Headed into the fourth quarter of Game 7 in Boston, the Washington Wizards had a chance to punch their ticket to Cleveland for the Eastern Conference Finals. But, Isaiah Thomas and the Celtics had other plans sending John Wall and the Wizards home for the season with a final score of 115-105.
Washington's first season under head coach Scott Brooks was a success, finishing with a record of 49-33 and took the first seed in the Eastern Conference to seven games. But, Monday night's game against Boston was a microcosm of Washington's season. The starters played great but the bench failed to produce and in the end, the starters just ran out of energy at the end to keep pace with a deep Celtics team.
Without a first round pick in the 2017 NBA Draft and little-to-no cap space, the Wizards will not be making the sexiest moves this offseason but they can take steps forward to continue building an Eastern Conference contender. There are a few things holding the Wizards back this offseason preventing them from taking the next step.
Otto Porter's Future in the Nation's Capital
One of the bright spots in the Wizards' season was the emergence of Otto Porter. The former Georgetown Hoya emerged as a lethal three-point shooter this season, shooting a sizzling 43.4%. The upcoming restricted free agent is set to command some serious cash flow this summer, whether it is from Washington or another NBA team.
For Washington, Porter is the ideal player to play alongside both John Wall and Bradley Beal. Besides his solid three-point shooting, Porter also possesses the ability to run the floor with Wall and Beal in transition and is able to clean up on the offensive glass, averaging 2.4 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes.
His play, coupled with a ceiling no one is quite sure of, Porter will get a large offer sheet in the offseason and the Wizards can only hope it is for less than the max. The problem Washington faces is that they are committed to four players with eight-digit salaries for the next two seasons (Wall, Beal, Gortat, Mahinmi) and will be stretching any future goals of luring a star player in free agency that can push Washington over the edge to become a true contender thin.
One rumored star is Demarcus Cousins, former Kentucky Wildcat teammate of John Wall. Before being traded to the New Orleans Pelicans from the Sacramento Kings, Cousins expressed to Wall that he would want to come to Washington if given the chance so he could reunite with his college point guard. But, the Wizards faithful had slim hopes that they could land Kevin Durant last offseason and Durant ended up joining the team that beat him in the Western Conference Finals so realistically anything can happen.
If the Wizards were to take the route of chasing stars next summer and give up on Porter they would not be at a total loss. They have budding wing Kelly Oubre Jr waiting for his chance and can take chances on players like PJ Tucker or Thabo Sefolosha to help shore up some bench depth as well if Oubre joins the starting lineup.
Fixing the Bench Problem
During the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Boston Celtics, the Washington Wizards' lack of bench depth became apparent against a deep Celtics squad as the team looked gas in the closing moments of Game 7. While Otto Porter will be a key restricted free agent for the Wizards' starting unit, off the bench Washington also has to worry about trying to retain restricted free agent Bojan Bogdanovic as well.
After being traded to Washington from the Brooklyn Nets in a trade-deadline deal Bogdanovich has been huge for a mostly lackluster Wizards bench. Despite nagging back problems he shot 39.1% from beyond the arc during the regular season and shot 34.9% from three during the playoffs. If the Wizards were to lose Otto Porter to free agency they should lock in on bringing back Bogdanovic on a friendlier team deal.
The other key factor that Washington needs to improve to help their bench is Ian Mahinmi's health. The 30-year old big man only played 31 games for Washington during the regular season after a long recovery from knee surgery and then sat out Washington's first eight playoff games with a calf injury. When healthy Mahinmi was great for Washington during the regular season with averages of 11.2 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per 36 minutes. Getting Mahinmi in tip-top shape would be huge for Washington as the team has an overall net rating of -0.7 during the 2016-17 season whenever Marcin Gortat was on the bench; but were a full point better when Mahinmi subbed in at center.
While the Wizards are strapped for cash due to the fact that both Mahinmi and Gortat are making an eight-digit salary, the team could look to move one of the bigs as well to help create some cap space and possible bench depth as well. They could take a small step back for a mini-rebuild to help the problems that the team has with playmaking, scoring and defense off the bench. The upcoming market will not be short on veterans that could come cheap as well with players like Jose Calderon, Raymond Felton, Matt Barnes, Brandon Bass and Marreese Speights all becoming free agents that Washington could take a serious look at.
While the Wizard's season was a success, there were plenty of glaring holes that need to be addressed this offseason. Otto Porter's growth into a solid all-around player creates a dilemma for a cash-strapped Washington ball club. They also suffered from an anemic bench throughout the season despite sparks created by trading for Bojan Bogdanovic and will face problems trying to fix the bench due to their tight salary cap. The team is on the cusp of being Eastern Conference contenders, lead by the best backcourt in the NBA of John Wall and Bradley Beal, but they need some help to push them over the edge to get there.