WASHINGTON — The Wizards haven’t been a “trendy” team in a long time, and they tend to go the opposite direction of the league more often than not.
Most recently, they made a series of frontcourt signings in the offseason, and they now have five big men at a time many teams want four or fewer: Marcin Gortat, Markieff Morris, Ian Mahinmi, Andrew Nicholson, Jason Smith.
Put another way, that’s: $12 million, $7.4 million, $16 million, $6 million, $5 million. More than $46 million this season, all devoted to players who live around the basket.
Only one of them, Gortat, was on the roster when the 2015-16 season began. He is projected to be the team’s starting center but could face a challenge from Mahinmi, who is making $4 million more than Gortat — an interesting dynamic that isn’t unique to the Wizards, given the meteoric rise in salary cap this summer.
Gortat is unsure how new coach Scott Brooks will utilize the five bigs, but he has an idea of how it won’t go, much to his chagrin.
“Well, I wish to play together with him at the same time, but unfortunately I’m 99 percent sure that one of us is going to only play at the same time,” Gortat said of Mahinmi. “We’re definitely going to fight for that spot on the team. He proved himself in this league, he’s getting paid big money now, so he’s secure.
“I know there’s not too many centers in this league who bring to the table and what he brings. So we’re in a good position. We need that shot blocking, we need that defensive presence. First and foremost, we need energy, energy off the bench.”
Gortat also suggested he expects to play more late in games this season; the past two years under coach Randy Wittman, the starting center was frequently left on the bench in favor of a variety of other big men when the game was on the line in the fourth quarter.
Mahinmi had a career year in 2015-16 with the Indiana Pacers, starting 71 games and averaging 9.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game. That earned him a huge new contract, which moved him to a new city, but only to revert back to a familiar role — a backup.
But with Gortat turning 33 in February, Mahinmi, 30 in November, should get plenty of minutes to make sure both aging bodies are in good shape for the postseason, if Washington is apart of it.
How those minutes are distributed, however, is anybody’s guess for now.
“That’s the million-dollar question right here. I don’t know,” Mahinmi said. “Like me, this is not really the type of stuff that I’m focused on. I’m more focused on how can I help the team win games? I feel like every guy in this locker room has the same mindset. It’s not really about how me and Marcin are going to play. I don’t see it like that. We’ll get to know each other during training camp, and we’ll get to see how we can help the team win.”
Morris, acquired at the trade deadline last season, is one of the longer-tenured Wizards, as five of the expected top 12 players were added in the offseason. But with a handful of teammates he’s never before played with, and a new coach he’s never played under, he has only a slight idea of what his role in the Wizards offense will be.
“That’s not my job to call, man,” Morris said Monday. “However the coach plays, I’m with him one hundred percent, and we’ll see how it’s gonna play out.”
Nonetheless, Morris says he’s worked on his 3-point shooting all summer, and he plans to play above the arc more this season. Traditionally a power forward, he has played center on occasion in small-ball lineups, and he’s played small forward in bulkier lineups throughout his NBA career.
But with so much money invested in the center position, he thinks he’ll spend most of his time at power forward — where’s he expected to be the starter — with the occasional stint at small forward.
“Shooting the basketball, man,” Morris said, when asked how he spent the offseason. “Focusing on that 3-point shot and getting my feet set and just being able to knock down open shots. Because 85 percent of the shots are wide open anyway.”
He added he anticipates shooting “probably double the amount” of 3-pointers he’s shot in the past two seasons.
Morris attempted 179 3-pointers in 2014-15 (2.2 per game) and 155 in 2015-16 (2.4 per game) after shooting fewer than 140 in each of his first three seasons. If he were to double the rate he took last year and play in all 82 games, he would attempt about 394 triples this season — a season ago, that total would put him at 25th in the NBA, just behind expert marksman Kyle Korver.
That’s a significant amount of perimeter shooting for a player who is a career .323 3-point shooter and who’s shot below .320 each of the past three seasons.
Smith figures to be the odd man out, but with a $5 million salary, it’s tough to imagine him being completely cast aside. He offers a solid midrange jumper, and Brooks said he expects Smith to “eventually have 3-point range,” but he figures to be a considerable downgrade from the other four big men on the roster.
Time will tell how this will all work out, and it probably won’t be until the second month of the season before Brooks has settled on a rotation he’s comfortable with. Until then, we’re left to the guessing game.