Washington Wizards’ Top 5 Internal Free Agency Decisions
The Wizards’ season has come to a close, at the hands of the Indiana Pacers. All in all, Washington had a pretty good year. Forty-four wins in the regular season, a first-round series win, and a couple of victories against a pretty good Pacers’ team.
Like every team, Washington has the opportunity to shape the roster in a quest for improvement. The organization should be optimistic, but can’t rest at this plateau. The Eastern Conference is wide open after the LeBron James-led Heat and the Pacers.
General manager Ernie Grunfeld has some level of pressure to make the right moves in free agency. The Wizards don’t have a first-round pick this year (sent to Phoenix in October, when the team acquired Marcin Gortat). The team doesn’t pick until overall #46 in the second round.
Grunfeld has some internal decisions to make regarding the roster. Several key players are free agents:
C Gortat, SF Trevor Ariza, PF/C Kevin Seraphin, PF Trevor Booker, F Chris Singleton, SG Garrett Temple, PF Al Harrington, PF Drew Gooden.
Currently, Washington has seven players under contract for 2014-15: PF Nene, PG John Wall, SF/SG Martell Webster, PG Andre Miller, SG Bradley Beal, SF Otto Porter, SF Glen Rice. Those seven players total $46,500,242. That leaves $11,178,758 from the present cap.
Current salary cap (as of the 2013-14 season) – $58, 679, 000. One source projects the 2014-15 salary cap to be $63.2M. Take away the $46M-plus already obligated, and $16.699,758 is the remainder.
The following is my rack-and-stack opinion on who should be the team’s top five free agent targets. Of course, an unforeseen injury or a surprise acquisition can make any/all of these opinions moot.
1. MARCIN GORTAT – In the regular season, the center was tied for 9th in defensive rebounds (565); 9th in total rebounds (767); 9th in blocked shots (121); 11th in field goal percentage (.542); 15th in rebounds per game (9.5); and 18th in defensive win shares (4.0). He had a solid year, especially with the revolving door of post players at his side. Gortat and Nene make a good combination at the power positions, since each can function offensively on the low block or from the high post. Nene is physically stronger and a bit more consistent with the 15-foot jumper, but Gortat is more nimble around the rim. Gortat showed competence scoring with either hand, and was a willing/able passer this season. Defensively, Gortat is a willing rim protector, and is maybe a notch below the Dwight Howards and Marc Gasols among post defenders. Washington must re-sign him.
2. SMALL FORWARD – Ariza had a nice year, ranking 14th in the Association with 180 three-pointers made. He and Gortat made $7,727,280 each this season. Can the team find similar or better production for that near that cost? One list has Cleveland’s Luol Deng as the highest-rated unrestricted free agent small forward on the market. Deng made $14,312,125 this season. With SF Otto Porter still on the roster (and not yet proven as an NBA contributor), does Washington bring in a higher-priced player at that same position? Or, would the team prefer keeping a depth chart of Ariza/Webster/Porter at that position. My opinion is, if the team were to let any free agents go, Ariza may be the “easiest” player to replace. Rudy Gay ($17.8M, player option) and Paul Pierce ($15.3M, unrestricted) are possible options. It may be “easier” to replace Ariza from a “known player” perspective, but possibly more expensive as well.
3. DREW GOODEN – signed to a 10-day contract mid-season, the former lottery pick power forward gave Washington a lift. His outside shooting was a mild surprise, and he was a willing rebounder on the second unit. Gooden and Miller immediately strengthened the bench, and became calming influences for the team. He was only paid $246, 972 for roughly half a season. He could fill a valuable role off the bench, but not break the bank. A one-year deal might be prudent. If he can stay healthy/productive, maybe a multi-year deal would be well-deserved. Gooden’s only 32,
4. AL HARRINGTON – after missing most of the season, Harrington showed a lot of savvy when he finally took the floor. The 34-year-old isn’t going to out-jump opponents any more, but he can hit a mid-range shot, even go out to three-point range, and battle for rebounds. He and Gooden complimented each other well on the second unit. Neither one will close down the lane defensively, but each still has offensive skill to share. Harrington made $1,399,507 this season. Would he accept a slight raise and a similar role in 2014-15?
5. GARRETT TEMPLE – this choice may be a surprise to some. Before Miller’s acquisition, Temple filled in as Wall’s backup at point guard. When Beal had lower leg stress reaction issues, Temple held his own at shooting guard. He can even defend some small forwards. No, he probably won’t be in the 8-to-9 man rotation next season. But, he was by all indications a great teammate to have around. His versatility could be a help next year.
For the other free agents listed above (Seraphin, Booker, Singleton), all contributed to the team’s success this season. Each man had moments that had a direct impact on
the team winning a particular game or holding things together as the team weathered various injuries during the first half of the season. In no way does this post suggest that any of these players aren’t deserving of being re-signed by Washington or signed by another team.
One challenge for the three – since each is still rather young, do they even want to sit behind other/older players in the Wizards’ playing rotation? Do they want to take a chance by signing with another team for more pay, but perhaps less team success? Do any of these sign with a “better” team at the risk of even less playing time? For these players and their agents, this dilemma will be contemplated through most of the off-season.
There is one more speculative long-term issue in play – what about Kevin Durant? He’ll be a free agent after the 2015-16 season, a season where
he’ll earn $20,158,622. He’s from the D.C. area. Oh, by the way, Washington will only have three players under contract when Durant’s deal expires. Wall ($15.8M), Webster ($5.8M) and Porter ($5.9M team option). Washington would have two years to work out scenarios where the proper teammates would be considered & acquired. In the Association, two years is a long time.
There is no evidence that Durant is considering such a move. However, a Durant/Wall combination would be very good. If Washington re-signed Beal as well, the team would have a set of wings/guards that would be the envy of the Association.
As the Wizards look back with some level of satisfaction at this season, the team must also acknowledge that there is still room for improvement. Holdover players need to take that next level of consistent excellence. Whichever free agents the team signs need to come in and seamlessly fit into the team’s goal of moving up the Eastern Conference hierarchy. This will be an interesting off-season for the Washington Wizards, to see how the moves fit into team goals.
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