Washington Wizards: How the 2017 trade with the Brooklyn Nets shaped the Wizards’ present and future

Washington Wizards Bojan Bogdanovic (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Washington Wizards Bojan Bogdanovic (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

In the midst of the playoff chase in February 2017, the Washington Wizards pulled the trigger on a deal with the Brooklyn Nets that sent both teams in different directions.

As the Washington Wizards head to the Barclays Center on Wednesday night to take on the Brooklyn Nets, both team’s find themselves in positions that seemed unthinkable when they made a deadline trade in 2017.

Heading into Wednesday, the Wizards are watching their playoff hopes slip away and are four games out of the No. 8 seed. The Nets, on the other hand, are in prime position to make the postseason as the No. 6 seed and a tough out for whoever the play.

Yet, just a couple years ago, the Nets were helping the Wizards stock up with another weapon for their own playoff run. The Nets, who finished the season as the worst team in the league, sent Bojan Bogdanovic and Chris McCullough to the Wizards for Andrew Nicholson, Marcus Thornton, and a protected first-round pick in that year’s draft. What happened next set both teams on very different courses.

Let’s start with the main two assets in the deal, Bogdanovic and the first-round pick.

On an expiring contract when the trade was made, Bogdanovic performed decently for Washington in his 26 games (12.7 points per game off the bench, although his playoff production dropped a considerable amount), but didn’t stick around long. He signed with the Indiana Pacers that offseason, making him a few-month rental that they gave up a coveted first-round pick to get.

The Nets didn’t let first-round pick go to waste. They used it to pick Jarrett Allen, a center out of Texas, with the No. 22 pick in the draft. Today, Allen is already a key part of Brooklyn’s current success and one of the promising young big men in the league.

While it’s unfortunate that Bogdanovic left and the Allen pick appears to be panning out for the Nets, this isn’t about what these assets went on to become on their new teams. It’s the ripple effect of these decisions that put the Wizards in the position they’ve been in this season.

Not wanting to take a step backwards after falling in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals to the Boston Celtics, the front office had to assess how to improve the roster in the summer of 2017. Unfortunately, Bogdanovic’s asking price was too much for the salary cap-constrained Wizards and, having traded away an opportunity to get a young prospect to develop in the form of a first-rounder to acquire the player that was now too expensive for them, the team’s only real option was to pay up internally.

So, in the summer of 2017, the Wizards offered massive contracts to John Wall (a four-year, $170 million extension) and Otto Porter (who they re-signed for four year at $106 million) and tied themselves to a core. Having signed Bradley Beal to his own giant contract in 2016 (five years at $127 million), the team was now in the luxury tax and the only other personnel they could afford that offseason were minimum short-terms signings, like Mike Scott, Jodie Meeks, and Carrick Felix. None are on the team today.

As a result, the Wizards have been handcuffed by these deals ever since, hoping whatever cheap veteran or unproven prospect can give them a boost since they’re unable to pay up for an established and productive player. Furthermore, in December, the team traded away Kelly Oubre Jr. to the Phoenix Suns, knowing that they couldn’t afford to re-sign him this summer with Wall, Beal, and Porter on the roster.

Then, earlier this month, the Wizards surprisingly traded Porter to the Chicago Bulls for the expiring contracts of Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis, which not just broke up the core it had been forced to invest in so deeply less than two years prior, but also acknowledging that it needed to start over and free up some cap space.

All of this comes from mortgaging even just the slightest bit of the future (a first-round pick) for a chance at momentary success in the present (Bogdanovic). Hindsight is 20/20, and it was impossible to predict that the Wizards would be in this much disarray when they were buyers in the trade market just two seasons ago.

But, while the Nets began to show discipline and foresight around this time, the Wizards did not, and that’s why both teams head into Wednesday night with diverging degrees of promise, not just for this season but for the future.