Wizards: Why Daniel Gafford’s upcoming season is make or break

Daniel Gafford #21 of the Washington Wizards. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
Daniel Gafford #21 of the Washington Wizards. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /

Daniel Gafford is still just 23 years old and is entering only his fourth season in the NBA. In 169 career games, he has flashed plenty of potential while also leaving a lot to be desired at times. The Washington Wizards big man started his career with the Chicago Bulls, the team that originally drafted him with the 38th overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Washington acquired Daniel Gafford in March of 2021, as part of a 3-team trade between the Boston Celtics, Bulls and Wizards. Gafford joined Washington alongside Chandler Hutchison, who has since moved on.

The deal quickly became a great value play for the Wizards as they sent out only Moritz Wagner and Troy Brown Jr. Both had all but sealed their fate as players that needed a change of scenery.

In October of 2021, the Wizards agreed to a contract extension with Gafford that looked to have very high upside for the franchise. That extension kicks in during the 2023-24 NBA season, where Gafford will earn $12,402,000, according to Spotrac. The following season Gafford’s salary will eclipse $13 million and in the final year of the deal, it will go over $14 million.

That means this upcoming season, one in which Gafford will be paid $1,930,681, is the final season he’s not going to be taking up an impactful percentage of the Wizards salary cap.

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Daniel Gafford is entering a make-or-break season with the Washington Wizards

At his age, with the tools he possesses, Gafford shouldn’t be anywhere near a ‘make or break season’ with the Wizards. Things changed when Washington committed to building around Bradley Beal, though, and that changed things for Gafford by default.

The year Gafford’s extension goes into effect Beal is going to make over $46 million. THe Wizards currently project to have less cap space than only one team that year, the Golden State Warriors. Safe to say they are very far apart in what they’ll need to add in order to contend by the time the 2023-24 season rolls around.

With guys like Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma having player options, that season will be one that can go a few different directions. None of those directions are great for Gafford if he doesn’t become a consistent impact player, though.

Most likely, Washington will either be squeezing every dollar to fit guys around Beal and Kuzma and (or) Porzingis, or they will be emptying the books in an attempt to build around Beal from scratch.

Both options don’t have much room for a well-compensated center if he can’t even be asked to start for the team. That is what makes the upcoming season make or break for Daniel Gafford.

He will be backing up KP, while also playing next to him at times. He is going to have opportunities to shine all season and the Wizards will desperately need someone to step up. If he can be that guy, he can absolutely solidify his long-term outlook with the franchise.

If he can’t impact the game night in and night out, he may have no choice but to work towards reaching his potential somewhere else in the NBA. There will be interested teams barring a drastic regression from Gafford. For him and the Wizards, it’s all about the timing and if things will be able to line up.

If not, it may be an early breakup before the extension he signed even kicks in. Daniel Gafford needs to step up and be a difference maker this season.

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