John Wall is set to miss the rest of the NBA season. The Washington Wizards are currently 11th in the Eastern Conference with a 14-23 record.
Washington have lost three more games than Orlando, four more than Detroit and more than every team in the West other than Phoenix. Underachievement has been common for the Wizards in recent years, but this is an extreme case. It’s unlikely to get much better with Wall injured again.
The one positive for Washington fans is that the team actually went on a run when Wall was out in the second half of last season. They shared the ball better without their point guard, which saw Bradley Beal step up.
They need a similar turnaround here to make the playoffs. Six, seven and eight are up for grabs in the shallow Eastern Conference, and the Wizards will still fancy their chances of snatching one of those spots. That would still be a disappointing outcome for a team with their payroll, particularly as they are a long way off competing against Milwaukee, Boston or Toronto in a playoff series.
Wall’s impending monster contract and the money owed to Beal and Otto Porter Jr. ties the Wizards’ hands somewhat. Improving the roster is a challenge, though they did manage to add Trevor Ariza in a trade with the Suns earlier this season.
The current core has fallen short. They have only landed homecourt advantage in the first round once, when they finished fourth in the East in 2016/17. They have not got further than Game Six of the Conference Semis. In 2017 they lost 4-2 to the Celtics, in 2015 it was the Hawks by the same scoreline and in 2014 it was 4-2 against the Pacers.
The Wizards are way over the cap. With Wall’s contract extension about to kick in, they are destined to be a tax paying team for a long time unless they revamp their roster.
Porter is owed the best part of $82 million over the next three seasons. Beal’s contract is very similar. Ian Mahimi is getting paid over $15 million next season and Dwight Howard has a player option for over $5 million. Wall’s contract, starting next season, runs to 2023 and pays him just shy of $170 million.
Wall is 28 and will have played 73 games across two seasons by the time his maximum contract begins. Few, if any, teams will take that contract. The Wizards’ future is locked into Wall and his inconsistent health.
Beal and Porter are younger and tradeable. Porter’s three-point shooting has dipped this season, but both would be good fits as a third option on a contender. The rumours between now and the trade deadline are inevitable with Wall out injured, yet it is hard to see how this would help Washington.
Wall’s contract runs long into the future, so any assets they got in return for Beal or Porter would still rely on Wall’s health. Their flexibility is still limited in free agency or via trade.
Beal and Porter alongside Wall has proven to be insufficient. Adding another significant piece is near impossible, unless they fall into the lottery this season. Either getting lucky and picking high or pulling off a Jimmy Butler-esque selection is their best hope of being a contender to make the Conference Finals in the next three years.
Barring an offer including a couple of high-upside youngsters, the Wizards should hold on to their two most prized assets for the foreseeable future. The front office may have to get inventive to improve the team – this is where general managers make their money.