For 54 games over nearly four months, the Washington Wizards’ roster underwent minimal turnover. There was one negligible roster transaction and a few minor injuries sparingly sprinkled in, nominal for such a long stretch. A few hours before Thursday’s 3 p.m. NBA trade deadline, the Wizards shook things up a bit, acquiring Ramon Sessions from the Sacramento Kings for Andre Miller in a swap of backup point guards.
The deal satisfies the Wizards’ thirst for a jolt off the bench behind John Wall and reunites Miller with new Kings Coach George Karl. Miller played under Karl for the Denver Nuggets.
Wall will continue to be without his primary back-court companion Friday when LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers come to Verizon Center. Starting shooting guard Bradley Beal will miss his fourth straight game with a mild stress reaction in his right leg. Beal told 106.7 The Fan a timetable for his return hasn’t been scheduled.
Beal hasn’t played since exiting the Wizards’ loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Feb. 5 with a right toe injury. Tests the following week revealed the injury in his right fibula — his third in three seasons. Otto Porter Jr. has started in two of the three games Beal has missed. Garrett Temple started the other one.
“Wish I knew,” Beal said of his return. He is scheduled to have his leg evaluated Friday.
The addition of Sessions, 28, could provide some relief for however long Beal is sidelined. A shoot-first combo guard, he has specialized in providing scoring off the bench in his eight seasons. He averaged 16.6 points per 36 minutes and posted a true shooting percentage of .525 in 83 regular season games for the Charlotte Bobcats and Milwaukee Bucks.
The 6-foot-3 Sessions has succeeded by driving to the basket and getting to the free throw line, but like the rest of his production, his trips to the free throw line have taken a precipitous plunge this season. He is averaging 4.9 free throw attempts per 36 minutes compared with 6.6 last season. Consequently, his scoring has dipped to 11 points per 36 minutes and his true shooting percentage has plummeted to .442. He ranks 332rd out of 348 qualified players in player efficiency rating and 73rd out of 73 qualified point guards. Last year, he ranked 106th of 337 and 21st at his position.
The Wizards attribute the decline partly to a back injury that hampered Sessions and sidelined him for 13 games in December and January.
“We’re not expecting anybody to come in here and turn the whole program around,” said Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld, who added that Sessions could play alongside Wall. “We just expect somebody to come in, be part of the program, do his job, do what he does well, which is penetrate, get to the basket, get to the foul line and push the ball up the floor and play good defense.”
The pass-first Miller was a steady member of Coach Randy Wittman’s rotation until late January, but he struggled to stay in front of quick point guards defensively, and his offensive production tailed off. Miller was benched for three games before Beal was sidelined, which temporarily bumped Miller back into the rotation for the final three contests before the all-star break. He was averaging 10.4 points and 8.2 assists per 36 minutes, though he logged a career-low 12.4 minutes per game in 51 contests.
This is the second straight year Miller, at 38 the oldest player to appear in an NBA game this season, has been traded at the deadline. He arrived in the District last February after the Nuggets shipped him to Washington as part of a three-team trade following a falling out with Nuggets Coach Brian Shaw and helped the Wizards advance to the second round of the playoffs.
“It was really a very tough decision because Andre really did a lot of good things for us,” Grunfeld said. “He came in last year and really helped John and Brad mature, and this year we just felt the second unit needed a little more pop, someone with a little more athleticism, someone who can get up and down the floor a little bit quicker.”
The Wizards will assume the remainder of Sessions’s $2.077 million salary this season and are on the hook for the $2.17 million Sessions is guaranteed next season before he becomes a free agent. Miller was set to become a free agent this summer, but Washington still keeps its flexibility for 2016 when several impactful free agents are expected to hit the market. With the trade, the Wizards are now $3,548,445 under the luxury tax, which is space they can use toward a free agent later in the season.
In the short-term, the Wizards are banking on Sessions to revive a second unit that has regularly lapsed in recent weeks as they commence their 28-game stretch run with six contests in nine days.
“Play with confidence, play with effort and be aggressive, that’s my main [advice] for the guys,” Wittman said of his bench players. “We got to make sure we play these last 28 games with an edge. . . . You always want to be that gnat flying around you at a picnic during the summer [that] you can’t swat away, and we got to make sure in these 28 that we got that edge.”