The Wizards raved about Moritz Wagner ahead of 2018 NBA Draft

Chris Lingebach
June 27, 2019 - 8:57 pm

The Washington Wizards are uniquely hamstrung financially as NBA free agency approaches.

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Between the money owed to John Wall, who will earn roughly $38.15 million in 2019-20 to rehab from a ruptured Achilles, and the money they're expected to use to extend Bradley Beal, the Wizards couldn't possibly find enough young, affordable talent to fill out their roster.

Which is perhaps why they pushed send on a deal with the Lakers Thursday to acquire Moritz Wagner, Jemerrio Jones and Isaac Bonga, who are 22, 24 and 19 years of age, respectively.

As part of the deal, which becomes official July 6, the Wizards also receive a 2022 second-round pick and are sending cash to the Pelicans. This helps complete the Lakers' acquisition of Anthony Davis.

But the financials weren't the Wizards' only concern in this deal. They had eyes on Wagner, specifically, long before engaging in these trade talks, Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington tells Chad Dukes.

"I think you can take this trade all the way back to last spring, last summer, when the Wizards held pre-draft workouts and Mo Wagner, a 7-foot three-point shooter from Michigan worked with them and they just fell in love with the guy," Hughes said on 106.7 The Fan. "They couldn't justify picking him 15th overall, but he was one of the most impressive guys they worked out last year, and they just raved about him.

The Wizards instead took Troy Brown at 15, and Wagner went 25th overall to the Lakers.

"I just kind of noted that thinking this is a guy to watch moving forward. I wouldn't be surprised if the Wizards tried to acquire him," Hughes said of the run-up to the 2018 NBA Draft. "And then we saw reports a few weeks ago that the Lakers are trying to clear salary, and that Mo Wagner could be available.

"So here the Wizards are, kind of stepping in to give the Lakers some salary cap relief – they sent them some cash – and they brought in Wagner, who was just a first-round pick last year cast off by the Lakers because they want to chase a Max free agent."

There could also be more than what meets the eye to that second round pick acquired by the Wizards, who are in their first offseason under acting GM Tommy Sheppard.

"And they also got two other players in the deal, Jemerrio Jones and Isaac Bonga, and they got a second-round pick out of it, which I think is also pretty key because the Wizards didn't have a second-round pick until 2023," said Hughes. "Now they have one in 2022. That's still very far away, but that's the year that everyone expects high schoolers to be available in the draft, so it could be a loaded, very deep draft class."

Acquiring second-round picks isn't something fans Wizards fans are accustomed to seeing. Ernie Grunfeld, fired in April, was notorious for giving those picks away on the trade market.

"That's one difference that we're seeing with Tommy Sheppard from Ernie Grunfeld," Hughes said. "Because Ernie Grunfeld was the one who traded away all those draft picks. They didn't have a second-round draft pick until 2023, and that's one that they actually acquired in the trade with the Chicago Bulls.

"They had clearly not put a premium on those draft picks, and I had heard Ernie Grunfeld on several occasions cite the statistics of how rare it is that a guy picked in the second round has a career over eight or nine years in the NBA, but what they are is they're basically lottery tickets."

"You never know when you're gonna hit on one," he said. "And if you do hit on a second-round pick, like the Bucks did with Malcolm Brogdon or the Denver Nuggets did Nikola Jokic, then it can change your franchise, because those guys are young players on as cheap of an NBA contract as you can find.

"So the Wizards are clearly putting a little bit more of an importance on those, and they're also assets for trades. Don't be surprised if the Wizards could then use that 2022 second-round pick in a trade for a player or another draft pick. I think it's smart, it's practical and they added some young players in the process."

Free agency begins Sunday at 6 p.m. ET.

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