after he came off his first surgery for a herniated disk—he essentially had to have the second surgery because he wasn’t allowed to properly recover from the first one. Otherwise, Webster’s previous career-high from deep came in his third NBA season, 2007-08, at the rate of 38.8 percent, improving from 36.4 percent as a soph and 35.7 percent as a rookie.
Was what we saw last year from Webster, on a team constantly trying to find its way, sheer luck? Or was it a simple life progression?
This I do know: Webster has a smooth stroke, a decently positioned release, great lift on his jumper, and he loves playing with John Wall. He has never played with a point guard like Wall. When shooting well in Minnesota, it was with Luke Ridnour and Jonny Flynn; when in Portland, it was with Steve Blake and Jarrett Jack (and the ball-dominant Brandon Roy).
We also saw Webster put up a career-high assist rate last season. How many guys would do this in a presumed contract year? Especially for a guy who is supposed to confidently pull the trigger every time he catches the rock. I don’t know how many times I saw Webster make the extra pass from the corner or wing and around the arc to a teammate who was slightly more open. He combined killer instinct with selflessness in a manner that this Wizards observer hasn’t seen in a long time, if ever.
But skyrocketing production that comes crashing back to earth has happened before. In fact, it seemed to crash for Webster at the end of last season … when he was injured, again. That injury, at one point diagnosed as an abdominal strain, turned out to be a “sports hernia,” which Webster had a minor, routine procedure to fix earlier this summer. There’s no reason to believe that a sports hernia is an indicator of future injury around the corner—there’s always a chance of injury with anyone, after all—but such an ailment certainly had an affect on Webster’s shot. He gutted it out anyway, appearing in 76 games and sitting out last the last three meaningless contests when the pain became unbearable. When both Wall and Webster were healthy from mid-January to late-March, Webster shot over 48 percent on 3-pointers.
To get back to that question again… Is he worth the money? No, Webster is not fully worth four years and $22 million. I would have said something along the lines of three years and $16-17 million, likely with a player option for that third year. (Some around the league felt Webster was worth three years and $10-12 million—the Spurs gave Danny Green a three-year, $12 million contract last July.) Three years and $16 million is still a full MLE-type of contract, but when shooters are increasingly becoming a premium in an efficiency-focused NBA, along with keeping John Wall happy with said shooters, I’m not going to haggle over a year and $5-7 million. You value the bird in hand over that extra cap space being a potential difference-maker in the future.
#2) What about the alternatives?
The Bulls signed Mike Dunleavy for two years, $6 million. An absolute steal. Why couldn’t the Wizards have done that?
What people often fail to understand is that getting a player to come play for a team doesn’t simply involve a phone call, a smile, maybe some light-petting, a handshake, and a novelty-sized check. Agents guide their players toward some destinations and away from others. Players, like Dunleavy, will leave money on the table to sign with franchises like the Chicago Bulls; with the Washington Wizards, not so much. Dunleavy was reportedly offered the full MLE by one team, but took Chicago’s mini-MLE instead. Also, Dunleavy will be 33 in September, six years and some change older than Webster.
What about Kyle Korver? In the summer of 2010, the Bulls gave Korver, one of the best shooters in the NBA, a three-year, $15 million contract. Shouldn’t that be more along Webster’s price range?
Maybe, but Webster is so much more than Kyle Korver, a 3-point specialist who is quite terrible at defense, so much that he sometimes has to be taken out of games during crucial moments. Not only can Webster spread the floor with a long distance percentage that finished 12th-best in the NBA last season (.422), but more importantly, he won’t be a sieve on defense. In fact, Webster is a slightly above-average defender. Plus, he’s not pigeonholed into being a 3, Webster is diverse enough to play the 2 spot in Randy Wittman’s occasionally position-less offense. Webster actually saw 12 percent of Washington’s 2 guard minutes last season, and a lineup featuring Wall, Webster, Trevor Ariza, Emeka Okafor, and Nene was the Wizards’ sixth-most-used 5-man unit.
In a call with the media soon after he signed last August, I asked Webster if he considered himself a 3-point specialist. He said:
“I wouldn’t call myself a 3-point specialist. To define a 3-point specialist, a perfect example would be Kyle Korver or Ryan Anderson—I actually have more slashing in my game, back-door cuts… I’m able to put the ball on the floor, one to two dribbles… I’ve been working on more of that this offseason.”
And Webster backed up his talk. He threw down dunks on the break (“Unveiling the Wizard”), and he proved that he could find a way to the basket when run off the 3-point line by opposing defenses. In 2,200 minutes last season, Webster was 82-for-154 from the restricted area; Korver was a mere 14-for-24 in his 2,259 minutes; and Dunleavy was 77-for-125 in 1,942 minutes. At 6-foot-9, Dunleavy is better equipped to finish over defenses than the 6-foot-7 Webster, but again, we’re going with youthful age over the beauty of height in this instance.
Plus, not to get all racial, but do you think either Mike Dunleavy or Kyle Korver are capable of having the same influence on the locker room as Martell Webster? Nope.
Carlos Delfino, an ‘OK’ 3-point shooter (37.5%) who was recently waived by the Houston Rockets, could have been another affordable option; the Lakers and Thunder are both said to be interested in signing him. But once again, Delfino will be 31 in late-August, and he does not potentially bring as much to the table as Webster. The Timberwolves will sign the 30-year old Kevin Martin, a great offensive player (42.6% 3P) but a poor defensive player, to four years and $30 million. Is he that valuable? Flip Saunders will also re-sign Chase Budinger, a 35.8 percent career shooter from deep who is practically coming off a knee injury, for three years and $16 million; Budinger is a year and a half younger than Webster. Does that make more sense than Martell’s contract? What about four years and $20 million for Tony Allen? The defense might be worth it, but the skills will likely decline very quickly. Reminder: Webster will be 27 at the beginning of December.
Martell Webster wanted to be in D.C. Can’t say that about many players, ever. Rather than overpaying a free agent from another team, why not pay a premium for a player who clearly meshes with the program? A player whom John Wall and Bradley Beal publicly stated that they wanted back? Does the situation not deserve itself?
#3) What does this mean for the future, salary cap and stuff like that?
Depending on the contract extension that John Wall ultimately gets this summer, two seasons from now, in 2015-16, the Wizards will have about $41 million committed to five players: Wall, Beal, Webster, Otto Porter, and Nene Hilario. (This is ‘at this moment’ and assuming Wall will be getting paid around $13 million in 2015-16.)
The next season, 2016-17, when Beal’s contract extension would theoretically kick in, Nene will be off the books, Webster ‘could’ be off the books (as the fourth year on his contract is partially guaranteed), Porter will be in the fourth year of his rookie-scale contract, and Wall will be in the third year of his extension. Certainly contract maneuverings and additions will occur in the interim, but it’s not the worst forward-thinking situation to be in.
If the Wizards don’t extend qualifying offers to Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin after next season, 2013-14, but take fourth-year options on Chris Singleton and Jan Vesely, they could have roughly $48 million committed to eight players with over $20 million in cap room to play with in the 2014 summer. Of course, Nene would be the only ‘big’ on the roster, but hey, flexibility is flexibility.
#4) So why did the Wizards do it? And did Ernie Grunfeld bid against himself?
It was a stability move. Washington did not want to take the chance that the nice, shiny new shooter they got John Wall last year would be a one-and-done entity. To truly take advantage of Wall’s talent, you need shooters around him. Wall knows this more than anyone else.
It was a chemistry move. The Wizards, out of all teams, should get a pass when it comes to paying a little extra to maintain chemistry and continuity.
It was a culture move. Washington, mostly under Abe Pollin, has been known for an unwillingness to spend the extra money—being cheap (aside from giving boatloads of money to Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison in the summer of 2008 when Grunfeld’s hand was forced by Pollin’s nostalgic chase for another title). It was also a culture move in the sense of what Washington is trying to build, the quality of character that the franchise wants to become the baseline. This piece, “Webster’s sacrifice signifies shift in culture,” by CSN Washington’s J. Michael from early April helps drive home that point.
It was an emotional move. No doubt Ted Leonsis was swayed by his courtside observations and endorsements from those in the trenches about Webster being a favored presence. Leonsis blogged that he wanted a “non dramatic off season” on the day of the draft, and he used his strong feelings in that regard to enact swift action before alternatives—change—could arise.
If the worst thing Grunfeld has done is out-bid himself, I can live with that. But what, or who, was the competition? Well, that “competition” was: Not having Martell back on the team; the likelihood that a comparable replacement would have cost the full MLE anyway; or the fact that a cheaper replacement would have been less talented.
There are worse ways to go about the summer. Here, the Wizards did not dick around and let some other team, such as the Warriors on Webster’s West Coast, court the target of their affection with a nice seafood dinner. They set a priority and got it done. Martell Webster is back, and this is a very good thing.
Ted Leonsis,Ernie G and Tommy Shep.Thank u so much for giving me a home and another opportunity to make something special in DC I'm a wizkid
— Martell Webster (@MartellWebster) July 2, 2013
[stats via NBA.com/stats and Basketball-Reference.com]