Last Friday evening, just before 10 p.m., the Washington Wizards capped their offseason with an exclamation point. At a time when few expected it, news broke that John Wall had agreed to the designated veteran player extension which will rightfully make him the team’s wealthiest player beginning in 2019. While Wall’s contract extension might have landed in the public as a surprise — just 11 days prior, he appeared to be in no rush to sign a deal and told reporters he was “chillin’ ” — free agency in Washington has moseyed to a calm close.
The Wizards needed less than a month to create a costly yet predictable, bordering on boring, offseason. Just the way it needed to be.
“They’re entering their prime while some other players are getting older,” majority owner Ted Leonsis said last Wednesday in referring to Wall, Otto Porter Jr. and Bradley Beal in the Eastern Conference landscape. “I think we feel really good about keeping this core together.”
Unlike last summer, when Washington had the cap space and failed to lure a big-fish free agent, the team never wavered from its season-long focus of sustaining the roots of the franchise.
As long ago as November, Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said the team would re-sign prized restricted free agent Otto Porter, Jr., which it did. Although Porter needed to get his max contract offer from another team, the Wizards repeated assurances that they’d match anything — even the deal from the Brooklyn Nets that included a trade kicker and player option. A free agent in name only, Porter was always returning.
“I had a good chance of being back here, this is where I wanted to be from the get go,” Porter said during his news conference to discuss his four-year, $106 million extension. “This is my future heading forward, and now that that’s over with, we’re all looking forward to the upcoming season.”
With just as little drama, the Wizards vowed the same allegiance to Wall.
Once Wall became eligible for the “supermax” deal, by making the an all-NBA team, Grunfeld said he wanted Wall to finish his career as a Wizard. The extension, which runs through 2023, Wall’s 13th NBA season, goes a long way in accomplishing that goal.
In prioritizing the uninterrupted progression of its main players above all, Leonsis has committed more than $404 million in salary to Wall, Porter and Beal.
“We said we’ll end up with three max players that we drafted, that would be awesome,” Leonsis said. “I would much rather give players that we know, that we think have upside long-term, big deals than roll the dice, right? There’s always lots of buyer’s remorse in free agency because you don’t really know the player, you’re looking at the stats.”
The organization knows its three top players, all drafted and developed by the franchise. And it would much rather ride with familiarity than give into the chase for big-name free agents.
However, the Wizards don’t have much choice in the matter.
Last summer, the beginning of the league’s new $24 billion broadcast deal created canyons of cap space for virtually every team, guaranteeing immense deals for pending free agents. But in Washington, when the team also struck out on Al Horford, and several other players while waiting on Horford, who signed with Boston, those riches were dispensed to a cast of Plan Cs. The four-year, $64 million contract given to backup center Ian Mahinmi, combined with only a relative spike to the 2017-18 salary cap from last year’s steep rise, impacted the Wizards’ spending this summer.
Although Washington worked around its 2016 signing of Andrew Nicholson, shedding his $6 million salary in a trade-deadline deal that allowed the team to keep Porter at any price, it remained over the salary cap, limiting its buying power in free agency.
Instead, the Wizards replenished the bench with three cost-effective veterans via trade or free agency signings. The team traded its late second-round draft pick to the New Orleans Pelicans for Tim Frazier, the new backup point guard. Then in July, Washington found shooting and wing depth in Jodie Meeks and Mike Scott. Both players had disappeared through injury-plagued 2016-17 seasons, which likely caused the pair to sign short-term, low-risk deals, but proclaim clean bills of health heading into next season.
Now, barring a shocking trade, the Wizards have completed their offseason dealings. The team has a maximum 17 players signed to the roster, including rookie free agents Mike Young and Devin Robinson, who will spend most of the season in the NBA G League on two-way contracts. Also, it conceivably has a more-balanced rotation of positionless assets. Above all, however, the Wizards have two-thirds of their nucleus sealed up for the long term, and it took little time and drama to accomplish this.