As you already know, the Washington Wizards salary cap situation is beyond horrendous because of fiscally irresponsible moves made in the summer of 2016 that saw NBA teams go wild. They were able to get out of Andrew Nicholson’s four-year, $26 million deal, but Ian Mahinmi’s four-year, $64 million contract will be plaguing the Wizards for two more seasons unless they can lure a team into absorbing it.
As things currently stand hours before the beginning of free agency with moratorium beginning at 12:01 a.m. on July 1, the Wizards have 11 players under contract for the 2018-19 season. Those 11 players total $126 million, which is well over the $101.8 million salary cap and $123.7 million luxury tax line. The minimum number of players on an NBA roster is 13 so Washington will have to add a least a couple more players (who they might already have in mind) with the option of signing a total of four more, but the latter is unlikely given the additional tax Ted Leonsis will have to pay.
The Wizards would have to get rid of five million dollars off of their books for the upcoming season in order to get under the tax. Unless they can move Markieff Morris’s expiring contract without taking any money back, that will stay in the tax. Moving Otto Porter, Mahinmi, or Jason Smith would also do the trick, but it would not make sense for other teams to do so without Washington giving up limited assets: Kelly Oubre, Tomas Satoransky, and/or future draft picks.
Last season Washington went into the luxury tax for the first time under Ted Leonsis to re-sign Otto Porter to a max money offer sheet from Brooklyn and the team owner described the tax as “punitive.” It is a safe assumption that they will be paying the luxury tax this season, which will be bad for Leonsis’s pocketbook. For the first five million that Washington is over the tax level, they will pay an additional $1.50 on the dollar. For the next five million, it will be a 1.75 times multiplier and for the next five million after that, it will be a $2.50 tax rate. For example, if the team salary is $130.7 million ($7 million over the tax line), they will be paying $5*1.5 + $(7-5)*1.75 = $11 million in taxes for a total payroll of $141.7 million.
Unless the Wizards partake in a trade, there will not be any blockbuster moves as they do not have the means to sign anyone with salary cap space. They are only equipped with the taxpayer mid-level exception valued at $5.3 million, which they can theoretically split, and veteran minimum contracts that range from $831,311 to $2.4 million depending on the individual’s years of experience. The mini-MLE would carry a higher tax fee because of the larger salary.
With the limited ability to sign a free-agent, Washington will have to find this year’s Mike Scott by signing a player who is willing to play on a prove-it contract. Some have already kicked around the idea of center Nerlens Noel being a Washington target as he is coming off of a year where he only played in 12 of the last 63 regular season games in Dallas. Noel, who is represented by John Wall’s agent Rich Paul, settled for a $4.1 million qualifying offer last season and only averaged 4.4 points and 5.6 rebounds this season. He could certainly be a buy low option for the Wizards.
The Wizards would obviously like to see Scott back after he had a great season off the bench last year, but unless he is willing to take a pay cut to continue playing close to him, I do not see the reunion taking place. Tim Frazier, Chris McCullough, Ramon Sessions, and Ty Lawson are also free agents, but I do not see why either side would want to return because it will be a minimum contract and Washington has already taken the flyers on them.
Free agency (especially with LeBron James partaking) is a fun time during the NBA offseason, but do not expect too much from the salary capped Wizards.