Wizards head into free agency with little money to splurge

Where will I wind up, Spalding ball? (Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
Where will I wind up, Spalding ball? (Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Retaining small forward Martell Webster remains a priority for the Wizards in free agency, even though the team appears to be set at the position with Trevor Ariza picking up his option for next season and the selection of Otto Porter Jr., and to a lesser extent, second-round pick Glen Rice Jr. The Wizards will have the chance to show Webster how much they want him back, beginning at midnight, when the free agent recruiting period begins.

Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Josh Smith and Al Jefferson are some of the big names in the 2013 free agency class, but the Wizards won’t be in play for any high-priced options. With Ariza and Emeka Okafor back for next season, and Porter on the books for about $4.3 million, the Wizards’ payroll stands at $61.7 million – more than $3 million over last season’s salary cap – for 10 guaranteed contracts.

The Wizards still have four or five roster spots (Rice’s contract isn’t guaranteed as a second-round pick) to fill with very little money available for upgrades. They have the mid-level exception (worth $5.15 million in the first year), the bi-annual exception (worth about $2 million) and minimum salary contracts.

After Webster, the Wizards will have to find a suitable backup for Wall, who is expected to receive a maximum contract extension that will kick in at the start of the 2014-15 season. The team went 4-28 without Wall last season and can’t afford to have such a significant drop-off in case of injury, especially with President Ernie Grunfeld already stating that the team intends to make the playoffs next season.

According to league sources with knowledge of the Wizards’ thinking, the team will seek out Eric Maynor, Beno Udrih and possibly John Lucas III as backup point guard options. Maynor, the former VCU standout, has averaged 4.5 points and three assists in four years with Utah, Oklahoma City and Portland. Udrih, a nine-year veteran, has averaged 9.1 points and 3.6 assists for San Antonio, Sacramento, Milwaukee and Orlando. Lucas, a former high school teammate of Okafor, became a free agent after Toronto declined to pick up his option. He averaged 5.3 points and 1.7 assists last season with the Raptors.

A.J. Price and Garrett Temple, two of the many Wall substitutes last season, are both unrestricted free agents. Temple is the most likely of the two to return, giving his size and versatility to play and defend multiple positions.

Temple is a non-qualifying veteran free agent and the Wizards have the advantage of signing to him to as much as 120 percent of his veteran minimum contract (about $916,000 for a player with three years of NBA experience). Temple is expected to also receive some attention from Miami but the Wizards believe Temple is a good fit after he averaged 5.1 points and 2.4 rebounds in 51 games, including 36 starts, last season.

Price averaged career highs of 7.7 points and 3.6 assists last season and stated that he would like to return after earning roughly $850,000 last season, but other low-cost options include Will Bynum, D.J. Augustin and the recently waived Aaron Brooks.

Cartier Martin has stated in his desire to return, but had an injury-filled season and finished poorly. Leandro Barbosa and Jason Collins, the two players the Wizards got in return for Jordan Crawford in a deadline deal with Boston, are unlikely to return.

Webster averaged career-highs of 11.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and shot 42.2 percent from beyond the three-point line and was adamant about his desire to come back on a multi-year deal in his exit interview.

“It’s high on the priority list, I’ll tell you that. This is a great fit, a great family feel,” he said in April. “Coming back would definitely be a pleasure. I would love to play for the Wizards. I had an awesome time here.”

For the Wizards to make a sizable commitment, Webster would have to stay healthy. He arrived in Washington on a low-cost $1.75 million deal because he was coming off two back surgeries and his season ended early after he suffered an abdominal strain. In May, Webster had hernia surgery, a procedure that one league source described as “maintenance.”

After Porter’s news conference, Grunfeld was especially excited about adding another piece to a young core that is taking shape around John Wall and Bradley Beal. But he still considers Webster a part of their plans. Two days before the draft, Grunfeld said the draft would have no effect on the team’s desires to sign Webster.

“They can form a real good foundation for us moving forward that we can build with and build around them,” Grunfeld said of Wall, Beal and Porter. “We still have the veteran players, which we really need, with Nene and [Emeka] Okafor and Ariza, and hopefully – we’ve said that we want to get Martell back. And they’ll provide the leadership. We have a nice mixture of players and versatile players. They’re all very versatile. They can play a multiple positions. Martell played a lot of two for us last year and he played some three. Martell could also play some four, because he’s pretty big. Those things take care of themselves, especially when you have versatile players.”

Webster added in his exit interview that he didn’t need a starting job in order to return.

“Great players come off the bench. That’s already shown,” Webster said. “Jamal Crawford, James Harden. Ben Gordon. Great players come off the bench, and I don’t mind that. The most important thing is attitude and being ready. As long as I have that, but I can guarantee this, coming into training camp, I’ll be healthy, and I’ll be in shape and ready to go, just going out there to compete. When your mindset is competing and helping make your teammates better, everything else will take care of itself.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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Michael Lee · June 29, 2013