With the Sixers ready to begin their first (and only) home-and-home of the season tonight against the Washington Wizards, I caught up with Kevin Broom of BulletsForever.com to learn more about the team that has been the center of much drama this season.
Question #1: With this season having gone so poorly and many key players injured, do you think the Wizards will be “sellers” at the trade deadline this year? If so, which players do you think will be on the block, and should the Sixers have interest in them?
On the eve of training camp, Wizards owner Ted Leonsis cited the team’s high payroll, world-class practice facility, and cutting-edge training and medical care, and set some goals: make the playoffs, win 50 games, reach the Eastern Conference Finals. He even used some provocative-sounding words: “No excuses.” At the time, those benchmarks seemed on the outer edge of realistic. My preseason forecast had them at 46 wins, but I could at least squint and see a “get lucky” scenario where they could kinda-sorta-maybe get to 50. The playoffs seemed to be almost a given.
All that was predicated on the idea that the Wizards would try. Instead, they opened the season with a disconcerting lethargy that persisted beyond all reason and put a spotlight on their toxic team culture. There’s a chance they could go .500 the rest of the way and squeak into the postseason, but they’re not going to win 50, and they’re not going to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Wizards should be sellers, and every player on the roster ought to be available. They’d be smart to shop shooting guard Bradley Beal, whose reputation exceeds his production. However, the front office wants to keep Beal, which makes it more likely they’ll try to trade Otto Porter whose production exceeds his reputation. They’ve previously offered Porter in efforts to land Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler. I doubt they’d try to dump Porter purely for financial relief, but this team’s front office has a penchant for pursuing strategies that I think are suboptimal.
The Wizards should be aggressively trying to rid themselves of the Ian Mahinmi contract, and should be willing to “lose” a trade in terms of talent to do it. In all likelihood, they’re going to be stuck with him for another year.
The most likely scenario is that the Wizards make minor trades of older players to get them out of the luxury tax, but make no fundamental changes to what they view as their core.
Question #2: What the Wizards should do with their trio of highly-paid players (John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr.) has become a popular debate. As we move towards the trade deadline and then a pivotal offseason, what path should the Wizards take when it comes to those three?
This is The Question confronting the Wizards. Most likely, they’ll need to trade one of the two so they can afford to put a team around the remaining two. It probably won’t be Wall because of the supermax extension, health problems, and so-so performance the past couple years. They’ve been signaling that they want to keep Beal. That leaves Porter, which isn’t the best course, in my analysis, because of that production-reputation mismatch. This means they’ll trade him.
If they keep all three, they’ll need to do something to address the on-court Wall-Porter dysfunction. On paper, it would seem that a great passer/playmaker would work well with a great shooter who almost never turns it over. However, over the past three seasons, Porter gets far fewer shots when on the floor with Wall than he does when Wall sits. (Porter’s shooting percentage and overall efficiency falls from elite to merely very good without Wall in the game.) They’ll also need to become excellent at finding bargains to fill out the rotation.
There’s no realistic possibility that the Wizards will get their money’s worth from Wall over the next four seasons. If they hope to get useful production from him when he returns, they’ll need a comprehensive plan for managing his health that includes reducing his minutes during the regular season, no longer playing both parts of a back-to-back, and convincing him to retool how he plays. Even if they’re successful with all that (and I don’t think they will be), they’re going to need a guard who can be a quality backup and sometimes starter over the next four seasons.
Question #3: The Sixers and Wizards will be playing each other twice in the next two days. What is one matchup you’re excited to watch unfold over the course of those games?
Wait, I have to pick just one?
While I don’t spend much time analyzing matchups, I’m looking forward to seeing Thomas Bryant go up against Joel Embiid. Thrust into the starting lineup by Dwight Howard’s back injury and team dysfunction, Bryant has been the Wizards’ most productive player (per possession). His best game was in the triple overtime win against Phoenix, a game in which he shot 14-14 from the floor -- all 14 shots coming from inside the restricted area. There’s plenty of room for improvement, but he’s just 21 years old, and doesn’t turn 22 until next July. Squaring off against Embiid will give him a good measuring stick.
Big thanks to Kevin for answering our questions as we near the beginning of the back-to-back between the Sixers and Wizards!