What's Next For The Washington Wizards? A TAI Roundtable | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

What’s Next For The Washington Wizards? A TAI Roundtable

Updated: May 11, 2018

Now that the sting of the Washington Wizards’ first round exit has dissipated and the anger at the revelation of another Ernie Grunfeld secret extension has given way to numbness, it is time to look forward to next season. The Wizards enter a pivotal summer with way too many roster holes and way too little cap space or flexibility to plug them.

But they still have to try. The NBA calendar waits for no team and the draft lottery, combine, individual team workouts, and the draft itself are on the horizon. As Washington’s front office scrambles to assess and address the team’s needs, several TAI colleagues put fingers to keyboards to answer three burning questions about what’s next for the Washington Wizards.

1. What is the team’s biggest need(s) this off-season?

Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace): A time machine to July 7, 2016. Short of that, the Wizards need a new starting center. This is not to say that Marcin Gortat is the team’s biggest problem. Far from it. But they cannot enter Year 4 with the same exact starting lineup and Gortat is the most replaceable cog in that five-man unit. His minutes per game already dropped precipitously to 25.3. This has to be the year that John Wall’s plea for an athletic big man is finally answered.

Bryan Frantz (@BFrantz202): Even assuming a new GM is off the table, the Wizards’ list of needs is still expansive. A slew of wings who can shoot, ideally athletic wings who can also play some measure of defense, probably tops the list. Another ballhandler off the bench who can create his own shot would also be beneficial, but not a one-year veteran signing who will steal Sato’s minutes without the benefit of long-term growth. I want to say a youngish, athletic big man, but considering the money already tied up in old, unathletic big men, I’m not sure how likely that is.

Rashad Mobley (@rashad20): This horse has been beaten, killed, revived and beat again, but the most significant change that needs to happen is Ernie Grunfeld’s dismissal from the Team President role. He’s done good things, he’s done some questionable things, and now 16 years later, the Wizards are once again at the crossroads without so much as an Eastern Conference Finals appearance to show for it. The Wizards should look for some new front office minds, which would inevitably lead to a new head coach (that’s not a huge need, but it is definitely on the list of needs given Scott Brooks’s questionable substitution patterns–more on that later). That alone might be enough to lure a free agent of significance. But who are we kidding, that simply will not happen so…

John Wall was correct: an athletic big man who is adept at scoring, defending, and not bellyaching is definitely needed. The Wizards still need a shooter, too, since Jodie Meeks was relatively ineffective even before his drug suspension. It would be nice if this shooter could also defend, but if not, marksman-like shooting will suffice. An Oubre/Satoransky second-unit could benefit from spacing and some scoring punch, and an effective shooter would provide just that.

Lastly, the Wizards–mainly Scott Brooks–needs to have confidence in Satoransky. The Ty Lawson experiment surely put a bit of a dent in Sato’s confidence, after the yeoman effort he put in during John Wall’s regular season absence did the exact opposite. Yes, he needs to work on his ball-handling and his outside shooting, but that is not enough to prevent Brooks from anointing him as THE backup point guard.

Troy Haliburton (@TroyHalibur): The Wizards biggest need is an athletic big man, as John Wall stated in his exit interview. An athletic big man would help the Wizards by 1) giving them someone who is capable of properly defending a pick-and-roll and protecting the rim on defense, and 2) unlocking above-the-rim play on the offensive end.

After that, it would probably behoove the Wizards to get anther 3-and-D wing to go along with Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre. The way that the NBA landscape is transitioning to position-less basketball, the teams which have the most success are the ones that have multiple players who are capable of doing multiple things. Wing players are the most diverse, if not complete, athletes because they must shoot and defend on the perimeter while also being able to rebound and defend in the post. Another player with that skill set would help the Wizards tremendously.

2. Give one (or more) realistic off-season moves that the Wizards can make.

Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace): Remember, I said “realistic.” We would all like to trade Otto Porter for Kawhi Leonard. On the periphery, a guy like Ersan Ilyasova is attainable. He hustles, rebounds, can hit 3s and play center in a small ball lineup. If LeBron leaves Cleveland, then maybe try Jason Smith and a non-guaranteed contract for Kyle Korver (Wizards would take on an extra year of $7M salary). If you are so inclined, adding Kelly Oubre for Larry Nance, Jr. works too.

Speaking of Kelly Oubre…he is entering a contract year and the Wizards have to make a decision on him relatively quickly. If they are not willing to go deeper into the luxury tax to retain him, then he becomes a somewhat valuable trade chip. If Oubre is moved, Luc Mbah a Moute is a low-key free agent target who could provide substantially better defense and the same 3-point shooting percentages. Of course, that would leave the Wizards will an even bigger energy/youth deficit than they have now.

The other thing Washington could do is actually use their first round pick to select a player who can help right away. That’s easier said than done, but grabbing a rotation player on a rookie deal–especially if it’s a center like Jarret Allen–would solve a lot of the Wizards problems.

Bryan Frantz (@BFrantz202): Sell on Beal or Porter and pick up a young borderline star in exchange. This isn’t exactly apples to apples, but last year we saw the Pacers deal Paul George for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis and the Bulls deal Jimmy Butler for Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn. Neither of those returns seemed like all that much initially, but the Pacers turned Oladipo into what he was hoped to be coming out of college–and the Pacers didn’t have much leverage in trade talks due to George 1) being a pending free agent and 2) saying he wanted out. I’ve previously thrown out names like Gary Harris, Jarret Allen, Julius Randle, and Andre Drummond. This is the only reasonable way to create flexibility and possibly inject some life into the roster without dealing away more picks.

Rashad Mobley (@rashad20): Michael Wilbon was asked this question about the Raptors on PTI the day after they were swept out of the playoffs by LeBron James  the Cavaliers, and his answer then applies to the Wizards now. The Wizards have to make wish-lists that start with big catches, not bargain deals. The big catches will be Kawhi Leonard and Boogie Cousins, but there are other free agents like Will Barton, Derrick Favors, Brook Lopez, or even an Avery Bradley who could possibly help this team. Once the Wizards establish a wish-list, they then have to assess what they could get for Gortat and maybe even Oubre. Owner Ted Leonsis has romanticized this notion of how well the Wizards have built the team via draft, and he bandies about Otto Porter’s name as proof. But of the three players on max deals, Porter is the most expendable, and there may be a non-playoff team willing to take his bloated salary as part of a rebuild. But that starts with Leonsis and Grunfeld being open to letting him go, and that feels highly unlikely.

Troy Haliburton (@TroyHalibur): The most realistic off-season move is to trade Otto Porter for a disgruntled superstar (Kawhi Leonard) or to just move him to get some cap space to try and sign a more desired third superstar (Paul George, Boogie Cousins, or *gasp* LeBron James). I’m not making the argument that Otto Porter hasn’t been worth the money they paid him last summer or that he can’t improve as a player going forward, but it is clear that the Wizards as an organization will never truly value Otto Porter for what he really is as a basketball player. If he will continue to be marginalized by Scott Brooks, who fails to draw up enough plays to keep him involved anyway, or John Wall and Bradley Beal, who constantly treat him as an ancillary option instead of an equal, then he will never reach his full potential with the Wizards.

3. With the emergence of Philadelphia and Indiana in the playoffs, Brad Stevens working miracles in Boston, Giannis’s continued development in Milwaukee and the prospect of LeBron staying in the East, is the Wizards’ window already closed or is 50 wins and a conference finals appearance still possible for this core?

Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace): If you count the core as Wall, Beal, Porter, Markieff, Gortat and Oubre as the 6th man off the bench, then yes the window is closed. There simply isn’t enough cap space available to build a bench that can lift that group to contender status. As it stands, Ernie Grunfeld will be shopping in the bargain bin as usual in July and there are a whole lot more Gary Neals and Marcus Thortons than there are Mike Scotts. Besides, Washington’s problem isn’t necessarily talent. It’s something much more sinister than that. It’s complacency. The Wizards need a shakeup. It does not have to be a rebuild or a fire sale. But the guys at the top of the roster need to start feeling uncomfortable. They have been given every opportunity to fix their inconsistency and have made perfectly clear that they can’t do it. It’s time to let a new starting five try.

Bryan Frantz (@BFrantz202): I believe the window has closed for this iteration of the Wizards–if there ever really was a window–but given the recent history of stars switching teams, it’s hard to say what the East will realistically look like in a year or two. A significant Embiid or Simmons injury throws the Sixers into chaos (also, what is Markelle Fultz going to be?), maybe Hayward and Irving clash or there’s not enough to go around for all the Celtics wings and Irving (I know, I’m grasping on this), maybe LeBron goes west, maybe the Raptors blow it up, etc.

And again, if the Wizards pull a trade that sends Beal out and brings back somebody who thrives alongside Wall, maybe it gives the roster a new dynamic. Nobody expected the Pacers and Jazz to recover from their star exodus the way they did. With the status of DeMarcus Cousins, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and others (hey, LeBron) all in serious limbo this off-season, it’s impossible to say (almost) any team does or does not have a window. But stars aren’t exactly fighting to dedicate their primes to a team built by Ernie Grunfeld. Especially when the team’s biggest star publicly and repeatedly puts the onus on the front office.

Rashad Mobley (@rashad20): If the same Wizards team that petered out in the second round of this year’s playoffs returns at the start of the 2018-19 season, they will get to the playoffs, they will get no higher than a 3-seed, and they will lose to Boston or Philadelphia in the second round–aka insanity. So, yes, the window is closed. But with a strategic free agent signing here, a promising draft pick there, and a willingness to be creative with limited options and money, the Wizards could be a contender. Toronto did it before LeBron sent them reeling again. Houston did it this past off-season, and the Wizards need to do the same to pry that window back open.

But again, I just wrote all of these lovely words of optimism, promise and whimsy, and the first move the Wizards made in the off-season was to “announce” that the architect of the team–Mr. Ernie Grunfeld–will be reprising his endless role of Team President.  In the words of Jerry McGuire, that’s NOT what inspires people.

Troy Haliburton (@TroyHalibur): The Wizards window is most definitely not closed. If anything, this season has taught this franchise that the best way to succeed in the playoffs is by taking the regular season seriously. Washington was a victim of its own procrastination. They tried to coast through the regular season in hopes of turning it on when the playoffs started and in return dug themselves a hole they were never capable of getting out of. Washington’s dynamic backcourt has shown they can succeed in the playoffs, sometimes, and with more favorable matchups could even put themselves in a position of advancing to the conference finals, just as Ted Leonsis’s beloved Washington Capitals have done.
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Adam Rubin
Reporter / Writer at TAI
Adam grew up in the D.C. area and has been a Washington Bullets fan for over 25 years. He will not refer to the franchise as anything other than the Bullets unless required to do so by Truth About It editorial standards. Adam spent many nights at the Capital Centre in the ‘90s where he witnessed such things as Michael Jordan’s “LaBradford Smith game,” the inexcusable under-usage of Gheorghe Muresan’s unstoppable post moves, and the basketball stylings of Ledell Eackles.