State of the Cap: Washington Wizards

Mon, 06/14/2010 - 12:25am

2010/11 Washington Wizards Payroll: $29.1 million
2010/11 NBA Salary Cap: $56.1 million
Roughly: $27 million under cap

John WallJohn WallThe Good: Few teams have gone from trying to make a deep playoff run into rebuilding mode faster than the Wizards. The quick turnover left the team rather bare in the young talent department. Their best building block right now is easily Andray Blatche. The third-year forward received the lion’s share of the minutes after the departure of Antawn Jamison and Blatche made the most of it. From February 17th to the end of the season, he put up an impressive 22.1 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Of course, he also displayed his immaturity by clashing with coach Flip Saunders and getting benched in one game, so there are certainly issues that Blatche must overcome if he wants to be a long-term piece of the team’s future. At this point, the Wizards cannot be choosy and must hope that Blatche can develop that potential and become a great player. They have him cheaply for the next two years at $3.2 and $3.5 million, so the team has time to find out.

When Washington could see the writing on the wall and knew that they weren’t going anywhere this year (or in the near future), they did a good job of massively cutting their payroll. The Wizards will go from paying $73 million in salaries last year to having just $29.1 million on the books for next season, and that’s including the $17.7 million going to Gilbert Arenas. The team can now be a player in this summer’s free agent bonanza. Even though its not likely that one of the big names will come to DC, any added talent they can get will be a big help. Considering the recent contracts given out to Arenas and Jamison, hopefully the Wizards can avoid overpaying for the players they need.

Just when it seemed things couldn’t be any worse for the Wizards, the basketball Gods bestowed upon them the top pick in this summer’s NBA Draft and with it the likely choice of franchise point guard John Wall. Nothing will cure the team’s recent ills faster than adding an incredibly talented point guard prospect that could turn into a superstar very soon. The only thing left is to figure out what to do with that other superstar point guard they have.

The Bad: Obviously, the biggest problem for Washington is what to do with Gilbert Arenas. The man still has 4 years and $80 million left on his contract. He gave them almost nothing the first two years of that contract and he has only played in 47 games total the past three seasons. He embarrassed the franchise and can no longer be counted on as a leader and star player for this team. So what can they do? Arenas will be nearly impossible to trade with a contract that size along with his recent troubles and performance. Now with Wall coming in, it will be difficult to give Arenas enough minutes to put up the kind of stats needed to attract interest from other teams. For now, it appears that Arenas is stuck in Washington awhile, much to their chagrin.

The team made a lot of big trades in the past year, one to try and become a contender and two to start rebuilding (as odd as that sounds). Besides the positive effect on their salary cap, none of those trades exactly worked out in Washington’s favor. They traded some junk and the fifth pick in last year’s draft for Mike Miller and Randy Foye, players they hoped would give them a deeper, better team. Miller missed a large chunk of the season due to injury and Foye maintained the poor shooting he displayed in Minnesota and never stepped up to help replace Arenas after his suspension. Their contracts are done, so no negative financial effects will occur, but the Wizards would sure love to have that draft pick back right now.

Their two cost-cutting trades that jettisoned Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison didn’t include anything useful beyond expiring contracts. Both players were highly coveted and should have garnered better offers. The two deals netted just one draft pick (a worthless Cleveland first rounder) and no useful young players to help with rebuilding. Josh Howard doesn’t count because of his off-the-court problems and he likely will not be resigned. Al Thornton was the only player of minor value that Washington acquired and he doesn’t have much to be excited about. Their salary savings was nice, but now the talent pool is dangerously shallow because of these trades.

Outlook: Last year at this time, the Wizards were trying to gear up for a long stay in the playoffs. If their trio of great players could stay healthy, then maybe next year would be the time that Washington finally broke through and became an elite team. Even then, it was wishful thinking, but not beyond the realm of possibility. Alas, it all came crashing down pretty quickly. Even though Arenas played decently well in his return from injury, the Wizards were a very disappointing 10-20 as the calendar turned to 2010. Then, things went from bad to worse. Arenas brought his gun collection to work, fines and suspensions ensued, and the current incarnation of the Wizards was history. The team went on a 3-9 stretch after Arenas’s last game and it became clear that this group of players was not going to work. Washington cut away what they could and are now likely staring at a couple of miserable years ahead of them.

Although, after their lottery luck, those years might not be as miserable as they could have been. One of the pleasant side effects to adding a point guard of Wall’s caliber is that other players want to play with him. Washington had the cap room, but they weren’t mentioned very often as a possible destination for some of the big name free agents that will be available. Now, Washington has something to be excited about and free agents will have to take a second look at coming to D.C. Perhaps the Wizard’s rebuilding project won’t take that long after all.

Grade: B

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