The time to talk arrived earlier than expected, but once the NBA granted teams permission to speak with agents early Wednesday, the Washington Wizards made sure the first person they contacted was Aaron Mintz, the representative for restricted free agent Nick Young.
Young had a breakout campaign in his fourth season, averaging a career-high 17.4 points and emerging as the Wizards’ leading scorer after the team dealt Gilbert Arenas to Orlando. The Wizards have already extended a $3.7 million qualifying offer that gives them right of first refusal if Young signs an offer sheet with another team and have made it clear that retaining Young is imperative toward their efforts to build an exciting and athletic team around point guard John Wall.
But the Wizards also know that they will need to add some more experience to a team that has seven players under contract — with only one of them older than 26 — and three more draft picks set to sign whenever the players re-form the union and the collective bargaining agreement is completed and ratified by a majority of owners and players. So the Wizards also reached out to acknowledge interest with the representatives of two of their unrestricted free agents, Josh Howard and Maurice Evans.
“We’re looking to see what the possibilities of retaining them are,” Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said of Young, Howard and Evans. “Obviously, we have a young team and we’d like to keep the nucleus together. But I think you have to keep a balance as far as veterans are concerned also. We’d like to add a couple of veterans who are currently not under contract, then see who’s available to us.”
Nene, Tyson Chandler, Marc Gasol and David West are considered some of the big catches in an otherwise uninspiring free agent class, and the Wizards aren’t expected to make a serious bid for any of the top players on the market. Teams can discuss terms with agents but cannot agree to a deal until the signing period begins on Dec. 9.
The salary cap for the upcoming season is expected to be around $58 million and the Wizards have about $47 million tied up in the players — with nearly $22 million assigned just to Rashard Lewis — so the Wizards aren’t in a position to open the bank to sign much more than a second-tier talent such as former Wizard Roger Mason and big men Jamaal Magloire, Jason Smith and Aaron Gray.
The new collective bargaining agreement will have an amnesty provision that allows teams to waive one player currently under contract before the season begins and remove that contract from the salary cap. Waiving Lewis would create considerable cap room to sign players, but it would also produce potential problems with teams forced to spend a minimum of 85 percent of the salary cap. Tying up money in a weak free agent market could potentially damage the Wizards’ rebuilding plans, with center JaVale McGee and Wall eligible for extensions in the future.
Two people with knowledge of the Wizards’ thinking have said that it is unlikely that the team uses the amnesty provision on Lewis or anyone else before this season. But the Wizards could wait and see what players other teams waive, which could add more free agents to the mix.