The Washington Wizards were one win away from their first Eastern Conference Final berth since the 1978-79 campaign last season, falling in seven games to the Boston Celtics. General manager Ernie Grunfeld has returned pretty much the same squad this year, with the hopes the core group of players can finally get over the hump this time around.
Washington is off to a relatively slow start, posting a 14-12 record out of the gates. And although the team is still above .500, it's surely not where it wanted to pick up following a 49-33 season and a Southeast Division title. The dynamic group of John Wall, Bradley Beal, and the combo of Kelly Oubre Jr. and Otto Porter at small forward, makes the Wizards one of the most entertaining and offensively-potent teams in the league, but there's still room for improvement in the frontcourt.
Here are three players the Wizards could acquire to seriously challenge the Cleveland Cavaliers and Celtics in the East:
Gasol would love to remove himself from all of the drama surrounding the Memphis Grizzlies lately. He recently called out his teammates for a "lack of urgency" in the wake of coach David Fizdale's firing, and the team has now hit rock bottom with Mike Conley's Achilles injury. The 32-year-old veteran is one of the best passing big men in the game, and would be a monumental upgrade over Marcin Gortat at the center position. Gasol, a three-time All-Star, is averaging 19 points, nearly nine rebounds, and 4.3 assists while averaging 35 minutes for the Grizzlies. He's also the only big man in the NBA to average six assists per 100 possessions over the past six years, which would take a tremendous amount of pressure off John Wall to be the primary playmaker. Gasol is under contract through next season, and has a player option in 2019. He's making $22,642,350 US, so the Wizards would need to send some significant salary back the other way in a potential trade, and likely package several drafts picks in order to get a deal done.
The Chicago Bulls aren't going anywhere this season, so it's likely they'll be shopping Lopez down the stretch to team's looking for a solid veteran at center. Although not in the same class as Gasol, he'd still be an upgrade over Washington's current options. Lopez, who is making just under $14 million this season and is also under contract for 2018-19, is perhaps a more realistic option for the Wizards to pursue, given the team already has the fifth-highest payroll at $124,503,302. The seven-footer is on pace to set a career high in points (13.4), and although he isn't a threat from long range, his interior game is solid.
There's no doubt Randolph's best years are behind him, but he's proving this year there's still plenty left in the tank. The 36-year-old inked a two-year, $24-million deal with the Sacramento Kings this past offseason to serve as a mentor to the team's young players, but that doesn't mean the Kings won't deal him to a contender for future draft picks. Randolph, who has appeared in 70 playoff games over the course of his 16-year NBA career, could provide some valuable leadership and experience for the upstart Wizards at a bargain price. He's equally effective starting or coming off the bench, and is averaging 15 points and nearly 7 rebounds while playing just over 30 minutes per game.