The Wizards Band is Getting Back Together (Well, most of them.)
The Washington Wizards band is getting back together. Except for Chris Singleton, one would guess. Then again, 2011’s 18th overall pick has been in Poland helping work Marcin Gortat’s camp and, whether he likes it or not, has been part of Washington’s recruiting efforts for Gortat’s services. But enough picking on Singleton (him even having the willingness to ride the end of the bench for a deep team aside), are the Washington Wizards really aiming to bring back all 15 players who finished the 2013-14 season (playoffs!) on the roster?
That’s what it looks like. So while Wizards fans may express chagrin at a disregard for swinging for the fences—going for a LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh or Kevin Love—team brass stays on their path of consistency with singles and bunts. The hope is that such patient movements keep the team flexible (perhaps for a home run named Kevin Durant in 2016), and relevant in an Eastern Conference where the door to the top is wide open.
John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Nene, Martell Webster, most definitely Glen Rice, and now Andre Miller are officially on the roster. That’s seven players who account for around $46.5 million of the salary cap, which is expected to rise to $63.2 million for 2014-15 from $58.6 million last season. The luxury tax threshold is expected to rise from $71.7 million to $77 million.
Drew Gooden, Al Harrington, and Garrett Temple all say they want to come back to D.C. And that’s probably all well and good. They should—constancy, character, and cost. (And commitment, and connection, if you’re looking for 2008-09 Wizards team slogans.) Gooden makes clear sense, as he was amnestied by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2013 and they are set to pay him $6.68 million next season, the final year of his previous contract. The Wizards can once again pay Gooden the NBA’s veteran’s minimum while he doesn’t have to worry about losing money (and that looks to be the case).
You have to assume that Harrington, contemplating retirement once-upon-another knee surgery, isn’t ready to give up the NBA. We don’t need reports telling us that Harrington, also set to be a coach for the Wizards’ Summer League team, still wants to play. “Playing Weight in June….! #grindmode,” was an Instagram message that Harrington sent out on June 25 with image of a scale reading 254.6.
Temple is a safety valve, a practice player. He’s a good locker room guy and comes with the message: Defense first. If only his 3-pointer fell more often. Nonetheless, Temple is the cheapest, most-familiar-with-the-system option for the Wizards. Let’s assume for a moment that the Wizards bring back each of those three players for their veteran’s minimum cap hold each ($915,243). Altogether, that’s roughly $49.246 million committed to 10 players.
Marcin Gortat will make 11 players. Gortat will have his share of significant suitors and insignificant suitors. The Dallas Mavericks, previously the top option after the Wizards, have taken themselves off the market with their acquisition of Tyson Chandler. The Miami Heat could come calling and would certainly be tempting, but Gortat would likely have to take significantly less to sign with the Heat, or another team, instead of the Wizards and what they’re willing to pay to not lose Gortat. The Cleveland Cavaliers will call, according to Sam Amico, but don’t count on Gortat wanting to play with Kyrie Irving instead of John Wall. From my March interview with Gortat:
With all respect for Kylie (sic) Irving, Kylie’s a great scorer, he’s a great shooter—he’s a better shooter than John—but end of the day, John is the better point guard.
NBA.com’s David Aldridge suspects that the Wizards will try to get Gortat to commit to a lower salary in year one (around $10.5 million) than Gortat’s presumed value otherwise ($12 million per year). If that’s the starting point and you max out Gortat with 7.5 percent raises over a four-year contract, you’re looking at a total of around $46.9 million. One more year and it’s a five-year, $60.9 million contract—early reports via NBC Washington’s Dianna Russini indicate a five-year contract for Gortat. (Nikola Pekovic, a couple years younger, got a five-year, $60 million extension from Minnesota last summer.) Assuming $10.5 million for Gortat in 2014-15 and the Wizards have $59.7 million committed to 11 players, $3.5 million under the salary cap and $17.3 million under the luxury tax threshold.
[UPDATE: Gortat has re-signed for a reported five years and $60 million. Read more here.]
Then there’s Ariza, a bigger question mark, and potentially Player 12. Gortat, as a center, is presumably the higher-in-demand commodity, but Ariza will be more affordable and more attainable, and will thus have more suitors. Plus, his ability to “3&D” is not lost on other NBA teams (hopefully as much as John Wall making his career year is not lost on Ariza). The Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers, Houston Rockets, Phoenix Suns, Detroit Pistons, and Dallas Mavericks are said to be interested in Ariza; the Miami Heat could be a dark horse option; even the Utah Jazz and Cleveland Cavaliers appear to be unlikely but due diligent callers. Teams that are realistic options would have to move salary in order to give Ariza a raise from the $7.7 million he made last season (unless he would accept a hometown discount of the midlevel exception from the Clippers, or the former team discount from the Rockets); the unrealistic options would likely be uncertain, losing situations. If the number for Washington to keep Ariza is four years and $40 million ($9 million in year one with 7.5 percent raises each year), do you take it?
With Martell Webster on the shelf for several months, the Wizards might not have much choice, even if no other team is calling with that high of an offer. The Wizards have been rumored to be shopping Webster and his $5.38 million contract for next season but the back surgery severely hinders that. Still, there will be teams under the cap willing to babysit a contract … for something in return. David Aldridge suspects that could be a future first round pick (at some point). Trading a future pick for Gortat was one thing, but trading a pick just to get rid of Webster would be a beyond head-shaking move for a franchise like Washington.
Nine million per year for Ariza it is, pushing Washington’s cap figure to $68.7 million, and this isn’t considering the current cap holds for Kevin Seraphin ($6.9 million), Trevor Booker ($5.8 million), and Chris Singleton ($2.5 million), which would push Washington past the luxury tax threshold for 2014-15 (good thing that salary isn’t counted for cap purposes until the last day of the regular season).
At this point, with a presumed roster of 12 and over the salary cap, the Wizards could re-sign their own players (Seraphin, Booker, or Singleton), pay a new player the veteran’s minimum salary, and/or use the midlevel exception (MLE) of $5.3 million, which can be split amongst multiple players. The BAE (bi-annual exception) would not be available to Washington since they used it on Eric Maynor last summer.
The Wizards will likely retain Seraphin, as they have extended his $3.9 million qualifying offer (QO), but Booker was not extended his $4.7 million QO, making him an unrestricted free agent. Washington has maintained that they want to keep Booker, just at a lower starting salary. Booker will probably see that as a slight and is comforting himself on the pastures outside D.C. looking greener, despite what would be an impending breakup with his bosom buddy, Seraphin. Miami, Minnesota, Utah, Brooklyn, New York, and Orlando, in addition to Washington, are expressing interest in Booker, per the Washington Post’s Michael Lee. Singleton simply didn’t improve enough (or at all) during his time with the Wizards and the flexibility of an extra roster spot probably outweighs taking any further chances on him. It is what it is.
Holding the assumptions made thus far, and assuming the Wizards settle on paying Seraphin the QO next season (he could very well sign for less per year over a number of seasons), the Wizards could be as close as $4.3 million under the luxury tax threshold—not enough for room to use the full MLE without being a luxury tax payor, something Ted Leonsis won’t do, especially since the Wizards evidently lost $13 million from “basketball activities” last year (according to Grantland’s Zach Lowe). And there would still be two roster spots to fill.
Free agency has barely started and these assumptions won’t get you to the next gas station. A lot can change, and quickly, as evidenced by Jason Kidd’s one-and-done year with Brooklyn. But Washington’s aim is to bring the band back together. Other teams are trying to sign Gortat and Ariza to get better; the Wizards aiming to retain both (while limiting flexibility to improve otherwise) isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just that Ernie Grunfeld and team will have to be more creative in filling the gaps while being armed with viable backup plans. Plan B should Marcin Gortat walk could be very cloudy (no one wants Spencer Hawes or Byron Mullens, and Pau Gasol seems unrealistic); plan B should Ariza walk would seemingly provide more options (from Luol Deng, to Shawn Marion, to Chandler Parsons—the latter two being clients of Dan Fegan, the same agent for John Wall, Nene, Martell Webster, and Drew Gooden).
Still, all signs, despite calls and recruitment and courting otherwise, point to Gortat and Ariza making just as much sense for Washington as Washington does for their games. The band is getting back together—seven-to-10 members are already in tow. Now, whether they’ve gotten better at playing their instruments remains to be seen and won’t be answered until well past the NBA’s free agency frenzy.