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The Mavericks probably can’t afford PJ Washington, but they should still try

The young forward from Charlotte has gotten lost in the free agency shuffle a bit, and would be a great fit in Dallas

Charlotte Hornets v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Sam Hodde/Getty Images

As NBA free agency slows down, the Mavericks still have some room to play with to make additions to their roster. After re-signing Kyrie Irving on day one to a three-year, $126 million deal, most cap experts and reporters agree the Mavericks still have access to the full non-taxpayer mid-level exception, which is worth about $12.4 million a season.

That’s enough to acquire a decent player, and rumors have swirled that the reason free agency has slowed down is that most of the best players remaining are restricted free agents, who can’t sign offer sheets until Thursday. For the Mavericks, the two most commonly linked names have been forwards Grant Williams and Matisse Thybulle. There is still one more name out there that is more intriguing than both of them though, and that’s Charlotte forward PJ Washington.

Washington, the 12th overall pick from the 2019 draft, is also a restricted free agent, which again makes the Mavericks’ ability to acquire him tricky. He’s coming off a career season, averaging 15.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.9 steals, and 1.1 blocks per game. He’s an athletic forward at 6’7 that can slide between the three and the four (and maybe play some small ball five). He will be 25 years old when next season starts, still in his athletic prime with room to grow. There hasn’t been much noise about his free agency, presumably because the Hornets, a team still growing and rebuilding, would match almost any contract Washington would receive. As we get closer to that Thursday date when offer sheets can be signed, there are still some scenarios where maybe the Mavericks can get involved.

  • There is reported interest from the Hornets in Grant Williams, a Charlotte native. Considering the Hornets just drafted Brandon Miller with the second overall pick of the 2023 NBA draft and just signed Miles Bridges to his qualifying offer, the forward room in Charlotte is getting crowded. If the Hornets did indeed acquire Williams, that would mean the Hornets will have Williams, Miller, Bridges, and Gordon Hayward all vying for time on the wing, before even bringing back Washington. Perhaps Charlotte will want to part from Washington to help shore up other parts of their roster.
  • The Mavericks could offer Washington the full MLE, which would be a four-year deal averaging $12.4 million per season. That doesn’t seem like a lot for a talented, young forward like Washington, but the remaining teams with cap space to go over that offer has shrunken considerably as free agency has progressed. Both San Antonio and Houston have enough cap space left to offer Washington more than the MLE, but the Spurs seem content to slowly build around Victor Wembanyama and the Rockets already have a gaggle of forwards on the roster — they drafted Amen Thompson and Cam Whitmore, signed Dillion Brooks and Jeff Green, and still have Jabari Smith and Tari Eason on the roster. If Washington’s market has been squeezed into only teams with the MLE interested, then the Mavericks can offer a pretty compelling case to join the team, with a giant hole at forward in their starting lineup, plus the ability to get easy shots playing next to Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving.
  • Washington technically has some hometown roots — while he was born in Louisville, Kentucky, he spent part of his high school career in the north Dallas suburb of Frisco at Lone Star High School. Bring him home! (Sorta!)

If the Hornets are serious about Williams, perhaps that’s how the Mavericks can slide in. Maybe they can work a sign-and-trade since the Mavericks could have some pieces the Hornets could want. Tim Hardaway Jr. would be a big boost to their shooting, Reggie Bullock would give them some defensive oomph, while Maxi Kleber or Richaun Holmes could shore up their big-man depth behind Mark Williams. Hey, maybe they want JaVale McGee? While Dallas hasn’t shown any interest in parting with their young talent Jaden Hardy and Josh Green, the Mavericks did just sign two guards this free agency in Seth Curry and Dante Exum. Combine that with Irving and Doncic soaking up most of the guard minutes, maybe Hardy could be used to swing the deal for the Mavericks, trading from a surplus position for a position of desperate need. Washington’s age is ideal as well, as he’s only one year older than Doncic, so he could be part of the core going forward into Doncic’s prime.

Mavericks fans should remember Washington’s game very well — in the back-to-back games the Hornets played against the Mavericks last season, Washington torched the Mavericks averaging 24.5 points, nine rebounds, and 3.5 assists. Washington had 28 points, six rebounds, three assists, two steals, and one block in the first game on March 24, then followed that up 48 hours later with 21 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, one steal, and one block.

Those two losses to the Hornets effectively torpedoed the Mavericks’ season and Washington was the main driver of the nail in the coffin. We’ve seen in the past the Mavericks targeting players in the offseason that have played well against them in the past (hello Delon Wright!), but in Washington’s case, it makes a lot of sense.

Offensively Washington checks all the boxes, despite the Mavericks not needing more offense — Washington is an OK post-up player, but capable of punishing smaller guys on switches. He’s a good roll man in either the pick and roll or pick and pop, and he can put the ball on the floor and attack a closeout. Strangely enough, his shooting, a big plus for him entering the league, has tapered off a bit. He only made 35.8 percent of his corner threes last season and an even more puzzling 34 percent of his overall spot-up threes. This is after his first two seasons in the league shooting 37.4 and 38.6 overall from three, respectively. Washington’s percentage dropped to 34.8 percent last season, but you can assume the Doncic boost would get those numbers going in the right direction as the Hornets struggled with their point guard play last season with LaMelo Ball in and out of the lineup with injuries.

You could argue Washington has made more of an impact in the league on defense than offense, with his defensive metrics showing off well. For his career, he’s averaged about two combined steals and blocks per game, a terrific number for a non-center. Washington is long, athletic, and likes to make splash defensive plays on the weakside or in transition. His frame is slight, so he can get bullied in one-on-one situations, but his defensive profile would be a much-needed upgrade compared to what the Mavericks were rolling out last season.

Personally, Washington feels like the biggest prize left on the free agency board, a much more talented wing than either Thybulle or Grant Williams. While Washington might be outside the Mavericks’ price range, they should still inquire and be aggressive and see what happens. As said, Charlotte has a forward logjam, so maybe there’s some wiggle room for the Mavericks to slide in. He’d be a perfect fit in Dallas, a talent boost on the wing the roster desperately needs.