- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 3, 2016

Gone elsewhere were the white whales, the whoa-inducing free agents of big money and equally large fame. It was clear Kevin Durant was not coming to Washington. A second shunning, this one from Al Horford, a maximum-contract requiring big man, took away another would-be splash.

Those decisions put the Washington Wizards in pursuit of pieces rather than bedrock during the tumultuous opening weekend of NBA free agency.

They began the NBA free agent period on Friday assured their chances of re-signing shooting guard Bradley Beal, a restricted free agent, were high. They promptly were able to arrive at a verbal agreement for a five-year, $128 million contract, making Beal the owner of the team’s richest deal, a 23-year-old loaded with potential but also hassled by health questions. Next was the Horford chase.

The Atlanta Hawks signed Dwight Howard, then re-signed wing Kent Bazemore, jarring Horford loose into the open market. Atlanta considered trading power forward Paul Millsap to make salary cap and floor space for Horford. The Wizards and Boston Celtics talked with the 30-year-old center, made generous offers and hoped. Myriad reports had Horford choosing between Boston or Washington since Atlanta couldn’t sufficiently reshuffle its parts. He chose the Celtics.

Once that point arrived, the Wizards began looking for personnel depth. They entered free agency with 10 open roster spots and piles of cash. The league made the salary cap leap official on Saturday: Each team could distribute $94.143 million. The minimum team salary, which is set at 90 percent of the salary cap, is $84.729 million for the 2016-17 season. The Wizards needed to spend.

The first recipient of the Wizards‘ cash was center Ian Mahinmi. An effective defender and rebounder — two things the Wizards were putrid at last season — Mahinmi was graced with a four-year, $64 million deal. Last season he started 71 games for the Indiana Pacers, producing across-the-board career highs. That’s the good. The skepticism around Mahinmi comes from his age, 30 when the season begins, and how he fits into the Wizards‘ personnel puzzle. Can he play alongside center Marcin Gortat at all? What will the Wizards do in three years when Gortat is 35 and Mahinmi is 33, yet each still receives a dwindling but notable chunk of the salary cap?

Next up was Andrew Nicholson, a power forward who can shoot and rebound. He had fallen out of the rotation in Orlando even before the Magic made much of the league scratch its head with repeated big man signings during the weekend.

Nicholson played four seasons in Orlando after being drafted out of St. Bonaventure in the first round in 2012. Last season, he began to move out to the 3-point line, a growing must even for the league’s larger participants, where he shot an effective 36 percent. That part of Nicholson’s game should continue to grow. For the most part, he will replace Jared Dudley, who agreed to a three-year, $30 million contract with the Phoenix Suns. Nicholson is four years younger, bigger and a much better rebounder. Both are mediocre defenders. The Wizards hope that they received an upgrade in the spot for fewer dollars. Nicholson agreed to a four-year, $26 million contract which he should finalize later this week. New contracts cannot be signed until the leaguewide moratorium on signings and trades is lifted Thursday.

The frontcourt addressed, Washington shifted to depth at guard and on the wing. They traded a 2021 second-round pick for Utah Jazz point guard Trey Burke. Burke was picked ninth overall by the Jazz in 2013. He’s only 23 years old. However, what his talent fetched in the trade is indicative of how the Jazz viewed his NBA future. Burke is a career 38.4 percent shooter, yet he shoots often. He’s also been poor defensively. His average defensive rating, according to the Web site Basketball Reference, is 111. For comparison, Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul, known as one of the best point guard defenders in the league, has a career defensive rating of 104. The Wizards‘ John Wall has a 105 career rating.

Finally, Sunday afternoon, word came that Washington had summoned Tomas Satoransky from Europe. David Aldridge reported Satoransky’s deal to cost a mere $9 million over three years. Satoransky is a 6-foot-7 wing/point guard. The Wizards selected him in the second round of the 2012 draft, let him marinate with two professional teams in Spain, then worked a deal to bring the 24-year-old over for next season.

In three days, the Wizards closed down most of their rotation for next season. When big-game hunting failed, they moved to building out their backups with predominantly young players. Of the 10 players now slated to be on Washington’s roster, eight will be 27 or younger when the season begins, including four who will be 24 or younger.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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