Why Are The Wizards Flailing? Follow the Money

Two decades ago, the architect of the Chicago Bulls famously said “organizations win championships”. GM Jerry Krause was routinely dismissed and mocked and his famous statement was unerasable. It followed him like a punishment. Most of the criticism went something like this. No you fool, organizations don’t win championships. Michael Jordan does. But here’s the nuance about winning that Krause had his pulse on. You need a roster that can compete at the highest level despite an iconic star. The general manager puts that roster together. He decides what the players are worth while conscious of financial flexibility.

In a salary cap universe, money matters exponentially, often more than the small transactional type that strains the eye. The money can set you free. The money can strangle you.

The Washington Wizards are worse than every NBA team except the Cleveland  Cavaliers and the Phoenix Suns. The Cavs have 1 win on the season in their post-LeBron life. The Suns have won 2 games and are rebuilding while the 2-win Wizards erroneously think they are a contender.

The Cavaliers payroll for 2018-19 is $116 million. They are paying Kevin Love $24 million and George Hill $19 million.  8 Cavs player are making $4 million or less. Next year, the Cavs payroll is $124 million. They are a rebuilding team confused as to what to do without James running things.

The Suns payroll for 2018-19 is $106 million. They are paying Tyson Chandler, Darrell Arthur, Davon Reed and Shaquille Harrison $23 million; none are on the roster. The Suns highest paid player is Ryan Anderson at $20 million. 9 Suns players make less than $5 million. In 2019-20, their payroll is $77 million, $27 million of which is Devin Booker’s paycheck. The Suns are developing Deandre Ayton.

The Cavs and the Suns payroll are ranked 18th and 24th respectively. Their meager wins on the season doesn’t come at the expense of value.

The Wizards are the 6th ranked payroll. This season they have $133 million in contracts. Otto Porter, Bradley Beal and John Wall are making $70 million which accounts for more than 50% of the payroll. Next year, when John Wall gets an $18 million raise, the payroll will be $116 million. Currently, the Wizards have 6 players making less than $5 million but it is the top heavy part of the roster that is sinking the Wizards.

  • Otto Porter is averaging 11 points and 5 rebounds in 29 minutes with a defensive rating of 115. He is making $26 million, or a little bit more than $2.3 million per point which is $1.3 million more than Kevin Durant is making per point.
  • John Wall is averaging 21 points and 7 assists in 35 minutes with a defensive rating of 114. He is making $19 million, or a little bit more than $904,000 per point. He is a great value. But next year the income swelters thanks to the supermax contract despite Wall never having appeared in a conference final. Wall makes $37 million next season and then $40 million and his player option in 2022-2023 is $46 million. And he has a trade kicker if he is traded this year. This season, Wall has taken 91 jumpers and made 31 of them, 37%.
  • Bradley Beal is averaging 22 points and 3 assists in 34 minutes with a defensive rating of 117. He is making $25 million or $1.1 million per point. He is making 39% of his jumpshots but his defense is similar to the inmates running the asylum, no sense of order, discipline or interest.

The $70 million slice of the Wizards payroll pie are competent when it comes to scoring but are doing nothing to prevent scoring. No one on the Wizards has a defensive rating under 114. Jeff Green is on this team- nothing more needs to be said.

The Wizards are one dimensional. So are the Lakers, another defense-allergic team. But unlike the Wizards, the Lakers aren’t paying one dimensional players more than they are worth making it impossible to move them. So what, you can score. Can you do anything to stop scoring?

Ernie Grunfeld, Wizards GM, took a gamble to keep John Wall and Co. together even though they showed very little evidence that they deserved his loyalty. The Wizards playoff runs: Conference Semifinals (2014, 15, 17).  First Round Exit, 2018.  Grunfeld took the road he should have abandoned. He blinked. He played checkers while Wall, Beal and Porter played chess. His salaries were based on the market and not on the individual skill and now the chickens have come home to roost.

Wall, Beal and Porter are getting paid $70 million whether they win 2 games or 72 games while the Wizards organization is experiencing the worst of times. They are in salary cap and repeater tax hell.  They are stuck hemorrhaging money while the players are not earning their salary and seemingly don’t care they have become a financial disaster and at the same time a liability, a rope around the neck that is squeezing oxygen out of the district. It’s financial quicksand in D.C. Greed is not good.  Greed gets you fired, traded or rebuilding after you sell off the parts.