Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard says team could enter luxury tax, if needed

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Wizards GM says team could enter luxury tax, if needed originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

As the Wizards enter the summer with hopes of taking their roster to the next level, the front office will have to operate within the constraints of the salary cap, which will be squeezed by the contracts of Russell Westbrook ($44.2M) and Bradley Beal ($34.5M), who will combine to make $78.7 million next season. They already have $121.9 million committed for next year (per Basketball Reference), which means little room for free agents.

A trade could be the most viable path, but either way it's a fair question how high the Wizards will go with their payroll. They haven't paid the luxury tax in three years, not since after the 2017-18 season. They were in the tax in 2019-20 before trading away contracts at the deadline of that year to get under it. Luxury tax bills are due at the end of the season.

So, will they go back in this summer? Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard says it's possible and that team chairman Ted Leonsis would authorize entering the tax, if necessary.

"Absolutely. Ted has been fantastic. I never want to use the word ‘I’ or ‘me’ when it comes to the big decisions. We’re going to sit down as a group and hash it out," Sheppard said. 

"At the end of the day, it’s my responsibility ultimately because that’s the job that Ted gave me. But when I sit with him, we’re going to collaborate with a lot of people, we’re going to get a lot of opinions. We need to model out what it will look like in two years, five years financially. But Ted has never said no. This ownership group is second to none in terms of their support and their enthusiasm for what we’re trying to do."

The Wizards have only paid the luxury tax once before and not long before they did, Leonsis gave some specifics about his thoughts on the practice. It was back in the summer of 2017 when the Wizards re-signed Otto Porter Jr. to a max contract. They were coming off a 49-win season and wanted to keep the team together.

It didn't work out like they hoped, of course. Porter's salary was one they dumped in Feb. of 2020 to circumvent paying the tax for the second time. But Leonsis' comments from back then could apply to today; both his willingness and his caveats.

"I’ve never been fearful of paying the tax," Leonsis said at the time. "If you do the research, the tax hasn’t really been that helpful. It’s very punitive. It is very punitive. So, unless you have the right people, just throwing money at a problem doesn’t get you results."

Leonsis also said of breaching the tax to bring back Porter that "the market spoke... It’s fair, it’s how the system works." So, will the market speak again?

The Wizards have Beal and Westbrook in their primes. They just made the playoffs for the first time in three years as the eight-seed in the East, but would like to do much more and soon.

Sheppard thinks he can go into the tax as long as he has a good explanation for doing so.

"He does make sure we are very clear about the expectation when we do get the green light to do things," he said. "What is it do we expect to accomplish with that and does it matter towards winning? That’s what I love about him.

"The bottom line with him is always about is this conducive to winning, is this going to help us elevate our play?"