Wizards

Winger Turning the Wizards Into a Future Title Threat

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Thirteen months ago, the Washington Wizards named Michael Winger president of Monumental Basketball, trusting the longtime executive to change the trajectory of this franchise.

Since May 24, 2023, Winger’s made a plethora of franchise-altering moves, including a shake up of the front office that saw Will Dawkins named general manager and Travis Schlenk brought in as vice president of player personnel.

On the player side, stars Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis were swiftly moved, ushering in a new era of Wizards basketball as the franchise finally embarked on its long-awaited rebuild.

Outlined below is a timeline of the biggest moves since Winger took over a year ago, looking back on how he’s acted in an attempt to turn Washington into a title contender.

June 5, 2023: Wizards hire Will Dawkins as General Manager

Following a successful 15-year run as a member of the front office in Oklahoma City, Dawkins agreed to join Winger’s staff as Washington’s general manager.

Since his hire, Dawkins has been crucial in making key decisions for the Wizards franchise. Notably, building trade packages for Beal and Porzingis, as well as negotiating contract extensions to keep Kyle Kuzma and Deni Avdija in D.C.

June 18, 2023: Bradley Beal traded to Phoenix

Two years after Tommy Sheppard signed Bradley Beal to one of the most preposterous, overvalued contracts in professional sports history at five years and $251 million, Washington’s new brass decided to move on.

Dawkins and Winger acted quickly, working with Beal’s camp to find a trade partner. This process was more difficult than usual, though, as Beal had a full no-trade clause, empowering him to veto any trade involving himself.

Once the sides settled on Phoenix as Beal’s preferred destination, an agreement came together quickly.

Full trade details:

Suns:

Wizards:

  • Chris Paul
  • Landry Shamet
  • Five second-round picks (‘24, ‘25, ‘26, ‘27, ‘30)
  • Four first-round pick swaps (‘24, ‘26, ‘28, ‘30)

With Phoenix getting swept in Round 1 and many questions surrounding the future of their current roster, Washington has put itself in prime position to utilize those pick swaps in 2028 and 2030. Additionally, the second-round picks have provided additional ammunition should Washington wish to move up in the draft or acquire veteran talent down the line. Perhaps the best part of this trade, though, is that Washington no longer has to pay Beal $50 million per year.

As for Winger’s decision to trade Beal, the move signaled the start of a long-awaited rebuild. Tommy Sheppard made the mistake of valuing Beal like a superstar, whereas Winger and Dawkins saw right through that facade, moving swiftly to rid the franchise of one of the worst contracts in NBA history.

June 21, 2023: Wizards trade Porzingis to Boston

After moving Beal to Phoenix, Washington essentially showed its hand with Kristaps Porzingis.

The Latvian center was in line for a lucrative contract after a career season in D.C. However, it didn’t make much sense for Washington to pay Porzingis big money as they kick-started a long rebuild.

In case you forgot, Washington originally had a deal in place to move Porzingis to Boston in a package that included the Los Angeles Clippers. That package fell through, however, causing the sides to scramble. Porzingis had a midnight deadline to opt-in to his $36 million player option— the only way a trade could be finalized. Luckily, Memphis joined the fold, allowing a trade to be made in time.

Full trade details:

Celtics:

  • Kristaps Porzingis (via Wizards)
  • No. 25 pick in 2023 Draft (via Grizzlies)
  • 2024 first-round pick (top-four protected, via Warriors)

Grizzlies:

Wizards:

Washington made a few moves since this, including flipping Gallinari and Muscala for Bagley and two second-round picks. They also moved the 35th pick to Chicago for two future second-round picks.

So, the Porzingis trade has essentially netted the Wizards:

  • Marvin Bagley III
  • Tyus Jones (now an unrestricted free agent)
  • 2025 and 2026 second-round picks (via DET)
  • 2026 and 2027 second-round picks (via CHI)

An underwhelming return? Yes. But for a guy in Porzingis that was going to leave in free agency anyways, picking up Bagley and four second-round picks looks a lot better than nothing had KP walked. Now, failing to capitalize on Jones’ value at the trade deadline makes this deal look a lot worse, and deservedly so. Nonetheless, Washington got at least something for Porzingis, which is a net positive.

June 22, 2023: Wizards trade for Jordan Poole

Following the Beal trade, Washington was put in an odd spot.

Sure, they added future Hall-of-Fame point guard Chris Paul, but a 38-year-old declining Paul at that. At a ladder stage of his career, Paul had no desire to endure a rebuild, meaning the Wizards would either buy out his contract or trade him. One of those would net the Wizards a solid return, and the other would bring back nothing. It’s easy to see which direction Winger took.

Washington engaged in discussions with Golden State on draft day and agreed upon this trade package:

Warriors:

  • Chris Paul

Wizards:

Essentially, Winger and co. took a player that would’ve been released for no value and flipped him for a 24-year-old point guard with massive upside, a former first-round pick and former second-round pick from the previous draft, a future first-round pick and an additional second-round pick. All that for a 38-year-old CP3 that was going to be bought out if no deal was completed.

That looks like a terrific move to me.

Unfortunately, Jordan Poole did struggle mightily to begin his Wizards career, Ryan Rollins was released due to off-court issues, and Patrick Baldwin Jr. hasn’t developed the way many fans had hoped.

Nonetheless, Rollins and Baldwin weren’t the main attractions with this package. Poole was. And if you consider how well he played down the stretch as Washington’s starting PG, this deal starts to look much better.

June 22, 2023: Drafts Bilal Coulibaly (7), Tristan Vukcevic (42)

While Washington’s former GM seemed to draft based on ESPN’s Big Board, Winger and company elected for an alternate approach.

Not only did they surprise people by drafting late-riser Bilal Coulibaly, but they did so by trading up a spot to get their guy. Washington sent Indiana a future second-round pick (via Phoenix), as well as the 8th overall pick to move up to No. 7 and take Coulibaly. One year in and it’s easy to see why they did so.

While the Frenchman’s stats don’t jump off the page, his physical traits such as wingspan and athleticism shine through. Not to mention his top-tier defense at just 18 years old. Coulibaly’s coaching staff stuck him on the opposing team’s best player his entire rookie season, showing how versatile and talented he is on the defensive end.

As if one impressive rookie wasn’t enough, Dawkins and Winger appear to have finally solved Washington’s second-round woes. The Wizards selected center Tristan Vukcevic 42nd overall, rounding out their 2023 draft class.

After a solid Summer League showing, Vukcevic signed with KK Partisan in Serbia, looking likely he’d be a draft-and-stash player for the time being. With 20 games remaining, however, the stretch-forward signed with the Wizards and balled out in a short span, averaging 8.5 points and 3.6 rebounds in his first glimpse of NBA action.

It’s still early in their careers, but both Coulibaly and Vukcevic have given Wizards fans incentive to buy into this rebuild.

Team-friendly contract extensions

Kyle Kuzma: 4 years, $90 million

Kuzma’s contract has descending value, meaning he’ll make $21.5 million and $19.5 million, respectively, during his final two years under contract.

For a guy many believed would garner $30+ million annually, Winger and Dawkins kept him in Washington for far less. Kuzma’s contract is now looked upon as one of the best in the league, and one that’s highly coveted on the trade market.

Deni Avdija: 4 years, $55 million

Washington took chance on Avdija with this extension, boldly guaranteeing $55 million to a guy many had given up on.

Avdija made right on Winger’s vote of confidence, pouring in a career season that saw the Israeli average career highs in points, rebounds, assists and three-point percentage. Avdija has quickly become Washington’s most highly-coveted asset, with many contending teams eyeing him. However, the Wizards view Avdija as a pivotal piece in their rebuild, so don’t expect a trade to be made anytime soon.

The 6-foot-9 forward improved his outside shot drastically, shooting a career-best 37.5% from three. On top of his offensive improvements, Avdija remains Washington’s best defender, taking the toughest defensive assignment on a nightly basis. If Avdija continues this ascension, his contract will look better and better each season.

February 9, 2024: Wizards trade Daniel Gafford

In possibly the biggest win-win trade of the season, Washington sent Daniel Gafford to the Dallas Mavericks for Richaun Holmes and a first-round pick (No. 26).

What’s most impressive with this move is Washington’s ability to look past the present and move one of their better players for maximum value. Although Gafford was in the midst of a career season, he didn’t fit Washington’s long-term plans. So, Washington shipped him to a contender for draft capital, cashing in on their center at his highest value.

The move has clearly worked for Dallas, as they have found themselves in the NBA Finals. As for Washington, they’ve given themselves another first-round pick to bring younger talent into the fold, which is what rebuilds are all about.

Additional moves

In addition to the high-profile decisions this new front office made under Winger’s supervision, the group made some low-key moves that have paid dividends.

Jared Butler and Justin Champagnie were brought in as two-way guys and eventually converted to standard NBA contracts due to impressive play. Both look poised to play a role in Washington’s plans next season.

For a team constantly mocked for being the definition of “mid,” the Wizards now look primed for a title-contending run in the future, and Michael Winger is a main reason for that, just one year into the job.

About Greg Finberg

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