WASHINGTON — Let’s just address the elephant in the room now: In all likelihood, Kevin Durant will re-sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder, and if he doesn’t, he won’t be coming to Washington.
LeBron James, the other elite free agent in the impending spending frenzy, is certainly not about to join the Wizards. So those two players are covered and can be forgotten for the remainder of this primer.
The Wizards have just five players under contract at the moment — John Wall, Otto Porter, Marcin Gortat, Markieff Morris and Kelly Oubre — and it’s widely believed they will sign Bradley Beal to a max deal worth roughly $23.5 million per year. Beal’s cap hold is just $14 million, giving the Wizards a little more than $30 million to work with.
It’s always possible GM Ernie Grunfeld could orchestrate a trade, considering there are very few players who are realistic free agent targets that might also elevate the Wizards to contender status. That would be the most realistic way for Washington to add a legitimate star to the roster, but the problem there is it has very few assets to offer. A team would have to be willing to gamble on either Beal or Porter, who have each shown flashes of significant upside but not on a consistent basis.
Assuming no trades are made, here are some unrestricted free agents to keep an eye on.
The Unlikely Top Options
Hassan Whiteside has generated as much intrigue and speculation as any pending free agent the past month, with the obvious exception of Durant. The Wizards would love to have him, but the Miami Heat center will have his pick of a dozen or more options, and it’s difficult to see a scenario in which he chooses Washington over Miami, or the Dallas Mavericks, or the Boston Celtics, or the Los Angeles Lakers, or any number of other teams. He would also relegate Gortat to the bench, and it’s unclear if Washington (or Gortat) is interested in that.
More of a fit problem than anything else, Mike Conley probably won’t even get a look from the Wizards. The one area Washington is absolutely set at is starting point guard, and neither Conley nor John Wall make much sense as a shooting guard. Conley is also sure to command a max contract and will be offered a starting job on about 10 teams. He could only really come off the bench in Washington.
DeMar DeRozan picked a great season to elevate his game, scoring a career-best 23.5 points per game on .446 shooting and .338 3-point shooting while adding 4.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game. Though his outside shot has improved, he’s still not an elite marksman, and his shot selection remains questionable. It’s also assumed he’ll either re-sign with the Toronto Raptors or sign with his hometown Lakers. If he decided to come to Washington, for whatever reason, his playmaking ability would be a huge boost to the Wizards, who would love to add another player who can create his own shot.
Chances are slim that Dirk Nowitzki would leave Dallas, where he’s played his whole career, but he has said he would consider it if the Mavericks opt to rebuild. If he does leave, it’s difficult to see him doing so for anything less than a contender, however, and the Wizards are not at that status.
Dwyane Wade might actually leave the Heat this summer, but it certainly won’t be to come to Washington. If he does leave, there’s a very good chance it’s to play with LeBron James again, or he could join the New York Knicks to play with Carmelo Anthony. But without one of Wade’s good friends and a decent shot at title contention, the Wizards aren’t a tangible option.
The Realistic Max Targets
Al Horford is 6-foot-10 big and shoots .340 from beyond the arc, so he’ll draw plenty of interest this summer. The Wizards are reportedly pursuing the longtime Atlanta Hawk, but like Conley, his fit is questionable. If they were to sign him, the frontcourt situation instantly becomes stronger but muddy. Does Washington play Morris — who definitely fits best as a power forward — at the small forward? Does Gortat move to the bench? Does Morris move to the bench? How would either player react to a move to the bench?
Nicolas Batum, like DeRozan, had the best season of his career at the right time. He put up career highs in points (14.9) and assists (5.8) per game, and his 6.1 rebounds per game were the second most in his 8-year career. Batum shot just .426 from the field, but he also shot .348 from beyond the arc on considerably more attempts (5.7 per game) than he’d put up in recent seasons. He’s not a prototypical 3-and-D guy, but he offers decent 3-point shooting and defense, he can do a little bit of everything and he’s a nightly threat for a triple-double. He would immediately step in as the starting small forward, relegating Porter to the sixth man role. But Batum, while a very good all-around player, doesn’t seem to be enough to move the needle all that much for the Wizards, who desperately need another playmaker in the offense. Batum would be a nice piece and would improve the overall functionality of the team, but he would require most of Washington’s salary cap space and likely wouldn’t add more than a few wins.
This would be a difficult sell, as Dwight Howard has some character concerns and is coming off an uninspiring few years, but it’s impossible to ignore the upside he could offer. He’s a deadly pick-and-roll weapon, and he’s a more feared interior defender than Gortat has ever been. But he’s also looked like a shell of himself for the better part of the past three seasons, and at 30 years old, his next contract will be a risky one. And does Gortat really want to back Howard up again?
The Second-Tier Pieces
The third player Marc Stein reported the Wizards as having interest in on Wednesday, Ryan Anderson is an intriguing fit. He likely won’t command a max contract, but as a 6-foot-10 forward who just turned 28 and shoots .377 from 3-point range for his career, he’ll get a sizable contract from somebody. However, he doesn’t offer much more than that, and his perimeter stroke has been decent but not elite the past two seasons, which is why he probably won’t get a max deal. He’s averaged at least seven rebounds per game just once (7.7 in 2011-12), and his defense leaves plenty to be desired. Anderson also brings the same rotation issue that Horford, and almost any other big man, does: How do you play him with Gortat and Morris?
Kent Bazemore emerged as a useful piece on both sides of the ball this past season with the Atlanta Hawks, putting up 11.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals per game while shooting .441 from the field and .357 from the perimeter. He’s sort of like a Harrison Barnes or Nic Batum light — he’s going to give you a little bit of everything on the wing, but he won’t dominate a game. Bazemore has a chance to be the best value signing of the offseason, but he also has a chance to be one of the bigger busts. It’s unlikely the Wizards would be able to sign him to come off the bench, but he could thrive in the starting small forward role. His addition would also significantly improve the Wizards’ perimeter depth and versatility, giving them three long wings in Porter, Oubre and Bazemore.
Danny Rouhier, of Grant and Danny on 106.7 The Fan, likes how Bazemore would fit in Washington, thinking he could compete with Porter for the starting job.
“He’s an under-the-radar, efficient role player that can shoot it and I think he might fit well as a rotational wing,” Rouhier said.
Like any starting-level big man, the fit will be a problem in Washington, unless a corresponding move is made. If Gortat and/or Morris is shipped out — Gortat is by far the likelier of the two considering how clear the Wizards have made it that they consider Morris their first-round draft pick this year — Pau Gasol could be an interesting fill-in. He provides reliable interior offense and a great locker room presence that comes with the benefit of having two championship rings, and he’s arguably the best passing big man in the league. However, he’s much more likely to go to a contender at this stage in his career.
Those who are nervous about giving Beal a max contract won’t be too eager to bring Chandler Parsons aboard. Still just 27 years old, Parsons has never played more than 76 games in a season, and he’s played fewer than 70 in each of the past two. When healthy, Parsons is good for about 15 points per game with excellent marksmanship (.380 from beyond the arc over his career), and he’s averaged 5.1 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game for his career. If he could be counted on for 75-80 games per season, Parsons would be a solid third piece on a strong playoff team. However, his inability to stay healthy makes for a risky signing, especially on a team that already features the similarly plagued Beal.
Luol Deng was given the unenviable task of replacing LeBron James in Miami, and though he obviously couldn’t replace James, he filled his role respectably. A quality wing defender and a reliable shooter, Deng can play both forward positions well. His best role is probably as a power forward, but he could take Porter’s spot as the starting small forward in Washington.
“If this was 2012, I think it’s a great pickup,” Rouhier said of the Wizards potentially signing Deng. “He played through a bunch of nagging stuff in Miami, but that would scare the hell out of me.”
Marvin Williams has never been a model of consistency, but he put up career numbers in rebounds (6.4 per game), blocks (1.0 per game) and 3-point shooting (.402) at the perfect time for a healthy pay raise. A stretch-4 before it was all the rage, Williams has shot .354 from beyond the arc for his career, and it certainly helps his cause that he shot a career-best percentage while also shooting triples at the highest rate of his career (4.7 per game). Wall has a lengthy history of generating easy 3-pointers for his teammates, so Williams could certainly repeat or even improve upon those numbers, and at 6-foot-9 and 237 pounds, he could thrive at either forward position. He just turned 30 and his upside is rather limited, but Washington could do much worse for sixth or seventh man.
“Decent fit at the right price for Washington,” Rouhier says of Williams. “I think he’s the new breed of three-and-rebound [power forward] that could fit into the new NBA. He’ll get open shots playing with John Wall, might struggle to guard in the post against bigger players, but I can live with that for the benefits of shooting, transition play and being more athletic.”
There was a short-lived rumor that Washington was the favorite to sign Joakim Noah, but it now appears the Knicks are the clear front-runners for his services. Noah is an aging big man who can still provide a considerable boost to a team’s defense and competitiveness, but he’s a significant liability on offense and his talents don’t really correspond to what the Wizards need.
Jeremy Lin seems to have found his role: a backup to a legitimate starting point guard. Lin thrived backing up Kemba Walker last year, averaging 11.7 points and 3.0 assists per game, and he put up career bests with 3.2 rebounds and 0.5 blocks per game as he played more shooting guard than ever before. He reduced his turnovers, averaging just 1.9 per game after averaging at least 2.2 in each of his previous four seasons, and it marked the fourth season in a row that he’d cut his turnover rate. He offers respectable 3-point shooting, much more so than Ramon Sessions does, with a career .346 mark on 2.6 attempts per game. A solid backup point guard would be a huge benefit to the Wizards, who have slotted Sessions, Andre Miller and Garrett Temple behind Wall in recent seasons.
“I like him on pick-and-rolls, like his ability to shoot,” Rouhier says of the journeyman guard. “Not a great athlete, so I worry about that in terms of him fitting into the system, but I still think there could be decent value for him as a backup point guard.”
John Wall says he wants a 3-and-D player, and Courtney Lee would give him that. Lee is an excellent 3-point shooter, hitting .384 on 2.7 attempts per game for his career, and he would immediately contend for the best wing defender on the Wizards. He doesn’t offer too much more than that, but he operates well in the flow of an offense and won’t do anything to hurt a team. He turns 31 at the beginning of October, so a long-term deal would be a risk, but he could be a very solid role player off the bench or as a part-time starter. Lee would be a considerable upgrade over Garrett Temple, who has been Randy Wittman’s go-to wing defender in recent years.
If Eric Gordon could stay healthy, he could have had an impressive career. However, he’s struggled with injuries more than even Beal, having played 65 games just once in his career — his rookie year. Gordon has never scored fewer than 13 points per game in a season, and his 3-point shooting remains impressive, having shot .384 from beyond the arc last season. There is a good possibility a team with money to burn that misses out on the top wave of players offers a substantial contract to the 27-year-old guard, in hopes that he can live up to his considerable potential, but if not, Gordon could be a valuable weapon off the bench.
Another big man who would be a great addition but lacks a clear role is Bismack Biyombo. If he’s content coming off the bench, he would be an ideal rotation big for Washington. Biyombo is coming off a career year — his first with the Toronto Raptors — in which he averaged 5.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game, and he shot .542 from the field. He’s also improved his free-throw shooting from .483 as a rookie to .628 last season, showing the potential for a respectable jumper. Biyombo generated plenty of buzz as the season progressed, and he’ll be a hot commodity for teams looking for a physical interior presence, but he’ll most likely want to capitalize on his growth and look for a starting role somewhere.
“I just didn’t think it’d be realistic,” Rouhier says of the possibility of the Wizards signing Biyombo. “I love Biyombo. But he’ll want to be a starter, and I worry about how limited he’ll be offensively.”
Few players improved their value as much in the 2016 postseason as J.R. Smith, who scored 11.5 points per game on .609 effective field-goal percentage while committing just 0.5 turnovers per game and starting all 21 games. Smith has always been an effective scorer, with four 40-point games to his name, and he has a reputation for either shooting his team into or out of a game. He’s attempted at least 15 3-pointers seven times in his career, but he’s also made at least 10 three times. Smith offers very little else, though he’s a capable wing defender when he’s interested in being one. He might remain with the Cleveland Cavaliers, but if he’s seeking a payday, this is the time to do it. His best role is as a spark off the bench, a player who can come in and quickly pour in 15-20 points. Whoever signs Smith needs a stable locker room, however, as he has the potential to cause problems.
Other Role Players
Ian Mahinmi started 71 games for the Indiana Pacers last season, averaging 9.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocks with .589 shooting in 25.6 minutes per game. Though he went from a rotation big to an everyday starter, he played just 25.6 minutes per game and turns 30 in November, and his future is likely as a third big man who can provide physicality and an interior presence in a pinch. However, he has no jump shot to speak of, having taken just 70 shots from eight feet or further last year, and his upside is minimal.
Cole Aldrich doesn’t publicly get a lot of credit, but the 27-year-old big man has quietly been very efficient as a backup the past two seasons. Last year, backing up DeAndre Jordan with the Los Angeles Clippers, Aldrich put up 5.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game on a career-best .596 shooting, all while playing just 13.3 minutes per game. Per 36 minutes, Aldrich was more effective in almost every statistical category than Nene last year, including rebounds (13.0 to 8.5), blocks (3.1 to 0.9), steals (2.1 to 1.8) and all shooting. He doesn’t provide much offense, but he offers a skillset similar to Biyombo and will command a much lower salary.
Gerald Henderson’s game changed when he went from the Charlotte Hornets to the Portland Trail Blazers last season, and his modified skillset fits better with the Wizards. He knocked down 3-pointers at a career-best .353 clip on a career-high 1.9 attempts per game and committed just 0.9 turnovers per game while playing 19.9 minutes per game. His assists also dropped from a career rate of 1.9 per game to just 1.0 per game last season, a clear indication of his new role. With Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum handling most of the playmaking duties in Portland, Henderson evolved into a spot-up shooter. Washington would love another playmaker, and Henderson can definitely create his own shot — 94 of his 232 field goals last year were unassisted — but a reliable 3-point shooter on the wing is a needed that was only somewhat addressed last year.
The pick right after John Wall in 2010, Evan Turner was quickly labeled a bust. He has since emerged as a useful role player who can score in a variety of ways. He shot a career-high .456 from the field and managed a career-high .469 effective field-goal percentage last season, and he added 4.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game for the Boston Celtics. Turner can play shooting guard or small forward, and at 27 years old, he’s still got enough athleticism to provide useful wing depth.
Darrell Arthur is exactly the type of big man Washington could use. He’s started double-digit games exactly twice in his 7-season career, his rookie year and last year, but he’s played between 14 and 22 minutes per game every season, and he’s scored between 4.5 and 9.5 points per game. Arthur is a career .314 shooter from beyond the arc, but he’s struggled with consistency, hitting .236 from deep in 2014-15 and .385 in 2015-16. Basically, Arthur is a versatile backup big who will come in, stretch the floor and give the team seven points and four rebounds.
It remains to be seen what place Al Jefferson has in today’s NBA. He’s not a great athlete and has never been an elite defender or rebounder, but he is one of the more reliable post scorers in the league, when healthy. He has played just 75 or more games only once since the 2010-11 season, and he played just 47 games last year, but Jefferson has averaged 16.7 points per game over the course of his 12-year career. He turns 32 in January, and his athletic abilities are on the decline, but he could play a role similar to the one Nene played last season in Washington — that is, a backup big man whose primary responsibility is scoring. He does not offer the toughness or physicality that Nene does, nor is he as adept a passer, but he is a better rebounder and a more efficient scorer.
Another frontcourt scoring option to bring off the bench would be Mirza Teletovic. Teletovic, who has just four years of NBA experience but will turn 31 in September, had a career year with the Phoenix Suns last year, his first with the team. He scorer 12.2 points per game and drained 3-pointers at a .393 clip, but his 3.8 rebounds per game (21.3 minutes per game) were disappointing for a 6-foot-9 player. He is very much a specialist, providing little in terms of defense or playmaking. Nonetheless, he hit 2.3 triples per game last season, so he can find a job somewhere. He is sometimes compared to Channing Frye.
One of the best point guards in the league just a few years ago, Deron Williams has been reduced to borderline starter caliber after his play dropped off with the Brooklyn Nets. He bounced back with a respectable season of 14.1 points and 5.8 assists per game with the Dallas Mavericks last year, but his athletic gifts are fading — he turned 32 this week — and he doesn’t have the same electric style of play that he boasted when he starred for the Utah Jazz. If he is willing, and that is a big if, he’d make an excellent backup to Wall. Chances are, he has his sights set higher than that, however, and after years of wallowing on the mediocre Nets, he might opt for less money for the sake of playing with a contender.
The Other Options
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute