The 1-7 Washington Wizards are off to what even their optimistic supporters could have considered a predictable start. They have consistently been a team that, though talented, couldn’t seem to back up their big talk—Bradley Beal famously shared his opinion that the 2017 Eastern Conference Champion Cleveland Cavaliers “didn’t want to see [them in the playoffs]”. And yet, the Wall/Beal-era Wiz have failed to get out of the second round in the five years they’ve managed to clinch (plus two non-consecutive seasons when they didn’t).
They are currently bottom five in both Offensive and Defensive Rating (104.4 and 115.9, respectively). Not to mention they’re tied with the Love-less Cavs for last in the Eastern Conference. Yeah, it’s bad.
Much has been made of Wall and Beal’s apparent dislike for each other despite playing well together on the court. And that’s fine; teammates don’t have to be best friends. But it’s also known that Wall and Marcin Gortat shared disdain for one another, and this offseason we saw Gortat shipped off to the Clippers.
So far this year on the court, we’ve seen more of the same sniping and jawing between Wizards players that we’ve always seen. Here’s Wall shouting “KO one more!” at Kelly Oubre, begging him to swing the ball once more. Visibly frustrated, Wall then trots down the court while the fast-paced Kings push the ball.
And so what’s the answer for obvious locker room problems? Bring in Dwight Howard and Austin Rivers of course! Howard, who is on his fourth team in as many years, has seen and created his share of team drama, most famously with the D’Antoni Lakers. Similar things can be said about Rivers, who, having finally parted ways with his father in LA, was a member of the Lob City Clippers that eventually broke down from the inside. Rivers has also already come out before the season stating that he thinks this Wizards team is “heavily slept on”. He fits right in.
So it’s clear that GM Ernie Grunfeld’s retool-on-the-fly strategy hasn’t worked thus far, and that it may be time to switch things up. But how?
The Wizards are owners of some of the worst contracts in the league. And that’s reflected in their cap sheet for years to come. With $116 million on the books, they are already over the cap for next season with only six players on roster. John Wall will begin his 4 year/$169 million super max extension next year, with Beal and Porter each making about $27 and $28 million the next two years. Those three take up over 80% of the cap alone.
So it’s either continue shelling out absurd luxury tax payments, or make some trades. But again: how?
The Wall/Beal backcourt seems to have run its course, so which one should be traded? Or do you wipe the slate clean and trade both? It isn’t as simple as shopping both in search of young talent and draft picks, because realistically, who wants to pay a 32 year old John Wall $47 million in 2022?? The Clippers managed to get themselves out of a similar situation when they offloaded Blake Griffin to the Pistons (for a good haul too) after signing him to the same level contract as Wall. But don’t expect a team to jump at the chance to get Wall.
If you’re unable to trade Wall, would it be Beal you look to deal? Beal is younger, cheaper, and by most accounts better—he can likely fetch more on the market, as there will be teams looking to add a 25 year old sharpshooter. But if Wall is kept, locker room troubles may persist. And despite all the undeniable issues over the past few years, Wall shows no willingness to take accountability or change his ways.
Either way, the Washington Wizards will have moves to make soon, and it’s now simply a matter of what and when.