Answering Some Questions About the Wizards’ Offseason

Here we are. July. Free agency. Most of the league is still turned upside down while everyone waits on Carmelo Anthony and the Heat stars to commit. Everything’s in flux right now. One team that’s actually falling into place? The Washington Wizards.

We already had the final purge of schizophrenia six weeks ago when the playoff run ended, so there’s no need to go down that road again. Let’s just answer some questions about what we’ve learned so far this summer.

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How Did the Wizards Lose $13 Million Last Season?

Great question. There were all kinds of incredible notes in Zach Lowe’s Monday column on the Nets and NBA finances, but finding out the Wizards had the second-highest losses in the NBA might have been the most amazing detail of all.

The Nets losing $144 million actually made sense. That team had been lighting money on fire since the day Mikhail Prokhorov took over. It was almost official company policy to lose massive amounts of money on every transaction and pay stupid numbers in the luxury tax. Of course they lost $100 million.

But if you had asked people to guess the team with the second-highest losses on the year, how long would it have taken before anyone brought up the Wizards? Not the Knicks, not the Lakers, not Paul Allen’s Blazers, not even teams like the Pelicans or Pistons, two franchises that spent a bunch of money and then bottomed out almost immediately last year.

Somehow the Wizards lost more than any of them. This despite making the playoffs and getting all the revenue that comes with it, and avoiding the luxury tax, which also guarantees them a $3 million share of revenue from taxpayers elsewhere.

How Is That Possible?

I have no idea. This is the team that moved its broadcasters off the floor to free up seats, so clearly everyone’s doing their best to maximize revenue. D.C.’s not New York as a market, but it’s also not Charlotte or Utah or Indiana. The losses just don’t make sense. But that’s just how the week started. Let’s move on.

How Should Wizards Fans Feel About Marcin Gortat?

Everyone should love Marcin Gortat, but you knew that. $12 million is more than he’s worth, and it’s hard to imagine he’ll ever match what he gave the Wizards last year, but it doesn’t even matter.

Look at the parrot picture. Look at his pet pig in Poland. Look at him gunning his new Ferrari to 140 mph in the middle of the night while filming the speedometer with his phone, something that’s both completely unnecessary and wildly unsafe. This man was born to be a Wizard.

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That’s my center right there. King Gortat. The Hammer. The Machine. He gives this roster insurance for the inevitable Nene injury, teammates love him, and he came up huge in the playoffs last year. If he’s a little overpaid, that’s OK. There are worse guys to overpay than Gortat.

But Five Years?

Five years! This is where things get a little dark. The Hammer is 30 years old. That contract won’t end well.

At the start of free agency, I’d dreamed of a two-year deal. I knew he’d get at least three years. I even accepted that all things considered, the Wizards would definitely get desperate and offer a fourth guaranteed year. But FIVE? Even when you’ve got your guard up for a bad contract, the Wizards find a way to punch you in the stomach.

One day this team will stop negotiating from a position of weakness, but apparently that’s not this summer. Compare the Gortat deal to the Raptors and Kyle Lowry. Lowry wanted five years for $55 million. Toronto was offering four years for $44 million. Rather than cave, the Raptors let him take meetings with other teams, and eventually they settled on four years for $48 million on Wednesday night.

Is that really so hard? And why were the Wizards so much more desperate to sign a role player than the Raptors were to sign the best player on their team? I love Gortat and I’m glad he’s coming back, but the way this went down just underscores why the Wizards are so unbearable sometimes. (For more, see the Martell Webster deal from last summer.)

Are They Going to Sign Trevor Ariza?

They definitely shouldn’t, so they probably will.

Why Shouldn’t They Sign Ariza?

I can’t believe this really might happen.

If the Wizards sign Ariza, when it’s over, that means paying close to $20 million a year for two journeyman small forwards, while also burying a top-five pick (OTTO!) on the bench for god knows how long. Ariza is better than Martell (who will miss up to five months of the season with a back injury, because … Wizards), but committing that much money to both of them is just insane. There’s no reason to double up on last summer’s mistake 12 months later.

Ariza on the Wizards changes almost nothing with the ceiling for this team. Letting Ariza walk frees up money that could actually make the Wizards better down the line. This shouldn’t be that complicated.

But let’s switch gears for a second.

What Happened at the Draft?

The Wizards happened. With no first-round pick after trading it for Gortat, they sold the second-round pick to the Lakers for $1.8 million. This isn’t a big deal. Or it wouldn’t be with any other team.

But Washington has a history here. Since 2008, this team has punted on five second-round picks, either drafting and stashing European players (Tomas Satoransky!), packaging them in deals, or (most often) selling them outright to other teams like the Celtics, Rockets, and Lakers.

Second-round picks aren’t exactly crucial to building a contender, but it’s part of a pattern. This is how Washington passed up DeJuan Blair in the second round a few years ago, even if it meant trading for Trevor Booker after he was selected in the first round a year later. It’s why the front office passed on Draymond Green two years ago and decided not to look for big-man depth in this year’s second round. Saving money is usually worth more to the Wizards than adding another rookie contract.

Owner Ted Leonsis defended this year’s decision, saying, “I do find it ironic that Larry Bird did the exact same thing in Indiana and it was called a savvy move. And we did something similar and some of the bloggers and some of the people on Twitter had a total meltdown.”

Just to be clear, nobody had a meltdown because they sold the pick. People had a meltdown because the Wizards have been doing this for six years.

Miami Heat v Washington Wizards

Did the Wizards Ever Consider LeBron?

In that same interview with D.C.’s 106.7 this week, Leonsis said: “You’d have to have cap space and you’d have to renounce all your free agents. Then you’d have to be able to call their agent and say, ‘Would you think he would consider coming here?’ So, I never understood the grandstanding. … LeBron will do what LeBron wants to do. We have to be able to control what we want to control, and right now our main targets are retaining our players.”

Should the Wizards Have Considered LeBron?

Probably not. They never had a real chance.

Cool.

It’s still a little depressing. A friend planted the LeBron idea in my head during the Finals, and the Wizards had the cap space, plus John Wall and Bradley Beal as two running mates. So I allowed myself exactly 12 hours to dream about this. LeBron could wreak havoc kicking it to Beal and running the break with Wall … he could spend weekends at the White House … Rich Paul could run for Congress … World Wide Wes would have a direct line to the Oval Office … Think of the possibilities!

But the Wizards weren’t on a single one of those “LeBron destination” lists. Even the goddamn Hawks were considered more realistic. Nobody was thinking of the possibilities.

That was a tough reality check after the playoff run. For anyone who thought it through, LeBron obviously would never go play for Randy Wittman, or trust Ernie Grunfeld to build a roster around him, or hope that Leonsis would pay the luxury tax. What superstar would buy into that infrastructure? It was more realistic to imagine LeBron taking a $10 million pay cut to go play for the owner-less Clippers.

So instead of chasing LeBron or Carmelo or saving money for someone more realistic in the next few years, the default priority became bringing back the players from last year. Which …

What’s the Long-term Outlook Here?

The Wizards are building around Gortat for the next five years, they’ll spend big to keep Ariza — we’re treating this as inevitable as a last-ditch attempt to jinx it; just go with it — and next summer they’ll extend Beal. In 2015, they’ll start the year with a lineup of Nene, Gortat, Ariza, Beal, and Wall. Depending on the exact numbers for Beal and Ariza, there’s a decent chance that every starter will be making eight figures.

Can Anyone Explain Why This Team Needs to Break the Bank to Bring Back a Roster That Was One Win Better Than a No. 7 Seed Getting Swept Out of the First Round by the Heat?

Seriously, it’s baffling.

D.C. fans have watched this team cut corners in every conceivable way the past few years. They refused to fire Wittman and pay for a real coach, they refused to fire the GM, they sold second-round picks, they bounced their broadcasters out of courtside seats, they gave away Shaun Livingston, they didn’t pursue a James Harden trade because they wouldn’t go over the luxury tax. Not all of those moves were bad, but it’s a pattern.

Then they made the playoffs, and a fluke run to the second round became proof the blueprint was right all along. It ends with them paying to extend the mediocre coach, keeping the GM who’s masterminded the second-round superteam, and doubling down long term with players who don’t actually change anything around Beal and Wall for the next few years.

It’s one thing to cut corners on small things, it’s even worse to then spend big money in the most shortsighted way possible. Maybe it shouldn’t be that surprising this team doesn’t make money.

Nobody’s asking them to turn into the Sixers, but at some point you have to trust guys like Wall and Beal to carry the team while they wait for free agents who actually make sense. I know everyone’s afraid to take a step back in the short term, but committing big money to average starters probably means forfeiting the chance to ever really take a step forward down the road.

What’s Next?

If Wall and Beal get better, maybe none of this matters. The NBA is all about superstars, and those guys can change the trajectory of this team almost by themselves. More likely: The rest of the East gets better, Gortat and Ariza get worse, Nene gets hurt, Wittman works his magic, and this team is a 7-seed the next two years.

Should Wizards Fans Be Depressed by All of This?

NOPE.

I mean, maybe. It’s definitely possible. But no. There’s still just enough hope for delusion to beat out depression. Give it a few months and everyone can talk themselves into this team all over again. If things fall apart, there will be plenty of time for bitterness.

Until then? I’ll keep telling myself that Beal and Wall are going to be good enough to transcend whatever happens, Gortat’s the greatest human in the NBA, and the whole gang’s coming back to build on last year. It’s not smart, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. It could definitely be worse.

It’s Fourth of July weekend now. Forget the salary cap, and trust in the Hammer. Let’s all go the promise land.

Filed Under: NBA, Washington Wizards, Marcin Gortat, trevor ariza, John Wall, Bradley Beal, 2014 NBA Free Agency

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Andrew Sharp is a staff editor at Grantland.

Archive @ andrewsharp