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What’s next for the Washington Wizards?

Bradley Beal is (finally) gone and now it’s time for Michael Winger to dismantle the rest of the lacklustre roster. What is everyone’s market looking like?

Two years ago, there were rumours that the Boston Celtics might include Jaylen Brown in a potential Bradley Beal trade, pairing him with his childhood friend, Jayson Tatum. Fast forward to this offseason and Beal just got moved for a bag of peanuts, a future pick swap and three more years of Landry Shamet.

This is obviously due to the $200-plus million owed to him for the next four seasons and mostly, the no-trade clause given to him when he signed that ludicrous deal. I won’t expand on that too much, if you want to hear about how bad it is, my podcast co-host has been rightly complaining about it every chance he gets on Thursday nights.

What we can confirm from this last gasp at value trade is that Michael Winger, the new lead decision maker with Washington, has full autonomy to rebuild the Washington Wizards. But the rebuild isn’t over after moving Beal. Key role players like Kyle Kuzma, Kristaps Porzingis and Chris Paul need to find new homes by next October.

While the Wiz didn’t recoup any premium assets from their star trade, they need to do everything they can to ensure their best asset, their own first-round pick, is as juicy as it can be. So let’s go shopping:

Don’t let Chris Paul stumble into the playoffs

Washington has been one of the more depressing franchises in the past… forever? It’s not because they’re losing too many games and missing on all their draft picks, but it’s because they’ve been bouncing between more eights than a Chinese-themed pokie machine. One season they’re gunning for the eighth seed, the next they’re not shutting players down fast enough and end up with the eighth pick in the draft.

This isn’t Chris Paul’s first rodeo when it comes to being traded away from a championship contender. In 2020, CP3 was essentially traded for Russell Westbrook, to an OKC Thunder team that wanted to tank.

Unfortunately, Paul is a Hall of Fame point guard for a reason and surrounding a CP pick-and-roll with veteran shooters barreled them into the playoffs. Sam Presti didn’t mind and after not finding an enticing offer at the trade deadline, stood pat and watched as this his team won 44 games during a pandemic.

That cannot happen to the Wizards. Even at 38 years old, CP3 is elite enough when he’s on the court and Washington should waive him if they can’t find a suitor to envelop into the Beal trade.

The three teams with reported interest in Paul are the Golden State Warriors, the New York Knicks and the LA Lakers. The equation here is simple: if he gets waived, CP gets to choose his destination. If a front office doesn’t want to play that game, they can trade for him today and guarantee that they get him.

For the Warriors, the only deal that makes sense mathematically would be a swap for Jordan Poole. I don’t care if he tripped over his own feet in the playoffs and is about to start a max contract, you don’t trade four years of a 24-year-old guard for one year of CP3.

CP3 isn’t represented by CAA so the Knicks aren’t able to trade for or sign him, so that’s off the cards (context).

That leaves us with one final option, LeBron James and the LA Lakers. Given the relationship between the two stars and LA’s need to start anyone not named D’Angelo Russell, the Lakers would be my favourite to sign him if he were to get bought out.

LAL can make the money work by declining Malik Beasley’s team option and sending Mo Bamba to the Wizards.

A dark horse here is the LA Clippers, according to Yossi Gozlan, HoopsHype, who could make the money work by sending out Eric Gordon, Marcus Morris and Robert Covington. It seems like only the Lakers gain something by making a trade for CP instead of signing him, and that might be enough.

Why is Kristaps Porzingis (most likely) picking up his player option?

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If you’re an ageing big man with a vast history of major injuries who just had one exceptional season with the option of entering free agency, cashing out on said good season while also choosing your new destination, why the fuck would you say no? What reason would there be to ever pick up your player option and risk having a worse season, or even getting injured again?

I’m seriously considering starting a Twitter group chat with Kristaps Porzingis and Nic Batum and asking the Frenchman to tell him how it’s done (cashing out after a good year) then putting my phone down. If the Zinger signs a long-term deal for financial security off the back of a near-All-NBA season, who’s going to blame him?

But here we are, Jake Fischer, Bleacher Report believes that the Latvian is considering picking up his $36 million player option for next season. The report even mentions that an opt-in would give the Washington Wizards another trade chip alongside Beal (who hadn’t been traded at the time of the report).

From an outsider’s point of view, it doesn’t make any sense. And it’s because of that lack of sense that I think there’s something bigger in the works.

Michael Winger probably doesn’t want Porzingis on this roster and if financial security isn’t atop Porzingis’ list of priorities, winning must be. There must be a trade out there that gets Kristaps on a winning roster, but the maths only works if he’s being traded on his current deal, not signing a fresh contract.

The first deal I can think of is with the Portland Trail Blazers. If Damian Lillard is staying in Portland and the front office wants to even sniff contention, they’re going to need an upgrade at the centre position on the Bosnian Burek, Jusuf Nurkic.

Without committing any money to Cam Reddish and Mattise Thybulle, the Blazers can swing a straight-up trade of Zinger for Nurkic. The money even works while leaving Jerami Grant’s cap hold on the books, a player they’ll have to retain if they want to be competitive.

The Boston Celtics can upgrade their ‘awkward-moving big man who doesn’t look like they should be good on defence but somehow always stays in front of their man’ archetype by essentially swapping Al Horford for Porzingis.

The money works here if the Celtics send back Horford, Danilo Gallinari and renounce Grant Williams’ rights (or sign and trade him to Washington, something I don’t see as possible). 

In a Celtics uniform, Porzingis would be asked to do less with the ball but he’d complete a 48-minute rotation of elite rim protection with Robert Williams and potentially even play alongside him in some hyper-big lineups.

If this is the move for the Latvian, it’d bring a tear to my eye. For all those people who ever said: “Man, I wish these multimillionaire athletes would just take a slight pay cut to play for a winner”, there’s a chance Porzingis is your man.

Kyle Kuzma has already sold his house in Washington

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This one’s a little bit easier. As a free agent, Kyle Kuzma holds the keys to his own destiny. I doubt he’d want to help facilitate a sign and trade to help the Washington Wizards unless it also helps him, so the question becomes: who wants him?

At 27 years old, the scoring wing has proven that he can be part of an elite defence (2020 Lakers championship) and has improved his scoring output since joining the Wizards. With that in mind, he’s going to be quite costly and we’re about to see what he values: winning or money.

If he wants to make the most money possible, he can either re-sign with Washington or sign as a free agent with one of the cap space teams (Detroit Pistons, San Antonio Spurs, Charlotte Hornets etc.).

He hasn’t made as much money in his career compared to others with his role and scoring output. In December 2020, he signed a three-year, $40 million deal with the Lakers before being moved in the Westbrook-to-Washington deal shortly after. The standard mid-level exception is projected to be around $12.2 million this offseason and he’s much better than the players in that range. Will Kuzma be looking for something north of $20 million per season? I think he should and if so, who’s out there to give it to him?

The problem is, Kuzma will warrant that increased salary, but contenders who need a solid fourth option to push them over the line don’t often have that much money lying around. A team like the Denver Nuggets might prefer Kuzma instead of Michael Porter Jr. but there aren’t many realistic scenarios where they could swap the two.

One team who could fit this mould if they move on from some dead weight is the Memphis Grizzlies. It’s well reported that Dillon Brooks isn’t returning to Memphis in free agency and not only will they need help on the wing to fill that hole, the Grizzlies have plenty of future picks at their disposal to dump salary (like Luke Kennard or Brandon Clarke) to another team and give Kuzma a deal that he’d want.

Unfortunately for Kyle Kuzma, if the Grizzlies aren’t interested, I can’t see any team out there who could give him a winning situation and the salary he should demand as a free agent.

It’s worth mentioning that Kuz is a CAA client and the New York Knicks are essentially run by that agency now. There, I mentioned it so I can use this as a receipt when he signs there in two weeks.

Unlike Porzingis, he can’t pick up a $36 million player option and hunt for a trade since he’s underpaid on his past deal and is a “lock” to decline his option. Tricky times ahead for Kuz but wherever he signs, it’s not in Washington.

Too little, too late

Imagine if everything I just explained happened 12 months ago. If Tommy Shepherd (read: Ted Leonsis) realised that this team was going nowhere, maybe a Beal trade and subsequent clearing of the house happens earlier and the Wizards are in the draft range for that French kid…

Written by
Sean Carroll

Host of The Deep Two NBA Podcast and editor of thedeeptwo.com, Sean can often be found talking himself into whichever Golden State Warrior happens to be in their early 20s or unironically saying "light years"

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