Because the team missed the playoffs, Leonsis has the benefit of his three-week long review session. Unlike other teams that made hires or promoted general managers at the end of the season, Washington doesn’t seem to be in a rush to find its leader.
“All of the focus is: ‘What have I done right? And what have I done wrong with our organization?’” Leonsis said April 3, a day after firing Ernie Grunfeld, who had served as president of basketball operations since 2003. “And the only way I’m going to find that out is talking to people, and sometimes I talk too much. I have to listen more. . . . And then after we do that and we see the talent that’s within, then we can really do a smart job on what are we looking for.”
While a definitive list of candidates is still being structured, Tommy Sheppard, the team’s interim president of basketball operations, already has made the first moves of the offseason.
Sheppard, who has worked for Washington for 16 seasons, signed guard Jordan McRae to a one-year, non-guaranteed deal. McRae spent last season on a two-way contract and played primarily for the G League’s Capital City Go-Go. The standard NBA contract will allow McRae to compete for a role in the Wizards’ rotation next season.
Sheppard also signed guard Tarik Phillip, who played last year in the G League for the Memphis Hustle. Phillip is assured a spot on the Wizards’ summer league team but will have to compete to make the 2019-20 roster.
First lottery pick since 2013
The Wizards soon will direct their focus to the upcoming draft. On May 14, the NBA draft lottery will be held in Chicago, where the team will learn whether losing 50 games was for the greater good. With the sixth-worst record in the NBA, the Wizards have a 37.2 percent chance of getting a top-four pick.
Washington hasn’t selected that high since it took Otto Porter Jr. third in 2013. Porter became part of the franchise core with John Wall and Bradley Beal, who also were selected in the top three of their respective drafts. While the team has holes to plug at point guard and forward with so many players entering free agency, the priority for the new general manager will be to find a player who could impact the franchise’s future.
The draft might be the easy part. In July, the new general manager will have to engineer a complete renovation of the roster. Twelve of the team’s top 13 scorers this season were either traded or will have the chance to leave in free agency.
The Wizards ended the year with eight potential free agents — the team waived Wesley Johnson after the 80th game. Johnson would have been the ninth player heading toward free agency but since he finished the season on the sideline, his return appeared to be unlikely.
Still, the Wizards have decisions to make on players who did play in the rotation. Every starter but Beal could test the market. And while Jabari Parker did not play in the final three games because of knee pain, he averaged 15.0 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists off the bench after coming to Washington in February. Parker has a $20 million team option, and if the Wizards decline to pick it up, he will become a restricted free agent.
Beal’s potential supermax dilemma
Beal recently completed one of the best seasons in franchise history. By averaging at least 25 points, five rebounds and five assists, Beal became just the sixth NBA player to reach those marks since the 2010-11 season. These individual numbers might be enough to propel Beal into one of the 15 spots on the all-NBA team.
If Beal is voted to the team by media members, he will be eligible to receive a designated veteran player extension, also known as the supermax. The extension, which starts at 35 percent of the salary cap, rewards players with seven to nine years in the league who reach high performance standards such as making the all-NBA team. But if the Wizards offer the extension, Beal’s answer will not be a quick yes. Rather, Beal will take his time to consider the direction of the franchise.
“I have to think about it first. Obviously, that’s a lot of money, and I have a lot of money now, so money’s not the problem or the question,” said Beal, who has two years remaining on his current max contract deal. “I want to be able to know that we’re going in the right direction in the future. Obviously, this is where I want to be. Everybody knows that. Ted knows that. Tommy knows that. And everybody in this organization knows it. Obviously, if the situation comes, that’s a blessing in itself, but it’s not just an easy answer to make. Everybody will probably be like, ‘Yo! You’d be out of your mind!’ But when you’re thinking about your future and your career and the legacy that you want to live, you want to be a winner at the end of the day and do whatever it takes to do that.”
Next season, Wall’s supermax extension kicks in even though he will miss most if not all of the 2019-20 season while recovering from surgery to repair his ruptured left Achilles’ tendon.
So what’s a team to do? Beal has his hesitations but if he makes the all-NBA team, the Wizards will have to weigh the risks in tying up so much of the salary cap for future seasons in just two players. Leonsis was asked recently whether he’s willing to return to the luxury tax after the Wizards raced to get out of it this season.
“We’ve proven we’re not shy in spending money,” Leonsis said. “I just want to make sure, we all want to make sure, that it’s part of a strategic plan, not to appease or try to have a sugar high of some sort.”