Over the next couple of weeks, Basketball Insiders is grading all 30 NBA teams on their offseasons — additions, subtractions, draft picks, trades, etc — and their potential headed into the 2019-20 campaign. Between today and autumn, franchises will be tasked with figuring out how their roster pieces, both new and old, might mesh together on the floor.
For some, that will mean constructing a championship-worthy rotation, for others, however, that demands just creating a half-decent product. Unfortunately, in Washington, the outlook is cloudy and overcast already, casting doubt not only on the upcoming season but for future efforts as well.
Existing in basketball purgatory is a fickle fate, one that often befalls franchises despite their very best efforts to keep their heads bobbing above water. Within the Wizards’ organization, such a position has become an everyday reality, not a mere season-long pitstop.
Even worse, the merciful end is no closer than it was 365 days ago.
John Wall spent another year broken and hobbled — now out indefinitely — while the Dwight Howard Experiment, although no fault of his own, was an abject failure. Howard, who was supposed to help fill the Wizards’ big-time void at center, lasted just nine games before an ailing back knocked him down and out for the rest of the year. Wall, of course, would make it until Christmastime, injured his heel and then underwent season-ending surgery not long after. Later, it got even worse as Wall slipped at home and ruptured his left Achilles tendon.
As of July, there still no indication if he’ll be ready at all for 2019-20 — which would, more or less, stop any potentially bright Wizards outlooks right in their tracks. Without Wall, and given his insanely large contract, Washington is stuck as-is, toiling away sans hope or the ability to completely bottom out.
But beyond that, Bradley Beal continued his ascent to superstardom by dominating the Eastern Conference once again. Turning in another All-Star-worthy campaign, Beal embraced his no-debate role as the No. 1 playmaker in Washington, thriving and rising to the newest challenge. Beal averaged 25.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 2.5 three-pointers per game as the 26-year-old heroically tried to keep the Wizards alive in a weak postseason race.
Once Wall was shelved, Beal entered the trade deadline frenzied rumor mill — but owner Ted Leonsis shot that down unequivocably, a notion that appears to still be the case as of a few days ago. Next week, the Wizards can offer Beal an extension worth $111 million over three years — so, should he accept, the team’s future becomes much clearer. If not, expect those rumors to heat right back up ahead of training camps and the preseason.
Back in February, Washington acquired Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker, along with a 2023 second pick, from Chicago in exchange for Otto Porter Jr., a former cornerstone once thought to be the perfect third wheel to Wall and Beal. Following his trade to the Bulls, Porter Jr. averaged a career-best 17.5 points on 48.8 percent from three-point range. Then when free agency opened, the Wizards waved farewell to both as Portis signed with the New York Knicks and Parker inked a short-term deal with the Atlanta Hawks.
Eventually, the Wizards finished with a 32-50 record, a full nine games behind the final playoff seed and far away from owning any great lottery odds either. Or, in simpler terms: Purgatory, meet the Wizards. Washington, meet purgatory — you’re going to be great friends.
Naturally, a handful of those recent decisions had come without a permanent general manager as Leonsis fired Ernie Grunfeld, the longtime president of basketball operations, in April. Ahead of the draft and free agency, they attempted to lure in the Nuggets’ Tim Conley or the Raptors’ Masai Ujiri, but both stayed put in their slightly-less dysfunctional situations.
Just yesterday, the Wizards finally removed the interim tag from Tommy Sheppard — filling in for Grunfeld for the last three months — thus officially making him the full-time general manager.
With the No. 9 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, the Wizards scooped up Rui Hachimura, a former standout on a well-ranked Gonzaga squad. As a junior, Hachimura averaged 19.7 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, an understated breakout season that would push him up as high as the top five on many draft boards. Given Hachimura’s elite prospects as a perimeter defender, his type of ball-hawking, game-changing potential fits well next to Beal, regardless of what the rest of their floormates looks like.
Of note, the Wizards were able to pick up Admiral Schofield with an acquired second-rounder pick too, a highly-regarded, hard-working forward from Tennesse. If his portfolio with the Volunteers is any indication, he’ll be loved in D.C. before long at all.
To their credit, the Wizards attempted to wrestle back some control of the current predicament by hopping into several small-sided trades too. First, they dealt Howard to Memphis for C.J. Miles, another strong three-point shooter for head coach Scott Brooks to tinker with. Washington then re-signed Tomas Satoranksy, a formidable backup that improved with minutes once Wall got hurt, and then dealt him to the Bulls for future draft considerations.
Shrewdly, the Wizards were able to sneak into a trade involving the Nets’ sign-and-trade of DeMarre Carroll with San Antonio, ultimately coming away with forward Davis Bertans.
The biggest one, however, came with the Wizards scooting into the mega-Anthony Davis deal. The Los Angeles Lakers needed to clear extra cap space in hopes of acquiring both Davis and, at the time, Kawhi Leonard, so Washington gladly added Moritz Wagner, Isaac Bonga and Jemerrio Jones for practically nothing. For those forever down on the Wizards’ front office, it’s exactly the type of move the franchise needs to make during their quest towards relevancy once again.
Elsewhere, they re-signed Thomas Bryant — coming off an excellent second-year rise that brought 10.5 points and 6.3 rebounds over just 20.8 minutes per game — to a new deal worth three years and $25 million. To circumvent the Wall-less hole at point guard, Washington added Isaiah Thomas (one year, $2.3 million) and Ish Smith (two years, $12 million) — two savvy veterans with plenty to left to prove.
All in all, it wasn’t exactly pretty, but the Wizards — without a non-interim decision-maker to boot — have done well to reset some of their past mistakes.
PLAYERS IN: Isaiah Thomas, Ish Smith, Davis Bertans, C.J. Miles, Isaac Bonga, Mortiz Wagner, Jemerrio Jones, Rui Hachimura, Admiral Schofield
PLAYERS OUT: Bobby Portis, Jabari Parker, Jonathon Simmons, Jeff Green, Tomas Satoransky, Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza
Well, what’s next is probably a repeat of 2018-19 all over again, sadly: Beal showing out, Bryant continuing to grow and wondering what could’ve been with a healthy Wall on the floor — but this time with the pleasant bonus of Hachimura’s development. All things considered, Washington has improved from where they started the summer but playoff contention still feels like an unlikely ending to this tale
Unless the Wizards decide to move Beal — Miami is on the prowl, reportedly — then firmly stuck in the Eastern Conference purgatory they shall remain. If Beal goes, the wheels could fall off quickly — but that’s OK too! Ever so often, franchises have to be willing to hit rock bottom before any redemption is possible. For years and year, Leonsis hasn’t been able to convince himself to hit that bright red self-destruct button and the Wizards have been worse off for it.
This season, perhaps, it will happen and better days will finally ahead.
Still, don’t expect them to find a suitor for Wall — that extension may become the ghost that haunts them well and far into the 2020s.
Offseason Grade: C