In the hours before the Wizards came to terms with their free agent center Marcin Gortat, team owner Ted Leonsis took to the local airwaves to discuss various aspects of the organization's off-season plan. That included not making a pitch at certain high-profile free agents like, and I guess specifically, LeBron James.
“You’d have to have cap space and you’d have to renounce all your free agents,” Leonsis said on 106.7 The Fan when asked whether the Wizards had inquired about the possibility of trying to entice James to Washington.
“Then you’d have to be able to call their agent and say, ‘Would you think he would consider coming here?’ So, I never understood the grandstanding. Some of the bloggers have said, just get in the mix and throw your name out there. Okay, so you generate positive pixels and it creates these faux expectations, and LeBron is in total control of his future. LeBron will do what LeBron wants to do. We have to be able to control what we want to control, and right now our main targets are retaining our players. ... And so, that’s our main focus right now. And we can manage our cap in the out years the right way, we still will have some maneuverability this year to add more pieces, but we have a plan and we have our budget and we know what’s doable. Our main focus and priority is to try to keep our team together to start and then add to it.”
I won't presume to think that Leonsis was referencing my post about why indeed the Wizards should make a push for James and others. Of course, that's essentially a non-factor now that Gortat has re-signed*. Washington currently lacks the needed cap space to make such a splashy move, though they hope to make noise by retaining Trevor Ariza.
(* Ignore any outside complaints about the dollars and sense over the five-year, $60 million contract. The Wizards had to retain Gortat. They paid for that right, but he meant more to them than essentially any other team. Those knocking the number of years for a 30-year-old big man are not wrong, but maybe not right either considering Gortat's relatively light wear and tear. Washington would struggle to win next season without him so they ensured they wouldn't be)
But let's note this mention of the Wizards in connection with free agent Luol Deng from Sam Amick with USA Today. Amick's article discusses how Deng, a consensus top 10 free agent this summer and best available small forward not named James or Carmelo Anthony, is taking a patient approach in his pursuit of a new deal. The potential downside, Amick notes, occurs when teams start spending elsewhere.
Deng's financial desires could certainly serve as an obstacle to some of the scenarios that are in play. The Washington Wizards, for example, are known to have interest in Deng but won't have enough cap space for him after they landed their top target, center Marcin Gortat. A person with knowledge of the Wizards' situation said that re-signing former Wizards small forward Trevor Ariza is seen as a priority over the possibility of landing Deng. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the talks.
We have no idea if the "person with knowledge of the Wizards' situation" is actually part of the Wizards organization or front office, Deng's agent, someone from another team, Deng himself or the homeless guy who told the Browns owner to draft Johnny Manziel. But it's out there: The Wizards have interest in a high profile free agent. Sure, Deng isn't James or Anthony or Chris Bosh, but he's a two-time All-Star who would be the most accomplished, in-their-prime free agent to join Washington in perhaps two decades.
Deng is also a direct threat to Ariza's role* - and my prediction to be the most overpaid notable free agent.
(* I'd also argue adding Deng would be an unwise decision even if possible, though he's obviously a talented two-way player. Keeping Ariza is one thing because he's your guy. Adding another high-priced road block to the third overall pick in the 2013 Draft and lots more money at the already well-compensated small forward position is something else. Anyway...)
Perhaps there is/was no real interest in Deng from the Wizards. Perhaps this is just free agency gamesmanship as they negotiate with Ariza and others with Deng. Or nothing of the sort or everything else.
Whatever the reason, its out there.
(h/t @scottsallen for transcription)