Ahead of the NBA’s Thursday trade deadline and before their final push to the postseason, the Wizards (34-21, and third in the Eastern Conference standings) still may have more moves to make. The trade addresses one issue — bringing in a bona fide scorer in Bogdanovic to complement or replace starting power forward Markieff Morris, who has been logging minutes with the second unit as a stabilizing force.
The trade not only appeases immediate concerns, but should also have a significant impact for the summer, providing salary cap relief from Nicholson’s contract. Thornton’s contract expires after the season.
“We made some good moves,” Bradley Beal said after the team’s Wednesday night practice. “It’s unfortunate we lose teammates but that’s the business aspect of it. … We’re going to roll. Hopefully they can jump on board and help us out.”
The Wizards officially announced the move late Wednesday night in a team statement.
“Bojan is a very good shooter and a talented overall scorer whose versatility gives us an added dimension as we gear up for the stretch run,” General Manager Ernie Grunfeld said in the release. “He is a proven starter that will provide us an added boost off the bench and allow us to be creative with our lineups.”
Beal has decided to simply call his new Croatian-born teammate “Bo.” (For the record, it’s pronounced ‘BOY-ahn bog-DON-O-Vich.’) The Wizards may need some time to correctly say his name, but they already know what to expect upon his arrival.
In Bogdanovic, Washington has its new sixth man. In his third season, the flexible 6-8 forward can perform as an inside threat — Beal recalls a few times when Bogdanovic tried to post him up — as well as a player with range. Bogdanovic has started 54 games and averaged 14.2 points on .440 shooting. He has scored at least 20 points 11 times, including 21 in a Feb. 8 matchup against the Wizards.
“I think he dunked on us a couple times. I’m excited, man. He has a lot of versatility to his game and I think it will help us a lot on both ends of the floor,” Beal said. “I think that’ll be a good guy for us.”
Though the 27-year-old Bogdanovic has made his mark in the NBA, he has also flourished on the international stage. Last summer during the Rio Olympics, Bogdanovic led all players — including the gold-medal winning Americans — with a scoring average of 25.3 points through six games and guided Croatia to the quarterfinals.
When told how Bogdanovic loves to come off curls to find open shots, Beal expressed his approval.
“Hey, as long as we scoring, I don’t care what he’s doing!” Beal said.
The need for a player of his skill set was glaring, The Wizards’ bench ranks 29th in scoring and minutes per game (23.4 points, 14.3 minutes) while the starting five shouldered the nightly burden.
Through 55 games, the Wizards’ first unit (John Wall, Beal, Otto Porter Jr., Morris and Marcin Gortat) has played more minutes (averaging 34.2 out of 48 minutes) than every starting group except Minnesota’s. Also, Washington’s starters average 84.7 points per game, second only to the Golden State Warriors.
The acquisition also allows the Wizards to keep their starting five in tact while giving them payroll flexibility for the offseason.
With Porter set to get a huge pay raise this summer, moving Nicholson’s $26 million salary from the books over the next three years was part of the deal’s appeal for the Wizards. Since Nicholson signed last summer, he has played his way out of Brooks’s rotation — last appearing in a game for longer than 10 minutes on Jan. 14. Now the Wizards have eased any potential luxury tax hit this summer when they have to pay up to keep Porter.
Although Thornton, who re-signed to a one-year deal last summer, would have come off the books anyway, the Wizards have also rid themselves of another veteran who was not in their plans.
The other player involved in the trade, the 6-11 power forward McCullough, appears to be more of a project. He played one season at Syracuse before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in early 2015. Drafted later that year by the Nets late in the first round, he has appeared in only 14 games but led Brooklyn in plus/minus (52).
“We feel Chris is an intriguing prospect as a first-round pick who was recently named a D-League all-star,” Grunfeld said in the team’s release. “He has high potential and we look forward to our staff continuing his development.”
The two players will meet the Wizards in Philadelphia, ahead of Friday’s game.
“It’s go time now,” Beal said. “These last 25 games are all about the playoffs right now and the big picture and I think we’ve got the right mind-set. We did a good job since Dec. 1 just turning things around and hopefully we can keep it going.”