John Wall thinks the Wizards are “one piece” away from championship contention, and he believes Paul George can be that piece in D.C.
In an interview with ESPN’s Marc Spears, Wall said he’s been lobbying for George to request a trade to Washington to team up with him and Bradley Beal.
"We have the point guard, we have the shooting guard, we have the center, we have the power forward. Our 3-man [Otto Porter Jr.] did great for us. You can't take nothing away from what he did. But [George] is a guy that can guard LeBron and go back at LeBron. It's a piece that you're going to need to win. If you don't have a guy who can do that, you don't have a chance.
Wall added that he knows the Wizards chances of acquiring George are slim. The Pacers don’t have to move him anywhere they don’t see fit. And even if they did, George’s representatives have made it clear that playing for the Lakers once his contract is up after next season is his ultimate goal.
But still, shooters shoot. Wall knows the clock is ticking on his time to win in Washington, and he’s trying to get there. The probable outcome here, though, is that George doesn’t go to D.C.
The Wizards just don’t have the pieces to swing a trade
It would be a difficult move to swing even with a lot of trade assets — just ask the Celtics. But the Wizards’ cupboards are bare. The list of prospects and younger players they can offer up isn’t deep, so they won’t be able to assemble a package without blowing up their core.
The Wizards only have two untouchable players: Beal and Wall. Marcin Gortat and Markieff Morris are both good players on cap-friendly deals, but neither can be looked at as more than salary filler at this point.
Otto Porter is a restricted free agent who the Wizards could offer up in a sign-and-trade scenario, but that’d offer all sorts of complications. First, the Pacers will actually need to want him on a big long-term contract. Even if they do, Porter’s cap number for trade purposes can only count for half of his new salary due to an obscure rule known as Base-Year Compensation. This removes the loophole that’d allow teams to agree to give restricted free agents massive salary bumps just to make trades work under the salary cap.
The upshot is that even if Porter is the biggest asset coming back to Indiana, the Wizards would need to add in more salary to make a potential sign-and-trade deal work. That means including critical rotation players and/or bad contracts the Pacers won’t want.
Washington’s best young asset here is Kelly Oubre, but he struggled to remain in the rotation throughout the season. He has some promise as a defender, but he averaged 4.4 fouls per 36 minutes last season. And his jump shot? Let’s just say he’s closer to hit-or-miss than a capable shooter for now.
The Wizards really don’t have any other supplementary young assets beyond Oubre, thanks to years of dealing draft picks for present-day talent.
But what about their future draft picks?
The Wizards do own all of their first-round picks for the next few years and could offer up some combination. But that isn’t going to be enough to pry Paul George from Indiana without giving up a young centerpiece in the trade.
The Pacers aren’t just looking for future first-round picks — they’re looking for top-line young talent. As an organization, the Pacers generally avoid bottoming out because of the market they’re in. It’s hard to come by star talent in free agency signing in Indiana. The best way they can do it is through the draft and via trade.
The Wizards could offer them picks, sure, but they probably wouldn’t convey for years down the line. Plus, have we learned anything from the way Boston fleeced the Nets back in 2012? You can’t just mortgage your future away for a player who may not even re-sign.
This may be different with Wall and George entering their primes and Beal having yet to hit his, but the cautionary tale remains the same. Let’s say the Wizards do find a way to entice the Pacers with their bare cupboard and future picks. What if George leaves? They have a huge gap at small forward that they can’t really fill in free agency because they’re pretty much capped out over the next few seasons.
George in D.C. would be fun and, frankly, a great fit. The Wizards would have a shot at going toe-to-toe with Cleveland and could be great defensively. But it’d take a lot for that to happen, and it’s just not likely it ever will.
The most realistic option for the Wizards is to re-sign Porter and look for improvement internally. George is a nice dream, but it’s hard to see it becoming a reality.