Biggest Needs for Washington Wizards During 2014 Offseason
Indy wiped out the not-quite-ready Wizards in six games, sending the upstarts home with plenty to think about.
Washington should savor its 2013-14 season, considering it marked the first campaign in seven years in which it finished with a winning record. And the first-round series victory over the Chicago Bulls stands as a milestone in the Wizards' underwhelming recent history.
But these Wizards can't rest on their modest laurels for long. They've got work to do.
Key free agents are likely to command big offers, the head coach and general manager are both on the final season of their respective deals and there's a looming question about the potential of Washington's promising backcourt.
The Wizards haven't been playoff regulars in recent years, but they'd like to be in the future.
First, they'll have to address a handful of pressing offseason concerns.
Find John Wall's Jumper
John Wall added an improved three-point shot to his game this past season, hitting 35.1 percent of his attempts from long distance after never breaking the modest 30 percent barrier in any previous year.
His overall field-goal percentage took a mild dip, though, which resulted in a a true shooting percentage that was only a fraction better than the one he posted in 2012-13. And there was a bigger problem: Wall didn't trust his retooled jumper when his team needed it most.
We saw him pass up open shots throughout the postseason, with the most glaring example being the wing triple he kept holstered with just under a minute to go in Game 4 against the Pacers.
"I was screaming at him to shoot it," Al Harrington said, per Mike Prada of SB Nation. "But he saw something else—Bradley [Beal]—open on the other side."
Nobody's suggesting Wall needs to force shots. He's a point guard, after all, and finding teammates is a key part of his job.
But he can't continue to shoot 43 percent from the field, which he did this past season. And he can't continue to question his jumper when he's open, even if he only connected on a shade under 40 percent in the playoffs. If he does either of those things in the future, he won't find it nearly so easy to get into the lane or exploit the pick-and-roll.
The Pacers simply didn't play him honestly in their conference semifinal series, and no team will as long as Wall remains streaky and/or hesitant as a shooter.
Without a reliable jumper, Wall is a very good player. He took big strides in some of the nuanced areas of point guard play this year, managing pace more effectively and showing impressive court vision—particularly in hunting down corner threes for his teammates.
But with a steady perimeter stroke, he can be great.
He knows what he has to do this summer.
Retain or Replace Trevor Ariza
Maybe it's cynical to attribute Trevor Ariza's terrific season to the fact that he was playing in a contract year. Perhaps he simply found a situation and playing style that allowed him to maximize his considerable abilities.
There's a case to be made for either side, but I'm glad I'm not the one who has to decide where Ariza's motivations came from.
The Wizards are the ones who'll have to deal with that thorny issue.
Deciding what to do with Ariza, an unrestricted free agent who could command upwards of $10 million per year on the open market, is going to be brutally tough. Washington must determine whether Ariza's career-best three-point shooting mark of 40.7 percent is sustainable, and it also has to decide whether the younger Wizards on the roster can get by without his veteran leadership.
At just 28 years old, Ariza has a handful of prime seasons left. But having played for six teams in nine seasons is something of a red flag, if only because his more recent travels have come about precisely because the Houston Rockets overpaid him in 2009.
The Wizards don't want to be the next team to make that mistake.
There are just so many variables here, including the ramifications of using up valuable cap space that could be spent on someone like hometown kid Kevin Durant in the summer of 2016.
If Ariza's production this year was real—and not the product of a contract-year money grab—the Wizards should do all they can to retain him. But doing so at the right price will be difficult.
Before making an offer, expect Washington to gauge rookie Otto Porter's potential and also turn its eyes toward the open market for cheaper replacements. Paul Pierce, Vince Carter and Shawn Marion—all unrestricted free agents this summer—could replicate Ariza's mixture of defense and leadership. And you'd have to think they'd come cheaper than $8-10 million per year.
This is all a long way of saying: Have fun with this one, Wizards.
Figure out How Much Marcin Gortat Is Worth
Marcin Gortat is also a free agent this summer, and the Wizards may be forced to choose between him and Ariza.
B/R's D.J. Foster explains:
As far as team needs go, it's hard to say whether Washington needs Ariza or Gortat more. From a positional standpoint, Gortat is more important, as solid big men don't grow on trees. When you factor in Nene's health and contract, the Wizards simply can't afford not to have a dependable big on the roster, and that's exactly what Gortat is.
Washington could have more than $20 million in cap space if it buys out the unguaranteed portion of Andre Miller's deal and declines to make qualifying offers to Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin, so there's a conceivable scenario in which Gortat and Ariza both come back.
But if the Wizards want to retain any flexibility at all, they should focus on re-signing Gortat at a reasonable figure while letting Ariza go.
Wings are easier to replace than skilled bigs who impact the game on both ends. That's an oversimplification, but it's true.
Gortat's worth, though, is far less simple to determine.
He collected $7.7 million this season, and Mike Harris of The Washington Times thinks he might command double that amount this summer.
Andrew Bogut is a better defender but a worse offensive player, and he signed a three-year, $36 million deal this season. And Nene also has two more years at $13 million apiece left on his deal. It's not crazy to assume Gortat could get an offer for that kind of money on the open market.
The Polish big man means so much to Washington because he's proved himself capable of working in tandem with another big man or as the lone interior force when the Wizards go small. He's well liked in the locker room and highly competitive on the floor, which is something that can only help with the growth of the Wizards' young roster.
Is that worth $13 million (or more) per year to Washington? I guess we'll find out.
Pursue a New Head Coach
Before anyone cites the fact that Randy Wittman led the Wizards to the second round of the playoffs as evidence he should keep his job, let's consider the trend of impatience developing across the league.
Mark Jackson just got canned after winning 51 games in a much tougher conference. Mike Brown lost his position with the Cleveland Cavaliers, despite having a million years and a zillion dollars (rough estimates) left on his deal. The axe fell on George Karl after a 57-win campaign with the Denver Nuggets in 2012-13.
It's hard out there for a coach—even a good one or one with lots of time left on his contract.
And his contract expires this summer.
This is about more than a career of futility and the lack of official contract security, though. This is about the Wizards seizing an opportunity to find the coach who can take them to the next level.
Karl, Jackson, Lionel Hollins and Alvin Gentry (to name just a few) have all had more success and enjoy more respect around the league than Wittman. And they're all available.
Washington would be crazy not to at least talk to some of the viable candidates on the market. And if it decides Wittman is the best man for the job after all, it can simply sign him to a new deal whenever the other options are exhausted.
It's not like any other team is going to be beating down Wittman's door with a big offer.
The Wizards can afford to take their time on this one.
Make a Decision on Ernie Grunfeld
To say Ernie Grunfeld's tenure as the Wizards general manager has been a mixed bag is to put it kindly. Too kindly, perhaps.
It’s easy to praise him for the trades that brought Nene, Martin Gortat, Trevor Ariza and Andre Miller to D.C. Another brilliant move was finding Drew Gooden on the couch, when other general managers apparently were asleep on theirs.
But that doesn’t cancel the list of draft whiffs and bad contracts. We can’t erase those mistakes from the ledger or claim everything balances out now. My colleague Thom Loverro rightfully calls Grunfeld an “arsonist fireman,” the one who gets credit for extinguishing blazes he ignited.
First of all, "arsonist fireman" needs to immediately become the default label for guys like Grunfeld. Heads up, David Griffin of the Cleveland Cavaliers; you're next.
Secondly, it's unassailably true that Grunfeld has caused more problems than he's solved.
The Gilbert Arenas debacle. The Jan Vesely selection. Putting Andray Blatche and Nick Young on the same roster, for crying out loud.
You could argue Grunfeld has learned from his mistakes and that this Wizards team is proof he's evolving. Or you could assign the whole thing to luck and admit he stumbled into this position after years of flailing around blindly.
Whatever the case, owner Ted Leonsis needs to have a serious conversation about Grunfeld's future—especially since his contract, like Wittman's, is up. And he'll have to do it soon enough to allow a potential new hire enough time to tackle all of the issues we've already highlighted.
Whoever ends up in charge will have a very busy summer ahead.
Entrust the Franchise to the Backcourt
The decision here is critical because it'll inform all of the others facing the Wizards.
If Washington thinks the Beal-Wall combo is destined for shared superstardom, it should retain its core by paying market value for Ariza and Gortat. Putting faith in their young guards will mean the Wizards won't get a crack at Durant in 2016 and won't make any meaningful additions this summer.
That's fine if they believe Wall and Beal can get markedly better in the coming years.
But if Washington has any doubt at all about its young guards, it will have to tread very carefully in all of its other offseason endeavors. It might work harder to preserve its flexibility, and it might look more carefully at coaches who could coax more out of the dynamic pair.
Wall and Beal showed us a few things in the Wizards' playoff run, and the fact that Washington has already invested a max deal in Wall is a pretty good indication of how it feels about his potential.
We'll find out this summer if the Wizards are committed to building around Wall and Beal, or if they think the current core isn't quite up to snuff.
More than anything else, the Wizards must get this one right.