The Wizards were close to winning Game 7 in Boston Monday night. They actually led by six late in the third quarter before Washington got tired, coach Scott Brooks didn’t make any substitutions, and the Celtics grabbed the lead. They would never relinquish it in the 4th quarter despite Bradley Beal’s 38 points.
So how close is Washington to getting to the Eastern Conference finals? The team’s nucleus of Wall (turns 27 in September), Beal (turns 24 in June) and Otto Porter (also 24 in June) is young and talented. The problem is depth beyond those three.
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first, because it’s going to be a massive impediment to Wizards doing much of anything this summer: In July of 2016, the Wizards inexplicably gave backup center Ian Mahinmi a 4-year, $64 million contract.
They’re paying a backup center $16 million a year for the next three seasons. It’s unclear how/why they got snookered into this deal. Mahinmi had the best season of his modest career in 2015-2016 with Indiana (9.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg in 25 minutes a night) and so they overpaid him … why? Because the Lakers gave Timofey Mozgov that much money?
Mahinmi has been a disaster from the jump: Hurt his knee in preseason, had surgery, was out for over a month. Then, in December, he had another knee injury and had to miss another month. Mahinmi played 31 games. He was hurt in the playoffs, too.
If the idea of getting him was to maybe unload Marcin Gortat … well, you can table that idea for now because Mahinmi can’t stay healthy.
But even if he’s healthy, so what? You’re paying a backup center $16 million a year. Sure, he’s a defensive upgrade from Gortat, but offensively he does nothing well, from passing, to shooting to rebounding. You never want to boil anyone’s value down to one game … but in Game 7, he played 11 minutes, missed his only shot, didn’t grab a rebound, and committed four fouls. Boston’s frontline has no world-beaters. Or All-Stars.
Hopefully Kelly Oubre grows up quickly, because after Bojan Bogdanovic, he’s one of the best options on a thin bench that is only going to get thinner when Brandon Jennings leaves in free agency. Jason Smith is in the rotation. Yawn.
You probably don’t want to make an irrational move this summer because LeBron’s got at least one more peak year before the East opens up a bit. That being said, you don’t want to do nothing; Wall has two more years left on his deal and is from Raleigh, North Carolina. He currently doesn’t have a shoe deal. If Jordan Brand makes a move on him this summer … it’s safe to assume Michael Jordan’s Bobcats could be planning to make a run at him in 2019.
But whatever the Wizards can do to set themselves up to unload the terrible Mahinmi contract, they should begin doing so immediately. If you’re wondering about the draft … they have the 52nd pick. The draft’s actually deep, so maybe they could get someone who could contribute immediately.
Bottom line: The future’s bright, the bench remains an issue. They went from 46 wins, to 41 (missed the playoffs) to 49 this year. Maybe the move is to do nothing dramatic this summer. Maybe Paul George leaves Indiana. Kyle Lowry could be done in Toronto. But it also appears Boston will only get better, and so will Milwaukee.
Getting to 50 wins and a top four seed in the East again is definitely a possibility. Barring something radical unfolding, it’s tough to expect much beyond that next year.