Tommy Sheppard explains quiet trade deadline day for Wizards

Sheppard explains quiet trade deadline day for Wizards originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

WASHINGTON — One year after they acquired Kristaps Porzingis in a rather significant deal ahead of the trade deadline, this time around was quieter for the Wizards. Team president Tommy Sheppard says there are a few different reasons why.

Those reasons essentially are all domino effects dating back to the move by head coach Wes Unseld Jr. to promote Daniel Gafford into the starting lineup on Dec. 20. That change shook up the rotation, directly affecting the roles of recent first-round picks Deni Avdija and Rui Hachimura.

Sensing both were worthy of more minutes, Sheppard dealt Hachimura to the Lakers on Jan. 23, clearing the runway for Avdija with the Wizards. That trade accomplished several of the goals Sheppard and his staff wanted to address at the Feb. 9 deadline: increase draft capital (they got three second-round picks), obtain a trade exception and offer more minutes to Avdija.

Basically, they did their work early, as far as Sheppard is concerned. That is not to say they shored up all of their weaknesses, but they opted to handle those in the offseason, rather than make quick fixes that would require giving up draft picks or taking on future salary.

“I’d rather address it in the much bigger picture and that’s something for the summer,” Sheppard said Thursday evening.

Sheppard is also banking on the team’s recent improvement in the standings and in key areas to continue. Since Gafford became a starter, the Wizards have gone 14-9 in 23 games. They rank 10th in defensive rating, 13th on offense and are tied for sixth in net rating (3.1).

Sheppard said he has been encouraged in particular by their improvement on the defensive end and with three-point shooting. Despite ranking 21st in threes made (11.2/g) and 20th in percentage (35.2) on the season overall, over their last 12 games they are 11th (13.1/g) and 12th (38.0) in those categories.

The one area Sheppard seemed to covet at the deadline was a backup forward, but added he didn’t want to “slap a band-aid on” their needs.

“I guess if I could have done anything different, there really isn’t anything to be honest with you, but the thought of making sure that you can withstand one injury in the frontcourt [makes sense],” he said.

“With Kyle [Kuzma] out last night and Deni [Avdija] in the starting lineup, that worked. It didn’t work a different night. Every night, something comes up.”

Health has been a key determinant of the Wizards’ success this season. Injuries to players like Bradley Beal and Delon Wright have proven costly, as they sit 24-29 on the year and 11th in the East, outside of the play-in tournament picture. 

The Wizards will have to make do with what they have if and when injuries crop up down the stretch of this season as they chase a playoff spot. They were missing two starters when they beat the Hornets on Wednesday, Kuzma and Monte Morris, and just got another one, Beal, back from a two-game injury absence. But they had just previously lost three consecutive games while missing key contributors.

“To see this team healthy over the last 23 games is I think more of the team we believe in than the previous time…When healthy, this team is pretty good,” Sheppard said.

There are other after-effects from how the Wizards operated at Thursday’s deadline, some of which will be seen soon and others in the coming months. They intend to convert Jordan Goodwin’s two-way contract into an NBA deal sometime in the next several days. They also have plans to sign Quenton Jackson from their G-League affiliate to a two-way contract.

And by trading Hachimura and not adding salary at the deadline, they feel well-positioned to re-sign both Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingis in the offseason. Kuzma is an obvious candidate to opt out of the final year of his contract for a more lucrative deal, based on how he has played and the fact he’s making $13 million this season. Porzingis, on the other hand, is not quite as certain, as he’s enjoying a big year but is due $36 million next year, also on a player option.

“I think keeping Kyle, we made it clear that that’s a priority for us in the offseason. Assuming Kristaps were to opt out, he’s a priority for us this offseason. That’s his decision and we’ll address it when we’re notified,” Sheppard said.

Thursday’s deadline was the Wizards’ final opportunity this season to make drastic changes to their roster ahead of what they hope is a playoff push. They essentially chose to stand pat on deadline day, trusting their recent trajectory and the work they had already done, most notably with the Hachimura trade.

Time will tell if they have enough to close the gap on a postseason berth.

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