After a Harsh Winter, Do The Wizards Need an Early Spring Cleaning? | Wizards Blog Truth About

After a Harsh Winter, Do The Wizards Need an Early Spring Cleaning?

Updated: February 18, 2015

[G-Wiz cleans the desk of Ted Leonsis.]

Things can somehow seem messier, dirtier and less organized during the winter months, and before the days of centralized air and heating systems, homes were heated with wood or coal, causing the floors and walls to collect dust and soot. After a long winter of dirt build up, spring was the time to get a fresh start; hence the term “spring cleaning.” This has been a rough winter for the Wizards and their fans. After watching the team start out the season with a 22-9 record in 2014, this team’s heat check seems to be dropping with the temperature outside: the Wizards have stumbled to an 11-12 record in 2015, in winter hibernation mode, suddenly careless with the chores around the house. The only way to solve this problem is to do a thorough inventory check of essential items, rid themselves of harmful dust, and air-out the house in preparation for spring.

The Wizards have already begun the cleaning process by not guaranteeing Glen Rice Jr.’s contract for the duration of the 2014-15 season, opening up a roster spot for flexibility. That open roster spot allows Washington a chance to sign a potential buy-out candidate, free agent, D-League player, 0r someone currently playing overseas. The Wizards are limited in the scope of what they can do with free agents because the team’s current salary is an estimated $500,000 under the luxury tax threshold of $76.8 million, a line that the franchise will not be crossing. Meaning: The Wizards can only offer the veteran’s minimum to potential free agents, limiting their bargaining chips when buy-out season comes. Other assets in the cupboard are bare for the Wizards. The Wizards do have a 2015 first round pick available for a trade this season, but no second round pick. After trading away last year’s first round pick in the Marcin Gortat trade, this team might not want to make a habit out of trading away potential low-cap contributors. The Wiz are also wary of taking on any money beyond next summer with the hope of having enough cap space to sign reigning NBA MVP Kevin Durant and re-sign Bradley Beal, and seemingly even more vigilant regarding culture fit.

There aren’t any intriguing, cheap young prospects on this team, nor large and expiring veteran contracts. The Wizards are caught in the precarious position of being buyers in the trade market with almost no currency to pay for any goods, besides potentially mortgaging off future assets on credit. Team President Ernie Grunfeld has the daunting task of trying to improve this team on limited resources and can not afford any frivolous transactions. Each personnel move needs to be well thought out to address the Wizards’ areas of needs.

So what exactly are the Wizards’ needs? What can they do to make their home presentable for hosting spring/summer playoff gatherings?

Point Guard.

When doing an inventory check of the Wizards you’re almost obligated to start with the point guard position, which boasts the Wizards’ only All-Star, John Wall. “Optimus Dime” has improved his overall game as the alpha-dog of this team. Wall leads the entire NBA in assists with 10.1 per game, but where he has really seen the most improvement in his game is on the defensive end. Wall leads all NBA point guards in defensive real plus/minus (DRPM), which is a players estimated on-court impact on team defensive performance, measured in points allowed per 100 defensive possessions. His 2.66 DRPM is a full point higher than the next point guard, Michael Carter-Williams (1.64 DPRM). In the 2013-14 season Wall had a lowly -0.44 DPRM. So while many analysts rave about his improved jump shot, his increased intensity on defense is the real reason that he should be considered one of the “elite” NBA point guards.

The problem with the Wizards is that John Wall cannot play all 48 minutes. Wall is averaging 35.7 minutes per game and his real plus/minus (RPM) during that time is plus-5.6. Meaning that the Wizards are 4.9 points better than their opponent when Wall is on the floor as opposed to 1.4 points worse per game when backup Andre Miller is on the court. Miller’s season decline has caused Randy Wittman to search for quick fixes, such as inserting Garrett Temple into the backup point guard role. And while Temple has a slightly better RPM than Miller (0.33), he does not pass the eye-test of a quality backup NBA point.

There is enough cause for concern regarding the backup point guard minutes that the Wizards should be doing their due diligence on a search for positional upgrade, but I would not necessarily call it a glaring position of need, especially considering the sparsity of free agent backup point guards. When names like Will Bynum and Sebastian Telfair are the most enticing names on the list, then it might be time to reevaluate just how badly the Wizards need backup point guard help.

If the Wizards were to swing for the fences with an affordable point guard option on the trade market, the name that comes to mind is New York’s Jose Calderon. Calderon is a smooth, 3-point-shooting guard who would immediately bolster the second unit offensively and can easily hide his defensive deficiencies with their surrounding talent. The only problem that arises is Calderon’s guaranteed salary of $7.7 million for the 2016-2017 season. If the salary cap really jumps to $90 million in the 2016-2017 season from the $68 million that it currently sits at, then this deal would not hurt a potential Durant signing. That said, there is a remote chance that the Knicks and Calderon could negotiate a buyout of the remainder of his contract.

The latest rumor (via David Aldridge): the Wizards “have turned their attention from Jameer Nelson to trying to pry Ramon Sessions from Kings.”

The Wings.

Grantland’s Zach Lowe is one of the main proponents for players toggling more than ever between positions on the floor and no position has less boundaries than the shooting guard and small forward position (wings). The Wizards wings have essentially been a roller coaster ride for this season. Bradley Beal missed the first nine games of the season with a fractured left wrist, and now is out nursing a stress reaction in his fibula. Beal’s availability hasn’t been the only inconsistency for him this season: his PER is down to 13.8 from 14.3 last season. While many basketball minds expected Beal to make a leap in his game from Year 2 to Year 3, he’s actually regressed in some ways. The Wizards are 9-3 without Beal on the season and have played with a little bit more fluidity and motion on offense in his absence; rather than sitting around, watching and waiting for him to fight through screens and shoot contested 2-point jumpers.

Paul Pierce’s numbers for the 2014-15 season (12 ppg, 45% FG, 37% 3FG) are actually comparable to the ones he put up last season in Brooklyn (13.5 ppg, 45% FG, 38% 3FG). This is the lowest usage rate of Pierce’s career at 20.6 percent, but a True Shooting Percentage of 58 percent proves that the old man still has plenty of gas left in the tank. Pierce has shown glimpses of the moxie and grit that have made “The Truth” moniker applicable over so many seasons.

Otto Porter has fluctuated in and out of the lineup all season and, at times, seems deserving of more playing time. Other times he seems lost and confused on the court. Martell Webster is a shade of the player that he was when the Wizards spent their mid-level exception money on him in the summer of 2013. The real hero of the Wizards wings has been Rasual Butler, the NBA journeyman, who had to earn his way on to the squad by winning a tough battle for the 15th and final roster spot. Butler has seen his December points per game averages of 11.6 (on 46% 3FG) drop off to 6.6 (on 32% 3FG) since the beginning of 2015. When Butler plays well, the Wizards usually win (Butler averages 10.1 points per game in wins), and he is sorely missed when the Wizards lose (6.9 points per game in losses).

With the uncertainty of Beal’s stress reaction, Porter’s failure to maintain a level of consistency, Webster’s non-existence, and Butler’s old man legs losing strength by the day, this Washington team is in dire need of wing help. Not the kind of turnstile defense that Ray Allen would provide, either. This team needs a bolt of energy, preferably from someone who has enough offensive skills to be a secondary ball handler and can create their own shot. The wing most linked to the Wizards in trade talks is Denver Nuggets guard Arron Afflalo. After getting two first round picks for Mozgov, the Nuggets are more than likely not going to let Afflalo go for less than a first round pick, and that price may be too steep for the Wizards. Another viable option that the Wizards should consider is potential buyout candidate Kevin Martin of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Martin is the type of one-season rental that could be a potential goldmine, especially in a season where he is averaging 20 points per game on 44 percent shooting from the field, 41 percent from 3-point range, and a whopping 50 percent on mid-range jumpers.

The real question regarding the wings with the trade deadline looming is: Are the Wizards willing to give up on Otto Porter’s future prospectus for potential dividends in the present?

The Bigs.

This is the group that provides the least amount of worry for the Wizards’ coaching staff. Washington is ranked third in the NBA in rebound margin, out-rebounding opponents by 3.5 boards per game. Marcin Gortat and Nene have solidified themselves as one of the best power forward-center combinations in the league … when healthy. Gortat has been scapegoated during the recent losing streak, but his stats are strikingly similar to last season, and Nene ranks in the top 10 of power forwards with an RPM of 3.41 in just 25 minutes per game. Backup big men Kris Humphries and Kevin Seraphin are both having above average seasons compared to their career numbers in points and rebounds per game. Drew Gooden continues to deliver when called upon, and with a salary of just $1.4 million, comes off as a steal. DeJuan Blair and his $2 million salary might be the weakest link of the front court unit, but hopefully he at least provides a high intensity level in practice. If there were a poll for current Wizards most likely to be moved by the trade deadline, Blair would win in a landslide.

This group of six is rock solid and does not necessarily need any additions. (Although, faint weaknesses lie in rim protection off the bench.) But, if there was an expendable asset on the roster, one of the backup bigs might be the best option. Seraphin is an unrestricted free agent this summer and it seems like a slim chance that the Wizards will have enough salary cap space to re-sign him. His $3.9 million base salary is not a lot of money, and he can definitely serve a purpose to a potential contender in need of big-man help. The thing the Wizards have to decide is if the opportunity cost of keeping a true center who averages seven points per game on 52 percent shooting from the field outweighs any potential trade yields.

The Solution.

Things are suspiciously quiet on the Wizards rumor mill front but they could certainly heat up at any second. After carefully doing an inventory of items cluttering the house during the winter, it seems unlikely that the Wizards will find their perfectly imperfect roster fixes on the free-agent market given the dearth of options available from overseas; the Wizards’ (inability to develop or) lack of patience for dealing with a D-League prospect; and the fact that all of the viable buy-out candidates so far have been big men (Amar’e Stoudemire and, potentially, Larry Sanders) which isn’t really a position of need. The most logical, and fruitful, solution might come from the trade market.

Expect Ernie Grunfeld to attempt to pull off a trade similar to last year’s deadline deal in which Andre Miller was acquired from the Denver Nuggets for Jan Veseley and Eric Maynor (and a second round pick as part of a three-team deal). Two pennies for a worn-out nickel. The Washington Post this morning reporting that Washington is making its 2015 first round pick available, which seems suspiciously impatient but perhaps wholly necessary.

The Wizards are probably destined for a minor, minimal-risk deal involving end-of-the-bench players, acquiring another run-of-the-mill (or has-been) veteran gearing it up for a last hurrah. Washington will attempt to use Febreze air freshener to mask a growing odor, but in reality, this team might need a clean sweep of the property managers.


Troy Haliburton on Twitter
Troy Haliburton
Troy Haliburton is a native Washingtonian, and graduate of Gonzaga College High School and Morehouse College. Bylines on bylines on bylines.

Will write for food.