- - Wednesday, February 6, 2019


If the Otto Porter trade on Wednesday means Ted Leonsis is reconsidering, that’s a good move.

The Washington Wizards owner was adamant three weeks ago, declaring that his team “will never, ever tank.” Whereas most objective observers saw good reason for the Wizards to adopt a long-term view, Leonsis said he was all-in for chasing a meaningless playoff. It’s worthwhile, he seemed to think.

“I’ve gone man to man, every player I’ve been interviewing and talking to, they all think we have enough to make the playoffs and win a first round,” Leonsis told reporters during Washington’s trip to London. “So I got to believe in what they’re saying.”

Since then, maybe he has chosen instead to believe his non-lying eyes — which might’ve teared up after Washington’s latest misfortune.

Regrettably, John Wall has suffered a torn Achilles tendon that could cost him all of next season. If Leonsis wanted to delude himself that Washington, as currently constructed, could avoid a quick, first-round exit, that’s one thing. But it’s another altogether to suggest that anything good awaits next season, with Wall on the sideline and high lottery picks on other teams.

Even a fully healthy Wall, with his supermax contract in tow, serves as a weight that drags down the franchise. A rehabilitating Wall just makes Washington’s predicament more intractable. The Wizards aren’t built to win with him or without him, so there’s really no point in continuing on this path.

A couple of postseason games at Capital One Arena against Milwaukee or Toronto would help Leonsis‘ bottom line, but they wouldn’t do a thing for the Wizards‘ prospects moving forward. Wall, Bradley Beal and the now departed Porter were never going to be enough to lift Washington into championship contention.

Going down is the only way up.

Wall and the Wizards are stuck with each other. Trading him before the Achilles injury was virtually hopeless due to his declining health and escalating salary. I previously endorsed a rebuild around Wall and Beal, but now I have to wonder. Beal is the team’s best and most attractive player; the Wizards owe it to themselves (and him?) to listen when teams make inquiries.

While hesitancy on Beal is understandable, moving Porter was clearly the right thing to do.

A real contender could make better use of the small forward, even on a contract considered bloated by many. But Porter’s proven inadequate as a No. 3, even more so as a No. 2 with Wall out of the picture. He’s a nice guy who could finish first in a new environment.

The Wizards who will attract the most interest after Porter and Beal — Jeff Green, Trevor Ariza and Markieff Morris — should be gift-wrapped and adorned with bows. Skilled veterans on expiring contracts are dual-threats as precious commodities for teams in the championship hunt. But they’re wasted on teams in the Wizards‘ position.

Consider the Los Angeles Clippers’ approach compared to what Washington is doing.

The Clippers could’ve slipped into the playoffs last year and this year. But they traded their best player in each of those seasons (Blake Griffin and Tobias Harris, respectively), because No. 8 seeds are middling by definition.

Owner Steve Ballmer and consultant Jerry West aren’t interested in being middling.

Conversely, the Wizards have been unexceptional for six seasons now. They have reached the playoffs four times with no trips to the conference finals, while being mired between 41-49 wins. This team peaked two seasons ago and has trended downward since.

Porter’s gone. Now go ahead and dump the rest of their quality assets.

“I think we have to stay the course for this season,” Leonsis said last week on WTOP. “You can’t go to your organization, to your players, to your coach, and say, ‘Let’s plan to lose.’”

Of course not.

But make moves that serve the organization’s best long-term interests. Say: ‘Let’s play hard and win as many as possible with the players we have left.’”

No one is suggesting that the Wizards should purposely miss shots and commit turnovers. It would be “next man up,” doing the best they could without Porter, Green, Ariza, Morris and (maybe, reluctantly) Beal.

Let the results fall where they will, the closer to the cellar, the better.

That should’ve been the thinking all along, before Wall’s heel injury knocked him out for this season, and before the Achilles injury that likely makes him unavailable for most of next season.

The last affliction merely sealed the deal.

Wall’s fall should send the Wizards into a dive.

Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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