If a trade partner cannot be found, the Wizards will likely waive the second-year guard to vacate a roster spot and create salary-cap flexibility as postseason draws near and players become available via trade and late-season buyouts. If they are forced to waive Rice, the move will likely be made by Wednesday so he could clear waivers before Jan. 10, when all NBA contracts become guaranteed for the remainder of the season.
Rice, who turned 24 on New Years Day, was shipped to Fort Wayne on Nov. 20 and proceeded to average 12.7 points in 14 games. His demotion came 12 days after he and Coach Randy Wittman exchanged words in front of Washington’s bench as he walked off the floor during a blowout loss to the Toronto Raptors. The 6-foot-6 swingman scored 11 points on 20 percent shooting in five games and hasn’t logged a minute in a Wizards uniform since the episode in Canada.
The chances of Rice rejoining the Wizards and carving a role would’ve been slim regardless. Rice was considered a rotation option on the wing behind Bradley Beal and Paul Pierce after a superb showing in the Las Vegas Summer League, which included garnering MVP honors, but Rasual Butler’s emergence, Martell Webster’s return from injury, and Otto Porter Jr.’s continued development has rendered Rice expendable.
The Wizards’ intention means they plan to, unsurprisingly, employ Butler for the entire season. Butler signed a one-year, unguaranteed deal after claiming the 15th and final spot on the roster as a training camp invite. His entire $1.4 million salary — the minimum for players with 10-plus years of NBA experience — will become guaranteed on Jan. 10.
The 35-year-old, who just two years ago played in the summer league to earn a spot on an NBA roster, has morphed into a vital contributor off the Wizards bench. He is averaging 10.2 points per game — his highest output since the 2009-10 season — and is shooting 49 percent from behind the three-point line, good for third in the NBA.
The son of the former NBA all-star, Rice’s path to the NBA was unique. He was dismissed from the basketball team at Georgia Tech in Match 2012 to conclude a turbulent college career and was drafted to the D-League in November.
The Philadelphia 76ers made him the highest D-League player ever selected in the NBA draft the next spring, choosing him in the second round with the 35th overall pick. He was then immediately traded to the Wizards for two lower second-round picks. He spent his rookie season bouncing between Washington and the D-League before generating optimism with his play over the summer.
But while Rice is an intriguing talent for the future, the Wizards sit in fourth place in the Eastern Conference at 22-11 and are determined to win this season. Because he was a second-round pick, Rice’s contract is only partially guaranteed, granting the Wizards an avenue to generate some important roster flexibility.
Retaining both Butler and Rice would put Washington just $50,718 below the luxury-tax threshold without an empty spot on the 15-man roster. Therefore, parting ways with Rice affords the Wizards the cap and roster space to acquire a veteran as the playoffs approach like they did last year, when they traded for point guard Andre Miller and signed big man Drew Gooden to fortify their bench.