With only a few weeks left until the start of free agency, the Washington Wizards are about to face pivotal questions about their roster. With the revamped front office, the expectation from the Wizards is to tear down the roster and start a rebuild. Two major decisions are due at the end of June that will be huge factors for where the Wizards go from here: the player options for Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma.
Porzingis has a player option for $36 million for the 2023-24 season, while Kuzma’s decision is for $13 million for next year. John Hollinger of the Athletic gave the latest intel and made predictions about what he is expecting Porzingis and Kuzma to do. (subscription required)
Hollinger points out that the new Wizards front office complicates things for Porzingis as he may have lost some leverage. The expectation throughout the year was that Porzingis, after staying healthy and playing at a near All-Star level, would opt out and sign a long-term deal with the Wizards. Now, Hollinger argues, “a rebuilding Wizards team would likely trade him…even if he opted in.” This would presumably cause Porzingis to opt out and enter free agency so that he can choose his destination, according to Hollinger.
This makes sense. The Wizards players, including Porzingis, are aware of the changes in the front office, and can probably feel that a rebuild is looming. If Porzingis were to opt-in, he would be on a big, expiring contract that the Wizards can trade away. There is also a risk of injury or not being able to repeat last season’s performance which would reduce the amount on his contract offers next offseason. After a healthy, career season, it behooves him to opt out and secure a long-term deal. That could be with the Wizards or another team he chooses to go.
Kuzma’s situation is more straightforward. His player option of $13 million is very low for a player of his caliber. Hollinger predicts that he will opt out as well stating that “it’s really, really hard to see Kuzma getting any less than that.” He is most likely right about that. Annual salaries for starter-level players are around $20 million, and especially for a scarce position like forward, it’s more than that.
It is unclear how much the Wizards are willing to pay Kuzma this summer. Sign-and-trade is certainly a possibility, and if there is a market for Kuzma for around or over $25 million a year, that might make the most sense for the Wizards.
If Hollinger is correct, the Washington Wizards are going to be facing two major decisions in a few weeks. Not only is this the first big test for the new front office, but it’s also going to be very telling of what the near future holds for the franchise.