There’s little doubt that the Washington Wizards are one of the most disappointing teams in the NBA early on this season. At a record of 5-11 the team has put themselves behind the pace early on and look to be in jeopardy of falling out of playoff contention before the calendars turn to 2019. For a team that has made the playoffs four of the last five seasons the early struggles, and apparently discontent within the organization, may finally be the writing on the wall that as currently constructed, Washington isn’t even close to being a championship contender.
It’s a tough pill to swallow no doubt. The Wizards went through a particularly ugly rebuild process to construct this roster which started with the Gilbert Arenas fall out and peaked when they landed the number one overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft and selected John Wall. Wall was supposed to be one of those can’t miss prospects, a clear superstar from day one. Though he’s been very good, ultimately Wall and his teammates have fell short of those lofty expectations, never once reaching a conference finals, let alone an NBA finals, over the past 8 seasons. This despite the fact that the Wizards gave Wall an excellent running mate in his back court with Bradley Beal as well as an excellent young wing in Otto Porter Jr. Despite a quality roster, it just hasn’t worked out for Washington. Some of that is likely due to the poor chemistry on the team that was revealed this week when Beal stated “I’ve been dealing with this (expletive deleted) for seven years.” Some of it though may be related to Wall himself and the fact that a lightning fast, oversized, score first by driving to the rim point guard isn’t as valuable as it was even eight years ago. All of this has culminated in the news coming out this week that the Wizards are open to listening to trade offers on anyone and everyone, including Wall, Beal and Porter Jr. With the Denver Nuggets currently crashing back to earth, would a shakeup for one of the aforementioned players make sense?
Wall is still the highlight player of the Wizards roster. There’s certainly an argument to be made that Beal is actually the better player, but Wall brings the name recognition and the status of being a former #1 overall pick and a perennial all star. While he hasn’t been as efficient this season and he’s playmaking less for his teammates, he’s still a defensive ace on the perimeter who can average 20 points and 10 assists a game in the right situation. Wall could offer the Nuggets something they’re sorely lacking: elite playmaking from a true point guard. He’d allow for Jamal Murray or Gary Harris to fulfill the Beal role while, in theory, also create a second playmaking option for the offense that defenses would have to respect allowing for more freedom for Nikola Jokic.
Unfortunately, there’s just so much downside with Wall right now. His physical fitness has been in question this season and Wall’s denial, stating the dip in his numbers is due to injuries, isn’t exactly a vote of confidence for a team that would be trading for his production on the court. His game also isn’t a great match with Jokic. Wall is a ball dominant isolation player, who spends as little time as anyone moving off ball. That’s pretty much the antithesis of what the Nuggets need next to Nikola. Plus, whatever the reason may be, there’s been a dip in Wall’s ability to attack which perhaps is a preview of how his game will age when father time robs him of the speed that has made him a nightmare to defend. At age 28, that time is approaching faster than some might realize
There’s also the issue of the massive contract. Last Summer the Wizards went all in with Wall, giving him a “supermax” extension for $170 million over four years. That contract doesn’t even begin until next season, where Wall will start out with an annual salary of $38 million but as Zach Lowe points out, Wall’s 15% trade kicker makes a deal this season complicated. In the very short term it’s easy to cook up a deal that technically works between Denver and Washington. Gary Harris makes close to Wall’s current $19.2 million salary so Harris plus a filler of choice makes the salaries match up. Long term though it would be a salary cap disaster for the Nuggets who already are paying out $148 million to Jokic over the next five seasons. The duo of Wall and Jokic could be potentially potent, but would also take around two thirds of Denver’s entire cap to pay. For the Nuggets, Wall’s juice just isn’t worth the squeeze.
Beal’s the opposite of Wall in a lot of ways. He’s been Washington’s best player this season and his injury troubles that plagued him early on in his career appear to be behind him. He made his first all star appearance last season during a campaign that saw his second best season ever scoring (22.6 ppg) and a career high in assists (4.5apg). Though he’s struggled like Wall to hit his three point shot this season, unlike Wall, Beal has shown over his career to be a very effective shooter from long range. He can play off ball and knock down kickouts at a high rate, he can take over ball control duties in spurts and create for others or work through pick and rolls and DHOs to get good looks. His fit with the Nuggets offense is excellent and very much in the vein of what Harris and Murray currently provide, and perhaps therein lies the problem with the Nuggets trading for Beal.
Bradley is a step up from Harris or Murray, but he’s not a massive step up. In fact, in terms of BaketballReference.com’s VORP statistic Harris and Beal’s production in terms of value added is almost identical, with Beal at 0.4 and Harris at 0.5. Obviously there’s a lot more to that story with so many of the impacts on Washington right now not being quantifiable and catch all stats are inherently flawed by nature, but the point still stands that Harris to Beal isn’t as big of a needle mover as it might seem. Perhaps Murray (0.2 VORP) to Beal is more of an upgrade and believing Murray’s ceiling is essentially what Beal already provides isn’t a stretch nor an insult to Murray. After all, Beal is really good.
However there are some key issues in a Murray/Beal swap. The first is Beal makes about $22 million more than Jamal, which makes a deal exceedingly difficult. Essentially there are two ways to do it without involving Harris: combine Murray with either Will Barton and Mason Plumlee or with Paul Millsap. Either package could be dealt for Beal and small filler (most likely expiring contract, and Colorado native, Jason Smith). The Barton Plumlee package is a tougher sell, if Washington is trading away Beal and perhaps other key pieces then they are likely headed for a deep rebuild and neither Barton nor Plumlee really fits that timeline. Millsap however is essentially a massive expiring contract. Adding his $30 million worth of cap space for the 2019 offseason plus a high ceiling young prospect like Murray is more in line with the direction Washington would be going. On the other hand, there’s a good chance that a Murray/Millsap can be beat by another team in the Wizards eyes at least, but from the Nuggets end it’s giving up a huge cog in their defense to upgrade a somewhat redundant spot on their offense. The Nuggets need to shore up their playmaking with a true point guard or bolster their perimeter defense and scoring with a long two-way wing. Beal, though a very good player, is neither of those things.
Otto Porter Jr
Porter does fill one of those needs as a two-way lengthy wing. He too has struggled with his three point shot this season but over the past two seasons has proven to be an absolutely lethal shooter from outside, averaging nearly 44% on 654 attempts from beyond the arc in that period of time. He’s also a stifling perimeter defender with a wingspan that exceeds all but Trey Lyles and Jarred Vanderbilt’s among Denver’s options at forward (all three are approximately 7’1”). The question with Porter though is whether or not he can live up to his contract. The Wizards had their backs put against the wall when Porter accepted an offer sheet from the Brooklyn Nets a year ago. As Jeff Siegel points out on Forbes.com, the Nets made every effort they could to snatch Porter away in free agency, meaning their offer was extremely player friendly and less desirable from an owner perspective.
Beyond having a 15% trade kicker like Wall, Porter’s contract has some other unique aspects. Siegel notes:
the Nets tacked on the most advanced payment schedule possible to Porter’s contract – he’s paid a full 25% of his base salary on July 1, another 25% on October 1, and the remainder is paid out in installments throughout the regular season...For the more cost-conscious owners out there, this could represent an issue for their organization’s overall cash flow.
Cost. Conscious. Owners. One has to believe that Porter’s contract will be a topic of conversation if the Nuggets have any about making a deal for the Wizards young wing. It also presents similar challenges as Beal’s contract, the Nuggets have a hard time creating a package that is fair trade value with salaries to match. The key difference between Beal and Porter in terms of trade value is Beal is the superior player. Where he is a slight upgrade to Gary Harris, Porter is closer to a lateral move. The same can be said for a deal involving Jamal Murray, though potentially the improvement in roster fit is greater. Still, adding Harris or Murray to a deal for Porter feels like not a ton of overall improvement, just added cost.
If the Nuggets were going to make a deal it’d have to likely involve Will Barton and Mason Plumlee which is a tall ask for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it’s not great value for Washington because again, those players don’t really fit a rebuild timeline, but also it’s difficult for the Nuggets to sweeten the pot with draft picks given that they used their 2019 pick already to offload Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur’s contracts and have no incoming first rounders from other teams meaning the earliest 1st round pick Denver can add to a deal is their pick in 2021. There’s also the question of whether Porter is really an upgrade over even a player like Barton when you consider the salary impacts. Denver could try a more reasonable target in terms of salary and target Kelly Oubre Jr but he doesn’t offer nearly the same spacing which the Nuggets already know is an issue for them at the small forward position. It’s hard to see how he would be a significant upgrade over Juancho Hernangomez at that spot.
For the first time in what seems like forever, there’s stars with trade rumors swirling around them and none of it really makes sense for the Denver Nuggets. The Washington Wizards may very well be headed towards a rebuild, but the Nuggets have little to gain from the potential fire sale. John Wall is too expensive and too different of a player than what is needed in Denver’s system. Bradley Beal is too redundant to be worth the price to acquire him and Otto Porter’s contract and relative production make it too difficult to find a fair trade between the two teams. The Nuggets roster certainly isn’t perfect, but they’re at a point where the right moves have to be made, lest they end up like, well, the Wizards. Taking a pass on this roster blow up is the right move.