That's the problem.
More pointedly, it's Bradley Beal and John Wall's problem.
This was a move they had to make if retaining Gortat was a top priority. Other teams were showing interest, and the Wizards risked losing him if they weren't prepared to invest.
Yet this isn't an investment in Gortat alone. That the Wizards feel comfortable sinking $60 million into The Polish Hammer attests to their confidence in Beal and Wall, their capacity to improve and the hope that internal development is enough for lateral movements to qualify as progress.
Additional help is not on the way in Washington.
Signing Gortat restricts the Wizards financially both now and for the next few years. Their biggest move will consist of re-signing Trevor Ariza, who remains undecided on his future, according to The Washington Post's Brandon Parker.
Keeping Ariza will cost a pretty penny. He's drawing interest from multiple teams and is pacing himself toward a lucrative payday, per CBS Sports' Ken Berger:
Re-signing him will be the extent of the Wizards' moves. If he signs elsewhere, Gortat's contract will be the only significant free-agent transaction. There will be a move here and a move there, but nothing that shakes the foundation of Washington's core. Money will be too tight.
And it's only going to get tighter.
Wall caused quite the stir in February when he told The Washington Post's Michael Lee he already started (sort of) pitching Kevin Durant on playing for the Wizards in 2016, when he's slated to become a free agent.
“I throw a little slick shots here and there,” he said. “Try something.”
Summer 2016 once seemed like the perfect time for the Wizards to try something. Nene's contract would be coming off the books, and Wall's $15.8 million salary was the only guaranteed pact on their ledger at that time leading into this offseason.
Gortat's new deal complicates an already misleading situation. Even if it declines in value as the years wear on, the Wizards are still looking at an annual eight-figure financial commitment. The final year of his contract—2018-19—stands to be the only exception.
That's the best-case scenario, too. Gortat could demand, as Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal calls it, an "escalating" contract that only increases in value. The best Washington can realistically hope for is a straight $12 million commitment every year.
Then, when summer 2016 rolls around, the Wizards will have $27.8 million committed to Wall and Gortat. But, at that point, you have to factor in Beal's inevitable extension. He'll be eligible for a new deal after this season—one that pays him eight figures annually, no doubt.
Two summers from now, the Wizards could feasibly have $50 million or more devoted to Gortat, Wall, Beal and Ariza (assuming he returns). Their immediate cap situation is more dire, as Fromal explains:
However, this isn't just about the man who won MVP a couple months back. It's about any marquee free agent; Durant is just a convenient example because of his area ties and the relentless speculation in D.C. about his future arrival.
Next offseason, the Wizards are going to be on the books for at least $57 million, and that's before Trevor Ariza is re-signed or replaced by a deal that's sure to last more than just the 2014-15 season. They won't be adding anyone of significance then, and we've already gone over the financial difficulties one summer later.
Point being, the core Washington has now is the one it plans on moving forward with. There can be no free-agency coups, no max contracts handed to outside free agents and targeted superstars for the foreseeable future.
This is the same core that finished fifth in the Eastern Conference, mind you. And though the Wizards' 2013-14 campaign was a pleasant experience, they're expected to make breakthroughs from here on.
Fifth-place finishes won't be enough. Second-round exoduses will be deemed failures. The Wizards need to build off last season within an Eastern Conference that gets a little deeper if Derrick Rose stays healthy, the Charlotte Hornets and Atlanta Hawks continue their upward trends and the Miami Heat's Big Three remain intact.
Pushing that bill of improvement comes down to Beal and Wall.
Gortat has peaked. Big men on the wrong side of 30 don't lift their stock; they enter gradual declines.
Ariza is in the same situation if he comes back. He's in his prime at 29. It's not going to get any better than this.
There is only Beal and Wall, with—if the Wizards are lucky—a little bit of Otto Porter sprinkled in. They're the ones who need to improve so that the Wizards can improve.
|The Beal and Wall of 2013-14|
|PPG||FG%||3P%||REB||AST||STL||Off. Rtg.||Def. Rtg.||PER|
Both players had fantastic 2013-14 campaigns. En route to his first All-Star selection, Wall joined Stephen Curry and Chris Paul as the only three players to average at least 19 points, eight assists, four rebounds and 1.5 steals per game for the entire year. Beal, meanwhile, joined Curry, Carmelo Anthony, Arron Afflalo and Goran Dragic as the only players to tally at least 17 points, three rebounds and three assists while shooting better than 40 percent from deep.
It was, again, a magnificent year for Washington's backcourt—one the two are expected to build upon, like Parker says:
The consensus around the NBA is that the Wizards, with Beal and Wall manning their backcourt, are [on] the verge of something big. And with health on their side and the Wizards working to bring back the complementary tools during this summer’s free-agency period, Beal is confident that the disappointment of these past playoffs will lead to a resounding return to the postseason for both him and Wall.
Here's the thing: What kind of improvement are we talking about?
Not marginal improvement, that's for sure.
Despite Wall and Beal combining for more than 36 points per game, the Wizards ranked 17th in offensive efficiency, an unacceptable placement for a team piloted by two guards known for their scoring.
Remaining efficient has been an issue for both players. Wall's 43.3 percent clip from the floor is middling at best. He strengthened his perimeter game a great deal—career-high 35.1 percent conversion rate from deep—but he only shot 34.8 percent between five and 24 feet, according to NBA.com.
Most of his shot attempts—58.4 percent—came within that 15-29 foot range; he buried just 36.2 percent of them.
Teams are going to let Wall shoot. For his part, he must get to the point where his jumper is no longer developing or intermittently charming. Shooting needs to become a more reliable part of his game.
Beal is in the same boat. While he was lights out from deep, he needs to be more prudent in his shot selection.
More than 64 percent of his attempts came between 10 and 24 feet, yet he connected on just 38.2 percent. That needs to change.
Elite offenses need efficient scorers. Neither Beal nor Wall are ideal defenders, but the Wizards—who ranked eighth in defensive efficiency—have the personnel necessary to cover up their deficiencies.
Polishing the team's offense must be their primary responsibility.
All About the Big Two
The Wizards have reset the bar. No one is penciling them in as a perennial lottery contender these days. Fans are hoping they're on the brink of contention, on the cusp of something even more special.
And the players are right there with them
"Hopefully, we can get further next year than we did this year," Beal told SLAM's Abe Schwadron in June. "We know, we've got to use this as a stepping stone for us. The Eastern Conference Finals is a goal we're going to have moving into next season."
Going from a second-round team in an incredibly feeble Eastern Conference to a championship contender playing against slightly better competition rarely entails remaining the same. The Wizards—barring eventual salary dumps of epic proportions—are trying to be an exception.
Signing Gortat—and potentially re-signing Ariza—helps them maintain the status quo. It ensures that, at the very least, they're still relevant next season.
Beyond that, they're betting on Wall going from All-Star to megastar and Beal becoming a superstar.
They're betting that more of the same is enough because Beal and Wall will be different.
They're betting that Beal and Wall—not future plasticity or lottery picks—are the assets who will elevate their status amid self-foisted inflexibility.
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