For many teams this off-season, free agency was a time to retool with new faces, and for some, make the next step towards title contention. Big names and big contracts were moved so much, the NBA has almost become unrecognizable from its look last year. I don’t know about you, but when you combine the amount of moves in the draft with the moves in this free agency period, my head has been left spinning.
However, some teams decided against major moves and felt that retention was the way to go. For the Wizards, this seemed like the best path. From taking the guy they wanted all along in the draft, Otto Porter, to resigning the guy who was their best free agency signing last off-season, Martell Webster, this team essentially played it safe and decided to see what they can do together again.
Last season, those results weren’t so pretty. Early on in the season, this team appeared lost. Many, including myself, were calling for the heads of Ernie Grunfeld and Randy Whitman for the horrible performance of this team. But with the return of their young star point guard John Wall, all of the negativity seemed to fade away. This team instantly appeared to have a flow, and the wins poured in. Seeing the combination of Wall, Beal, Webster, Nene, and Okafor showed that this team just might be a force when they were all together. The reasoning of lack of talent was replaced with the reasoning of lack of health, and optimism instantly grew for next season.
Well, now this team is pretty much set to take on that task. Every player seems determine to take that next step into the playoffs and show that they have what it takes to win games. But there isn’t anyone who’s more motivated than the man leading the charge, John Wall.
Wall’s entering the last year of his rookie contract, as he will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. But if his performance and comments from this past season are any indication, he has no intention of reaching that state. If the Wizards choose to, they can extend Wall with a max extension, a contract many first round picks before him have received. And likely, that’s what it will take to keep him here and keep him happy for the foreseeable future.
But with their current salary situation the Wizards are in a bit of a funky place. After the trade of Javale McGee to the Denver Nuggets for the veteran big man Nene, this team committed to paying 13 million dollars for one player through the 2015-16 season. Combining that contract along with a max contract for Wall would essentially lock this team into this roster for at least the next three seasons. That’s a tough decision to make, especially for the financially conscience Ted Leonsis.
Sign Wall back, and you tell the fans that this is the team you have to root for over the next few years. Don’t sign him back, and you are essentially claiming the rebuild around Wall to be a failure. Both are bold statements to make, so this organization has to be very careful about which one they choose to make.
So how much does the success of the Wizards’ upcoming season play a part? If this team does make the playoffs, does that seal Wall’s fate? Isn’t that the team’s goal right now? Isn’t that a “mission accomplished”? But what if they get in with the eighth seed? Is signing a max contract to a player to lock in a roster of guys who can only muster an eighth seed finish really what you want to say the fans?
How about if they don’t make the playoffs? Do they choose to rebuild around someone else? Does an owner who said last offseason that he didn’t want to be in lottery again really have the guts to lock in a roster who couldn’t meet those expectations two years in a row? But what if a similar situation to this season happens all over again? What if Nene, Webster, Wall, or Okafor, all players with prior injury problems, all get hurt at some point in the season, causing this team to not make the playoffs? Is Leonsis comfortable in settling for the injury excuse again?
Or does the success ultimately not make the decision? Is this more about how Wall himself performs more than anything else? Does Leonsis see a way of changing the parts around Wall, all while giving him the max contract which all but erases their financial flexibility? Can you really not resign Wall if he takes that next step even if the team ultimately doesn’t?
These are all tricky questions which I’m glad I don’t have to answer. But Leonsis surely does, and that decision will be here before he knows it. The best case here is the Wizards really show they have what it takes and easily make the playoffs, setting up an easy decision to give Wall his max deal. The worst case is Wall gets injured again, and this team doesn’t make the playoffs, making the thought of handing out a max contract to another injury prone player on a non-playoff team pretty scary (probably worse than the Arenas deal).
All Wizards’ fans can do is hope that while Leonsis may be wishing for the best, he is planning for the worst. And in the meantime, every Wizards fan will do the same. Let’s just hope the worst situations are in the rear-view for Washington, but as every single one of their fans know, don’t think it can’t get any worse because it can.