30 Teams in 30 Days: Climbing NBA hierarchy solely on Washington Wizards’ minds now

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Washington Wizards guards Bradley Beal, left, and John Wall embrace after Game 6 of the team’s NBA basketball second-round playoff series against the Boston Celtics, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com

Since the Warriors downed the Cavs to take the 2017 NBA title back on June 12, NBA teams have undergone a number of changes over the long summer offseason.

NBA.com’s Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise — from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2016-17 to the team with the best regular-season record — as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.

Today’s team: Washington Wizards

2016-17 Record: 49-33

Who’s new: Tim Frazier (trade), Jodie Meeks (free agency), Mike Scott (free agency)

Who’s gone: Bojan Bogdanovic, Brandon Jennings

The lowdown: Washington came one win away from positing the first 50-win season since being renamed the Wizards and reached the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2017.

Also life is good when you’re the third-best player on the No. 4 team in the Eastern Conference. If you doubt this, look no further than Otto Porter Jr.

As the third overall pick in the 2013 Draft, Porter started slowly (as rookies tend to do) and then last season emerged as a very reliable shooter, averaging 51 percent from the floor and 43 percent from 3-point range. He was still Washington’s third option behind John Wall and Bradley Beal, yet finished fourth in the Kia Most Improved Player voting and, by all indications, put himself on track to have a solid career.

And then, free agency hit.

Often in these situations, it’s not about your ability as much as it’s about your timing and leverage. And Porter had both. He had a desperate team, the Brooklyn Nets, searching for youth and armed with a vast amount of salary-cap space. The perfect financial storm, then, resulted in a four-year, $107 million offer which was matched by the Wizards (as a provision, Washington must pay him half his salary each year by Oct. 1).

Therefore, the guy who’ll get roughly 10 shots a game will make $24 million next season, and the Wizards are thrilled about it.

Understand that Porter is the type of player a team will invest in. He’s only 24, a solid teammate and professional, and has shown tremendous growth. Want proof? As a rookie, he was non-existent as a deep threat (19 percent), but last season he was top-five in the NBA in 3-point percentage. That’s rapid improvement and the Wizards rightly believe the best has yet to come.

Besides, Porter gives Washington a trio in its prime, along with Wall and Beal, and its best chance of moving up in the East and becoming a title contender.

The Wizards’ summer was really about coughing up the dough rather than adding to the nucleus. And so, in addition to keeping Porter under contract, the Wizards gave Wall a maximum $170 million, four-year extension, thus keeping their best player happy.

Strange how it has all worked out for the Wizards. Last summer they didn’t even get an interview with Kevin Durant, the hometown guy and a franchise-making free agent at the time. They were coming off a break-even season, couldn’t keep Beal healthy and got mixed results from a front line of Marcin Gortat. And then they over-compensated Ian Mahinmi, who’ll make $16 million in each of the next three seasons.

But everything fell in place. Porter excelled, rookie Kelly Oubre showed flashes, Wall had another All-Star season on both ends of the floor and Beal was only the third player (with Kyrie Irving and Steph Curry) to shoot 40 percent on threes while averaging 23 points. They were among the best second half teams last season, finishing 27-14 down the stretch.

Given that, the Wizards’ plan this summer was continuity instead of wholesale change. The goal is to keep the best players happy and compensated — which Washington has done with Beal, Wall and now Porter all making in the $20 million range per season — in order to challenge the Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics for East supremacy.

What they didn’t do this summer was upgrade the power positions. Given the payroll restrictions, this was perhaps beyond their reach, and so they’ll go with Gortat, hope Mahinmi stays healthy and bank on solid play from Markeef Morris.

The Wizards surrendered their No. 1 pick to Brooklyn in a mid-season deal that netted Bogdanovic and Chris McCullough. Bogdanovic turned out to be a three-month rental while McCullough is a developmental power forward at age 22.

They did add Mike Scott and Jodie Meeks, a pair of veterans, in free agency and both can help. Meeks is a solid 3-point shooter (37.6 percent in his career), but has been limited to just 99 games the last three seasons because of injury. Scott is a versatile scorer off the bench who brings some shooting depth, too.

Frazier was added to bring depth behind Wall, which was necessary when the Wizards declined to re-sign Jennings. Frazier is a quick, change of pace point guard who finds teammates but is only a career 40.3 percent 3-point shooter.

Two years ago, the Wizards delayed giving Beal an extension so they could keep their cap clear to make a run at Durant. That didn’t materialize. And then this summer, Wall said Washington would become vastly better if they added Paul George. That didn’t happen, either.

What the Wizards did was stay put and stick with the plan to build from the Draft and grow organically. Would they be the favorites in the East had they acquired either Durant or George? Perhaps. But with the clock perhaps ticking on the Cavaliers and LeBron James’ stay in Cleveland, the Wizards are well positioned to make a move in the very near future.

Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. 





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