By: Joe Pohoryles
With John Wall sidelined for the rest of the season recovering from an Achilles tear, and the Wizards sitting at 14-28, it appears this season is lost. Wall will be 30 next season, so age and the nature of his injury suggest that one of his greatest assets, speed, will be greatly diminished. His supermax contract that will pay him an average of $42,782,880 every year until 2022-23, eating up nearly 30 percent of the team’s salary cap (a percentage that should rise as his year-to-year pay increases each season), is widely considered to be the worst contract in the league today.
With Wall and Bradley Beal commanding so much cap space, the team can only fill the rest of its roster with cheap veterans and inexperienced players on rookie deals. This is not a winning formula, and with the team practically unable to unload the Wall contract to any other team, they can’t exactly blow the whole thing up and start fresh. It appears they’ll be forced to wait out these next three-and-a-half years in mediocrity or worse.
Unless they take a risk that could potentially turn this mess into a playoff team.
They already possess the worst contract in the NBA, so why not take on the second-worst one, belonging to the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kevin Love. On paper, it sounds like a bad idea, but if it breaks the right way, it could actually make the Wizards a formidable team in the Eastern Conference.
I first came across this idea while reading a Bleacher Report article from Sept. 2019 that you can find here. I glanced at it, gave it some thought, and quickly realized this could actually be a worthwhile move. Here’s why:
It has become very clear in recent weeks that Love wants out of Cleveland, and the Cavs would be happy to ship him out. While his efforts have been criticized recently, and his play has not helped a bottoming Cavs team, Love is a five-time All Star, his most recent appearance in 2017-18, and statistically he’s on par with his play in the past couple years.
So far in 2019-20, he’s averaged 17.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists. Two seasons ago (the final year he was an All Star), he averaged 17.6 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists. Stats don’t tell the full story, but it’s clear he could be a valuable producer for the Wizards. His attitude could improve, but it seems a change of scenery is just what he needs.
With the Cavs seemingly eager to move Love’s contract, the price for a trade should be lower than one would expect for a player of Love’s caliber. The contents of the trade would depend on whether it would go through this season or later this offseason, but the Wizards should be able to work out something reasonable.
With Wall coming back next season, and Beal under contract for another three years after this one, installing Love to lead the front court may actually be enough to make the Wizards a playoff team. Considering the less expensive contributions of Thomas Bryant and Rui Hachimura rounding out the starting five, that has potential to be a solid team in the East.
The Wizards made the playoffs in 2016-17 with Marcin Gortat and Markieff Morris in the frontcourt. Wall made Gortat a lethal pick-and-roll partner in a top 10 offense, so imagine Love, a walking double-double, in that position on offense. This all hinges on whether Wall can be an effective player upon his return, but it’s something that’s worth a try.
I’d consider Bryant to be an upgrade over Gortat at center, Love an upgrade over Morris at power forward, and Hachimura on par with Otto Porter Jr. at small forward, with potential to be better. The Wizards were the fourth seed in 2017’s playoffs without a strong bench. This improved starting five could at least match that spot in a more competitive East in 2020-21, and at the very least squeak into the playoffs. Factor in the 2020 draftee that should be a lottery pick, plus other inexpensive young guys that have shown promise like Troy Brown Jr., Mo Wagner and Admiral Schofield, and you’ve got a solid group of players coming off the bench.
Throwing that much money towards an aging power forward like Love, who will be 32 next season, is risky, but what else do the Wizards have to lose? There’s almost zero way of getting out of Wall’s contract, so instead of waste the next three seasons accepting under-.500 records, why not make a move to try and make some noise?
If they can start stringing together some winning seasons, great. They may not be championship contenders, but at least they’d be putting a quality product on the court for the fans, perhaps lucking out on a close run, building a winning culture.
Love has championship experience as the third-best player on the team, so while it’s unlikely the Wizards would be Finals contenders, if they somehow get in that position, he can be a leader who knows what it takes. That would be extremely valuable for the young guys on the roster.
However, what if Love is not impactful as hoped, Wall cannot come close to what he once was, and Beal becomes so sick of losing he eventually demands a trade? That would suck, but at least the team tried to build something. The Wizards are not generating wins as is; the worst case scenario is they just keep losing.
They’d garner some lottery picks over the next few years, and by 2023 around $73 million in annual salary will come off the books from Wall and Love alone. If Beal is still on the team, that adds another $27 million or so that will be freed up. The team will be able to start fresh with what would presumably be several lottery picks and a lot of cap space.
It would take some maneuvering to fit in Love’s contract, but based on where the team is now, I would view this trade as a low-risk, high-reward move that will either elevate the team to relevancy, or establish themselves as losers for the next few years before reaching a complete rebuild.
Note: In the future, I’ll break down the salary cap and trade logistics that would make this move possible, so make sure to check it out when that comes.