Washington Wizards a Dark-Horse Candidate to Make a Splash in NBA Free Agency

Michael NatelliCorrespondent IJune 22, 2014

Washington Wizards' Trevor Ariza (1) defends New York Knicks' Carmelo Anthony (7) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, April 4, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

News broke around lunchtime on Sunday that forward Carmelo Anthony will opt out of the final year of his contract with the New York Knicks to become a free agent this offseason. Anthony currently headlines the offseason's free-agent class that will also include the likes of Pau Gasol, Paul Pierce, Luol Deng, Lance Stephenson and potentially Miami's Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

Many of these stars (especially Anthony and James) have been linked to the likes of Miami, Houston, Chicago and Los Angeles. All four cities offer their own set of desirable perks and are rightly being mentioned in the conversation. But one team that's been unwisely ignored in the discussion is the Washington Wizards.

The Wizards are coming off a season in which they finished fourth in the Eastern Conference with a 44-38 record, making the playoffs for the first time since 2008. The team's rebuilding efforts finally came full circle, and Washington was arguably two or three big shots away from making it to the Eastern Conference Finals.

While the Wizards didn't have nearly as much pure star power as Conference foes such as the Heat and Pacers, they found success in boasting one of the most well-rounded rosters in the league. John Wall's ability to attack the basket and Bradley Beal's ability to stretch a defense made the Wizards' backcourt one of the most dangerous combinations in basketball, while no single player in the starting lineup proved to be a significant liability on defense. 

Fast forward to now, and the team is set to have roughly $20 million in cap space this offseason with the contracts of Trevor Ariza, Marcin Gortat and others coming off the books. While the team seems to be making re-signing Gortat its top priority, there's certainly some cash to play with.

The Wizards shouldn't be considered favorites to land an Anthony or a James (if he becomes a free agent), but they should at least be on basketball fans' radars as a dark-horse candidate. Putting one of those two on a roster that already has Wall, Beal and (to a lesser extent) Nene would make them able to go toe-to-toe with any roster in the league, and certainly the Eastern Conference. 

Without Ariza and potentially Gortat, the Wizards do lose some of the balance that let them thrive in 2013-14. But if they were to spend on an Anthony or James instead of re-signing Gortat, bringing in defensively sound rotation players like DeJuan Blair and Matt Bonner to pair with Nene up front would still give the Wizards arguably the best starting five in the East.

Again, Washington is obviously no favorite to make a splash this offseason, but between the talent on their roster and their $20 million in cap space, they'd certainly make a logical suitor for one of this offseason's top-tier, free-agent forwards.