Wednesday signals the beginning of the NBA’s free agency period, and although teams are free to begin courting and negotiating with players, don’t expect the Washington Wizards to spring into action.
Instead, the Wizards are expected to wait, then comb the leftovers to add the final pieces to their roster.
“We’re going to start making calls, and we’ll monitor the situation, but the teams like Detroit, Oklahoma City, Memphis and Portland - the teams with a lot of [salary] cap room - will be doing the big spending in free agency,” Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld said Tuesday. “The whole situation will shake itself out, and we’ll see what presents itself and carefully go from there. I expect this to be a drawn-out process.”
The Wizards are expected to use a conservative approach because of the luxury tax and a deep roster at most positions.
Washington is set to enter next season with the third-highest payroll in the league with $75.8 million committed to salaries. And with the NBA’s luxury tax threshold expected to drop to about $70 million for the coming year, the Wizards will have to match - dollar for dollar - the amount they exceed that limit, which means they will owe the league in the neighborhood of $6 million if they maintain their roster.
The Wizards upgraded their perimeter depth last week by acquiring combo guard Randy Foye and swingman Mike Miller from Minnesota and also have three All-Stars in Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison. They have a seasoned veteran in Brendan Haywood at center and five budding players as backups at key positions.
And while the team would like to add a veteran big man, it has no desire to go after a high-priced big name like Rasheed Wallace or Antonio McDyess or to use the mid-level exception (roughly $5 million) to try to sign a Chris Wilcox or Zaza Pachulia. Instead, the Wizards envision the final addition as a reliable spot-minute player who will come at a relatively low price.
“[Washington] will be able to get somebody later this summer,” said a league executive, who requested anonymity. “You’ve got about 30 guys out there looking for work. At the end of the day, some of them will be left holding the bag. They’ll find somebody for the veterans minimum [roughly $1.3 million].”
Players expected to be in that range include power forwards Joe Smith, Drew Gooden, Michael Ruffin, Sean May, Brandon Bass and center Mikki Moore. But whomever the Wizards sign, he isn’t expected to log many minutes in their crowded rotation.
Jamison and Andray Blatche are at the top of the depth chart at power forward along with Dominic McGuire and, in a pinch, Miller. Haywood will start at center with second-year player JaVale McGee backing him up and Blatche seeing some minutes there.
That leaves few minutes for an incoming player, but Grunfeld still would like to add an insurance-policy player to come in, give a foul here and there, help on the boards and knock down a jumper if need be. He did not rule out the possibility of a late-summer trade if the right candidate didn’t remain on the free agent market but reiterated that the Wizards find themselves in as good a situation as they’ve been in for some time.
“We’ll see what happens, but we do have a versatile roster with players that can play multiple situations,” Grunfeld said. “The players that are out there [on the free agent market] will explore all their options and see what’s available, and we’ll go from there.”