Wizards Looking to Recover with Frenzy of Moves | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Wizards Looking to Recover with Frenzy of Moves

Updated: July 5, 2016


[Marie Reed Courts, Adams Morgan, Washington, D.C. — via instagram.com/truthaboutit]

The Washington Wizards jumped into that pool feet first to cool down from the 2016 NBA free agent fire. But plans don’t always survive past first contact with the enemy. Especially when plans are built upon the human nature of individuals’ desire to be courted, provided with the best working conditions, and paid. Recovery isn’t a bad thing, although it does suggest a return to a state of normalcy. With this franchise and this NBA environment, what is normal?

Kevin Durant didn’t even want to take a meeting with the Wizards (1), due to the team’s institutional failures or an extreme disdain for the pitfalls of playing at home—or both. (Or joining them if he can’t beat them, we might never know.) It was a “basketball decision.” Washington soon moved on to the long-presumed Plan B(b), Al Horford, after Nic Batum (who, for all intents and purposes and roster constructs, was Plan B(a)), decided to remain in Charlotte. And the Wizards were oh so close to adding an NBA All-Star to the mix.

Horford chose Boston instead. All-knowing reports from The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski and NBA.com’s David Aldridge teased with speculation of how close Washington was, as if doing a solid to a maligned front office while helping appease a malcontent fanbase.

A “wild finish,” it was described by Wojnarowski, who also tweeted about both Boston and Washington losing hope (and Horford returning to Atlanta) at 7:11 p.m. ET on Saturday just before Aldridge broke the news about Horford joining the Celtics at 7:15 p.m. Within an hour, the Wizards moved to the next step on their flow chart with paths much more complicated than ‘yes/no’ or ‘if/then’. At 8:13 p.m., The Vertical’s Shams Charania reported that Washington agreed to a deal with defensive big man Ian Mahinmi from the Pacers at four years and $64 million.

Around 14 hours later, on Sunday, the Wizards signed Andrew Nicholson, a 26-year-old stretchy 4 (and 19th overall pick in 2012), from the Magic for four years and $26 million. And about an hour after that, it was reported that Washington would send a future draft pick (second rounder in 2021) to the Jazz for backup point guard Trey Burke (a 23-year-old lottery pick from the 2013 draft). Washington capped Sunday with its fourth move in 20 hours. For three years and $9 million, 2012 Wizards second round draft pick (32) Tomas Satoransky agreed to pursue his NBA dream and leave FC Barcelona of the Spanish league.

It was swift, it was exacting, it at least stood firm against the winds of what—big picture—still will be called a disappointing summer in the absence of getting any of the three biggest targets. And there are still needs to address. The Wizards aren’t done, only 10 roster spots have been filled. But cap space, once plentiful, will be limited, so don’t expect Washington to add any big-dollar names (2).

Burke can’t be the only backup to John Wall. Washington should have learned a lesson from when Wall missed the first 33 games of 2012-13. (And while Wall was a warrior last year, playing in 77 games, his body paid a heavy price—the team’s lone All-Star had surgery in both knees after the season.) Burke had been a disappointment in Utah since being drafted 9th overall (six spots after Otto Porter), is undersized, and will be entering his fourth season playing the league’s most difficult position to learn. He’s a volume 3-point shooter (40% of his total shot attempts are 3s), an inconsistent shooter overall (career 38% from the field), and not exactly a shot creator (assists per 100 possession have decreased each year).

Satoransky has long played point for his teams in Europe, but at 6-foot-7, he could also fill a combo guard/wing role—a Manu Ginobili type. He’s supposedly a two-way player (he’s rangy but is he quick enough to guard NBA points?), and has really improved his 3-point shooting over the past two seasons in Spain (39% last season, 43.8% the season prior). Otherwise, the Wizards don’t know what Satoransky really is other than being untested. Washington could still use a guy who’s confident handling the ball and can pick up buckets off the bench (which is when Jarrett Jack’s name, recently released by Brooklyn, starts sounding … OK, despite him still recovering from a torn ACL suffered in January).

Nicholson is a nice stretch 4 option off the bench with the ability to shoot league average from anywhere on the floor, hit 3-pointers (36% last season), and rebound (slightly better total and defensive rebound rates than Nene and Kris Humphries). He’s also a 78 percent free throw shooter. A “flier,” tweeted ESPN.com’s Zach Lowe after the move, also saying that Nicholson needs to improve his motor and effort on defense. The Wizards still could use someone else who can really pitch in and get dirty down low.

But Mahinmi, your new defensive anchor, was the corner piece of this summer—he’ll be the third highest paid Wizard after Wall and Beal next season. This “signature move” was made after spending two years clearing cap space and fielding nine expiring contracts last season. Some will point to the latter as a pitfall of a playoff-less 2015-16.

It’s still tough to justify where the series of moves listed above would rank amongst several more ideal outcomes this offseason.

Narrowing the focus, it was a very fair deal for Mahinmi. You could argue that he was the best overall defensive big man available, particularly looking at sexy comparisons like Hassan Whiteside (Miami, 4 years, $98 million), Dwight Howard (Atlanta, 3 years, $70.5 million), and Bismack Biyombo (Orlando, 4 years, $70 million). Mahinmi ranked fourth in Defensive Real Plus-Minus amongst centers last season; Biyombo ranked 11th, Whiteside 13th, and Howard 35th (3). There’s sneaky value there for getting an soon to be 30-year-old veteran big man with a ring (Dallas, 2011) who is still in his prime.

But a fair deal for Mahinmi ignores context and the question at heart: Did the Wizards just sign a backup big man for that much? With Roy Hibbert out of the picture in Indiana, Mahinmi started in all 71 appearances for the Pacers last season but averaged just 25.6 minutes per game (after 17 minutes per game over three seasons as a backup with the Pacers). He had a career year when finally given a starting role; that’s a good sign. But how will he fit with Marcin Gortat (who’s averaged 30 minutes per game)?

Of course, Washington, with Gortat and Markieff Morris in the frontcourt, would have still had to figure out a rotation juggle had they added Horford to the mix—albeit one easier to solve with Horford’s 4/5 capability versus Mahinmi being strictly a 5. Still, it’s a better problem to figure out than not to have, as a defensive, shot-blocking big off the bench was priority No. 2 this offseason (at least according to this writer), and a priority from last season that was never really filled. A “lockdown defender on the wing or something” and a “big man that can protect this paint and block shots” were the top priorities for John Wall.

As the excruciating, Twitter-checking moments mounted leading up to and after 12:01 a.m. last Friday, July 1, the frantic question became: Did Ernie Grunfeld & Co. even have a plan after the #KD2DC build-up and let down? Yes they did, and this is it. Liking it is not presumed.

A heavier burden has been shifted on the drafted core of Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, and Kelly Oubre, plus first-round draft pick acquisitions Morris and Gortat. The other moves have been solid investments, and not throwing gobs of cash entirely to veterans on the downside of their career. Mahinmi is going on 30, Nicholson on 27, Satoransky on 25, and Burke on 24. With the exception of Burke, who has just one year, $3.4 million on his contract, the Wizards have added parts to the core for at least the next three seasons.

No, none of this comes close to opening the throttle for the Wizards to move into contention—in an NBA that now appears to be a two-team league, anyway. Signing Horford would have made contention viable after another year of building, perhaps, and the Wizards were close (so close) to adding a franchise-altering free agent for just the third time during Grunfeld’s tenure in Washington after Gilbert Arenas and Paul Pierce (more on that to come).

But the shock of Washington, once again, getting spurned by stars is not a more compelling reality than the core already in place. Last season’s disaster was certainly detrimental to efforts with Horford (and a particularly indictment of team brass if they lost the presentation game). And so, this franchise is in recovery mode. But the important players are in place, and this summer’s maneuvers have been solid if not inspiring.

Flexible and more well-rounded, if still in the middle of the pack, the Wizards are better equipped to pivot.

UPDATE: On Tuesday evening, the Wizards signed veteran Jason Smith to a three-year, $16 million contract, with the third year being reported as a player option. This curious move brings the current roster total to 11. Smith was drafted out of Colorado State 20th in 2007—one spot after Javaris Crittenton and four spots after Nick Young. He’s played eight NBA seasons (missing his sophomore season due to a knee injury) and has bounced around as a free agent (never been traded). The seven-footer has played for Philadelphia, New Orleans (Hornets and Pelicans), New York, and he spent last season in Orlando. Smith turned 30 years old this past March and has always been a floor-speading big—although he does’t shoot a ton of 3-pointers, he has been known to hit them (and maybe John Wall enlightens him further in this regard). Thing is, Smith isn’t a particularly strong rebounder for his size (think Otto Porter levels), nor is he a defender. He ranked 53rd in Defensive Real Plus-Minus amongst power forward last season, so somewhere between Dirk Nowitzki and Brandon Bass. Seems like a lot of money to commit to a third-stringer when, perhaps, such would be better spent mining for a gem. Then again, Smith shares an agent (Mark Bartelstein) with a slew of current and former Wizards, such as Bradley Beal, Alan Anderson, Jared Dudley, Ramon Sessions, Garrett Temple, and more. Verdict: Not really a fan of this signing.

  1. Wow. Kevin Durant really bolted to the Warriors, and it’s totally within his right, but considering all the things he’s said along the line, I’m quite surprised that he chose to join the team that he could not close out with a 3-1 lead in the playoffs. Seems like a risky choice, but Durant also seems like the type who will gladly excuse pressure from the table and who prefers to share the burden. And he’s getting the best chance of that with Golden State. Whether it makes the championship journey any easier or comforting remains to be seen.
  2. The space the Wizards have left will be contingent upon $4 million in non-guaranteed contracts still on the books for Drew Gooden ($3.5M) and Jarrell Eddie (just under $1M; when Beal’s max extension is signed; and what exceptions will be available, such as the non-taxpayer mid-level exception of $5.6 million.
  3. Also, with Howard firmly on the downside of his career and an unreliable teammate and player, the Wizards clearly got the better bargain. And Whiteside is an up-and-comer and amazing shot-blocker, but he’s less than three years younger than Mahinmi and can be as ignorant on team defense as JaVale McGee. Biyombo, at age 23, is a better deal for Orlando, and perhaps that happens because he’ll have more playing time there. In Washington, playing time opportunity for a big man was going to be cloudy.
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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 currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.