In taking a look earlier Tuesday at the Washington Wizards reportedly bringing in free agent Eric Maynor to be their backup point guard next season, I mentioned that the Wizards' top priority this offseason was to re-sign Martell Webster. The small forward came to the nation's capital last summer on a one-year, $1.75 million deal looking to establish himself as a wing player with some value after seven up-and-down, injury-impeded NBA seasons since entering the NBA straight out of high school, and he did just that in a strong bounce-back season, averaging career highs in points, rebounds and assists per game, finishing 12th in the NBA in 3-point percentage and acting as a veteran leader (despite being just 26 years old) and a bright spot for the 29-53 Wiz.
So, yes — Webster established he had value. The question was, though, how much value. The Wizards, for their part, answered that question Tuesday, agreeing to a four-year, $22 million deal with Webster; as Yahoo! Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski reported, the fourth-year salary is only partially guaranteed, although for how much and at what stage, we don't yet know.
After Woj's report, Webster shared the good news with his Internet friends via the magic of Instagram video:
... which, yes, Martell, was a little weird. (And kind of disconcerting.) The matter at hand for Wizards fans now: Should they find four years and $22 million for Webster disconcerting, too?
Here is my hot sports take on that matter: It depends!
For one thing, it depends on how much of the fourth year Webster will be guaranteed to receive. If Webster underperforms over the first three years of the deal, will they be able to get away at something akin to the three years and $16 million that the Minnesota Timberwolves just gave Chase Budinger, or will they be stuck with something closer to the full boat in Year 4? The closer the guarantee winds up being to the former, the more flexibility the Wizards will have if this one winds up going sour. For another, it depends on whether Webster spends the next four years becoming more and more like the guy he was last year, or if the 2012-13 model was an oasis of relative consistency amid an otherwise fluctuating and uncertain career.
If Webster's the guy he was last year, then the non-taxpayer midlevel exception — which starts at $5.15 million next season, then escalates over the course of the contract — doesn't seem like a super-troubling amount. Not only did Webster shoot 42.2 percent from 3-point land for the Wizards last year, but he shot a scorching 49 percent from the short corners, according to NBA.com's stat tool, making him an elite converter of a very efficient shot that Washington point guard John Wall generates in bunches through his drive-and-kick game. Plus, as Mike Prada of Wizards blog Bullets Forever noted, Webster's preferred corner (the right one, where he knocked down 58.5 percent of his looks last season) mirrors the sweet spot of rising sophomore sniper Bradley Beal, who drilled 57.1 percent of his tries from the left corner.
Considering the high lottery picks Ernie Grunfeld and company have invested in Wall (first overall in 2010) and Beal (third overall in 2012), having players who compliment their skill sets is pretty important, and the numbers suggest Webster did that pretty well last year. Wall's protracted return from a preseason fracture of his left kneecap and Beal's late-season battles with ankle injuries and a season-ending stress injury in his right leg prevented the trio from playing big minutes together last season, but in the 303 minutes they did share the floor over the course of 24 games, the Wizards played elite-level basketball, scoring (110.6 points per 100 possessions) and defending (91.9 points-per-100) at rates that would've topped the NBA, according to NBA.com's stat tool. As a matter of fact, the Wizards had 22 three-man units that played at least 300 minutes together last season, with 11 scoring more points-per-100 than they allowed; seven of those 11 featured Webster.
It's those synergies — plus the ability to (kind of) effectively guard multiple wing spots at 6-foot-7, and the fact that he nearly doubled the share of possessions he ended with an assist over the prior year while also cutting his turnover — that made Webster one of the bright spots on the Wizards last year. That's the thing, though: What if it was just last year?
Webster's profiled as a shooter, athlete and rangy defender since the Portland Trail Blazers drafted him sixth overall in 2005, but prior to last year, he hasn't really regularly combined his talents into on-court impact, thanks in part to an array of injuries — an irregular heartbeat scare in April 2007, a broken right foot in October 2008, back surgeries in October 2010 and December 2011 — and a relative lack of contributions in areas other than outside shooting. (Webster also had an offseason procedure related to a sports hernia he dealt with late in the season, but is expected to be in fine working order well in advance of Washington's training camp.)
So much of Webster's value to this particular Wizards team comes from his ability to provide floor spacing, a big target for penetrate-and-pitch passes and a legitimate threat to make teams pay for either packing the paint to keep Wall outside, doubling down on Nene or staying too close to Beal on the opposite side of the court. If Webster can continue knocking down shots at an elite or near-elite clip in his time on the floor — which, by the way, you'd figure will be mitigated to at least some degree by No. 3 overall pick/small forward of the future Otto Porter and one more season of Trevor Ariza — as he makes his way through his prime, then he could be a key contributor to the Wizards returning to the postseason for the first time in six years.
If the injury bug bites back, though, or if Webster's long-range accuracy — a skill, to be fair, that typically ages well in top-flight shooters — dips back toward the 33.9 percent mark he posted in his final year with the Minnesota Timberwolves, then Grunfeld might regret not keeping his powder dry.