- The Washington Times
Tuesday, January 24, 2023

From the moment Rui Hachimura and the Washington Wizards failed to agree on a contract extension last October, Monday’s trade with the Los Angeles Lakers was practically a formality. 

The lack of a new deal signaled Hachimura wasn’t likely to be part of Washington’s future plans. Finding the Japanese native a new home became a priority.  

But that context hasn’t stopped Monday’s trade from being (rightfully) viewed as another trainwreck for a franchise that constantly misvalues, fails to develop and then abandons former first-round draft picks.  The Wizards giving up on Hachimura and settling for a minimal return — reserve guard Kendrick Nunn and three second-rounders — marked the latest in a sad, long line of whiffs for a team consistently stuck in mediocrity. 

Washington might not be the New York Knicks — a team that famously went 23 years without signing one of their rookies to a second multi-year contract — but Washington’s picks have generally underwhelmed. There are the exceptions — John Wall and Bradley Beal — but when it comes to most of Washington’s picks? Yawn.

Under Washington’s current regime, general manager Tommy Sheppard has drafted four first-rounders — and none of them have turned out to be the kind of difference-maker that a rebuilding team generally needs to flourish. All four — Hachimura in 2019, Deni Avdija in ‘20, Corey Kispert in ‘21 and Johnny Davis in ‘22 — were selected in the lottery or just outside it, making the misses that much more painful. 

But Washington’s poor draft record is a problem that extends well beyond Sheppard’s tenure. 

This is a franchise, after all, that used the first overall pick in 2001 to draft Kwame Brown — one of the biggest busts of all time. For every Wall and Beal, there are selections such as Jan Vesely (sixth overall in 2011) and Troy Brown Jr. (15th overall in 2018) to torment the Wizards’ fan base. 

Otto Porter Jr. might be the Wizards’ last true hit on a draft pick. The Georgetown product, while maybe not worthy of his third overall selection, proved to be a competent piece to a Wizards team that won 49 games. But even his selection, which was 10 years ago, highlights Washington’s woes. After matching a four-year, $106 million max contract in restricted free agency to retain Porter, the Wizards dumped the forward’s salary on the Chicago Bulls more than midway through Porter’s second season of the deal.

Washington’s return for Porter was less than enticing. The team received Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis — two young players on expiring contracts who the team let walk in free agency after the season. It was more significant for the Wizards to shed Porter’s deal, so they could reset and pivot to a new direction.

That reset, almost four years later, has led them to this point: A 20-26 record entering Tuesday’s action, the sixth-worst in the league. 

The Wizards have tried to build around Beal, staying competitive enough with trades that have netted them respectable pieces such as Kyle Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingis. Still, Washington’s rebuild has stalled in large part because its young players haven’t made much of an impact.

Hachimura, the ninth overall pick in 2019, proved to be an effective scorer off the bench, but couldn’t be relied on for much else. Avdija and Kispert are solid role players, each with a specialty (Avdija’s defense and Kispert’s shooting), though their ceilings appear limited. Davis, a 10th overall pick, has been buried so far down the depth chart that he’s spent most of the season in the G-League. 

So that leaves the Wizards in a position to make trades like the one that happened Monday. Parting with Hachimura may have been the sensible move — especially because the team wants to retain Kuzma, who will become a free agent this summer when he declines his player option — but the return was uninspiring.

CBS Sports graded the trade a D- for the Wizards. Other outlets — Sports Illustrated (C-) and The Athletic (C] — were barely kinder. Only ESPN, which gave the Wizards a B+, seemed to view the deal favorably for Washington

After the trade was completed, the Wizards’ social media team uploaded a post welcoming Nunn — the combo guard who averages 6.7 points per game. The post included a video of Nunn’s highlights with the Lakers.

It was 12 seconds long.

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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