It's conference finals time. My rooting against the teams and players I dislike the most has helped bump the Brookyn Nets, Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks from the postseason so far. I'm still delusionally hopeful that the NBA Finals this year will feature the Indiana Pacers and the San Antonio Spurs despite the current deficit the Pacers face in their Eastern Conference Finals. I like the way Indiana's team is built around a defense first, no star system. In my wildest imaginings, I could see the Wizards resembling that team in the next few years.
In the meantime, there's been some good news for the Wizards in the form of a top three Lottery pick when the team could have stood still at the eight spot or, God forbid, moved down as far as 11th. That win gives the team a whole lot more options when approaching the off season. It's a lot easier to make deals with a number three overall draft pick than it is with the eighth pick.
When I look over the Wizards roster at the moment, I see some glaring holes that need to be addressed. However, for the first time in years, I feel pretty good about our top five guys under contract, which coincidentally can be fashioned into a credible NBA starting lineup of John Wall and Bradley Beal in the backcourt, Trevor Ariza and Nenê at the forward spots and Emeka Okafor in the middle. I think management has done a good job cobbling together a unit that can score and defend at a playoff caliber level in the NBA.
Beyond the "starting five" listed above, the team is thin. We have some free agents whom we may or may not try to re-sign and a bench of four guys on their rookie contract deals. It's definitely easy to understand how this team finished tied for seventh worst in the NBA last season. Despite that assessment though, we may actually not need to tweak our roster that much to slide into the seventh or eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. Sounds crazy but it might be true. Here's how I view our offseason priorities.
1. Draft The Best Available Player
For the first time in several NBA Drafts, the Wizards are in a position where they don't need to draft someone who has to start next season or even contribute in a major way right away. I am sure between now and draft night both the front office of the Wizards and most folks in the press who cover the team will debate whether the team should draft for need or take the best player available. Here's my message to everyone: the Wizards have needs at every position; select the best available player, even if that player is a guard and has to come off the bench behind John Wall or Bradley Beal for the next four years.
Fortunately, the Wizards this year moved up in draft order by winning the Draft Lottery and hold the third overall selection, rather than the eighth spot based on order of finish. The third overall pick allows the Wizards far more flexibility in making a draft choice and should allow them to not only get a quality player whether or not that player can contribute right away. If I were drafting for need for the Wizards, I'd select a center. The Wizards have young potential at every position except center (I'm putting Seraphin at the four for the purpose of this discussion). But if the right player isn't there, I'm picking the best available. Based on early projections, it appears Nerlens Noel (center), Ben McLemore (guard) and Otto Porter, Jr. (forward) are the top three talents in this year's draft. If that proves to be true, I'd take whichever one of those three wasn't selected in the top two and hope I made the right choice. To me, the draft is a total crap shoot anyway.
2. Re-Sign Martell Webster
The Wizards signed Martell Webster right before the start of the 2012-2013 season as a presumed sixth man at a pretty much bargain price of $1,600,000. Martell turned that opportunity into a season with career highs in points, rebounds, assists and three point field goal percentage while managing to shoot almost 85% from the free throw line. He replaced Trevor Ariza in the starting lineup when Ariza went down with an injury in December and never gave it back. He embraces coach Wittman's game philosophy and also seems to play off other players on the team, and particularly John Wall, very well.
So it looks like Martell has set himself up in a "contract year" to be paid really well or even overpaid. It seems like the Wizards are in a position where they have to pony up some dough to keep him or risk losing him to free agency like we have lost other players in the recent past. If I had a vote, I'd pay Martell. In fact, I'd probably pay him (assuming he would accept it) the full mid-level exception for a period of three years. That would allow us to bring back our starting five from last year plus sixth man Ariza and then start to incorporate other players into the mix, including our first round draft pick and whatever other free agents we retain or sign. And with a three year deal, Martell would be coming off the books in time for the team to throw a boatload of cash at Bradley Beal after his rookie contract expires.
|I wonder what the offseason holds for Chris Singleton and his over life size billboard at VC.|
3. Figure Out The Seraphin / Booker / Vesely / Singleton Thing
Over the past three seasons, the Wizards have drafted four small or power forwards in Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker, Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton. Other than the "starting five" mentioned earlier in this post, these four are the only players currently under contract for the 2013-2014 season. I believe the Wizards drafted so many players to fill potentially one position because they hoped one of the four would naturally rise to the top of the pile and become a regular rotation player (or even a starter) on their rookie deal. That hasn't exactly happened. If you could take Seraphin's offense with Booker's rebounding and defense and Vesely's passing, I think we'd get what I think we intended to get.
So it's probably time to part ways with one or more of this group but which and how? Over the past season and a half, Seraphin has clearly established himself as the most reliable of these four. Towards the end of last season, once he shook off injuries from the first half of the season, Booker emerged as the better of the other three primarily due to his ability to rebound consistently. Trading Vesely and Singleton for someone or some thing of value would be the best thing for the Wizards but to make a trade they need to find a partner willing to take a gamble on one of those two. It may be that we have to trade Booker to get a team to accept one of the other two and hope that whatever we get back is of greater value and that whomever we don't trade can contribute something of real value going forward.
4. Find Some Backcourt Help
During the 2012-2013 season, A.J. Price started 22 games for the Wizards and Garrett Temple started 36. Both guys were thrust into a starting role by injuries to either John Wall or Bradley Beal. I like both A.J. and Garrett as pieces on this team and as players. I love A.J.'s high assist-to-turnover ratio and his ability to play defense. I love Garrett's size and ability to defend both guard spots and toward the end of last season, I actually liked his ability to score in bursts. But if this team is going to succeed beyond maybe squeaking in to the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference, I'm confident when I say that these two guys cannot be our third and fourth guards next year.
If I were running the Wizards, I'd try to re-sign both A.J. and Garrett at the right (i.e minimum) price. I think they both did enough to earn a spot on the team next year. But I'd also go out and find some help to be a first backup at both guard spots. At the point guard, I'd love to find a former starter that had a good contract who is now willing to accept a role for less money backing up John Wall. A guy like Devin Harris would seem to be a good fit. He's coming off a 5 year, $43 million deal and last year was supplanted in the Atlanta Hawks' starting lineup by Jeff Teague. He's still a good point guard and he can defend. If we could wrap up someone like that for a couple of years, I think that would help tremendously.
At the shooting guard first and foremost, we need someone who can score in bunches and I'd even overpay a little or find someone traditionally not thought of as a defender to get that instant offense off the bench. I'm thinking someone like Nate Robinson here. Nate made the veteran minimum with the Chicago Bulls last season but clearly saved some games singlehandedly for that team in the Bulls' playoff run this past spring. If we could wrap up a guy like that for a year or two at a reasonable (less than $2 million per) price, I'd do it.
5. Fill The Roster With Professional Veterans
During the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 seasons, after it was clear the team wasn't competing for a playoff spot, the Wizards starting auditioning players from the D-League for a spot on the team. Larry Owens, Shaun Livingston, Cartier Martin, Othyus Jeffers, Mike Harris, Cedric Jackson, Mustafa Shakur and Alonzo Gee all made stops in D.C. during those two seasons. I believe the organization's hope was that one of these players would prove to be a diamond in the rough, and we'd be able to pick up a quality rotation player for very little investment. It didn't work. The Wizards couldn't or wouldn't afford to sign Shaun Livingston, who proved to be the most effective in his time in Washington, and they missed out on Alonzo Gee, who last season started all 82 games for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
During the off season last year, the Wizards traded Rashard Lewis and his $22 million plus salary to the New Orleans Hornets for Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza. While it first looked like the trade may have been a mistake because we took back another season's worth of salary when Lewis' expiring deal would have given us cap flexibility this summer, the veteran presence of Okafor and Ariza helped the team immeasurably. Both Emeka and Trevor are smart professionals and both understood and supported the plan to make this team into a playoff contender. Sure they cost more than someone on a rookie contract or a D-League call up, but their maturity and experience was essential in allowing other players on the team to weather tougher times last season. When it comes to filling the rest of our 2013-2014 roster, I'd love to see the Wizards invest in high character, veteran players who provide leadership on the practice court, from the bench and in game situations in spot duty.
So that's how I see the Wizards' priorities for the 2013 off season. I'm looking forward to the NBA Draft on June 27 and the start of free agency three days later. Hopefully we can pull together something between now and the start of next season that will allow a playoff appearance in 2014.