The Washington Wizards’ four-day summer minicamp will get underway Monday afternoon at Verizon Center, as the team makes preparations for NBA summer league in Las Vegas. The Wizards will play at least five games in a tournament that highlights rookies, has-beens, never-wases and hope-to-bes on the UNLV campus.
Otto Porter Jr., Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton and Glen Rice Jr. are flanked by a more experienced group that features veteran point guard Sundiata Gaines, who has appeared in 113 NBA games for Utah, Minnesota and New Jersey, former Connecticut star and Maryland native Josh Boone, a Nets first-round pick in 2006, and former North Carolina State forward Dennis Horner, another former Nets player.
After sprinting through free agency to reach agreements with Eric Maynor, Martell Webster and Garrett Temple, the Wizards will have 14 players under contract once they sign their draft picks, so most of the players on the roster will actually be auditioning for opportunities with other teams.
Sam Cassell and Don Newman will coach the team, which will open on Saturday against the Golden State Warriors. Bradley Beal and Tomas Satoransky won’t participate but the Wizards still have a lot to assess and evaluate over the next weeks. Here’s what to look for:
Make or break for Vesely and/or Singleton?
By now, Vesely and Singleton should have established themselves as part of the Wizards’ future as they enter their third seasons. Instead, the last two pieces of a disappointing 2011 draft classes are both playing for the security of at least another guaranteed season in Washington. If the Wizards decline the fourth-year options on Vesely and Singleton in the end of October, both players will become unrestricted free agents after next season, which would give the Wizards more salary cap flexibility in the summer of 2014.
Last season was forgettable for both Vesely and Singleton as they both spent prolonged stints in Coach Randy Wittman’s doghouse and failed to receive consistent minutes. Vesely struggled with shattered confidence and apparent stage fright – especially from the foul line – as he made a noticeable regression from a difficult rookie season in which he had to overcome injuries and a language barrier. Singleton went from starting 57 of 66 games at small forward as a rookie to appearing in just 57 of 82 games as a hybrid forward in his second season. With Webster and Trevor Ariza pushing him, he played fewer minutes but still posted almost identical production, though his three-point percentage went in the wrong direction, from 34.6 percent to 19.4 percent.
The Wizards didn’t address their need for a pick-and-pop power forward in free agency, which will give Singleton the chance to possibly assume that role based on his summer work. Or Vesely could start to resemble the high-energy, high-flying player the Wizards hoped that they had drafted sixth overall to complement John Wall. Vesely offered hints of trouble with court awareness in Las Vegas last summer, when he committed 27 fouls in four-plus games, including a game in which he committed 10 fouls.
Wittman said this offseason will be important for Singleton, Vesely, Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin. Booker and Seraphin will not participate in summer league, so Vesely and Singleton, back from playing in a Yao Ming basketball charity game in China last week, can make an early statement that they belong – or force team president Ernie Grunfeld to start looking for other alternatives before training camp.
How much responsibility will Porter be given?
Wittman refused to promise a starting job for Porter, who has stated that he wants to earn whatever he gets. Porter is incredibly versatile at 6 feet 8 and summer league will provide an opportunity for the Wizards to experiment with him at power forward and his natural small-forward position. His ability to guard multiple positions will give Porter the chance to earn more minutes in the regular season, but he will also be given the chance to create for others and score as he did at Georgetown.
Like Beal last summer, Porter will probably be the focal point of the offense in summer league once he overcomes his initial nerves. Summer league production rarely translates to success against real NBA competition, but Porter’s performance could give Wittman a better idea of how to utilize the third overall pick because the team already has veteran options at small forward in Webster and Trevor Ariza.
Porter has already signed his rookie scale contract, which is worth nearly $8.8 million for the first two years. As the third overall pick of the June 27 draft, Porter is slated to earn $3.57 million in his first season under the terms negotiated in the collective bargaining agreement but first-round picks are eligible to receive 120 percent increases, which would put his first-year salary at $4.28 million and his second-year salary at $4.48 million.
How good is Rice?
The 6-5 Rice can play both shooting guard and small forward, but is on the team primarily for his ability to score and spread the floor as a shooter. The Wizards were surprised to see Rice, son of the former NBA all-star, hanging around by the 35th pick in the draft because they had him rated much higher. But Rice slid in part because of a troubled past that included him getting kicked out of Georgia Tech and spending what should’ve been his senior year with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA Developmental League. Rice led the Vipers to a D-League championship after averaging 25 points in six playoff games. He should have a chance to flourish in more wide-open summer league games.