3. Washington Wizards
The Washington Wizards’ 2018-19 season is bound to end in one of two ways: either they coalesce and flirt with a top-four seed in the East, or their locker room turns into a knockoff Hunger Games after Dwight Howard’s 10,000th fart joke of the year.
The tension between point guard John Wall and center Marcin Gortat was perhaps the NBA’s worst-kept secret, which likely explains why the Wizards shipped him to the Los Angeles Clippers for Austin Rivers in late June. After the Brooklyn Nets traded for Howard in a salary dump and promptly waived him, Wall helped to recruit him to Washington as well. Joining them is Maryland native and Georgetown product Jeff Green, who may be the league’s most frustratingly inconsistent player.
On paper, the Wizards have the ingredients to make some noise in the East. Wall struggled through an injury-marred 2017-18 campaign, but he shot a career-best 37.1 percent from deep and earned his fifth straight trip to the All-Star Game. Bradley Beal, who was arguably Washington’s best player last year, joined Wall at the All-Star Game for the first time ever. Meanwhile, Otto Porter Jr. remained quietly excellent in the first season of his four-year, $106.5 million extension.
With Porter, Beal and Wall all signed to max contracts — Wall’s four-year, $169.3 million supermax deal begins in 2019-20 — the Wizards will soon face some difficult financial decisions. Kelly Oubre Jr. is eligible for an extension until mid-October, but Washington already has more than $111 million in guaranteed salary on its books for the 2019-20 season. Re-signing Oubre could put the Wizards dangerously close to luxury-tax territory with only five players under contract.
Rivers, Green, Markieff Morris, Jason Smith and Jodie Meeks are each entering the final year of their contracts, while Howard is likely to decline his $5.6 million player option for 2019-20 if he can rehabilitate his value this season. If the Wizards belly-flop this season, they could begin stripping down their roster for parts ahead of the trade deadline — or perhaps even consider moving one of Wall, Beal or Porter to create more financial flexibility.