In this March 27, 2016, file photo, Indiana Pacers center Ian Mahinmi (28) works against Houston Rockets forward Clint Capela during an NBA basketball game in Indianapolis. A person familiar with the deal says that Mahinmi has agreed to sign with the Washington Wizards. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Saturday, July 2, because NBA free agents are not allowed to sign contracts until July 7. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler, File)

It didn’t take the Washington Wizards long to open up the checkbooks for the start of free agency. Since doors opened at midnight on July 1 the Wizards have been busy. Washington retained restricted free agent guard Bradley Beal to a five-year, $130 million contract, the maximum deal for a five-year veteran. Reports emerged on July 1 that Washington was in the mix to land free agent center Al Horford, who ultimately signed with the Boston Celtics. Washington then inked free agent center Ian Mahinmi, a 6-foot-11-inch rim protector and rebounder, to a four-year, $64 million contract.

Last season, Mahinmi helped pilot the Indiana Pacers’ third-ranked defense with his rugged play and toughness on the inside. The opposite of the Pacers’ defense last season would’ve been the Wizards, whose defense completely fell apart after an emphasis on a faster tempo. While center Marcin Gortat was effective as a scorer, rebounder and occasional shot blocker, controlling the paint is not Gortat’s strength so a bigger body was needed. The Wizards are simply hoping Mahinmi can implement some of the same things he did in Indiana. It wasn’t the biggest splash by NBA standards but it was a definitely a move the team needed to make.

With Beal signed and a rim-protecting big man in town, Washington will try to fill out the rest of the roster with some impact performers. The top names in free agency have already been accounted for with the exception of Kevin Durant who reportedly could have a decision in by the beginning of next week. Losing out on Horford was a heartbreaker for Washington. Horford, Beal and all-star point guard John Wall could have potentially developed into a deep playoff team. Whether or not the trio would’ve been good enough to offset LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers would’ve been another topic, but Washington is desperate to make the postseason after missing last year’s festivities.

With $194 million tied up between Beal and Mahinmi over the next four years, Washington may have dodged a bullet by missing out on Horford, who signed a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston. Despite the cap increase, Washington has to remain cautious how it spends its money. Every team in the NBA East is designing their rosters to compete with the Cavaliers, and although Washington might not be at that level just yet, they’ve taken steps in the right direction after the first weekend in free agency.


Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO