- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Washington Wizards have won five straight without star John Wall, and they may be looking to upgrade their team further.

The Wizards, ESPN reported, are exploring trading center Marcin Gortat before the league’s Thursday trade deadline. Gortat, 33, has one year left on his contract after this season, and the Wizards reportedly are looking “to improve their team now while not taking on any additional long-term money.”

One candidate, per ESPN’s Zach Lowe, could be Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan.

The Clippers kicked off the trade deadline a week early, shipping Blake Griffin to the Detroit Pistons. Per reports, Los Angeles isn’t done, with the team looking to unload Jordan and shooting guard Lou Williams.

For the Wizards, acquiring Jordan could be costly.

Besides Gortat, Washington doesn’t have many movable contracts outside their core. Washington forward Kelly Oubre would be an intriguing young piece for the Clippers, but trading him away would give the Wizards a lack of depth on an already thin bench.

And while Jordan doesn’t carry long-term money, he is expected to decline a $24 million player option and test free agency this summer. That would mean the Wizards would either be surrendering assets for a rental, or would be open to handing out another sizable contract for the third straight year.

Last week, Wizards coach Scott Brooks said he didn’t see a trade necessary to help withstand the loss of Wall.

“If we see something that’s going to make us better this year and long term, we’ll definitely look at things,” Brooks said. “It’s our obligation and our job to find a team that can be better every year. But with this situation, with John, it’s not going to change how we look at it.”

Wall underwent a knee scope last Wednesday and is projected to be out 6-8 weeks. Brooks and the Wizards maintained they would be fine, but the results so far have been even better than many expected.

Entering Tuesday’s game against Philadelphia, the Wizards are 31-22 and a half-game back from the third seed, currently held by the imploding Cleveland Cavaliers.

How have the Wizards survived — even thrived at times — without Wall? “Everybody eats,” guard Bradley Beal said.

Beal’s expression has become a mantra for the suddenly selfless Wizards. In the five games since Wall’s absence, Washington has recorded 161 assists — or 32.2 per game. For reference, the Golden State Warriors lead the league with 30.3 assists per game.

Appearing on ESPN’s “The Jump,” Wall said Tuesday his teammates recent play will be helpful when he returns.

Wall even addressed outside speculation that the Wizards would be better without him in the long-term.

Wall defended his play, saying the Wizards were moving the ball well early in the season but they weren’t making shots to accompany it. The Wizards, he said, are also playing better defense.

“I think now guys are stepping up,” Wall said. “The first unit and second unit are playing very well, but it was kind of shocking to hear a lot of people, couple people say the ball is moving a lot better. That’s what I pride myself off of is being more happy when my teammates are scoring than I am.”

Wall also discussed the Gortat report, calling him a great teammate and added he trusted the team’s front office to do what’s best.

This season, Gortat is averaging 8.9 points and eight rebounds per game on 53.7 percent shooting. Gortat has seen his minutes drop nearly five minutes per game, and he admitted he struggled with his role earlier in the season.

Gortat fueled trade speculation in January when he declared he wanted to retire a member of the Orlando Magic, the organization that drafted him. But Gortat told reporters he didn’t want to be traded and liked it in Washington.

Still, moving Gortat could be difficult if the Wizards are unwilling to take back long-term salary. They could add their first round pick to help incentivize a deal, but they have done that in recent years to mixed results.

Teams have until 3 p.m. Thursday to make a deal.

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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