- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 21, 2017

There is no easy way for the Washington Wizards to fix where they are least effective. Their bench unit, one of the worst in the league for much of the season, a group that provided little to nothing in the postseason, is their glaring hole. Solutions for it are fleeting.

It needs to be fixed should the Wizards want to move into the position of No. 2 in the Eastern Conference. But, team president Ernie Grunfeld has left himself with little room for remedy because of accumulating past missteps. There is no direct fix here, and likely not much of one at all.

Go back two years. That is when the Wizards emphatically aligned their salary cap space in order to have a chance to take on two maximum contracts. They knew there was flexibility to re-sign Bradley Beal, who was a restricted free agent. They thought Kevin Durant would at least consider them. He did not. That put Grunfeld in a spot with excessive money and few quality places to spend it.

Washington was in that situation because it signed so many players to one-year deals the season before. It chose to temporarily fill its bench in order to have cap space later.

Because of the broad room to spend and Durant’s scoffing at the thought of playing in the District, Grunfeld was able to distribute his money to multiple players. Instead of deals anchored in one or two years, Washington signed players for three or more. Ian Mahinmi, Jason Smith and the since-departed Andrew Nicholson were signed with multi-year deals.

Behind them is multi-year control of Tomas Satoransky and multiple seasons of Kelly Oubre Jr., who is just 21. That’s instantly nine players the Wizards are locked into for multiple seasons to come — assuming the starting five remains intact. It’s hard to fix a bench — that was outscored 48-5 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals — when so much of it is filled in and there is limited salary cap space to work with.

Washington’s priority will be to re-sign Otto Porter. Next will be an attempt to bring back Bojan Bogdanovic, who was rented for a first-round pick and the extraction of Nicholson’s errant contract.

Both are restricted free agents who need to receive qualifying offers before July 1 in order to keep that status and provide Washington first right of refusal. The Wizards will undoubtedly take that step. Next is to come up with enough money to retain both. That will largely depend on what Bogdanovic commands.

“I’m going to try find the right team that I can play heavy minutes,” Bogdanovic said. “I hope that I will stay here, maybe. But, we’ll see. It’s a long summer.”

Bogdanovic did say he thought there were enough minutes for him, Oubre and Porter to remain together. Their varying styles likely makes that true.

He also put in a vote for his fellow European, Satoransky.

“I hope next year he is going to have opportunity to be second point guard behind John,” Bogdanovic said. “He’s going to show that he deserves to be here.”

Two players who are all but guaranteed not to be back are the other backup points guards. Trey Burke was eventually benched after being labeled by Grunfeld as Wall’s backup when acquired in the summer. Brandon Jennings was signed March 1. He did not play well during the regular season. He was worse in the playoffs. He called himself a “no-show” and “terrible” for his play in the second round against the Celtics. He was right. Jennings shot 18.8 percent in the series. He went scoreless five times. When Wall looked sapped in the fourth quarter of Game 7, it was easy to think about the lack of a contribution from the backup point guard.

Washington has not been able to find a consistent backup for Wall for years. This offseason, it will again try to solve that problem. Is Satoransky ready? If not, then where is an answer?

The back-end of the bench group was populated with three undrafted free agents for much of the season. Washington will try to bring back small forward Danuel House, who was waived March 1 to make space for Jennings. It will also likely bring back Sheldon Mac (formerly McClellan). Both are inexpensive, young and already invested in by the Wizards after a season of development work. Center Daniel Ochefu falls into this group, too. Typically, they would have spent much of the season in the D-League. But, Washington is just one of four NBA teams that does not own a D-League affiliate.

Those young options provide another offseason question: Can the Wizards rely on any of them for rotation minutes next season? Mac seems the only possibility as a backup shooting guard.

No high-end help will be coming from the draft. The Wizards only have the 52nd overall pick because renting Bogdanovic cost them their first-round pick for this year. This draft will be the third in the last four years that the Wizards do not have a first-round pick. Washington used its 2014 first-round pick as part of the deal to acquire Marcin Gortat. It selected Oubre with its 2015 pick (which also cost an additional two second-round picks). The Wizards‘ 2016 first-round pick was traded to Phoenix as part of the deal for Markieff Morris.

“I love is the pieces that we have,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “We have a good group of guys that are going to get better. When you have your core guys in their 20s, they should come back better with a summer of improvement and a fall camp. We definitely will add pieces.”

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