And just like that, it’s over. No more electrifying John Wall darting down the court after snatching a rebound in midair. No more Bradley Beal stopping on a dime in transition and delivering a corner three point make. No more Nene in the high post. No more Gortat rolling in the lane and laying the ball up from 10 feet out. No more Trevor Ariza double digit three point games.
The Wizards season is over. The Indiana Pacers ended one of the most successful seasons that the Washington Wizards have seen since the franchise changed it’s name in the 90’s. The Wizards’ 44-38 record was the second best record that they’ve seen since becoming Wizards. They actually won two games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. To most organizations, these things may not seem like much. But we’ve got to remember, Gilbert Arenas’ finger guns were just about four years ago. Nick Young, Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee were supposed to be apart of the core of this team’s future. Wizards fans can find a lot to be positive about just by looking at the past.
As the Wizards matriculate into the first season of John Wall’s max extension, they’re faced with many questions about the team’s future. Although the team had a great run this season, it could look drastically different come next year. Two of their key pieces in Trevor Ariza and Marcin Gortat are going to be free agents this offseason. Grantland’s Zach Lowe expects them to command a possible figure somewhere around $20 million.
That figure isn’t as damning as it sounds. The salary cap is jumping a full $5 million up to $63 million next season and the tax threshold is going to be about $77 million. That gives the Wizards more than enough room to compensate for both Gortat and Ariza with bird rights. Then they’ll have the full mid level exception to add another possible piece to help them move forward.
But those two are key in moving forward if the Wizards want to get back to where they were this season. Sure, they’re both probably on the downside of their careers–Gortat is going to be 30 and Ariza will be 29. But the Wizards starting lineup was one of the best in the league this season. They had a net rating of 10.5 this year and if their bench was any better throughout the season they’d likely be a 50 win team. Gortat and Ariza had a lot to do with that.
Gortat emerged as a solid two-way big who learned how to play conservatively and defend in the Wizards’ system. Ariza became a 3-and-D guy–a hot commodity in today’s NBA–that shot over 40% from deep on the year. You don’t just find players of their caliber laying around in free agency. There aren’t many suitable replacements for either of them as well.
For Ariza, you can make the case that the Wizards drafted Otto Porter for this purpose anyway. He’s supposed to be the small forward of the future and, as the third pick overall in last year’s draft, he probably should be. But Porter’s season was ripped to shreds by early injuries and he was buried on the bench behind Martell Webster and Ariza. He’s got major improvements that he needs to make on his jump shot, but he’s always been an excellent slasher and is an underrated athlete. But we still have no clue how his game will translate in the NBA–especially with a Wizards team that needs to space things out.
There aren’t that many suitable options at small forward in this year’s free agency class. The top options for the Wizards would be Carmelo Anthony, Luol Deng and then the field. But the Wizards would likely have to renounce Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin’s contracts in order to get either one of those two. I can see Seraphin moving on, but Booker played well at the end of the year and carved out a niche for himself in the series against the Chicago Bulls.
Anthony would be a great pickup for Washington, but they’d have to give him a huge deal. He’d command at least $18 million in cap space per season–probably more. The Wizards would likely be conceding hope for signing Kevin Durant in 2016. Luol Deng wouldn’t be as much of a long term fix as Melo, but he’d be a solid defensive wing addition to the team. He isn’t the shooter Ariza is, but he’s decent in situations with the ball and is also a great slasher. Ariza is a better player and will likely command the same kind of salary figure Deng does, so it would be ideal for the Wizards to keep Ariza.
As far as Gortat goes, there aren’t many suitable options hitting free agency to replace him. Your best options are Spencer Hawes and Greg Monroe. Hawes is absolutely atrocious on the defensive end and he’s been that way for his entire career. For Monroe, you’d probably have to throw him a near-max deal and there’s no guarantee that the Pistons won’t match the deal. I doubt that Stan Van Gundy will want three legitimate big men on his team and in his starting lineup, and with what Monroe will be asking for, there will be questions about whether or not he’s worth it.
Monroe presents another high post option for the Wizards because of his ability to facilitate and his solid footwork in the post. He’s a very good rebounder and is capable of averaging a double-double on the season. However, his jump shot is still shaky. He shot 32% from the midrange area and he was an average player when scoring in the paint. It’s not like Monroe can’t improve on these things–he’s still a very young player at just 23 years old. But Gortat brings his knowledge of the defensive system the Wizards employed last season and he’s excellent in the pick and roll game as a screener and as a roll man.
So Gortat and Ariza should be priorities to retain, at this point, for the Wizards. Keeping this team together and making improvements to the bench is what they should be focused on doing. Spending around $15 to $20 million on both of these guys isn’t a bad option when you’ve got a solid core in Wall, Beal and Nene. Plus, the salary cap is going to rise this season and it’s expected to continue its rise. In a few years, their deals could be absolutely meaningless.
The Wizards also need to settle their coaching situation and they need to do this quickly. Randy Wittman had the team playing the best it has in a long time and has worked very hard for a contract extension. Although his offensive coaching game leaves a lot to be desired, Wittman helped Beal improve his ball handling, he developed John Wall’s jumper and he put together a top tier defense. The players in Washington love him and they love the message that he sends night in and night out. It’s all about defense with Wittman and that’s something that they hang their hats on.
But, again, Wittman leaves a lot to be desired on the offensive end. The Wizards’ shot selection is putrid–they take more midrange jumpers than anyone else in the league and they shoot them at a league average 41%. The Wizards are a poor team when it comes to playing at the rim and they don’t take nearly enough shots there. From three, they’re a very good shooting team but they don’t take as many as they should. This is a very good passing team, but John Wall will be zoned out of certain possessions because of the offensive play call. Even though he’ll touch the ball more than anyone else, there are plays where he just isn’t involved. He isn’t as good off of the ball as he is on it, so that takes the Wizards’ best player out of the game.
The Wizards don’t run enough pick and roll offense for a team with a lot of shooters, a great rolling big in Gortat and a super fast point guard in Wall. Beal’s handoff play is milked way too much and it has been throughout the season. Things changed with that, a bit, in the playoffs and the Wizards’ options varied on the offensive end. But the post was still too much of an option against a huge team in the Indiana Pacers and the Wizards weren’t getting easy shots out of that. They’ve got one of the best starting units in the league–they should be much better than a league average offensive team.
Wittman showed promise in the postseason, though. Some of his plays out of timeouts were pretty stellar and they were against the grain of what he did in the regular season. Beal’s development really paid off during the playoffs and he was the Wizards’ best player for a majority of their postseason run. If Wall shot better throughout the Pacers’ series, who knows what may have happened? Wittman did a nice job setting this team up for postseason success, and that counts.
He’s earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to an extension and I’d be quite surprised if he isn’t back with this team. There are probably some better options out there, but Wittman could make some improvements to the offense if he’s willing to give the analytic side of the game a shot.
This team has an extremely bright future if they play their cards right during the offseason. Banking on the improvement of an All-Star in John Wall and Bradley Beal, who looks like a sure thing to be an All-Star, is something that the Wizards should feel pretty safe doing this season. They work really well in unison and should continue to improve and feed off of each other’s game. They make each other better and that makes the Wizards better, in theory.
They should be back in this spot for many years to come. They’re in a weak Eastern Conference and they’ve got one of the better rosters in the league. With more experience on all fronts, including the coaching staff, the Wizards should continue to progress and, eventually, be good enough to take a stab at dethroning the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers at the top of the Eastern Conference.