Wizards play waiting game along with Trevor Ariza


Trevor Ariza’s return to Washington remains uncertain. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Trevor Ariza understands that he is among that next tier of small forwards on the free agent market, along with Luol Deng, and would have to wait until LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony were off the board before his situation would settle.

Likewise, the Wizards understand that their offseason would include a similar waiting game if they wanted to make signing Ariza the next priority after locking up Marcin Gortat, the biggest big man available this offseason.

Despite the delay, the Wizards still want Ariza back. But they also have several roster spots to fill and some financial limitations after agreeing in principle to a five-year, $60 million deal with Gortat.

The NBA announced that the salary cap for the 2014-15 season will be an all-time high of $63.065 million – up 7.5 percent from last year’s number of $58.679 million. The luxury tax level will be $76.829 million.

With Gortat expected to show up in Washington to sign his new deal on Thursday – when the league-wide moratorium on free agent signings and trades ends – the Wizards now have roughly $58 million committed to just eight players, depending on his first-year salary. The larger salary cap number also means that the first year of John Wall’s maximum-salaried extension increased from $13.7 million to $14.7 million.

The Wizards intend to give Ariza a raise on the $7.7 million that he made last season. A phrase often used by many in the organization is that they plan to “take care of him.” But they can’t go too much higher if they intend to stay below the luxury tax threshold and complete a roster.

Ariza believes that he proved himself as one of the best two-way players in the league, with some solid defensive games against all-stars Kevin Durant, Anthony and Paul George among others. He had a 30-point scoring effort in Game 4 of the Wizards’ first-round series against the Bulls, knocked down 10 three-pointers in a loss to Houston and scored a career-high 40 points in a win against Philadelphia.

According to an NBA front office executive, Ariza is seeking a salary comparable to the four-year, $48 million deal that Andre Iguodala received last season. CBS Sports is reporting that he wants a deal starting between $9 million and $11 million.

That asking price is currently too high for Washington, which has less than $19 million to sign Ariza and six other players and avoid the luxury tax, something owner Ted Leonsis and the late Abe Pollin have never paid.

Since they have Bird rights on Ariza, the Wizards can go over the cap to retain him. As with Gortat, the Wizards can separate themselves from other suitors by offering a fifth year but they have been unwilling to present more than four, according to people with knowledge of the situation.

If they keep Ariza at close to $8 million in the first year, the Wizards would have access to the mid-level exception ($5.3 million) and very little to add minimum guys. The Wizards would like to bring back Drew Gooden and Garrett Temple on minimum deals and already issued a qualifying offer worth $3.9 million to Kevin Seraphin. Trevor Booker is an unrestricted free agent after the team declined tendering a $4.7 million qualifying offer. But the team doesn’t plan on making any moves until Ariza reaches an agreement — in Washington, or elsewhere.

Realizing that this could be the last lucrative contract for the 29-year-old Ariza, the Wizards are willing to let Ariza explore what’s out there for him. The 6-foot-8 swingman has been linked to Cleveland as a backup plan should the Cavaliers miss out on LeBron James. And in recent days, speculation has increased about a possible reunion between the four-time most valuable player and the franchise he scorned four years ago.

In a three-team trade on Wednesday, the Cavaliers shipped Jarrett Jack and Sergey Karasev to Brooklyn and Tyler Zeller, Marcus Thornton and a 2016 draft pick to Boston to shed $9.5 million from the payroll. The Cavaliers now have $21.7 million in cap space to sign James to his desired maximum contract – but they would have to spend that money on someone should James decide to stay in Miami. James had his first face-to-face meeting since the free agent recruiting period began on Wednesday with Heat President Pat Riley in Las Vegas.

Ariza has also drawn interest from Dallas, Houston, the Los Angeles Lakers and Heat. Miami was looking to pair Ariza with James but that would require Ariza to spend considerable time playing power forward. Ariza played the position in a few small ball situations in Washington last season but it would be a huge adjustment with the Heat.

Opportunities for free agent small forwards are also beginning to dry up. The Mavericks reached an agreement with restricted free agent small forward Chandler Parsons on an offer sheet worth $46 million over the next three years. Houston can match, but at least one of those teams would be out of the mix. Gordon Hayward agreed to a four-year offer sheet worth $63 million with the Charlotte Hornets but the Utah Jazz is expected to match, which would eliminate another team that had expressed interest in Ariza.

The Wizards already have close to $10 million committed to the small forward position with Martell Webster and Otto Porter. They have reached out to several alternatives in case Ariza decides to leave, but Washington is hoping that the comfort, familiarity and leadership opportunities within the team and a decent salary bump would be enough to keep him around.

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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