How to Quickly Rebuild the Washington Wizards, Pt.2- Free Agency
While I have every intention of discussing the upcoming free agency period as promised, allow me to have a brief therapy session first.
I’m devastated that we got the #1 pick. Really.
At #2, there would be no choice but to take Evan Turner. Now, it seems there’s almost no choice but John Wall. If you read my last article, then you know I’m much higher on Turner for this team.
However, the more I look at Wall, the more I think I have underestimated his passing ability. He can probably compliment Arenas much better than I initially thought.
Also, the once-moribund trade market for Arenas has recently shown signs of life. There’s talk of an Arenas for Eddy Curry swap and I’ve always thought Wall would be a great fit for the Wizards and Gilbert.
Yet as much as I try to talk myself into it, I just can’t get excited about the prospect of drafting Wall. He’ll probably be fantastic, but I’ve just had my heart set on Turner. Is something wrong with me?
Let’s get to free agency before anyone has a chance to answer that. The Wizards will have about $23 million in salary cap space going into this off-season*.
Even so, they aren’t considered serious contenders to land the services of any of the top free agents this summer, so toss out your dreams of landing D-Wade, CB4, or Delonte West’s stepson.
New majority owner Ted Leonsis has been twice-burned by signing high profile players as part of quick-turnaround schemes (Jaromir Jagr with the Capitals and Michael Jordan as minority owner of the Wizards) and is on-record as saying that he will take his time to rebuild this team.
This has led to much speculation that the Wizards will save most of their cap space for next summer, when the other stud of the ’03 draft class, Carmelo Anthony, is expected to be available.
I believe the Wizards will indeed hold off on making a big free agent splash this summer, perhaps conserving most of their cap space even longer than 2011. There are still some value signings that can be made this summer to help improve the team and possibly set the table for a Carmelo homecoming next year.
To really make any moves this off-season without bursting that bubble, Gilbert Arenas has to be traded for 2011 expiring contracts. The Wizards barely have enough for a max free agent right now, and the expected re-signing of Shaun Livingston plus the salary scale for a #1 pick should leave the team with cap space more in the $15 million range.
The aforementioned Arenas for Curry deal would fit the bill nicely, as Curry has only one more year on his contract, at a price comparable to Gilbert.
See my last article for a more thorough discussion of who I expect the Wizards to retain and what their needs will be, but suffice to say that the biggest needs for the Wiz are a 2 or 3 who is a good perimeter defender and a starting center.
With that said, let’s take a look at a few smart targets for the Wizards this off-season. Keep in mind for the 2011 salary estimates that there is very little to base these guesses on before the first dominoes fall in free agency and set the market.
*Overlook the erroneous figures in my previous article, as these were based on the assumption that, since Josh Howard’s option has not officially been declined yet, the Washington Post’s reports of the Wiz having $23 million in cap space did not include his contract. Thanks to the folks at RealGM for pointing out this error.
John Salmons spits in the face of John Hollinger’s famous “Fluke Rule,” making John Salmons my new BFF. Salmons broke out offensively in 2008-09 at age 29 and continued to be a quality scorer this past season, but it’s his defense that interests me most.
Salmons is well-suited to handle speedy wings and can really fight through a screen, but has neglected that end of the court in recent years as he became more of a threat on offense. Should Gilbert Arenas be traded, his offensive production would be very useful (and an enjoyable “Eff you” to Hollinger), but the Wizards would need him to focus on being a stopper first.
With or without Gil, Salmons probably isn’t the absolute best acquisition the Wizards could make for several reasons. There has to be some question of whether he would make a return to years' past where he consistently dedicated himself on defense. At age 30, one also has to wonder if he can maintain his effectiveness long enough to be of use to a rebuilding team.
Lastly, despite being a relative bargain this past year at about $6 million, he will command significantly more money—I’d guess close to twice as much—given his newfound offense.
Allen is a much more reasonable acquisition than Salmons, even if he doesn’t cause as much distress for John Hollinger. The Oklahoma State product is two years younger than Salmons, shows more dedication to the defensive end, and should come far cheaper—not much higher than the $2.5 million he is currently making.
A poor shooter and ball-handler, he tends to be reckless on offense and his scoring is limited mainly to energy plays, but he has the athleticism and hustle to lock down opposing 2’s and 3’s. His offensive woes make him a dubious starter, but when it comes to providing perimeter defense, there are few better.
Hey, it’s a thin free agent class at center.
Among the star-studded Top 5 of the ’03 Draft, Darko Milicic is the red-headed stepchild, proof that Joe Dumars was mortal in a period where many seemed to think he could do no wrong.
Darko certainly hasn’t lived up to the billing of the second overall pick, but this has caused many to overlook his yeoman’s work on defense. While the incumbent JaVale McGee is a liability in long stretches due to his tendency to get thrown around mercilessly on the block, Darko can eat up plenty of minutes at center with his tough defense in the post, keeping McGee in the limited role where he will be most valuable.
Milicic also puts up solid numbers, averaging two blocks and nine rebounds last season respectively, per 40 minutes. He actually only averaged about 20 minutes a game last year with the lowly Timberwolves, but keep in mind he played behind the only real star on the team in Al Jefferson.
Sure, the Serbian Sensation (I just coined that) doesn’t bring a whole lot to the table offensively, but the Wizards need interior defense too badly to let that stop them, especially at an expected price tag at or under his ’09-’10 salary of $7.5 million.
I had to huff some serious paint thinner to be able to discuss Darko, so it’s nice to find a center in this class I can bring myself to talk about without being under the influence.
Although Tyson Chandler is limited offensively, he brings the kind of defense the Wizards need inside. Because of his thin frame, Chandler can’t deny position inside as well as Darko, but is able to make up for this with a wingspan that is gigantic even for his 7’1” height.
His stock has taken a hit in recent years thanks to injury problems, as well as a dip in his minutes as a result of being in Larry Brown’s doghouse at times this season. On the bright side, this should make him more affordable than his $11.7 million price tag this past season.
Signing him would constitute some risk on account of his injury history but, if he can stay healthy, Chandler will provide rugged defense in the post. Chandler is also very mobile for his size and possesses great defensive awareness, using his mobility well in rotations and pick-and-roll situations.
The fact that he fell out of favor with Larry Brown should give little pause on the 27 year-old Chandler, since Brown has a reputation as a diva who hates players under age 50.
Wizards fans may wax nostalgic with this suggestion, or they may vomit, but Brendan Haywood is certainly one of the best centers in this free agent class.
He’s not the greatest athlete, but he uses his strength and timing well on the defensive end to get blocks and boards, as well as defend in the post. He is also passable on offense thanks to his ability to extend possessions with his offensive rebounding, and has averaged close to ten points per game in several seasons.
This may make him the best offensive player/tallest midget of the three centers discussed here.
The concerns come in that the Wizards already gave it a go with Haywood and were never real contenders. Pegging his value in free agency is also very difficult. His $6 million salary this season was well below his value given the job he has done the last few years, but he had a very poor showing in the playoffs that may drive the price down.
Still, I could see some overzealous team making an over-sized offer that places him solidly outside what the Wizards want to spend.
While the centers on this list can all prove very helpful to the Wizards, it’s doubtful that any of them can anchor a championship-caliber team inside.
Salmons’ versatility and tendency to flip a bird in the face of John Hollinger seem outweighed by his age and expected price tag. The best acquisition on this list seems like it would have to be Tony Allen. He should be fairly cheap, young enough to be part of a rebuilding effort, and is already a proven defensive commodity on a championship-caliber team.
Now all we need to do is welcome John Wall with open arms and cross our fingers Carmelo doesn’t sign that extension.