According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, the Washington Wizards are preparing to hit the self-destruct button after a disastrous start to the season that Dwight Howard somehow didn’t fix single-handedly. Their star-studded backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal are available, but should the Los Angeles Lakers be interested in teaming either player up with LeBron James? In short, probably not.
Let’s start with some background on this.
Washington has a ton of individual talent across its roster. Beal and Wall will obviously garner the headlines and speculation, but Otto Porter has shown all kinds of promise at an important position, and even Kelly Oubre is an enticing young piece. But the question begs asking: What went so wrong? If the talent is there, why aren’t the results following?
Washington has been one of the league’s most disappointing teams for years, and any franchise trading for anyone associated with that prolonged failure will be hoping that it was an issue of fit and poor management rather than actual talent.
For the Lakers specifically, a trade for Beal, Wall or Porter signifies a move away from their free agency-based roster construction. Let’s go down the list.
Starting next season, John Wall, who famously said he’ll basically party if he wants to this season, will be owed an out-of-this-world $203 million through 2023 thanks to the super-max extension the Wizards gave him. I’d be partying too.
But in all seriousness, I haven’t read a single quote out of Wall this season that makes me comfortable with his mental approach to the game.
Beal is making $25.4 million this year, $27 million next year and $28.7 million the year after that.
Porter is being paid $26 million this season, $27.25 million a year from now and then has a player option in 2020 that would be worth $28.4 million if he exercises it.
Further complicating matters is that Porter’s contract contains a 15 percent trade kicker — thanks, Brooklyn Nets! — that would raise his cap number if he were moved. The same goes for Wall, who according to the esteemed Zach Lowe of ESPN has a “15 percent trade kicker -- believed to be the first trade kicker that would be spread over the length of a supermax contract.”
Wall’s kicker is so unprecedented that Lowe reports that if he were traded the league would have to look into the CBA to see how it would work, and that “rises in salary cap at some point during the length of Wall’s supermax could trigger further trade kicker payments to him.”
That’s a ton of disappointing money, and it’s fair to wonder in Wall’s case whether teams will be lining up to offer assets when that extension kicks in.
If the Lakers were to offer any package at all for any of Wall, Beal or Porter, that would take them out of the running for a max-level free agent this summer. So you have to ask yourself: Are any members of this disappointing Washington core worth giving up a chance at Kevin Durant, who is very obviously unhappy in Golden State right now? It’s no guarantee, obviously, but taking yourself out of the running before the race even starts seems like the definition of shortsighted.
Beal probably fits this roster, and is a better overall player right now than Brandon Ingram or Lonzo Ball, but the opportunity cost of missing out on Durant or any other star free agent this summer before Magic Johnson can even give his sales pitch is pretty immense.
It also feels unlikely that Washington is able to move all these guys this season, especially if they’re just now sending out feelers to see what the return might be. If the Lakers strike out completely this summer, it’s within the realm of possibility they could revisit trade talks and use their cap space that way if absolutely need be.
The other factor to keep in mind is that because of the way the Lakers put this roster together (mostly through free agency), they can’t make a trade of any real significance until December 15, when the deals they signed this summer can be moved, making most of this speculation moot for about a month or so.
Look, it’d be one thing if the Lakers were off to such a disappointing start that it was painfully apparent that none of the young core has a chance at fitting alongside LeBron, but that simply isn’t the case. The Lakers currently sit at 9-7, a mere two games out of the top spot in the Western Conference.
Yes, the Ingram-James combination has been clunky more often than it’s looked good. Hell, it’s probably fair to question if it will ever work at all, but the Lakers are winning despite that right now. If the fit between those two changes drastically over the next month or so, cool, then they can revisit this. But things would have to reach apocalyptic levels for the Lakers to really consider a move for any of Washington’s overpaid and underperforming assets.
Maybe a change of scenery will do Wall, Beal or Porter well. Hell, Beal and Porter getting away from Wall might do them wonders just by itself. Some team that’s already in cap hell and has no other avenue to find a star could convince themselves that their organization is all Wall needs (Miami makes sense in this scenario, for example). But the Lakers are fine as currently constituted given the expectations heading into this season.
Magic Johnson has repeatedly said this rebuild is a two-year process that started as soon as they landed LeBron. He’s looking ahead to free agency this summer and, while Beal and Porter are nice players, the Lakers have their sights set higher than nice. If they want to attain those goals, it’ll take patience; patience to look past enticing, nice players for a short-term solution to a problem that doesn’t actually exist.