The Wizards Are Hard Capped — What Now? | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

The Wizards Are Hard Capped — What Now?

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Updated: July 14, 2015

[Ernie Grunfeld, Ted Leonsis, and the Hard Capped Wizards]

[Ernie Grunfeld, Ted Leonsis, and the Hard Capped Wizards]

The Washington Wizards may currently have a full boat with a roster of 15, but by some indications they are not done maneuvering this summer. First, let’s take a gander at the current depth chart:

1 – John Wall, Ramon Sessions, Garrett Temple
2 – Bradley Beal, Gary Neal, Martell Webster
3 – Otto Porter, Alan Anderson, Kelly Oubre
4 – Jared Dudley, Kris Humphries, Drew Gooden, DeJuan Blair
5 – Marcin Gortat, Nene

Solid squad, much improved depth from last season, mostly dependent on the growth of John Wall and Bradley Beal (and Otto Porter).

Now… This depth chart does not necessarily reflect a pecking order, nor the ability of some players to play multiple positions. In an ideal world—one that team management overtly strives for—Nene, if on Washington’s roster next season, is the backup 5 behind Marcin Gortat. (1)

“It’s a copycat league,” said Randy Wittman, referencing Golden State’s style of play when joining the NBA TV broadcast during Washington’s second summer league game on Sunday. “I think you’re going to see a lot more smaller lineups this next year,” the coach continued, indicating that the roster moves Washington has made this offseason gives them the “affordability” to play that way. A similar sentiment arose for the Wizards’ camp at the conclusion of last season. And regarding his pairing with Nene, Marcin Gortat recently expressed this to the media from his youth basketball camp in Poland: “We’re the same kind of players. We tried to play alongside each other, but it got more and more cumbersome over time. The teams also figured out a way to play against us.”

The writing is on the wall and hopefully Nene is reading it, but this isn’t to say Nene won’t potentially start next season at the 4 spot. Nor does the above depth chart mean you should pencil in Jared Dudley as the starting stretch-4 (he’ll likely come off the bench, a role he’s better suited for). Still, counting 1-thru-15, you can easily see a roster imbalance. Too many 4s that aren’t really stretch-4s (aside from the soon-to-be 34-years-old Drew Gooden), and not enough rim protection off the bench—now one of Washington’s highest priorities. Nene will very likely be the primary backup big who sometimes plays alongside Gortat, but the Wizards cannot rely on Nene’s health for an entire season—starting or subbing. They must find some insurance.

The salary total for the 15 players currently on the roster estimates to be just over $81.1 million (give or take a couple details), but that doesn’t account for cap holds, such as those for Kevin Seraphin ($7.4 million), Rasual Butler ($947,276), and Will Bynum ($947,276). (2)

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As the numbers were crunched leading up to July 9 (the end of the NBA’s moratorium on making player movement official), the league announced that the salary cap for 2015-16 would be set at $70 million. This was about $3 million higher than expected, and thus the formulaic luxury tax threshold was set at $84.7 million.

The Washington Wizards, being above the salary cap but below the luxury tax line “apron”—more on that to come—had a couple exceptions at their disposal with which to pay new players.

  • Part of the non-taxpayer mid-level exception (MLE) of $5.5 million was used on Alan Anderson ($4 million, one season). The MLE can be split up amongst multiple players; the Wizards have just over $1.4 million of the MLE left.
  • The bi-annual exception (BAE) of just over $2.1 million was given to Gary Neal (for one season). Per the league’s collective bargaining agreement, teams are allowed to use the BAE every two years—the Wizards last used it to sign Eric Maynor for two seasons at just over $4.1 million in 2013.
  • Only part of the trade exception the Wizards received from Sacramento in the Andre Miller-Ramon Sessions deal was used to acquire Jared Dudley in a trade from Milwaukee. The Wizards have a trade exception of $2.2 million left.

Back to that “apron.” The apron is set at $4 million above the $84.7 million luxury tax line (so, $88.7 million for 2015-16) and was introduced as hard cap of sorts in 2011. Teams above the apron do not have access to exceptions such as the non-taxpayer MLE and the BAE. But, if a team is below the apron and uses one or more of those exceptions, or if the team executes a sign-and-trade, they are hard capped until the following June 30 (2016).

The Wizards, exhausting two of the three of the aforementioned options, are now one of those hard capped teams, joining Memphis, New Orleans, and Charlotte, according to Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42), a former front office executive with the Nets turned NBA salary guru on Twitter. Being hard capped, these teams cannot exceed the $88.7 million apron under any circumstance. The Wizards are further restricted with salary slots currently committed to 15 players.

Essentially, to better balance their roster, or to simply increase flexibility (Ernie Grunfeld has traditionally preferred to leave one, if not two, roster spots open for what may happen both leading up to and during the season), the Wizards must waive players with non-guaranteed salary, waive players with guaranteed salary using the stretch provision, trade down in salary, or make another cost-cutting move in order to add anyone else to the team. They would ideally like to create as much room as possible below the $88.7 million apron. That said, the Wizards aren’t necessarily trying to get to the apron (and be a luxury tax payer), but with the cap and tax going up next season, they shouldn’t be shy about it.

Washington, for instance, is not beyond wanting to bring back Kevin Seraphin (at the right price—safe to say the Wizards would rather have Seraphin than DeJuan Blair), but would have to maneuver just to sign him for the veteran’s minimum. Per reports, Seraphin was not interested in a minimum offer from Dallas. He and his agent, Rich Paul (who also represents LeBron James), are probably looking for the best situation in which Seraphin can thrive and find playing time while getting paid in the realm of market value (whatever that is) for one season. After that, Seraphin could test a more open and flexible market next summer.

What it means for Washington: by deductive reasoning, DeJuan Blair, Martell Webster, and Garrett Temple are candidates to be moved or maneuvered. Blair is the oddest man out. Signed as “Nene insurance” last season, Blair at the time appeared to be a nice addition of depth (and an appeasing acquisition of the second rounder that Washington missed out on in 2009). But as it turns out, Blair is no longer effective in the new NBA—not tall enough to be 5, not lateral enough to be a 4, not even the best attitude in the locker room. Blair is signed for $2 million this season and a non-guaranteed $2 million next season.

Webster just isn’t the same player anymore—back surgery, hernia surgery, and the detritus of assorted what-not. Even if he were able to rekindle his shooting stroke, his defense (which was never great in the first place) might never get back to adequate levels. He is on the books for $5.6 million in 2015-16 and a not-fully-guaranteed $5.8 million in 2016-17. Team owner Ted Leonsis did curiously give Webster a vote of confidence in a recent blog post discussing Washington’s offseason moves.

Temple is the coachable, lovable utility infielder; a spot defender; and great locker room guy whose toolbox is chock full of intangibles. The problem is that if the Wizards are looking for a certain type of depth and flexibility, Temple is simply taking up a roster spot. It would be different if Temple were a more versatile offensive player. (3) Right now, Temple is more necessary than either Blair or Webster, as he’s part of a triumvirate of combo guards—along with Ramon Session and Gary Neal—who can play point behind John Wall or be on the court next to Wall.

It’s hard to tell where the balance lies for the Wizards: the desire for a better option (in the backcourt or frontcourt), versus the security and reliability of a solid journeyman who’s played 178 regular season games with the franchise. Moving either Webster or Blair is also not as simple as it sounds.

What’s more clear is that the Wizards still have some tweaks to make this summer. At least it should be clear. Too much work and words have been put into proclaiming a change in the style of play going forward. If the team is serious about acting, they need to climb all the steps to back it up.


References:


Footnotes:

  1. There’s at least a 90 percent chance that Nene finishes the year left on his contract in Washington. He’s too talented to simply jettison via salary dump, and with the cap expected to drastically rise next season with a new television deal, using assets to trade for an expiring contract is not as attractive of an option for other teams as it once was. Things could change before the February 2016 trade deadline if a scheduled luxury tax payer is out of the playoffs. The luxury tax isn’t calculated until the last day of the regular season.
  2. Some additional specifics on Wizards player salaries can be found at truthaboutit.net/salary.
  3. Temple’s 37.5 percent mark from 3-point land in 2014-15 was a career-high. He shot 38.3 percent from deep before the All Star break, but that dropped to 35.7 percent after the break when he only played 10 games due to injury and other factors, such as the trade for Ramon Sessions.
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Kyle Weidie
Founder / Editor / Reporter / Writer at TAI
Kyle founded TAI in 2007 and has been weaving in and out the world of Wizards ever since, ducking WittmanFaces, jumping over G-Wiz, and avoiding stints on the DNP-Conditioning list. He has covered the Washington pro basketball team as a member of the media since 2009. Kyle lives in D.C. with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.