WASHINGTON — With the NBA trade deadline roughly three weeks away, the Washington Wizards have important decisions to make.
Their 2022-23 season has been a massive disappointment so far, and three key players – Kyle Kuzma, Kristaps Porziņģis and Rui Hachimura – may become free agents in July.
What questions do wizards need to answer before February 9th? And what valuable draft capital do they have for trades?
This piece serves as the basis for your Wizards trade deadline.
The questions the wizards must answer
Is the current rostering strategy working? Does it have a reasonable chance of eventually being successful?
The biggest misconception about the Wizards is that the franchise decision makers have no plan to make the team a competitor.
You have a plan. It’s just harder to describe and harder to visualize than tanking: blowing up the roster, hitting the bottom, trying to land a top pick in the NBA draft lottery, and working through the draft.
The plan was to build around Bradley Beal, try to bring on as many talented players as possible, develop the young players who are already in the squad and try to win now. Winning now might make the team more attractive in the free hand. In the meantime, the wizards will try to be proactive in the trading market.
Part of the rationale for this “middle-build” approach is that Wizards officials thought the lottery reform measure coming into effect in 2019 gave the team a better chance of succeeding than tanking. It’s now harder for a bottomed team to win a top 3 lottery pick. A team with one of the three worst records in the league has just a 14.0 percent chance of winning the first pick, a 13.4 percent chance of getting the second pick, and a 12.7 percent chance of winning the get third tip.
Still, the middle build strategy isn’t working this season. The Wizards are down from last year. The team owns an 18-26 record this season, which is the sixth-worst record in the league. Nothing about the Wizards’ performance to date has made the franchise more appealing to players elsewhere.
Wizards officials would rightly argue that injuries, particularly to Beal and defensive ace Delon Wright, have hampered the team.
Eleven games remain before the deadline and once Beal returns from a left hamstring strain, team officials want to use those games to assess their team once they are finally fully healthy. Beal is listed as in doubt to play in New York on Wednesday night. (A word of warning is important here. Five of the 11 games before the deadline will be played against the five teams below the Wizards in league standings: Orlando Magic, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, Detroit Pistons and Charlotte Hornets. These win five Games would not be a reliable benchmark for estimating Washington’s ceiling.)
But how good would a fully sane roster be anyway? Beal’s veteran core, Kristaps Porziņģis and Kyle Kuzma, have played together in just 21 games, and the team has gone 9-12 in those games (including the Jan. 3 loss in Milwaukee when Beal worsened his current injury in the second quarter and did not return to the game).
Earlier this season, building around Beal was already a risky proposition as he hadn’t proven he could be No. 1 in a rival team. The prospects for Beal’s build-up now look bleaker, as Beal has already missed 20 of Washington’s 44 games this year. Those missed games are worrying for someone who turns 30 in June and is in the first year of a five-year, $251 million contract.
Which brings us to the next question.
Would Beal consider lifting his no-trade clause?
Wizards officials have not indicated that they intend to abandon their middle-build strategy and start with a full rebuild. But if they ever have a change of heart, the no-trade clause they included in Beal’s new contract would prevent them from trading the three-time All-Star.
Beal himself might try to force the wizards’ hand by telling them he wants out.
When Beal signed his new contract, he said he would be patient while team officials try to build a successful team. Most importantly, Beal has shown no outward signs that he wants out.
But sometimes feelings change.
What does Kyle Kuzma want to do?
Kuzma will not sign a contract extension because NBA veteran extension rules would limit his earning potential. He intends to decline his player option for 2023-24 and become an unrestricted free agent in July.
When the athlete has already written, the Wizards need to know before the trade deadline if Kuzma will be signing with them again.
Put another way, if Kuzma intends to let Washington free or is hesitant about staying, the team will need to trade him before the deadline to ensure they get something in return. Wizards can’t afford to see him sign for free anywhere else.
The wizards have signaled that they want to keep Kuzma long-term.
what does Porziņģis intends to do 2023-24 with his player option?
Porziņģis has largely avoided the injuries that have plagued his career for so long, playing in 39 of Washington’s 44 games. He’s played well, averaging 22.2 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.5 blocks per game to put himself under consideration for an All-Star Game reserve role.
He has a 2023-24 player option worth $36.0 million.
Porziņģis tells the athlete As of Monday, he has yet to make a decision on his player option, adding he could raise the issue with his agent Jeff Schwartz during the All-Star break.
What could the team’s 2023-24 cap number look like?
With Beal already set to make $46.7 million next season, the Wizards front office needs to figure out — and certainly has already discussed it — whether the team can re-sign Kuzma, Porziņģis and restricted free agent-to -be Rui Hachimura this summer without exceeding the projected luxury tax threshold of $162 million.
It’s hard to imagine Wizards owner Ted Leonsis being willing to step into the helm when the core of players haven’t shown winning potential.
What is the value of young players in the trading market and how optimistic are the Wizards about their future?
Of Washington’s four most recent first-round draft picks — Hachimura, Deni Avdija, Corey Kispert, and Johnny Davis — it’s fair to say that Avdija and Hachimura have the highest trade values. As of last year’s deadline, the Wizards, who had fallen out of the playoff chase and were looking to trade Spencer Dinwiddie and Montrezl Harrell, were unwilling to part with any of their young players or picks.
Would it make sense to keep Hachimura if the team intends to keep Kuzma and Avdija?
And what about Daniel Gafford, who starts alongside Porziņģis for the time being but is seen as a backup center by many scouts? Gafford’s contract extension, signed in 2021, will take effect next season, with Gafford earning $12.4 million in 2023-24, $13.4 million in 2024-25 and $14.4 million in 2025-26 target. When the Wizards reached overtime with Gafford, those dollar amounts seemed like a prudent precautionary move just in case Gafford would have breakout seasons in 2021-22 and 2022-23. But the dollar amounts now seem like outsized commitments for someone who now seems more appropriate as a reserve. If the Wizards project Porziņģ is their long-term starter, can the Wizards find a taker for Gafford?
Will anyone give up a small asset for Will Barton?
In his first season with Washington, Barton fell out of the rotation despite Beal being injured. Barton is making $14.4 million this season and will become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
If the Wizards don’t negotiate Barton, he would be a potential takeover candidate.
Can they upgrade at Point Guard?
Monté Morris has been an efficient if underused and unspectacular stopgap as Washington’s starting point guard this season. Morris is also signed for next season at a bargain price of $9.8 million.
Wizards President and General Manager Tommy Sheppard typically views a trade deadline as an opportunity to improve for the following season. So it wouldn’t be a surprise if he tries to move up at point guard.
The Wizards’ Other Fortune
The earliest Washington can trade one of its first-round picks is 2028.
The reason? In 2020, the Wizards sent John Wall and a 2023 lottery-protected first-round pick for Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets. The squad has changed hands twice since then – from the Rockets to the Oklahoma City Thunder to the New York Knicks.
The Wizards now owe the Knicks a first-round pick this year if they’re not in the lottery. The protections thereafter are the top 12 in 2024, the top 10 in 2025, and the top 8 in 2026. If the Wizards have not submitted the pick to the Knicks by 2026, the Wizards owe the Knicks their second-round picks in the election instead year 2026 and 2027.
Because the NBA has a rule that prevents a team from trading its own first-round pick in consecutive years, the Wizards cannot trade one of their own first-round picks until two years after their commitment to the Knicks ends. Since the Wizards’ first-round pick commitment to the Knicks can’t end until 2026, the Wizards won’t be able to part with a first-round pick of their own until 2028 at the earliest.
In theory, the Wizards can put their 2025 first-round pick up for sale if they and the Knicks agree to remove protection for the 2023 first-round pick. However, this would not be to the magicians’ advantage as this selection currently has the 6th highest chance of winning the lottery.
The casters also have several second round picks to trade with.
In addition, they have a $4.0 million trade exception from the Aaron Holiday trade last February and a $5.2 million trade exception from the Montrezl Harrell trade last year February. These trading exceptions cannot be aggregated and will expire if not used before the trading deadline.
(Top Photo by Kyle Kuzma and Rui Hachimura: Tommy Gilligan/USA Today)