The No. 1 pick in Thursday’s NBA draft could either be a player with a broken ankle (Alex Len) or another with a torn up knee ligament (Nerlens Noel). And the best power forward on the board (Anthony Bennett) is still recovering from a bum left shoulder.
In a draft that most scouts and talent evaluators consider to be short on immediate impact players and long on role players, the Wizards have been tasked with finding a quality talent worthy of the third overall pick. Their options include those three injured players and Georgetown’s Otto Porter, the only candidate for No. 3 that the Wizards brought in for a visit who was healthy enough to actually work out.
With so many promising talents sidelined for the entire summer, the Wizards will have to base their projections without going through the full evaluation process.
“This is the first time in recent memory that three out of the top seven, eight, 10, players are coming off injury or surgery-type situations,” Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld said in a brief news conference on Tuesday at Verizon Center, “but it’s something that you have to let you doctors look at and you have to do a lot of research from where they are and how quickly their rehab goes and what comes after that. So it does complicate things a little bit.”
But by Thursday, it might not matter. Grunfeld hasn’t offered any hints about his leanings, though the team has been linked the most with Porter and UNLV’s Bennett — and most rival executives and scouts don’t expect Porter to slip past Washington.
“We’re probably going to go with the best player available for our situation … for where we are and where we’re trying to head,” Grunfeld said. “We’re going to take the best player that we feel with fit into what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Grunfeld said he wouldn’t be swayed by pressure to take a player based on his local ties — which is significant because three of the top six players (Len, Porter and DeMatha graduate Victor Oladipo) have some connection to the area.
But he also added that the team’s desire to retain sharpshooting swingman Martell Webster in free agency would have no effect on the pick. Webster had hernia surgery last month, according to multiple league sources familiar with the situation, and the procedure was described by one as simply “maintenance” and not deemed serious.
“What we do in the draft will have no effect on Martell,” Grunfeld said. “Martell has shown that he’s a versatile player. He can play several positions and at the appropriate time, we’ll talk to his representatives and see if we can work something out.”
Porter is rated as the best small forward in the draft and would address a need for a versatile defender and capable scorer to complement the developing young back court of John Wall and Bradley Beal.
Beal knows both Porter and Bennett but deferred to the front office on the decision. Wall didn’t make a specific choice but has repeatedly stated his desire to have a “stretch four” or “pick-and-pop” big man to spread the floor and create space. Bennett would appear to be the meet that criteria with his sophisticated offensive game and ability to score from all parts of the floor.
“We’ll see how that whole thing works out,” Grunfeld said, when asked about Wall’s request. “There’s always different ways to get certain players and we have players probably on our roster that can play that position or play in that role going forward. But we’re going to take everything into consideration, look at everything. We have a lot of work ahead of us, not only with the draft but after the draft in free agency.”
The Wizards will be entering their fourth full season of a rebuilding effort that began when the team dumped salary in advance of drafting Wall first overall in 2010. The team has been among the lottery dregs in each of the past five seasons, but owner Ted Leonsis has been overly patient and Grunfeld and Coach Randy Wittman are both in the last year of their deals.
This draft pick could assist in the Wizards’ efforts to take advantage of a weakened Eastern Conference that could possibly leave room for three new playoff teams next season, with Boston, Atlanta and Milwaukee facing uncertain summers of transition.
“As we said before, our goal for next year is to make the playoffs and I think the way we handled ourselves last year in the second half of the year, once we got healthy and got all of our players back and our young players started developing, we had a very good record,” Grunfeld said of the Wizards, who went 25-25 after a 4-28 start with John Wall sidelined. “I think we want to build on what happened at the end of last year. Our players are working hard in the offseason. We feel good about the chemistry that we’ve established. I think we have a solid core of players that we can build.”
Grunfeld didn’t completely rule out Beal from participation in summer league, but the possibility remains remote as the soon-to-be 20-year-old guard recovers from a stress injury in his right fibula.
“Brad, he’s gotten clearance to do more work. He’s picked up his activity level. He hasn’t been cleared to go full contact and we’re not going to rush anything,” he said. “We’ll see how he develops and how he is. It’s not the middle of the season, so there is no urgency to push him. We’re going to take a very cautious approach with him.”
The Wizards would like to have Tomas Satoransky, the 32nd pick last June, back for summer league, but Grunfeld acknowledged that he might not be available as he deals with a contract situation with his Spanish club, Cajasol. Satoransky averaged 12.5 points and 4.2 assists in the ACB League and 10.2 points and 4.8 assists in the Eurocup last season, but his team is reportedly asking for $500,000 to free him from the final year of his contract.
“He had a very good year, playing in the ACB last year, the top league in Spain. We’re in contact with him at all times. He has a contractual situation that he’s dealing with right now,” Grunfeld said. “We’ll see how that gets resolved and it should get resolved within the next couple of weeks with his representatives over there and after that, we’ll get a better feel. He had a good year, he continues to develop and we’re in contact with him. He’s going to be here working out with us also. So we’ll have real close contact with him and we’ll see where that takes us.”