Sam Dekker was on the court as part of the Washington Wizards’ rotation, looking up at the night’s biggest problem.
During the first quarter of the Wizards’ 129-112 loss to the San Antonio Spurs, a shot had missed so badly on San Antonio’s end that the ball ricocheted off the rim and came to rest atop the basket. While others retreated, Dekker remained on that end of the court. He was handed an extra Spalding to toss at the game ball. His throw, however, only knocked the ball into a wedge between the shot clock and the back of the basket.
The Capital One Arena crowd laughed, Dekker smiled toward his applauding teammates while spreading his arms in a sign of surrender. Still, take away the absurdity of the final games of the season and you’ll have a player like Dekker who’s grateful to even be on the floor to dislodge an errant ball.
Most of the Wizards teammates are like Dekker. On Friday night, they played what could be one of their last games in Washington red – and played in one of their last auditions ahead of free agency.
A dozen out of the 17 players on roster, which includes Devin Robinson and Jordan McRae who are on two-way deals, could enter free agency this summer. Playing in a blowout loss may not seem like much but for someone in Dekker’s situation, every minute on the court counts.
“Every game is important to me. Simple as that. I don’t take any games lightly. I never have. Never will,” Dekker said. “Everyone’s trying to make impressions, everyone’s trying to get noticed and get what comes with that. Everyone wants to be comfortable. Everyone wants to get that paycheck and be in the league as long as possible. So yeah, it should be important to everyone. Every night, regardless if you’re on a five-year deal or a one-year deal.”
Last week when Washington (32-48) was officially eliminated from the playoffs, Coach Scott Brooks began to slightly adjust his lineups. Except for Bradley Beal, who’s chasing the goal of playing all 82 games for the second straight year, the veterans have gone on an early vacation. Beal scored a game-high 25 points in 31 minutes against the Spurs.
On March 27, Trevor Ariza shut it down for the season as he nursed a groin strain. Also, Jeff Green said he and Brooks discussed his minutes and ultimately decided that he would rest for three straight games.
“We’ve had some dialogue back and forth about how much I want to play, when I want to play,” said Green, who has played on seven teams in his 11-year career. “I think it is a good opportunity for Troy [Brown Jr.] and other young guys to play.”
Green had to return to action against the Spurs because backup forward Jabari Parker sat out with left knee pain. Before Friday, Green’s minutes had been split between Wesley Johnson, McRae and Dekker.
After coming to the Wizards in a February trade, Johnson played in nine consecutive games but fell out of the rotation by March 8. Dekker, too, found a quick home in the rotation following his trade in December but was later demoted to the deep reserve.
By the middle of the Wizards’ recent four-game road trip against Western Conference teams, Dekker and Johnson suddenly logged relevant minutes again with one playing in Salt Lake City and the other in Denver. On Friday, Dekker received 14 minutes off the bench while Johnson sat and finished with only three points
Despite this trend, Brooks said he did not reshape his rotation to give more time to the pending free agents.
“I’m very cognizant of all our players under contracts and who’s free next year,” Brooks said. “We obviously have a lot of guys that are going to have opportunities to be free agents but honestly, I haven’t really thought about it.”
Still, with so many players in a contract year on roster, Brooks can’t help but to form a lineup with Wizards’ short-timers. By the start of the second quarter, Washington played a five-man group of free agents (Chasson Randle, McRae, Dekker, Green and Bobby Portis). The lineup had no problem playing together and scored on six of its first nine possessions. Despite this steady scoring, the Wizards still trailed by five points when Brooks called for a timeout with 7:57 remaining in the half.