No contest between playoff run or high lottery pick for Wizards
To tank, or not to tank. That is the question.
Is it nobler for the Wizards to suffer the rest of the year without John Wall and miss the playoffs for just the second time in six seasons? Or is it better to rally around Bradley Beal and push to qualify for a still-within-reach postseason berth in the watered-down Eastern Conference?
They’re in great position to do both. But only one option carries potential long-term benefits and skips a first-round drubbing by Toronto or another legitimate contender.
Wall’s season-ending surgery might not change the team’s final record much. Whether the All-Star guard was hobbled by his left heel or just exhibited varying levels of energy, Washington struggled to win with him this season.
“If you watch the games and see how I’m running ... you would know what’s the difference and what is going on,” Wall told reporters Monday. “My effort was there, but it wasn’t the player I wanted to be or the person I could be.”
Removing him from the mix should have a negligible effect overall. The team didn’t totally bomb without him last season. But the debate on Wall’s leadership and enthusiasm isn’t going away. Neither is he.
His best-case scenario is full recovery and a clean bill of health as his $170 million contract extension kicks in next season.
The team’s best-case scenario is simple, too: A high lottery pick to join Wall, Beal and whoever’s left after the current roster is blow-torched.
There’s nothing to gain by squeaking in as the eighth seed, but such “success” could cost the Wizards a shot at Duke’s Zion Williamson, R,J, Barrett, or Cam Reddish. Washington sits in a six-team race to finish among the NBA’s bottom three, which carries a 14 percent chance at the No. 1 pick.
That should be the goal now.
Tanking always looks worse when it happens in other cities. But it’s a reasonable strategy when executed by the local team. Then, it’s a principled plan that can be carried out with honor and integrity as losses pile up.
This isn’t to suggest the Wizards should take the floor and exert less-than-maximum effort in their attempt to win each game. But management should look at the big picture and govern itself accordingly.
(The only hesitancy is giving general manager Ernie Grunfeld yet another chance to reshape the roster in his 16th season on the job. If the choice is making the playoffs, winning the No. 1 pick, or getting rid of Grunfeld, I’ll take the latter. Regardless of anything else that happens, the franchise’s long view improves once he’s no longer at the helm.)
Reservations about the general manager aside, this tank job is paint-by-numbers easy with minimal risk of being botched, even with Grunfeld calling the shots. The Wizards are flush in capable veterans on one-year deals, a commodity that contending teams drool over.
Trevor Ariza just returned to the District after four years away; he’s a native of Los Angeles and the Lakers want him. Jeff Green was a key offseason signing; he reached the NBA Finals last season and is putting up nice numbers. Markieff Morris has been a fixture since the 2015-16 season; his toughness and versatility could be vital for a playoff team.
All three of those players should be former Wizards no later than the Feb. 8 trade deadline.
Otto Porter is another.
According to The Athletic, the Dallas Mavericks are interested in trading for the small forward. Earlier this season, Porter was linked to the Sacramento Kings, who signed him to an offer sheet before Washington gave him a max contract. Despite the danger of being fleeced, the Wizards should attempt to deal Porter, too.
The above moves would leave plenty of minutes for youngsters like Thomas Bryant, Sam Dekker, and rookie Troy Brown. They could prove that they belong or be jettisoned after the season.
Either way, the Wizards can play hard and likely still lose enough games to land a high lottery pick.
Shipping off Beal would virtually cement a top 3 pick, but I wouldn’t go that far unless it’s an absolute no-brainer. He’s the team’s best player and the Wizards need to build around him, considering Wall’s tenuous physical condition.
If Wall can resemble his old self and some of the young players are worth keeping, Washington would have an improved core for the immediate future, accentuated by Beal and the lottery pick.
Or, the Wizards could make the playoffs and get the 15th pick.
Upon closer inspection, there isn’t much question on which path is preferable. It’s “tank you very much.”
Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.