Free agent spoiler alert for Washington Wizards dreamers, some of whom believe one playoff run puts the District in the upper echelon of desirable towns to play in: LeBron and ’Melo aren’t coming this year. Or next. Neither is Chris Bosh nor Chandler Parsons.
Since no truly big-time free agent has come to Washington since Gilbert Arenas in 2003, some of you already knew this. But in less than two years, there is real hope for the idealists. Really, it’s not too early to start thinking and dreaming big about 2016.
If John Wall and Bradley Beal keep it up — going deeper in the playoffs, staying healthy — and if they continue to be surrounded with more of the right pieces, the greatest scorer of his generation may not brush off Washington in two years.
It’s not the most desperate, call-in-radio segment anymore to fantasize about Kevin Durant coming home.
Before we get down to details, allow me to digress.
One of the admissions no longtime Wizards fan wanted to hear from Ted Leonsis two summers ago was, “We’re not a destination” and, “The danger in free agency is, just because you want them doesn’t mean they want you.”
The principal owner’s words had a hopelessness to them, as if Leonsis was resigned to the fact the NBA team in the nation’s capital could not attract the best players in the game when they were available to acquire.
At midnight Eastern time, July 1, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and the rest of the bumper 2014 free agent crop began negotiating with suitors. And the transcendent players again will not receive a call from Washington.
As hard as that was to hear then and now, Transparent Ted was right.
The Wizards weren’t a destination two years ago. Today, they are closer but still at least a year away. In point of fact, the worst thing they could do this offseason is try to pursue the unattainable in LeBron and ’Melo, while forgetting the way NBA franchises eventually lure difference makers: become a consistent winner by building around a solid core.
That’s why Ernie Grunfeld wasted no time in getting Marcin Gortat to agree to re-sign with Washington for five years and $60 million.
It’s why Randy Wittman flew to Los Angeles to meet with Trevor Ariza, the second-most important re-signing priority of the summer for Washington, which hopes Ariza doesn’t command more than $9 million per season elsewhere.
See, if Ariza can join Gortat in returning to a nice squad that features Wall and Beal in the back court and Nene at center, then the nucleus of a team that was two wins from playing Miami in the Eastern Conference finals returns.
Fast-forward two years of contending and playing in at least one conference final, of back-loading and structuring contracts to allow significant salary-cap space in 2016, when Nene comes off the books and Beal needs to be extended. Now we’re no longer talking pipe dreams and unrealistic We-Could-Get-This-Guy call-in segments (of which I sadly am familiar). We’re maybe talking Durant — Suitland’s own, K.D., the Durantula, Slim Reaper, Mr. Skinny-Jeans MVP back to be part of our framily.
Leonsis didn’t mention Durant by name when he sat down with Post editors and reporters late last fall, but he genuinely sounded as if a player of Durant’s caliber would one day see the attractiveness of playing in the District.
“This is more a basketball town than it is a hockey town,” he said. “We just have to give them a team that they can believe in. Get some results. Get into the playoffs. I really do believe that one day we can get a transformative player to join us, to believe in us and get to the next [step.] This is a great city and we have a great arena.”
It could also be argued that ownership and management see Wall and Beal becoming transformative players themselves, and there is no reason to believe they won’t duel Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson as the league’s preeminent back court for years to come.
But the bottom line is what the Wizards have now, whether they re-sign Ariza or find a capable replacement for him, equates to a burgeoning contender in the East, a team still several rungs below San Antonio, Miami and Oklahoma City, and at least a step behind the Clippers, Pacers and Grizzlies. Could they beat Houston or Portland in a seven-game war right now? It’s almost as debatable as whether K.D. really would settle on Washington.
If Durant were to leave the Thunder after nine memorable years in 2016, the thought is still that his preferred destination would be New York to play with the Knicks or the Nets, whom Jay Z just divested in partially to become Durant’s representative.
But in two years, much can change. A franchise in Washington that no one ever thought could attract the game’s best free agents could emerge as a major player.
By then, the best teams in the league currently could be running on fumes. The Clippers and Warriors could be the class of the West, and the East will be for the taking.
Portland’s Nicolas Batum is part of the same class in two years.
The point is, that caliber of player could soon be in play for the Wizards. In 2016, they might want Washington just as much as the Wizards want them.
What realistic chance does Durant have of landing here in two years? On a 1-10 scale, probably a 2 right now. But that’s considerably better chance than the Wizards had two years ago.
Now it depends on them: ownership, management, players, everyone. They need to go from second-round party-crashers a year ago to the next hot, young team in the league a year from now, on the cusp of going to the Finals, in need of one more star to put them over the top.
By 2016, there is no reason they shouldn’t shoot for the moon and attempt to bring home the most unstoppable offensive force in the game to a franchise that patiently made itself into a bona fide free agent destination.
For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.