72 hours ago, the Washington Wizards looked like a franchise content to stay on the treadmill of 40-win campaigns. John Wall would return in October ready to start the new season; the pricey core of Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter Jr. would still be around; and all would be calm and mediocre in DC.
The trade deadline and one slippery floor changed things. As of Thursday, Wall has a torn achilles tendon, Porter is a Chicago Bull, and the Wizards’ future is in flux.
Some things I write here may be outdated by the time you’re reading this, but the Wall injury and Porter trade have wide-reaching implications that won’t change much regardless of what happens before trading season officially ends tonight.
Wall Tears His Achilles
John Wall was out for the season after surgery to repair nagging bone spurs in his left heel that, left unchecked, eventually would’ve shredded his achilles. In a cruel, ironic twist, Wall tore the achilles anyway after slipping in his own damn house. You can’t script this sh*t.
The sorry history of players returning from a ruptured achilles – the tendon that basically connects the foot (what you land and push off with) and the leg (what you use to land and push off) – is well-documented. Kobe wasn’t the same; Chauncey wasn’t the same; Wes Matthews wasn’t the same; etc.
Maybe Wall is different, but it’s difficult to see why he would be. At 28, he’s logged significant mileage on already wobbly legs. He’s one of the most athleticism-reliant stars in the NBA, and tearing the very body part that gives him the ability to run and jump so explosively doesn’t bode well.
Coming off two surgeries, it’s unlikely Wall returns next season, which is also, of course, when his massive supermax extension kicks in. That contract, plus a whole host of other crippling deals, makes for a bloated payroll and limited flexibility in the summer. The Wiz will be bad because Wall is off the floor and unable to get better because Wall is on the bench.
Assuming the Kentucky product doesn’t return to his very best – I’m rooting for him to prove me wrong, by the way – this injury marks the end of the road for the Wall-Beal Wizards. A team built around the spread pick-and-roll can’t lose its catalytic ballhandler and continue on the same path. The playoffs are probably off the table next season and maybe beyond.
Grunfeld Deals Porter
Hence Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld moving on from Otto Porter Jr. The Georgetown product’s max contract, which continues for two more seasons after this one, is another of the burdensome deals on Washington’s books.
It appeared owner Ted Leonsis was willing to pay for those contracts, but Wall’s injury changed things. Washington was about to make an exorbitant luxury tax payment next season, complete with brutal repeater penalties. Shelling out that kind of money for a team unlikely to make the playoffs is unconscionable.
So Grunfeld shipped Porter to Chicago for Bobby Portis, Jabari Parker, and a 2023 second-round pick.
The former Bulls aren’t in the deal because of what they’ll do on the court. Portis will be backup center in the NBA for the next half-decade or more. Parker has some untapped scoring upside, but riding the bench for the Bulls isn’t an indicator that he can add much else. Wizards execs might talk themselves into a future built around Beal, Parker, and Thomas Bryant. After seeing that trio play, they’ll run far, far away.
The crucial part is that Parker has a team option for next season and Portis is a restricted free agent with an itty bitty cap hold. This deal clears about $25 million off the books just in time to re-sign Thomas Bryant and Tomas Satoransky (now a priority to retain because of Wall’s injury).
Wizards now out of luxury tax jail/potential repeater taxes. Which none of you care about, and shouldn’t. But dealing Porter for Parker’s $20M (team option for next year) gives Washington opportunity to re-sign Satoransky and/or Bryant. The only reason this would make sense.
— David Aldridge (@davidaldridgedc) February 7, 2019
Getting back two fliers and a second-rounder for a negative-value contract is a win. Porter is a good complementary player, but at 25, he was never going to step into Wall’s spot as one of the franchise’s stars.
In part due to debilitating hip problems, Porter is, frankly, slow. He lacks the off-the-dribble burst to take the rock away from Beal or another primary playmaker. And while leveraging his shooting ability as an off-ball mover sounds great in theory, it never quite happened. He can shoot off screens, but he can’t scurry around them quickly enough to get consistent separation.
The young vet is an efficient spot-up shooter who can add a little oomph as a complementary jack-of-all-trades. He’s not much more than that.
‘Kieff Dealt to New Orleans
Late Wednesday night, Grunfeld also traded Markieff Morris and a 2023 second-rounder to the Pelicans for…ANTHONY DAVIS. Just kidding.
Wesley Johnson is heading to Washington for Markeff Morris. https://t.co/QTOkOaENg8
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) February 7, 2019
Washington took back Wesley Johnson in a deal that gets the team all the way under the luxury tax threshold this season, too. Morris is a useful big man locked down until 2020. He would help the Wizards next year. Dealing him signals the front office’s resignation to a slog of a 2019-2020 season sans Wall.
The trade is a pure cost-cutting move that makes sense any way you slice it.
Beal’s Future Hanging in the Balance
Jeff Green and Trevor Ariza should be available. Despite Leonsis saying explicitly that Washington would never tank, he has two veterans on expiring deals worth more to other teams than they are to Washington. If the Cavs can get Alec Burks and two seconds for Kyle Korver, the Wizards can get at least two seconds – maybe even more – for that duo.
But even if those two help Washington chase the playoffs this season, they don’t really matter to the franchise’s long-term trajectory. Beal does.
The two-time All-Star becomes a free agent in 2020, giving Washington one more year to woo him. That’s not going to happen with a 30-win season next to Bryant, Satoransky, and a bunch of contract detritus. He’s not good enough to carry a team on his own. He probably won’t ever again have an All-NBA version of Wall to share the burden.
I wrote back in November that Beal should be effectively untouchable. But with the Wizards now forced to pivot away from the Wall Era, the calculus changes. The 76ers just surrendered two first-round picks, two seconds, and Landry Shamet for four months of Tobias Harris.
What would a similarly desperate team trade for a full year – maybe more if they make an inquiry today – for Beal, a player one, maybe two tiers above Harris? The Athletic’s Shams Charania has reported Washington isn’t planning to move him, but every player has a price.
Sources: The Wizards have moved off Otto Porter and Markieff Morris tonight to go under luxury tax threshold — but have no plans to move All-Star Bradley Beal before the deadlne.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) February 7, 2019
Plus, when the Anthony Davis domino falls, win-now execs will be out sniffing around for a Plan B. They could do a lot worse than a 25-year-old wing with the off-ball chops to play Robin to another star’s Batman.
Losing Beal for nothing will be a real likelihood after a bleak 2019-2020 campaign. Doing so would be a new low even for a team that seemed to hit rock bottom the second Wall’s heel snapped.