NBA Free Agency: What’s the Washington Wizards’ next step?

After returning to the play-offs for the first time in six years this season, the Wizards announced themselves as an Eastern Conference force to be reckoned with.

It’s been a long, hard road for the Washington Wizards. After the debacle that was Gilbert Arenas’ tenure with the team they’ve been recovering and rebuilding.

This rebuild began when Washington won the 2010 NBA Draft lottery and took point guard John Wall with the 1st overall pick. This, however, did not spark an immediate return to relevance and the Wizards had to undergo 3 more sub-.500 season before this year’s 44-38 season.

The second major piece of Washington’s reconstruction came in the 2012 when they took shooting guard Bradley Beal with the 3rd pick of the draft.

Together Wall and Beal have matured into one of the league’s premier backcourts. Wall has developed from a wild playmaker, prone to bad decisions, into one of the better point guards in the league.

His speed and ability to get to the basket allows him to score and facilitate on the drive and he clocked career high’s in both points and assists per game this year. After struggling with it earlier in his career, Wall has also become a genuine three-point threat this season, knocking down 35.1% of his threes this year.

Beal, on the other hand, has never struggled to hit the three, hitting 40.2% of his triples this year. However, this year we’ve seen Beal go from being a spot up shooter to an all round offensive threat. He’s also shared some of the ball handling responsibilities with Wall and his 3.3 assists per game this season should continue to rise as he becomes more comfortable in this role.

While Beal’s defence is nowhere near the calibre of Wall's, he is not so much of a liability that he hurts Washington while on the floor.

This pair has serious room for growth and provided they’re surrounded with a decent supporting class, we could see them begin to mount deep post-season runs in the coming years. Indeed, that was what we saw this year when the Wizards made it to the Eastern Conference semi-finals with Trevor Ariza, Nene and Marcin Gortat joining Wall and Beal in the starting line-up.

This is where things get tricky for the Wizards. While they locked down Wall to a maximum contract through to 2019 and Beal isn’t due a qualifying offer till 2017, the rest of Washington’s starting 5 have hazy futures.

Nene is a solid power forward and we saw what he did to the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the play-offs but is he worth the $13 million that the Wizards owe him over each of the next 2 seasons?

Definitely not and if the Wizards can find a way to trade him there’s no doubt they’d like to clear his hefty salary off the books.

As for Ariza and Gortat, both came into their element this season, providing major contributions during the Wizards' play-off run. Ariza became one of the league’s premier three and D guys, shooting 40.7% from deep while showing that he’s one of the league’s best perimeter defenders, while Gortat showed us that he’s added the ability to pass to his already high level rebounding, making a solid NBA starter.

The trouble for the Wizards is that both these guys become unrestricted free agents this summer and will definitely draw attention on the open market from play-off teams that want to sure up at the 3 and 5 spot.

Luckily for Washington they have some cap space to play with this summer. With roughly $45 million guaranteed salary on the books next year, the Wizards could afford to keep both Ariza and Gortat should they agree to sign for similar amounts of money but they could probably command somewhere in the region of $8-9 million each on the open market, a figure to steep for the Wizards.

If the Wizards can’t keep hold of their starting 5 there are several free agent options they could pursue. Making an offer to Gordon Hayward would be a worthwhile avenue of pursuit should they lose Ariza though it’s likely that Utah would match any offer that the Wizards could afford.

Andrei Kirilenko is a vastly underrated small forward that would probably come cheap should they not be able to snare Hayward.

The possibility of replacing Gortat may be slightly more problematic however. Spencer Hawes proved his worth last season and could probably be attained on the cheap, though the Wizards could be slightly more ambitious and chase Pistons big man Greg Monroe in a sign and trade featuring Gortat, Ariza and salary balancing players from each side.

The two Washington players would be a great return for Monroe, who Detroit risk losing for nothing this summer.