No Durant, but Wizards have 'very productive offseason'
While the Washington Wizards couldn't lure Kevin Durant back home, they checked several boxes on their offseason game plan.
According to owner Ted Leonsis, the team went into the summer looking to lock up star guard Bradley Beal to a long-term contract; add another player on a max deal; sign a defensive-oriented big man; add skill and scoring at power forward; improve depth in the backcourt; and sign a draft pick playing overseas. Leonsis also said the team wanted to get bigger and younger.
All of that happened except for the max deal, leading Leonsis to call this ''a very productive offseason.''
Most importantly, the Wizards agreed on a $128 million, five-year contract with Beal. They also signed big men Ian Mahinmi, Andrew Nicholson and Jason Smith, traded for guard Trey Burke, and inked 2012 second-round pick Tomas Satoransky to a three-year deal.
Add those players to the core of John Wall, Beal, deadline pickup Markieff Morris, Otto Porter and Marcin Gortat and the Wizards are deeper than they were last season, when they went 41-41 and missed the playoffs.
''With the additions of myself, Ian, Andrew Nicholson, Trey Burke, it's looking like it's going to be a great year for us,'' Smith said on a conference call Monday. ''You have a tested core of young guys that have been in the playoffs, that have played big minutes in the playoffs and have gone deep into the playoffs into the second round. We'd like to get back to that this year.''
Signing Durant, who grew up in the D.C. area, would've pushed the Wizards into instant contender status in the Eastern Conference. Instead, Durant joined the Golden State Warriors team that beat his Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals.
Durant's former coach Scott Brooks has a challenge in piecing together this roster in Washington.
Brooks said he likes the versatility on the roster created since general manager Ernie Grunfeld acquired Morris from Phoenix at the trade deadline, and continuing with the offseason acquisitions.
''We have a lot of important pieces that can move, and interchangeable parts,'' Brooks said last week after the Wizards' summer league minicamp. ''We've guys that can defend multiple positions. We want to be a defensive team that can score, not a scoring team that plays defense when it scores.''
The hallmark of a defensive team led the 6-foot-11, 250-pound Mahinmi, a strong rebounder and defender, to sign for four years and $64 million. The 29-year-old said he wanted to go to a team that plays hard defense and doesn't take nights off, and the Wizards fit that bill.
Opportunity was a key for the 26-year-old Nicholson, who signed a $26 million, four-year contract, and 30-year-old Smith, who got a $16 million, three-year deal to be a reserve forward/center. Brooks' presence is a nice incentive for Burke, acquired from the Utah Jazz for a 2021 second-round pick, given that he coached Russell Westbrook into stardom in Oklahoma City.
''It's the opportunity of a lifetime,'' the 23-year-old Burke said on a conference call Friday. ''I hear that he always brings potential out of young players. He pushes them. He's looking for a competitive player with a chip on his shoulder, and I think he has a chip on his shoulder as well. He's a great coach, so I definitely think we can relate to each other.''
The Wizards are a team with a collective chip on the shoulder after a disappointing 2015-16 season that led to the firing of coach Randy Wittman. The organization let 33-year-old Nene, 30-year-old Garrett Temple and 31-year-old Jared Dudley walk in free agency, replacing them with younger pieces. Washington hopes for a bigger contribution from swingman Kelly Oubre Jr. in his second NBA season.
Adding Mahinmi, Nicholson, Burke, Smith and Satoransky isn't a Durant-esque splash, but Leonsis said on his website that the Wizards ''executed according to plan'' in their goal of returning to the playoffs.
''We entered free agency prepared to execute the plan that we conceived, developed and refined during a three-year period, and based on an anticipation of where the NBA salary cap might land,'' Leonsis said. ''While we came close, we weren't able to land an additional star player to our lineup. So we then moved swiftly and smartly to execute the remaining parts of our plan and add to our returning core.''