NBA Free Agency 2011: 10 Bold Predictions for the Washington Wizards This Summer
When Ted Leonsis bought the team last year he changed the way the Wizards purport to do business. He would build around young talent, not shell out big bucks for aging stars. We will see this summer how rigid those guidelines are.
Here are 10 bold predictions on how the Wizards will approach free agency.
How bold? You be the judge.
Prediction 1: Yi Jianlian Won't Be Back
Yi is fairly popular in Washington, and he's got a global audience that the franchise has parlayed into endorsement deals both abroad and in the stadium's Chinatown neighborhood.
None of those things, however, will translate into him being retained this offseason.
His Qualifying Offer is over $6 million per season—quite a price for a role player and considering his often disputed age and inconsistent play. This means he'll be a free agent, and while the Wizards may make a low offer to retain the veteran, it's highly likely he won't be back with the team.
Yi has a unique skill set, and his cultural draw certainly gives him additional value. I would certainly be happy to retain him, since his stock isn't particularly high around the league, but not for more than a couple million a year on a short term deal.
Prediction 2: Nick Young Takes His Talents Elsewhere
When Young got dislodged from the bench after the Gilbert Arenas trade, he showed flashes of what he can be in the league: a high volume scorer with range and elite athleticism. Despite being 25, this was really the first season he got consistent playing time with the starting unit.
It was a welcome development for the Wizards, but it will make retaining his services more difficult.
Many teams around the league are looking for guys like NY, who have great size (6'7" 210), can average 20 points a game and shoot efficiently from all over the floor. I would be quite surprised if he didn't elicit an offer in the three years, $15 million range from another franchise. That's a considerable raise from his $3.6 Qualifying Offer.
But Young's skill shooting the ball has to be balanced with the rest of his game. He's not a great defender nor is he considered particularly "tough," two things the Wizards are supposedly looking to instill in the team. He also doesn't do much other than score, evidenced in his low assist and rebound rates per 40 minutes. The rebounding one is particularly disconcerting, given the size and athletic advantage he has on a nightly basis.
The Wizards will make him an offer, but I don't see Young settling for anything under $5 million a season. The emergence of Jordan Crawford has made retaining him less of a priority, but that doesn't mean they won't try.
Prediction 3: Othyus Jeffers (Finally) Gets a Yearly Contract
"O" had an eye opening audition for the Wizards at the tail end of the 2010-11 season. The 25-year-old D-League star, who previously had stints with the Jazz and the Spurs (both organizations known for their scouting acuity), brought defensive toughness and an athleticism to the team. He even helped the Wiz to some of their biggest wins of the season.
I wrote here that he reminded me a lot of Tony Allen, and his rocky road to the NBA leads me to believe he can still add some pieces to his game. He's a great fit for a young team, and seems mature beyond his years. I think he's a Ted Leonsis type of guy.
The Wizards would be remiss to pick up his one-year team option at $1 million, given his relative youth and upside. He'll need to work on his jump shot, and is a bit undersized at the wing positions, but the investment could be well worth it.
Prediction 4: Maurice Evans Walks
Mo Evan's contract expires this offseason, and in all likelihood the Wizards will lose another veteran from the team. Evan's provided some things the Wizards needed on the court—shooting and defense, namely—but most importantly was a mature and calming influence on the other players.
Personally, I'd like to see the team bring Mo back another season to help teach the young guys how to make a living in the league. And, at less than $2 million a season, he probably could be brought back on the cheap.
However, it's clear with his involvement as Vice President of the Players Association it will be a difficult summer to embark on contract discussions, and I don't expect Evans to be a priority.
Prediction 5: Hamady N'Diaye's Option Is Picked Up
N'Diaye is a defensive specialist with good size at the center position. He won't score any points outside of junk shots, but he plays one of the few positions where teams have come to terms with that sad reality.
At under $1 million a year it's not a huge expenditure, so the Wizards will probably roll the dice on developing the young big. He played all four years at Rutgers so he also doesn't have the upside of some other D-Leaguers, but he can hold his own on defense for a couple stretches a game.
Hopefully N'Diaye will get some additional burn in the D-League, or at best become the third-string center on next year's squad.
Prediction 6: Mustafa Shakur's Option Is Declined
Shakur has an option for about $1 million next season. He played fairly well for the Wizards after the trades involving point guard options Gilbert Arenas and Kirk Hinrich.
But the team will probably let him walk and bring someone in through the draft to back up the guard positions—and save a bit of money (N'Diaye's second round salary is about half of Shakur's team option).
Shakur may find his way onto another team, but will always have a place in the D-League as a solid ball handler and game manager.
Prediction 7: They Won't Shell-out the Dough
After all the maneuvering to rid the roster of the monstrous contracts of Gilbert Arenas, Antwan Jamison and Caron Butler, it would be a step backward to commit a lot of money to free agents this offseason.
Bigger name guys who could help the Wizards, like Marc Gasol, Tyson Chandler, Tayshaun Prince and Nene Hilario, should not expect offers from the team. Each should get a long-term contract above $8 million a season in free agency.
For those Wiz fans who hoped for a swift return to the playoffs next season, I apologize. The team has committed to building internally, and that probably means avoiding adding big contracts to the mix—at least until the details of the new CBA are known.
Prediction 8: Veterans at a Discount
So far, I've predicted the following depth chart for the Wizards:
|Point Guard||John Wall|
|Shooting Guard||Jordan Crawford||Othyus Jeffers |
|Small Forward||Rashard Lewis||Trevor Booker|
|Power Forward||Andray Blatche||Kevin Seraphin|
|Center||JaVale McGee||Hamady N'Diaye|
That leaves up to six roster spots to fill in free agency and the draft. They have needs across the board, so to some extent they can swing for the fences with these offers.
Two guys I would consider are Josh Howard and Michael Redd.
Howard didn't play almost at all this season, yet cashed a check from the Wizards for $3 million. He can afford to give them a similar if not more deep discount this next season.
Redd has not suited up, well...in a while for Milwaukee, despite being one of the 20 highest paid players in the league. He is an incredible shooter, and will undoubtedly take almost any contract offer to prove he's got something left in the tank. If the Miami Heat decide they don't want to get even older, the Wizards might grab a mentor for Jamal Crawford on the cheap.
Prediction 9: Players Going into Their 2nd Contract
The Wizards have around $40 million locked up in their roster going into next season. That gives them a bit of money to fill out the roster when factoring in the likely salaries of their draft picks (about $5 million), and assuming a similar cap figure in the 2011-12 CBA.
While they would be happy to bring Nick Young back, it will take $4-5 million to do so. Not out of the question, but as previously mentioned he may get more in free agency.
So what kind of guys could they afford to make a run at? Here are a couple guys who have un-guaranteed contracts, team options or qualifying offers on their deals, and are potentially in play for the Wizards:
Thaddeus Young ($4 million QO, Philly will try to extend)
Greg Oden ($8.8 million option, Portland will decline)
Ian Mahimi ($950k option)
Each of the players is young, has upside and is affordable, meaning the long-term financial impact would be negligible. I see Young and Oden taking two to three year deals in the $10-18 million range, depending on league negotiations.
Prediction 10: They Fill Out Their Roster through the Draft
The 'Zards already have three picks in the top 35 of the draft and will look to have those guys on their opening night roster.
They'll be trying to address the forward positions with two of those picks—Derrick Williams, Enes Kanter or Terrence Jones with their early first rounder, and ond one of the Morris twins or Kenneth Faried with Atlanta's pick from the Jordan Crawford heist.
The early second rounder is also intriguing—the team should take a hard look at Josh Selby, a guy who was considered by many to be the best high school prospect in the country last year. I've made some other suggestions here.
I wouldn't be surprised to see the Wiz do a bit of draft day finagling, including corralling additional picks in the second round. By the end of it, they'll almost certainly have three prospects on the team, and at a considerable savings over signing veteran free agents.
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