Washington Wizards 2024 NBA offseason preview: Collecting draft assets needs to be the priority

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 02: Deni Avdija #8 of the Washington Wizards goes up for a shot against the Milwaukee Bucks during the second half at Capital One Arena on April 02, 2024 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jess Rapfogel/Getty Images)
Deni Avdija was one of the few bright spots for the Wizards. (Photo by Jess Rapfogel/Getty Images)

2023-24 season: 15-67

Highlight of the season: Deni Avdija went for a 43-point, 15-rebound explosion against the Pelicans on Valentine's Day, cementing he was indeed worth the wait.

Mercifully. This was one of the worst seasons in Wizards history, which included a mid-season coaching change after Wes Unseld Jr. managed just seven wins in 43 games, only for interim head coach Brian Keefe to fare slightly better and manage eight wins in 38 attempts.

While the plan for Washington this season was to put it in a good position draft-wise, the organization had hoped for a breakout season from Jordan Poole, acquired over the summer from Golden State. Poole, however, not only failed to break out. He regressed, and badly.

The 6-foot-4 combo guard averaged 17.4 points and 4.4 assists per game, hitting just 41.3% of his shots and playing a brand of defense that would make Spanish matadors blush. Poole has now made himself severely unattractive on the trade market, which is the exact opposite of what the Wizards hoped would happen.

On the bright side, forward Kyle Kuzma spent the year playing at a high level, netting 22.2 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game after re-signing with the team last summer. He, unlike Poole, should have plenty of suitors this summer willing to pay the Wizards a king's ransom for his services. For Washington that is exceptional news, given the organization failed to get a significant return from the Bradley Beal trade and now likely can't give Poole away for free.

With rookie wing Bilal Coulibaly showing life in his debut season, and Avdija turning into a starting-caliber forward, the Wizards do have something going for them, even if it isn't particularly exciting. They're going to have to keep hitting on high draft picks in the coming years to build a product fans will find engaging and should spend the summer maximizing a return for Kuzma — preferably centered around young players and quality draft compensation — to get as many bites at the draft apple as possible. Because they are going to need it.

Of course, one has to wonder if the Wizards have the guts to pull the trigger on a Kuzma deal in time. They could have traded the expiring contract of point guard Tyus Jones for some level of return at the trade deadline, but failed to do so, leaving him open to sign elsewhere in July. Wizards fans are hoping the team's executives, led by Michael Winger, will wake up every single morning of the offseason with the mindset of accumulating assets, and that seems like a perfectly reasonable expectation given where the Wizards find themselves these days.

Assuming Kuzma is traded and the Wizards lean fully into the youth movement, they need to become the league's biggest troll. That means signing restricted free agents to huge offer sheets, forcing opposing teams to match, or let them become Wizards players, which is, after all, the best and quickest way to upgrade your talent. With Washington still years away from sniffing the playoffs, it might as well try to steal young talent from under the noses of other teams and replenish the asset cupboard.

The Wizards may be as far away from contention as any team in the league when you consider the NBA-worst Pistons have entrusted Cade Cunningham at their controls, Victor Wembanyama somehow outperformed expectations in San Antonio, Portland has a stable of young guards the Blazers believe in, and Charlotte boasts the semblance of a rebuilding foundation. Last year's lottery pick, Bilal Coulibaly, flashed strong promise that left talent evaluators bullish on his future. Deni Avdija rounded into a real two-way wing who registered a wealth of inbound trade interest before the February deadline, sources said. And yet there's not much else in Washington's cupboard that bills as a long-term piece of this new era under Winger.

The Wizards' reshaping is already underway. With Unseld stepping into a front office capacity, Washington is expected to conduct a lengthy search for its next bench leader, with Keefe receiving strong consideration for the full-time job. Keefe and assistant David Vanterpool — who both spent time in Oklahoma City during Winger's Thunder tenure, as well as that of Wizards general manager Will Dawkins — are among the few holdovers to remain on the coaching staff following personnel changes in recent weeks. The Wizards will get a top pick in this June's draft. Their next key decision will come on Jones, considered one of the best backup ball-handlers in the league, but not considered strong enough of a two-way presence for any team to pony up the draft pick compensation that Washington was seeking for Jones before the trade deadline, sources said. Poole's first season in D.C. was so suboptimal, it would be a surprise to see a team willing to offer any interesting return for the former Warrior. — Jake Fischer

The Wizards have options with the No. 2 pick, and the best available prospect could be 6-foot-9 wing Zaccharie Risacher out of France. He's one of the best catch-and-shoot perimeter players in the draft and defends multiple positions well. G League Ignite forwards Ron Holland and Matas Buzelis could also sneak inside the top 3. — Krysten Peek

Draft picks: Nos. 2, 26 and 49

The Wizards will have Jones' $14 million coming off the books, Landry Shamet's $11 million being fully non-guaranteed and, if they move off Kuzma and his $23.5 million, they'll have ample room to toy with other teams via the restricted free agency market. Only Poole ($29.6 million) is a big earner, and with a cap that's expected to hit $141 million, the Wizards could be looking at over $50 million in cap space, depending on what they get back in a Kuzma deal.

Regardless of their moves, they have money to spend and should make the most of it, as long as they don't spend big on veterans. They are in no position to accelerate their timeline, nor do they even come close to having enough talent on their roster to justify such a decision. Veterans are needed for locker room purposes, but those can be found for modest compensation.

Key free agent: Tyus Jones (UFA)

The Wizards need to live up to their name and magically summon talent onto their roster, as they're arguably the weakest team in the league on that front. Wins would be nice, but the need of a solidified foundation comes first. It's not going to be easy. Gandalf isn't walking through that door, nor is Harry Potter, or whomever Edward Norton played in "The Illusionist." This needs to be Winger and his team laying out a plan, where they won't let an ounce of tradable quality slip through their fingers and where the value of maximizing trade returns is understood at every turn. If it helps, hang up a framed picture of Sam Presti at the office. It might be motivational.

The Wizards need a reliable anchor in the frontcourt, or they'll continue to be barbecue chicken in the post. The combination of Marvin Bagley, Richaun Holmes and Tristan Vukčević ain't going to cut it. They were in the bottom three in points allowed in the paint and second-chance points this past season, so an upgrade here would drastically help Washington become more competitive. Oh, and of course, one of their franchise players actually living up to his lofty four-year, $128 million contract would do wonders for them offensively (looking at you, Jordan Poole). — Dan Titus