WASHINGTON -- As the Washington Wizards enter another important offseason, their salary cap picture is once again a maze. Not a mess, a maze; as in, it's confusing. That's the nature of the NBA salary cap. It's just never a simple thing to describe. To fully comprehend it, you need a master's degree in calculus and a black belt understanding of the TI-83.
Basically, the gist of their cap situation is this: they won't have the salary room to be major powerbrokers in free agency, but can add players via exceptions and also have some flexibility with tradeable contracts. Here's how Wizards president Tommy Sheppard described it:
"The Wizards have had cap space, what, twice in 20 years. It's not a cap space place. We've always been able to retain our free agents. You look at some of the high-profile free agents that Washington has had over the past. We kept the ones that we wanted to keep, certainly. I think being able to be nimble contract-wise is very important. I like that we have very clean contracts," he said.
The Wizards will hope to keep that streak of keeping the players they want to keep going this summer with star guard Bradley Beal due for a contract extension. He can opt-out of the final year of his current contract, worth $36.6 million for 2022-23, and sign a new deal that could approach $245 million over five years.
The Wizards actually have a group of players who are extension eligible including Kristaps Porzingis, Kyle Kuzma, Rui Hachimura and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, as ESPN's Bobby Marks highlighted a few weeks ago. Beal, however, is the one deal that seems most likely to happen at this point, given signals he himself has sent.
If Beal signs a new deal, it could start with a salary worth about $42.5 million next year, which would further squeeze the Wizards' books. They would still have the $10.3 million mid-level exception and the $4.1 bi-annual exception to work with. The Wizards could use those resources to find help at point guard and wherever else they see fit, though it won't put them in the range of the most expensive options available.
As far as what Sheppard said about the Wizards "not being a cap space place," not only has that been the case for years but they have also had difficulty attracting free agents when they have had money to spend. The most famous case was 2016 when they had enough room to offer a max contract and after whiffing on several big names (Kevin Durant and Al Horford), they ended up spending that money on a collection of role players.
Regarding his "clean contracts" point, that is likely a reference to the fact they don't have anyone rehabbing a significant injury or anyone who represents a particularly bad deal based on their production. While Sheppard has navigated out of a few of those types of contracts in the past, they don't really have one at the moment.
Sheppard added further context about the Wizards' current salary cap dynamics from a macro-perspective. He has to look at the team's cap in the big picture and says the front office often plays with three-to-four year windows in mind.
He touted what the team did at the trade deadline in February, when they dispatched two long-term contracts that weren't working out for them in Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans. The Wizards got back Porzingis who is signed through 2023-24 with the final year a player option.
"This year we were able to create a deadline where we actually saved some money and we acquired draft capital. We think we acquired a fantastic solution in Porzingis at both ends of the court. I think we're in a good place," Sheppard said.
The Wizards' salary cap situation points toward the trade market as their most likely route to make substantial additions this offseason. The Wizards could either trade for another team's player under contract or work a sign-and-trade deal with a free agent, as they did last offseason to acquire Dinwiddie.
Once again, it's a bit complicated. But it's also a familiar situation for Sheppard and the Wizards, and one they feel they can work with.