Washington Wizards: Are Local Players Starting to Want to Come Home?

Mar 4, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Will Barton (5) dribbles the ball up court ahead of forward Danilo Gallinari (8) in the second quarter against the Charlotte Hornets at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 4, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Will Barton (5) dribbles the ball up court ahead of forward Danilo Gallinari (8) in the second quarter against the Charlotte Hornets at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports /

Washington Wizards are a year removed from their biggest free agent push in recent memory. They spent two seasons trying to bring Maryland native Kevin Durant “home”, yet ultimately failed as he took his talents to the Bay, recently winning his first NBA championship with the Warriors. While the Wizards didn’t get their hometown hero, there seem to be an increase in local guys showing the desire to play in Washington.

After two seasons promoting the #KD2DC movement, it was tough watching Kevin Durant win his first NBA championship on Monday night. His decision will continue to be one of the most scrutinized in NBA history, but since his ultimate goal was to win a championship, it seems to have paid off.

Two seasons of recruiting, ultimately led to Durant not even granting Washington a meeting. Sure, a disappointing 41-41 season led to skepticism. However, in the end, Durant made it clear that he wouldn’t be meeting with Washington because he wasn’t interested in returning home.

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He envisioned getting hundreds of ticket requests to every game, and putting the weight of a championship starved city on his back. You can’t be too upset with Durant for those sentiments (unless you’re a semi distant relative.)

After all, he’s not the first local superstar to make it clear he didn’t want to play at home. Plus he left open the possibility of coming to Washington later in his career.

Carmelo Anthony, who grew up in Baltimore and played high school basketball at Oak Hill, reiterated during his free agency that he had no interest in playing in DC. He envisioned undesirable situations with past “friends” from home.

Anyway, is it possible local former stars are becoming interested in playing in DC? While Durant’s the best DMV native in the league, there are plenty of other local players who could play a valuable role as the team looks to earn its first Eastern Conference playoff berth in 38 years.

With Washington being an up and coming team in the conference the team has been put on the map or free agents. The Wizards have a superstar point guard who has a history of getting his teammates paid, and another young star well on the way to consistent All-Star status. The future looks bright. When the future looks bright, the stars come out.

But before the stars come, the Wiz will need to build their depth. Two players with local ties recently spoke about the prospects of returning home.

Will Barton

Denver Nuggets shooting guard Will Barton, hails from Baltimore. He was a five start recruit in 2010, and the top rated shooting guard in his class. After enrolling at Memphis, he spent two seasons with the Tigers, ultimately averaging  18 points per game his sophomore year, and winning C-USA Player of the Year.

After the breakout season, he decided to go pro, but fell to the 40th pick in the draft to Portland.

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The last two seasons in Denver, Barton has showcased great talent for a bench scorer. He’s shown the ability to score anywhere on the court, and handle the ball. Two seasons ago he averaged 14.4 points per game with 34.5% shooting from three, and last season he averaged 13.7 points per game and 37% from three.

Barton was one of the most discussed players at the 2017 NBA Trade Deadline. Not because he was readily available, but rather because he was a starting level talent on an extremely team friendly deal.

Unfortunately for Washington, Barton is under contract with Denver for next season, before becoming an undrafted free agent in 2018. He will make only $3.5 million in the final season of his deal, and will be only 27 next summer.

The team explored the possibility of trading for Barton during the 2016 trade deadline. The team could attempt a trade for Barton, but because Denver is playing for the playoffs next season, you can expect them to keep Barton. It is possible however, that they trade him if they don’t expect to resign him.

Here’s what Barton said about the possibility of playing in DC:

I’m not sure why they were talking about free agency this early in the picture, but if Washington can free up the space needed to sign Barton in 2018, he would be a fantastic addition to the group.

Greivis Vasquez

It feels like Greivis Vasquez has been in the league for ever. Then again, I guess 6 teams in 7 seasons will leave that feeling.

Most Wizards fans will still remember Vasquez from his college days at the University of Maryland. He played 4 years, culminating in an ACC Player of the Year award in 2010.

Although originally from Venezuela, Vasquez alongside Kevin Durant in high school at Montrose Christian in Rockville, MD.

Since being in the NBA, he’s had his equal share of success and struggles. in 2012-2013, he started 78 games for the then New Orleans Hornets, averaging 13.9 points per game and 9 assists per game.

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In more reserved roles, Vasquez shined in Sacramento and Toronto, averaging around 9.5 points and 3.5 assists in about 25 minutes per game. If Washington did look at Vasquez for back up point guard duties, the team would certainly be getting an experienced player. But has he shown enough in recent years to warrant a look? After all, the Wizards have already gone the route of signing backup point guards on the decline.

In the 2016-17 season, Vasquez played only three games. He had a great opportunity to play extended minutes in Brooklyn because of the injuries to starter Jeremy Lin, yet a sore ankle sidelined him early, and the Nets waived him in order to bring in players who could contribute.

The previous season, with Milwaukee, he averaged 5.7 points per game and 4 assists, in only 23 games, while shooting a dreadful 32% from the field.

Depending on how the team’s draft and free agency plays out, he could certainly be worth a flyer for training camp, but fans shouldn’t get their hopes up to see the player of years past.

He’s only played 26 games over the last two seasons, after injuries to his right ankle in both campaigns. We’ve seen countless times how once a player falls out of a normal rotation in the league, his skills tend to fall off.

Here’s what Vasquez said about potentially playing in DC:

As a thirty year old point guard coming off back-to-back seasons ending with right ankle injuries, teams may be worried about his baggage. He’s a smart player, and probably understands that he only has a few more stops left in his career. Based on his role, and the team’s need it would be great to see Greivis in red, white, and blue, but all the pieces may have to fit perfectly for him to end up here, let alone succeed.

The type of player thinking of coming home to the DMV may be changing, but overall the sentiment is great and what should be taken from the news. Players want to play for the Wizards, and local players do to. As the Wizards continue to build upon an outstanding 49-win season, so will the number of players available to choose from.

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And who knows, maybe the next local superstar eligible to come back to Washington will look past potential challenges, and understand the significance of playing with this team, and for this city.