John Wall, Washington Wizards Still Yet To Arrive
Despite having another stellar season, John Wall is still no closer to propelling the Washington Wizards to the next level. However, a good portion of the blame lies elsewhere.
Since the arrival of John Wall in 2010, the Washington Wizards have at stages threatened to break through in the Eastern Conference. However, with Wall now in his seventh season in D.C., the waiting game continues.
Wall joined the Wizards after just one season at Kentucky and hit the ground running. He posted 16.4 points and 8.3 assists per game as a rookie and ever since has continued to establish himself among the game’s premier point guards.
The Wizards have managed just two playoff appearances in Wall’s time in Washington. Both appearances, in 2014 and 2015, resulted in second-round departures. But despite showing promise during these seasons, the Wizards have again stagnated.
Sure, Wittman wasn’t among the top echelon of head coaches in the league. But not all blame can lay at the feet of the head coach. Like almost any organisation, everything starts from the top.
And in the case of the Wizards, team president Ernie Grunfeld is the main in charge of basketball operations.
The players and coaches can go out on the floor and put their best foot forward in each game they play. But ultimately their fortunes are going to be highly determined by Grunfeld, the man charged with shaping the Wizards roster each season.
Grunfeld landed in Washington after spending eight years in the New York Knicks’ front office. In his 15th season at the helm, Grunfeld is now on the fifth head coach of his tenure with the hiring of Brooks.
But when narrowing it down to Wall’s time in Washington, various moves have been made by Grunfeld that can help explain the situation the Wizards currently find themselves.
Upon arriving at his first training camp as a member of the Wizards, Wall would’ve been slightly confounded by what lay before him.
Among his teammates in his rookie season were Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee and Nick Young–and, for the first 21 games of the season, the enigmatic Gilbert Arenas. To say that this represents an unpredictable collection of players would be an understatement.
As a rookie point guard and the No. 1 overall pick, the challenges he was facing on a nightly basis from opposing teams and point guards would have been daunting enough.
But when you have three extremely immature, albeit highly talented, players to work with, it doesn’t make things particularly easy as a first year player. The Wizards won 23, 20 (lockout-shortened) and 29 games in Wall’s first three seasons.
With an explosive point guard now running the show, the key for the front office was to surround him with the necessary talent to compete. However, this is where things have gone particularly awry.
Regretful Decision Making
Grunfeld followed up the Wizards’ drafting of Wall by signing Blatche to a five-year contract extension. This just one of many flawed moves by Grunfeld. Two years later, Blatche was waived by the Wizards under the league’s amnesty clause. He is now plying his trade in China.
Following a terrible 23-win season, the Wizards were handed the sixth pick of the 2011 draft. With this pick, Grunfeld decided on 21-year-old Czech forward Jan Vesely. One could argue that the Wizards were drafting on the basis of need.
With Wall, Young and Jordan Crawford already on the roster, Grunfeld decided to upgrade the frontcourt with the 7-foot prodigy.
The move turned out to be a disaster, with Vesely playing a total of 162 NBA games with the Wizards and Denver. Vesely is now plying his trade in Turkey. The players still remaining on the draft board included Kemba Walker, Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard.
Hence, picking on the supposed basis of need instead of the best player available backfired spectacularly.
The Wizards also had another first-round pick courtesy of a trade the previous season with the Atlanta Hawks. With the 18th pick, Grunfeld decided upon Florida State forward Chris Singleton.
Players overlooked include by the Wizards included Tobias Harris, Jimmy Butler and Chandler Parsons. Again, this pick turned out a failure as Singleton played just three seasons and 148 career games in Washington. He presently is playing in Greece
For the third successive year, the Wizards found themselves in the draft lottery. And for the second successive year they had the third overall pick. With this pick, Grunfeld selected nearby Georgetown product Otto Porter.
Porter has obviously been more productive than the aforementioned Vesely. But although he has shown promise this year, his counterparts from that draft have left him in his wake.
Grunfeld’s Gaffe-Filled Summer Of 2014
The summer of 2014 will not be looked back upon fondly for Grunfeld . The Wizards had just made the playoffs for the first time in six seasons and were naturally looking to add to their current makeup. The problem was, the moves were far too short-sighted.
Grunfeld and his front office team clearly thought the Wizards were on the verge of taking that next step. He viewed the team as having just won 64 games, not a team that won 44 games and was bounced in the second round of the playoffs
Letting Trevor Booker Walk
Trevor Booker had just completed the last year of his rookie contract, having arrived with the 23rd pick of the 2010 draft. He was a promising forward and a key member of their rotation.
So despite the Wizards spending four years developing a young forward, they simply let him walk out the door instead of signing him to an extension. Booker is currently the starting power forward for the Brooklyn Nets and is having the best season of his career.
This move leads to the next blunder.
Trading Trevor Ariza for, essentially, Kris Humphries and one year of Paul Pierce
Acquiring Kris Humphries was essentially done to replace Booker in the frontcourt rotation. But in order to obtain Humphries, the Wizards had to use the trade exception gained as part of their trade with the Houston Rockets when dealing Trevor Ariza.
The signing of Paul Pierce was definitely a positive move. But with a player option on the second year of his two-year deal, it turned out to be an extra-short deal. Pierce walked after one year to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Ariza had essentially the same deal on the table from both the Wizards and the Rockets. But with no state income tax in Texas, his decision was made. The Wizards, of course, could have raised their offer, but decided on a different tactic.
And hence, Grunfeld ended up with a one-year rental of Pierce and the trade for Humphries. Humphries has subsequently been traded by the Wizards.
Trading second-round pick for cash to the Los Angeles Lakers
Many may argue that this is no big deal, trading the 46th pick in the draft for cash considerations. But this is just another example of Grunfeld’s short-sightedness. With the selection, the Lakers drafted guard Jordan Clarkson.
Clarkson is now an essential part of the up-and-coming Lakers and is one of the more promising two-way guards in the league. To illustrate his upside, Clarkson was signed this offseason to a four-year, $50 million deal.
Banking on KD
Following another second-round playoff exit, Grunfeld was once again looking to top up the Wizards. But his focus on the short-term fix was as present as ever. It’s quite possible that these signings were made with the impending free-agency of Kevin Durant in mind.
However, building a team of substance is more likely to attract a marquee player such as Durant, as opposed to the method adopted by Grunfeld and Co.
The following are some more Grunfeld gaffes.
While the acquisition of Jared Dudley seemed to be a positive move, it proved yet another short term rental. Grunfeld used part of an existing trade exception and a second round draft selection to acquire Dudley.
But alas, Dudley would depart at season’s end via free-agency for the Phoenix Suns.
Gary Neal was added to provide championship experience to the backcourt rotation. Unfortunately, Neal lasted just 40 games until sidelined for the season with a hip injury. He was duly waived in March to allow the Wizards to make an additional signing.
Alan Anderson was yet another one-year signing, with Grunfeld looking to add some perimeter shooting to their bench rotation. But like Neal, Anderson had a year to forget playing just 13 games due to recurring ankle and hamstring injuries.
And like Dudley and Neal, Anderson also departed at season’s end.
Summer Of 2016
This is quite possibly the crowning achievement in Grunfeld’s questionable decision making. The Wizards’ much-publicized pursuit of Kevin Durant resulted in the franchise not even getting the opportunity for a face-to-face meeting.
This coupled with the explosion of the league’s salary cap meant the Wizards had an abundance of cap space to utilize.
Therefore, this offseason was like the aftermath of several terrible offseasons for Grunweld.
Ian Mahimni had just come off his best season as a pro, posting 9.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Solid numbers, but not spectacular. And like many signings this offseason, his contract was crazy — four years, $64 million.
And to rub salt into the wound, Mahimni has played just one game this season due to an assortment of injuries.
Now in his sixth season, Andrew Nicholson was signed to provide depth to the frontcourt with his ability to stretch the floor. Averaging 9.0 minutes per game is the not sort of return one would expect from a player signed to a four-year, $26 million deal.
With experienced players such as Jared Dudley, Kris Humphries and Nene having departed since last season, Grunfeld was keen to shore up this area.
In his ninth season in the league, it’s safe to say the Wizards were expecting more from Jason Smith after signing him to a three-year, $16 million deal. To this point of the season, Smith is averaging 3.7 points and 2.6 rebounds in 11.0 minutes per game.
Acquired in the offseason via trade, Trey Burke is another addition whose playing time has been quite limited. Following three seasons with the Utah Jazz, Burke is posting just 5.2 points and 1.2 assists per game and has a net rating of minus-10.5.
All these transactions and decisions lead us to the current Wizards. The team is 16-17 and ninth in the Eastern Conference. The hiring of Scott Brooks was seen as a positive move due to his experience in coaching the Oklahoma City Thunder to a Finals appearance in 2012.
Fowever, the communication between Grunfeld and Brooks must come into question.
Overall this offseason, Grunfeld handed out $106 million in contracts to the trio of Mahimni, Nicholson and Smith, and traded a future pick for Burke. When making these deals, Grunfeld must’ve anticipated these players to have more of an immediate impact.
But Brooks and his coaching staff have not been keen to utilize these new signings. The Wizards, along with the Minnesota Timberwolves, are the only teams in the league who have five starters averaging at least 30 minutes per game.
Essentially, this means the team is regularly putting all its eggs in the one basket.
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Regardless of the quality of the player, impacting the game for your team playing just 9-12 minutes game is quite a difficult task. Trey Burke is a prime example. Now his fourth season in the league, Burke averaged 31.2 minutes per game in his first two seasons in Utah.
This season, he is averaging just 12.4 per game.
As mentioned previously, Smith and Nicholson are playing even less than Burke, while Mahimni has played just one game. Second-year forward Kelly Oubre Jr. leads the Wizards bench at 18.5 minutes per game. He is averaging just 5.6 points on 40.6 percent shooting.
Next in minutes off the bench is veteran shooting guard Marcus Thornton. Thornton was signed during last season to replace the waived Gary Neal.
This season, Thornton is posting 6.8 points per game on 40.1 percent shooting in 17.5 minutes per game. Furthermore, he is a minus-4.2 when on the floor and his net rating is minus-11.8.
Therefore, those receiving decent playing time off the bench for the Wizards have been complete negatives in their contributions.
So with the bench being both underwhelming and under-utilized, the focus must zero in on the starting group.
Brooks And His Starters
When they have all been available, the Wizards starting five has ranked second in the league in minutes played together per game. At 19.8 minutes per game, they are a plus-3.7 when on the floor and average 44.3 points on 48.9 percent shooting.
Most impressively, they have an offensive rating of 108.1 and a defensive rating of 99.0, giving them a net rating of 9.0.
As a way of comparison, the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers’ starting unit has a net rating of plus-9.3. What these overall stats do indicate is that the Wizards essentially are throwing all their eggs in one basket.
Now 33 games into the season, it is clear there is far too much of a reliance on the starting five.
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The Wizards’ marquee player, John Wall, is certainly holding up his end of the deal. Averaging a team-high 36.2 minutes, Wall is posting 23.4 points, 10.1 assists and 2.3 steals per game. Based on these numbers, Wall should definitely add to his three career All-Star appearances.
His net rating of plus-2.0 when on the court and minus-6.2 when resting highlights Wall’s importance to the team.
The member of the starting unit having possibly the greatest impact thus far has been shooting guard Bradley Beal. He is averaging 22.0 points, which includes 2.8 three-point field goals made per game. Further, his net rating value has been profound.
The Wizards are plus-5.9 points when Beal is on the floor and a terrible minus-10. when he’s resting.
The remaining starters, Otto Porter, Marcin Gortat and Markieff Morris, all have positive net ratings. Porter is plus-2.4, Gortat plus-1.9 and Morris plus-2.3. Therefore, when playing as a unit, the starters are clearly not to blame for the team’s woes.
Due to the decision making of recent years, the Wizards are stuck in a tenuous situation. Aside from the upcoming expiring contract of Otto Porter, their starting unit is tied up until at least the end of the 2018-19 season.
However, due to this offseason, the remainder of their salary cap leaves a lot to be desired. This season alone, the Wizards are paying the trio of Mahimni, Smith and Nicholson a combined total of $27,033,147.
Considering their current use in the rotations, this is a complete waste. Compounding this is due to the acquisition last season of forward Markieff Morris, the Wizards are unable to use their 2017 first-round pick as part of a trade due to the Stepien Rule.
Therefore, ridding themselves of these contracts will be much difficult without the added incentive of a first-round pick to complement the deal.
Now in year seven, Wall assuredly wouldn’t have anticipated being stuck on a .500 team with very little cap flexibility or upcoming draft picks. For his part, Wall has raised his game this season and to this point has career-best numbers in points, assists and steals per game.
But what is abundantly clear is that the front office needs to step up its own game. Big time.
Ted Leonsis has been the majority owner of the Wizards since 2010. Following the hiring of Brooks in April last year, Leonsis stated he was satisfied with the current front office setup. When responding to a query on Grunfeld’s future, he noted:
“Because we were executing to the plan. If we had varied from the plan and the plan didn’t work, then I think it would’ve been in my realm of responsibility to take a look. But we were executing a plan that we agreed to when I bought the team five years ago.”
Further, the article went onto state:
Right now, he sees Grunfeld as a personnel executive who implemented the plan well enough that he deserves to complete the final stage of the roster overhaul, which is to utilize an estimated $27.4 million in salary cap space to make the Wizards a true contender.
The outline of that plan was never fully explained. But using that salary cap space on Mahimni, Smith and Nicholson was unlikely to have featured prominently.
Missing out on Durant is one thing. But weighing yourself down on little used players for several years only makes things worse.
Grunfeld has had 15 seasons to turn the Wizards into a contender. As it stands, they’re not even close, which will be adding enormous frustration to Wall and Co.
It will be fascinating to see how long Leonsis remains patient with their plan.
- Andrew Nicholson
- Atlanta Hawks
- Bradley Beal
- Brooklyn Nets
- Chandler Parsons
- CJ McCollum
- Giannis Antetokounmpo
- Houston Rockets
- Jared Dudley
- JaVale McGee
- Jimmy Butler
- John Wall
- Jordan Clarkson
- Kawhi Leonard
- Kelly Oubre Jr.
- Kemba Walker
- Kevin Durant
- Klay Thompson
- Kris Humphries
- Los Angeles Clippers
- Los Angeles Lakers
- Marcus Thornton
- Nick Young
- Oklahoma City Thunder
- Otto Porter Jr.
- Paul Pierce
- Phoenix Suns
- Steven Adams
- Tobias Harris
- Trevor Ariza
- Trevor Booker
- Trey Burke
- Washington Wizards