Summer Scoop: Wizards' offseason plans
May, 16, 2014
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com
Shea SerranoDo the Wizards have anything on their summer shopping list? Marc Stein has the latest intel.
Five burning questions and answers about the immediate future of the Washington Wizards in the wake of their season-ending home loss Thursday night to the Indiana Pacers:
1. How long will the Wizards be haunted by the chances they squandered in the Indiana series?
Charles Barkley's favorite Eastern Conference team definitely did squander a slew of opportunities against the vulnerable Pacers. The Wizards could have won the first two games of the series on the road. You could make a strong case that Washington should have taken a 3-1 series lead back to Indy for Game 5. The Wizards still haven't won a second-round game in their own building going all the way back to 1979 ... and yet they still managed to make the East's top seed look almost as iffy as it did against eighth-seeded Atlanta.
We have to give the Wizards some time to grieve. They, too, got sucked into the hype proclaiming the Eastern Conference finals to really be within reach.
With time, though, The Chuckster's darlings will slowly but surely realize they're a lot like the Trail Blazers out West: Pretty worthy of props even though they exited Round 2 in more disappointing fashion than they imagined.
With time, Washingtonians and their Wizards will remember that this was the season that they halted a five-season playoff drought, watched John Wall locate a jump shot to break through as an All-Star in Year 1 of his new $80 million max deal, savored the sight of Wall and Bradley Beal emerging as the league's Backcourt of the Future in the eyes of many ... and finally took a substantial step out of the shadow of L'Affaire Gilbert Arenas.
Tough to give them too much grief for their failure to force a Game 7 when you remember, furthermore, that only eight teams in league history -- out of 220 -- have managed to win a seven-game series after falling behind 3-1. We haven't seen anyone do it since Steve Nash's Suns rallied past Kobe Bryant's Lakers in 2006.
2. What did this playoff run do for Randy Wittman's job prospects?
Toronto's Dwane Casey and Portland's Terry Stotts both got new contracts the day after their respective seasons ends.
Can't say for sure it'll be that fast in Wittman's case, but all signs point to him joining that list in the near future.
There were undeniable rumbles going into the playoffs that a first-round exit, even against the higher-seeded gritmeisters from Chicago, would cost Wittman his post. Talk of a run at the veteran likes of George Karl or Alvin Gentry has been circulating in coaching circles for far longer.
Yet there were strong signals Thursday night that Wittman will be back next season alongside longtime Wizards front-office chief Ernie Grunfeld.
The bigger mystery would appear to be contract length. The Washington Post's Mike Wise recently revealed that Grunfeld's presumed expiring contract has already been quietly extended through next season by Wizards owner Ted Leonsis. Which inevitably makes you wonder: Will Leonsis offer a mere one-season extension to keep Wittman on the same terms as his GM ... or might he actually extend the coach's deal beyond his top executive's?
3. Can the Wizards hang onto top free agents Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza?
My Grantland colleague Zach Lowe did his usual textbook job earlier this week A) covering many of the pressing issues facing the Wizards going forward and B) raising another very pertinent question when it comes Washington's starting center and small forward.
Should the Wizards try to re-sign both Gortat and Ariza to keep this season's core intact?
Or should they roll the dice, let both go and try to get in the game for one of this summer's marquee free agents?
Tantalizing questions. All of them.
The early word is the Wizards will try to retain both of their top free agents as opposed to letting them go to make some sort of fantasy run at the likes of Baltimore's own Carmelo Anthony or seemingly gettable restricted free agent Greg Monroe.
Yet there are legit fears that signing both might prove too expensive for the Wizards, who have to keep in the mind the sort of money Beal will command when it's his turn for an extension.
4. If the Wiz have to choose between Gortat and Ariza in free agency, who stays?
The Polish Hammer is undoubtedly the priority.
The Wiz, remember, surrendered a first-round pick to Phoenix mere days before the start of the season to acquire Gortat from the Suns in what was seen a desperate move by a playoff-starved franchise.
But Gortat justified Washington's faith with the way he partnered with Nene on the front line and is sure to generate plenty of interest in free agency entering a summer with no shortage of cap-space teams. The Wiz know it, expect it and still give off the vibe that they won't allow Gortat to be pilfered.
It's a vow, though, that they can't make as readily when it comes to Ariza.
The presence of Martell Webster on the roster -- even though he's coming off a sub-par season and can't do all the things Ariza can do -- gives the Wiz some semblance of Ariza insurance if the offers he gets are deemed too steep.
No such luxury when it comes to the center spot.
5. We know that the Wiz have to inject their bench with some much-needed youth, but Andre Miller fans want to know: Is he staying or going?
According to the latest rumbles, Washington is leaning toward bringing back Miller next season.
The 38-year-old holds an non-guaranteed salary of $4.6 million for 2014-15, so it's not a lock that the Wizards will consent to deploy a backup point guard making close to mid-level exception money.
But Miller's impact after arriving at midseason via trade from Denver was such that they'd sure like to have him back if the finances aren't prohibitive. Washington's bench definitely does need some young blood, but a floor leader with Miller's veteran know-how working in conjunction with the 23-year-old Wall and the 20-year-old Beal adds up wisely.