The Washington Wizards have been the most active team in the NBA this offseason, as their new front office has gone to work taking things apart in the team’s first real rebuilding effort in more than a decade.
While you can question how successful they’ve been (we’ll get to that momentarily), what has to be applauded is that they have finally picked a direction for this franchise. This is a team that has not won 50 games since the late 1970s and while they enjoyed some success early in the John Wall-Bradley Beal era, things had deteriorated recently to where they were the poster child for mediocrity in the NBA. What the future holds for Washington could very well be determined by lottery balls, but for now the Wizards at least seem to have a long-term plan in place. This offseason has been a wild ride, but they do come into the 2023 season with an interesting roster. It isn’t a full teardown to the studs in Washington, but more an aggressive remodel (that likely takes them towards the bottom of the East) with some mild swings on young players they hope just need a change of scenery to thrive.
Here, we’ll grade out the Wizards’ effort this summer in the Draft, free agency, and on the trade market.
The Wizards took one of the bigger swings of the lottery when they moved up a pick with the Pacers in order to take Bilal Coulibaly, who flew up draft boards as teams got a look at him while watching Victor Wembanyama. Coulibaly is a defender first, with a ton of length and athleticism on the wing. On a team with some strong offensive players, adding a strong defender makes sense even with it being a high risk-reward pick, as our Brad Rowland explained on Draft night giving Washington a B for the selection.
This is an aggressive move and choice from Washington. While this range of the draft is perceived as relatively flat, Coulibaly was seen as a fringe first-round pick only a few weeks and months ago before a meteoric rise. His athletic and physical tools are outstanding, and Coulibaly could be a tremendous defender as a result. The questions come more on offense, where he has operated in a very small overall role playing with Metropolitans 92.
Free Agency/Contract Extensions: B
The Wizards made most of their moves on the trade market, which we’ll get to momentarily, but they did make one major signing, bringing Kyle Kuzma back on a 4-year, $102 million deal. It was a great deal for Kuzma, who got a nine-figure deal in one of the flattest free agent markets we’ve seen in some time. I also think it was a perfectly solid deal for the Wizards, who can pair Kuzma with Jordan Poole and Tyus Jones for something approaching a functional young core — albeit, time will tell if they stick together. Kuzma has steadily grown into being a very solid starting wing and should they spin the tires the next few years and not take the strides forward Washington wants, that contract will be very movable in the final couple years. I don’t think this was some steal for the Wizards, but it was solid work both in the short- and long-term.
It’s certainly been an active trade summer for the Wizards, and this grade is less a reflection on the work this new front office has done and more with the position the old regime put them in. Giving Bradley Beal the only true no-trade clause in the NBA was malpractice, as they weren’t bidding against anyone else when signing him to the supermax (a contract only they could offer him). By allowing him to dictate where he was traded, they cratered his trade value (which was already questionable on a deal that big as is) and the result was only being able to extract Chris Paul, Landry Shamet, six second round picks, and some first round pick swaps from the Suns — which includes the 2024 pick that I have to assume is worthless for the Wizards to have). Again, that’s the best this front office could do under the circumstances, but it’s far below the value Bradley Beal should have in a trade.
Then they traded Kristaps Porzingis to the Boston Celtics, ending up with Tyus Jones from the Grizzlies as the centerpiece of the deal. I actually liked this deal pretty well for all three teams involved, as Jones will give the Wizards a very solid point guard who has proven he can run a young team in his time with Memphis where he’s filled in admirably in Ja Morant’s various absences. They’ll get a chance to find out if Jones can be a high-quality starter in the NBA or if he’s better served as a very good sixth man, but that’s a worthwhile swing for a team trying to figure out what their core will be in the future. Not being able to get a single first round pick for Beal or Porzingis is rather jarring, but more a matter of circumstance than anything — and it’s clear they valued still putting a somewhat decent product on the floor, just one that’s considerably younger.
The final major trade was flipping Chris Paul into Jordan Poole, Ryan Rollins, a future second, and a protected first rounder in 2030 from the Warriors. While I’m not particularly high on Poole, I do think this is the exact kind of move the Wizards should be making. I’m not sure a player has needed a fresh start more than Poole, considering he literally got punched in the face by a teammate and then the team chose the guy that punched him in the face over him (which, to be clear, I also understand why the Warriors made that choice). Poole has shown considerable upside as a scorer, but did have a dreadful shooting year last season. His contract is very large, but in a starring role, placed between a solid point guard in Jones and a good wing in Kuzma, this is Poole’s best chance to prove he’s worth that. He has obviously wanted a larger role than he had with the Warriors, and now he should be motivated to prove Golden State wrong for moving him. It’s a high-upside swing on a young player, which is exactly what the Wizards should be doing with their money right now. If it doesn’t work out and he continues to struggle with efficiency, his deal isn’t so unwieldy it’ll block them from making moves down the road, but if he does pop, they’ll be accelerating their rebuild with him already in position.
Flipping Monte Morris into a future second was also definitely a trade that happened. Overall, the Wizards offseason has been very active and not every deal has looked particularly good, but given the circumstances the former regime put them in, I think this new front office has done a perfectly fine job. The hard part of the rebuild is still to come and they weren’t able to fully stock up on draft assets, but you can pretty easily explain why they made all the moves they did. Whether they work out in the way they want is an entirely different question.