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Crucial Offseason For the Washington Wizards

Washington is positioned to rise in the Eastern Conference, but what they do this summer will determine how high they climb.

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This season, the Washington Wizards (44-38) snapped a five-year playoff drought and managed to reach the Eastern Conference Semifinals for the first time since 2004.

With the Indiana Pacers seemingly imploding, the Miami HEAT facing uncertainty while restructuring and questions surrounding the Chicago Bulls regarding the health of Derrick Rose’s knees, the stage could be set for the Wizards to rise in the East’s hierarchy.

However, the Wizards face their own Rubicon they must successfully navigate this summer.

Washington has had a strong run of personnel decisions as of late to put them in this position. The decision to extend a max-level deal to John Wall has paid off and the guard has blossomed into an All-Star performer. The selection of shooting guard Bradley Beal in the 2012 draft has the given the Wizards one of the best young backcourts in the league. The trade for veterans Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza were calculated risks that surrounded their young core with good leadership.

But now, the Wizards must decide how much they’re willing to invest in this unit moving forward. Washington won 44 games last season, but what is their respective ceiling as currently constructed?

Ariza and Gortat are headed into unrestricted free agency. Both players are middle-tier free agents, but after the elite guys make their free agent decisions, money will still be plentiful and the market will be filled with general managers scrambling to make a solid signing after whiffing at the top of the board.

The question is: How much are the Wizards willing to invest to keep their team intact? Or should the team protect some of their future financial flexibility to reload at a later date?

The old adage in league circles is that you don’t let talent walk out the door for nothing in return, but make no mistake the market for a productive center like Gortat could see him ultimately command an eight-figure-per-year payday. While, Ariza won’t receive such lucrative deals, he is still a veteran with championship experience and is already reportedly drawing interest from a long list of suitors on the prowl for a defensive-minded wing who can connect from three-point range.

The Wizards currently have $43 million in guaranteed salaries on the books for next season. Ariza, Gortat, Al Harrington, Drew Gooden and Trevor Booker are all headed to free agency.  The team also possesses two trade exceptions worth roughly $3.2 million gained from the Emeka Okafor and Eric Maynor deals.  Those exceptions are expiring in October 2014 and February 2015 respectively.

The Wizards selected forward Otto Porter with the third overall pick of the 2013 draft. In a perfect world, Porter would have been ready to absorb heavy minutes if Ariza bolts in free agency. However, Porter’s rookie season was limited due to injury at the start and when he did return to the lineup, he was inconsistent.

Porter’s inexperience coupled with Martell Webster’s latest back injury (that will keep him out four-to-six months) makes the retention of Ariza even more important to the Wizards this summer.

The future forecast is sunny for the Wizards’ franchise, but this summer will be crucial in just how bright the skies will be in D.C.

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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