Washington finds itself as the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference after a Martin Luther King Jr. Day victory over the Philadelphia 76ers. The Wizards have experienced defensive slippage after a 10-3 start, but they still have Bradley Beal and an improved Kyle Kuzma anchoring the foundation.
These next few weeks are critical for the Wizards. Beal can become a free agent at the end of the season, and Washington might have to consider trading him to avoid getting nothing in return should he walk away this summer. However, the return of some key contributors gives general manager Tommy Sheppard some options ahead of the deadline.
Thomas Bryant and Rui Hachimura have rejoined the Wizards rotation
The Wizards had long awaited the return of two youngsters. They’re finally back.
After missing almost the entire first half of the season to deal with a personal matter, third-year forward Rui Hachimura rejoined the team on Jan. 9. He seemed relieved to do so, as well.
Meanwhile, big man Thomas Bryant hadn’t played basketball in a full calendar year after sustaining a torn ACL last January. That drought ended on Jan. 12, as Bryant played just under 12 minutes and made both of his field goals in a win over the Orlando Magic.
Wizards head coach Wes Unseld Jr. has a lot to juggle with Hachimura and Bryant now in the fold. Washington has plenty of frontcourt depth, but it will want both players to get minutes and extended runs both with starters and the second unit.
Reintegrating Hachimura and Bryant poses a bit of awkwardness in the immediate sense. However, they give the Wizards more flexibility to get aggressive ahead of the NBA trade deadline.
The Wizards have lots of frontcourt pieces to dangle
Sheppard can choose from any number of assets to part with before the NBA trade deadline. The Wizards might even choose to trade multiple youngsters.
Bryant broke out with the Wizards as a floor-spacing big who could make an impact as a rim-roller and baseline cutter while offering relentless effort on the offensive glass. He averaged 14.3 points and 6.1 rebounds in 2020-21 before suffering the ACL injury after averaging 13.2 points and 7.2 rebounds the prior season.
The 24-year-old gives Washington a different offensive look from Montrezl Harrell and Daniel Gafford. But Gafford’s tremendous defensive value and Harrell’s infectious energy and scoring off the bench might make them somewhat indispensable.
Thus, the Wizards might try to trade Bryant. He’s on an expiring contract, and any team looking for young frontcourt pieces would almost certainly take a flier on him with the hopes of ideally signing him to a slightly lesser contract this upcoming summer.
Hachimura and Deni Avdija could both hit the trade block as well. Hachimura can score from on low block or facing up and made strides as a midrange scorer last season. However, his defensive limitations and struggles from beyond the arc lower his ceiling.
Avdija is a better defender who can handle the ball, though it’s hard to determine what position he is best suited to going forward. He’s shown little growth offensively and can’t create much for himself on that end, but it’s important to remember he is only 21 years old.
Washington’s depth made Avdija a DNP on Monday, and Kuzma’s emergence and switchability make his future in The District appear unstable. A rebuilding team might gamble on him making strides with higher usage.
Those three youngsters give the Wizards a metaphorical trough from which to trade. They’ll need to harness every asset available if they hope to make a win-now move.
Bradley Beal’s future could determine how the Wizards operate at the NBA trade deadline
One man will all but determine how the Wizards proceed at the NBA trade deadline: Bradley Beal.
The star combo guard can become a free agent this summer if he declines his player option. Beal appears intent on signing a $235 million supermax contract. Whether he re-signs with Washington could depend on the moves Sheppard makes before the deadline.
The Wizards could use wing players with positional versatility. They might also still be in the market for a backcourt playmaker.
Jerami Grant and Harrison Barnes might fit the mold of what Washington desires. Barnes’ defensive numbers in particular are pretty horrific, but he’d give the Wizards much-needed perimeter shooting. Grant can space the floor a little bit and defends multiple positions. Keep an eye on Boston Celtics swingman Josh Richardson if Boston moves at least one of its veteran guys.
It remains to be seen how the Wizards will attack the trade market. Regardless, Washington can call on its depth to make an impact move and convince Beal the franchise will do what it takes to move the needle.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.