- The Washington Wizards are in chaos, with their chemistry clearly too bad to go forward as is.
- Should the team trade John Wall? What about Bradley Beal and Otto Porter?
- Regardless of where the Wizards end up, one thing is clear: The status quo won't cut it.
Two weeks ago, it looked like the Washington Wizards had turned everything around. After starting the season a disastrous 2-9, they had rattled off three consecutive victories.
And then they remembered they were the Wizards and they can’t have nice things.
They had a contentious practice. John Wall cursed out his coach (and later apologized). Bradley Beal pointed to management and said how sick he was of things “and it starts at the top.”
So, yeah … things are not great.
The Wizards’ downfall isn’t particularly sad. The players, after the inevitable trades happen and the team is scattered to the four winds, will not look back fondly on this era. They will not regret missed opportunities.
It’ll just be a chapter that was there and then … over. They’ll speak fondly of the fans and the organization for a sense of professionalism, and that’s it. The best that Bradley Beal and John Wall ever reached was being fine with one another while their games never meshed.
That, in and of itself, is disappointing, the fact that they won’t feel sad about what could have been.
This team blew a chance to catch the Pacers in 2014. They should have beaten the Hawks in 2015, had John Wall not suffered a serious wrist injury (which, it should be noted, he played through). They should have beaten the Wizards in 2017; Markieff Morris’ ankle injury flipped Game 1 and Kelly Olynyk’s career zenith won Game 7.
The Wizards should have made at least one, if not two, Eastern Conference Finals over the past four years.
But they have never learned to love one another, to love this team, to want to go to battle. The team was too good to bust up, the chemistry too bad to go forward.
So now it’s clear changes will be made. There have been adamant reports that Scott Brooks is safe, and honestly, that’s a smart move by ownership.
Firing him would be blaming the building manager for the structure’s foundations being unsound. Blame the architect. (That’s Ernie Grunfeld, who has had a number of bad decisions work out pretty well and a number of good ones work out poorly.)
There’s the situation. We can talk about the fallout or we can talk about what happens next.
IN THE INTERIM: A BETTING INTERLUDE
But first I have to share this. The Wizards are 0-4 against the spread this season when they’re getting at least a 10 percent higher percentage of money than bets. Meanwhile, they’re 6-3 ATS when the opposite is true and bets outweigh their money share percentage by at least 10 percentage points.
So basically, the sharps continue to invest in the Wizards righting the ship and it continues to burn them, and the public continues to crush them and it’s working.
This goes hand in hand with the idea that the Wizards should be better and they just simply aren’t. Nothing more acutely reflects the failures of Washington than this.
Also, fade the sharps on Washington until the firesale happens.
SHOULD THE WIZARDS TRADE WALL? PLUS, POSSIBLE DEALS
This is the tough one. Wall makes $38 million next year. He tops out at $47 million in 2022-23.
That’s … a lot.
It’s important to remember that the cap rises as these salaries do. The cap jumps to $109 million with a luxury tax cap of $132 million in 2019-20. That differential is not huge, but as we approach 2022-23, provided the league’s revenues keep growing, that contract should get more tolerable.
If the cap were to go down … oh boy.
Regardless of where it ends up, this deal will be somewhere above 30 percent of the cap for an aging John Wall. That’s difficult.
Wall is having a horrible season. He showed up out of shape. After the two knee surgeries that provided a career reset for him in 2016-17, he needed another one last year and hasn’t ever gotten right.
He’s also just been more selfish this year. His assists are at a career-low level of 10.8 per 100 possessions, for a point guard who is best at being a distributor. His potential assists, per NBA.com, are down as well.
I wrote about some of this when I broke down the reasons Otto Porter wasn’t to blame for the Wiz’s woes. Wall’s worst instincts are winning out, and it shows in the metrics.
The Wizards have a significantly better net rating (by 5.5 points per 100 possessions) when Bradley Beal is on the floor than when he’s on the bench, even if they’re still losing badly when he’s on-court. The Wizards are only slightly better (1.3 points per 100 possessions) with Wall on the floor in net rating. That’s alarming.
That said, you’re still getting 21-7, even if his 3-point percentage has again fallen below 33%. Wall is still fast as hell and still a great distributor. A healthy, engaged, optimized Wall is still incredibly valuable.
There’s are legit questions to be asked about whether you can win at the highest levels with a point guard who can’t shoot, but much of that depends on if Wall is the best player or not.
Which is at the core of the conundrum. Wall as the second-best player on a title team is probably ideal, but he has the contract and superstar status of a No. 1.
What team offers a combination to manage that?
Some options in quick-hit format:
Los Angeles Lakers: This isn’t just because John Wall is a client of Klutch Sports, the agency that reps LeBron James. The Lakers have surrounded James with athletic defensive playmakers, and Wall fits that model.
They want to play uptempo, which Wall is great at, but a style Washington has never implemented. He’s ball-dominant, but that could help LeBron adjust as years go on.
Wall is best with a lob-finishing big-man, JaVale McGee and Tyson Chandler fit that bill.
The problem is two-fold. First, it requires essentially believing that Lonzo Ball isn’t the future, and that’s a third-rail conversation I don’t want to touch right now. Second, the deal can’t be completed until Dec. 15 because the Lakers don’t have enough salary to give back.
Lakers fans would also likely riot because of the belief they can acquire a better star this summer. However, assuming Jimmy Butler re-signs with the Sixers, which seems unlikely, you’re looking at Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, or … Khris Middleton?
That’s a lot of eggs to throw in the KD and Kawhi basket, but those players are also way more valuable and worth saving for.
Miami Heat: This works. It’s plug-and-play. Miami sends Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow so the Wizards get a solid starter and an upside pick, you probably send a draft pick, and you trade Ian Mahinmi’s albatross deal for Hassan Whiteside’s expiring.
Miami gets a superstar, the Wizards get badly needed cap relief, and Miami gets its season injected with life.
Miami may want to chase the free agency whims, but this actually reduces payroll by $9 million, and to chase a second star, they’d need to make multiple moves anyway.
For the Wizards, if Dragic and Whiteside opt in for a combined $46 million — yeesh, Miami — then it’d tie them to a frustrating player in Hassan Whiteside and an underwhelming player in Dragic for another year.
But the summer of 2020 suddenly opens up with a world of possibility.
Making such a move would give them the opportunity to add another star alongside Beal going into his last year.
If the Wizards ended up striking out in free agency, they’d be in a position to deal Beal that summer going into the last year of his deal for a full rebuild. It at least gives you options.
WHAT ABOUT TRADING BRADLEY BEAL?
This is not advisable.
Beal, honestly, is the Wizards’ best player despite his 26% shooting from deep to start the season. Beal has the most trade value of any player on the roster, and he’s also the easiest player to build around.
A standard replacement-level starting point guard and a great big man give you a team that can compete in the East with Beal at the helm.
Some examples why commonly discussed trade options are inadvisable for the Wizards:
Utah Jazz: Utah would conceivably then move Donovan Mitchell to point, giving them two top-level scores in the backcourt with Gobert.
Dante Exum and Alec Burks provide capable backcourt players with some upside, and there would be picks included. But Burks is probably best suited as a bench scorer and Exum’s injury history is fraught, to say the least.
Is a plus-20 pick and two players that swing between above and below replacement level enough for Beal?
Los Angeles Lakers: A very popular idea in whisperings. This deal couldn’t be completed until later because, again, the Lakers have to wait for the guys they signed this summer to be sent to make the money work. Ingram, Kuzma, KCP and a pick?
If Beal goes to management and demands a trade? Sure. But there’s not a lot of reason to think Ingram will approach Beal’s level, and a fair amount of reason to suspect his brash intensity could be problematic with Wall.
Trading off both Beal and Wall as part of part of a complete rebuild might look better. Alone it looks like dealing your best player to get worse.
HOW ABOUT TRADING OTTO PORTER?
This is the second-easiest path to the change-something-and-hope strategy behind firing Scott Brooks. Pinning the issues on Porter, as I’ve written before, is flawed.
But it gets a big contract off the books and maybe the replacement vibes with Beal and Wall better. It’s important to note that any such move probably needs to be followed by dealing Markieff Morris.
Porter and Kelly Oubre Jr. have a net rating of plus-1.2 per 100 possessions without Morris on the floor. That smallball unit helps.
It’s not enough to fix all the myriad disastrous issues the Wizards find themselves with, but dealing Porter and moving Morris into a more prominent role might be a two-steps-forward, one-step-back situation.
New Orleans Pelicans: Otto Porter for Nikola Mirotic and E’Twaun Moore works under cap restraints. Moore has been brilliant for the Pelicans but now might be the time to sell high.
This would give the Wizards a small 3 option who can shoot, while Mirotic moves into the starting lineup as a floor spacer.
Mirotic is always feast or famine; he shot 39% in October and so far is shooting 29 percent in November. He typically has one brilliant shooting month to boost his numbers and then is about average the rest of the time.
The playoffs did show his defensive ceiling, though, and it goes a long way.
Sacramento Kings: Things get really interesting if the Kings are actually competitive. A prospective deal with Bogdan Bogdanovic is debatably a benefit for the Kings, but there’s a little more upside with Porter.
If the Kings were willing to take on Ian Mahinmi for Porter, they could drop off Kosta Koufos and Zach Randolph as expiring contracts.
If Kings fans were to cry out that they would rather have Bogdanovic than Porter, I get it, it makes sense, especially given Porter’s huge contract.
Honestly, if the Kings are going to get aggressive, they should go the whole way and go after Beal. Would the Kings want to deal Buddy Hield? And if so, does that really change anything for the Wizards?
A ROCK AND A HARD CAP
So the issue is pretty clear, here. The Wizards have to enact radical change, but doing so either means …
- Taking a complete bath on a John Wall deal to mitigate the incoming cost of his max contract (which he absolutely earned)
- Trading their best player in Bradley Beal and leaving them with a ruined shell of a franchise
- Trading Porter for a small return and not really changing much about their situation
- A firesale
That last part is the most interesting concept, but the hardest for ownership to sign off on, and the hardest to pull off. Moving Beal for maximum return, dealing Wall and living with the lowered return, and dealing Porter to clear the decks gets them an entirely new team.
Honestly, the best approach might be to take a look at the Clippers. Their reconfiguration was boosted by Chris Paul’s free agency departure, but they also made the decision to move on Blake Griffin and let DeAndre Jordan walk while moving Austin Rivers. They reconfigured their entire team.
Switching out a star-studded team that hates each other for a group of competent players who can function would at least give the Wizards a breath of fresh air in a weak East.
The first step is admitting this era’s done, and making the requisite changes.
Finally, there is one other option: You just keep plugging. The Wizards need a five-game winning streak to get back to .500, which would net them a share of eighth with the Celtics.
That’s how low the bar is right now.
The issue is the Wizards have to recognize that just being competent isn’t enough if the underlying structures are completely unsustainable.
The demon is out of the box. The Wizards have to face the reality that this team just doesn’t work.