As I stated in my earlier post today the Wizards traded away Rashard Lewis and the 46th overall selection for Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor. I’ll just start out by saying that the 46th selection is pretty meaningless so I’m not going to mention it again. This trade is a lot more complex that it seems at first glance though and as had a wide array of reviews, some really liking the trade for the Wizards and others not. The key to this trade are the salaries because in basketball terms only this would be a steal for the Wizards.
Rashard Lewis was set to make about 24 million this year (2nd most in NBA behind Kobe) but has a clause in his contract where he could be cut before the season and the team would only owe him 13 million and that is all that would count against his contract as well. This is what most people expected the Wiz to do with Rashard at some point this off-season. Instead they traded him for 2 players whose contracts basically equal his for this year in Emeka Okafor (about 13 million a year for the next 2 years) and Trevor Ariza (about 7 million a year for the next 2 years). So rather than just cut Lewis and gain free cap space they decided to use his contract as an asset and trade for 2 veterans.
The problem a lot of people have with this is that we are trading away 13 million dollars in what we would have owed Lewis for next year only for over 20 million dollars with of contracts in Ariza and Okafor for the next 2 years. These numbers are important because the salary cap is about 60 million and after this deal we are barely under the cap for next year and over the cap the year after that. Basically this deal eliminates us from any sort of free agency splurge as we are reduced to maybe going after one mid-level exception guy (usually a decent backup type). Essentially instead of using the 20 million we would have had over the next 2 years on free agents we used them on these 2 guys with the logic being that no really good player would want to come here with our lack of recent success so we have to trade for veterans in order to get solid players (same logic used in Nene deal).
This logic makes some sense because it’s probably true that the Wiz can’t lure in a ton of great talent right now but the problem that people has is with the players they picked up. Ariza and Okafor are both decent players in my opinion but in this era where the Wizards don’t want to go over the cap they certainly aren’t worth 20 million dollars. Okafor in particular isn’t worth the almost 14 million a year that he will be making. These guys have no chance of being amnestied since you can’t amnesty a player who was traded for after the new CBA was announced (last November) so they will be on our books for the next 2 years. So really the team that we have now (along with our #3 overall pick) is going to be the team that we run with for the next 2 seasons untill these two come off the books. Assuming that we take Brad Beal in the draft (will explain this later in the post) our lineup with consist of Wall-Beal-Ariza-Nene-Okafor with Mack-Crawford-Singleton-Booker-Seraphin as the backups. Certainly an upgrade from before but still at best it looks like a team that will most likely lose in the first round of the playoffs. That may seem like a good thing for Wizards fans who have endured lottery seasons the past few years but the goal is to build a championship contending team. Pretty much by completing this trade the Wiz have ensured mediocrity at best for the next 2 seasons.
Another problem with the Ariza/Okafor tandem is they don’t really fit into our future very well. By future I mean the next 5-10 years when hopefully John Wall is in the prime of his career along with our other young guys that we have so many of. Emeka Okafor will be 32 at the end of his contract and we will almost certainly not re-sign him as Seraphin and Booker will be in their prime by then and we will still have Nene for 2 more years. I am somewhat indifferent on Ariza as he is only 26 and will be 28 when his contract expires so we could re-sign him to some sort of cheap 4 year deal but if we still have Chris Singleton at that time than I envision them being very similar players plus I am not real sure that Ariza can be a starter on a championship contending team. I am saying all of this because it further details the fact that these guys are basically 2 year stop-gap guys for the Wizards who are basically guaranteeing the Wizards mediocrity for the next 2 seasons and have no real future with the team after that.
So far you probably think that I believe that this is a pretty terrible deal for the Wizards but in reality I actually don’t mind the trade. The main complaint of the people who didn’t like this trade for the Wizards were that we wasted a ton of potential cap room for stop-gap guys in Ariza and Okafor like I stated before. This is true but my question is who would we have spent it on otherwise? Say we draft Brad Beal making our most obvious weakness at the SF spot. Who is available? The great Nicholas Batum? This year’s free agent class is very weak and he was the top SF that most people had ranked this year and even he is restricted. Were we going to sign him and all of a sudden be a contending team in these next 2 seasons (which is really all that we are giving up?). Batum is a solid player who is better than Ariza but him and probably signing another decent player of his stature with that money wouldn’t have made us contenders in the next 2 seasons so really I ask what is the difference? Personally I would rather wait 2 years for the class of 2014 (when we will have cap space when Ariza and Okafor’s contracts come off the books) and potentially get a better player than Nicholas Batum when all our young guys will be further along in their careers and much more ready to win. Chances are that we would not even get a player like Batum because not a lot of guys want to come to the Wizards right now and like I said the free agent market is weak. Next year is a little better with Josh Smith being unrestricted but same thing the chances of us actually getting him to sign here aren’t great so what are we really wasting here? Basically I am making three main points here to why using our potential FA money on these guys isn’t as bad as it seems: 1. The FA class these next couple of years is weak, especially at SF. 2. Good chance these guys wouldn’t sign with us anyways. 3. Even if they did sign with us I don’t think that we would be championship contenders with them.
In terms of our salary cap in the future it is a pretty interesting trade because these guys’ contracts expires when Wall, Seraphin, Booker, and Crawford’s rookie contracts begin to expire and they become free agents. The first thought most fans would have in 2 years is that “okay Ariza/Okafor’s approx. 22 million dollars worth in contracts are coming off the books so we should have that much cap space”. While that is true we will most likely have to use some of that money to re-up/pay more money to these rookies. Obviously it depends how they play but if they play well enough where they earn new contracts and they aren’t asking for too much money than we will probably have to pay them more money. If Wall, Seraphin, and Booker keep on their same progression they will definitely be in line for a raise and Crawford I am not so sure about it depends if he can become a quality 6th man for us (what I believe his only possible role with the Wizards could be). Even with all that those raises however we should be able to have somewhere between 10-15 million to spend on a very quality free agent or two that summer (hopefully to occupy the SF spot if Ariza doesn’t want to re-sign for cheap). We could probably either get one star or a couple of solid players (much like this off-season) because even though we won’t have quite as much cap room with our young players getting older and commanding more money, with the new tax penalties (if you go over the salary cap you are penalized more harshly) players salaries will likely go down and stars won’t cost as much. The Wizards hope that in 2 years they will be able to lure a top of the line SF (which there will be plenty of) and they will have a crew of Wall-Beal-FA SF-Nene-Seraphin. If we are able to lure that good of a SF in 2014 and our young players progress like they have then we will be contenders in 2104.
Obviously there is always the possibility that the Wizards are not done or they could just trade these guys anytime in the next 2 years much like they did with Lewis (much like this year it could very well depend on how the FA market is looking at the time for 2014, looks very good right now though). But I am not going to try in predict a trade here because that is basically impossible but instead I will envision what I think the Wizards are hoping for. I think they are hoping that they make the playoffs the next 2 years and maybe even win a series with this bunch to keep the fans happy but most importantly they want the young guys to keep progressing. They hope Seraphin continues his progression to become a good starting center, Wall a top 3 PG, Beal (more on him coming soon) an All-Star shooting guard, Booker a great backup/fringe starter with great energy, Crawford an explosive scoring 6th man in the form of Jason Terry of the bench, Singleton a lock down defender and maybe a Trevor Ariza type when he was with the Lakers, and Jan Vesley (I am not really sure what the hell this guy is supposed to be, I don’t dislike him yet but I just can’t figure him out). Basically you will have all the pieces ready and all you need is another great player at the SF spot to step in and take this team full of players in their prime onto the next level and be a championship contender. Will all of these players turn out well? Chances are no but some of them will and it will be important for Ernie Grunfeld to weed out the good and the bad so we don’t waste money on guys that can’t help this team (I’ve got my eye on you Jordan Crawford).
So enough of how of the salary cap implications, lets start talking about something a little bit more interesting and that is the basketball side of things. With Ariza and Okafor on the roster that essentially cancels out our need for a SF or C and it highlights our need for a shooting guard and just shooting in general. The guy that fits that bill perfectly is Brad Beal (excuse the pun), I am not going to go into a whole Beal analysis but he is a great shooter who fits our needs perfectly. Unless the Bobcats take him at the 2 spot (which would put the Wizards in a very tough situation), he is almost certainly going to be a Wizard and it looks like that is very likely anyways. That being said like I said before our starting lineup for the next 2 years looks like this at the moment Wall-Beal-Ariza-Nene-Okafor with our backups being Mack-Crawford-Singleton-Booker-Seraphin. There is the good and bad with these lineups. First off the obvious good is that it is an easy upgrade over last year’s team. In my estimation this is a 6-8 seed in the East next season depending on who goes where and does what but this is a pretty decent team. We have a legit starting front and backcourt with pretty outstanding depth in our our front court. I think that Seraphin could have been a legit starter at center this season and will be an excellent backup and Booker is the perfect tough/energetic backup PF that every good team needs (see Nick Collision/Udonis Haslem). In maybe the best move of all this shifts Jordan Crawford over the bench (assuming we draft Beal) where he would come off the pine as most likely the 6th man Jason Terry type and would have a much shorter leash than last year with more capable bodies on the roster. Chris Singleton will also move to the bench where he will be more effective and where he deserves to be. Right now he just isn’t an NBA starter and hopefully he can develop into a great defender and another tough guy type off the bench for us in the future.
Like I said Okafor and Ariza are upgrades at their positions right now over what we have. Okafor brings tough defense and rebounding to a team that could certainly use at least the rebounding part (we developed the toughness last year after the Nene deal). He isn’t especially skilled offensively and is a little undersized at the center position but Nene is a big PF so that should be cancelled out. Ariza is kind of a better Chris Singleton because he his a solid defender who isn’t a good shooter but can run in transition and should be able to effectively defend the other teams’ best player. With these two in the lineup we should have an excellent defensive team (when’s the last time you could say that about the Wizards) and a veteran laden team that will compete night in and night out and like I said should be one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference.
As I said though there certainly are some cons to this roster after this move. The first thing that comes to mind is how will the addition of Okafor stunt the progression of Kevin Seraphin. After the Wiz traded McGee last year Seraphin blossomed into a very solid player when he became the starter and I can only hope that him learning from the likes of Okafor will help him in the future rather than hurt him with his minutes being limited. Another worry with this team is the lack of shooting/offense we will have. Neither Ariza of Okafor are offensive players and in fact shooting is their weaknesses and that isn’t real good for a team where that was a weakness to begin with. The hope is that the sharp shooting Beal will help these problems but for the next couple years him and Crawford might be our only shooting options. Wall thrives when he has options to pass to and especially shooters on the perimeter to stretch the floor so while Wall’s options have gotten better with these 2, they still certainly aren’t the best he can hope for (hopefully he will get that help in 2014).
Like I said though if Beal is drafted and no other changes are made I expect this to be a very tough-minded defensive team that might struggle to score at times but plays smart and as a team (the opposite basically of the Wizards the past few years) and that will keep them in a lot of games. It’s impossible to predict how they will finish right now because this season hasn’t even ended and the draft and free agency still are yet to come so most likely a lot of things will change between now and opening night in October.
All in all though I would probably give this trade a C. With such a weak free agent class and with those available unlikely to sign with us anyways the only thing that we are risking with this trade is a few draft spots which isn’t a huge deal in my opinion considering we are talking about between picks like 12-18 here. It didn’t really matter who they signed in this year’s free agency class because there wasn’t anyone good enough for us to become contenders anyways and honestly I am glad we didn’t get locked into somebody long-term who wasn’t that great anyways that could have possibly been a bust and hampered us in the future. Now while we are in for 2 years of pretty much guaranteed mediocrity (pretty much where you don’t want to be in the NBA) , we where going to be there anyways and now we will have the cap space we need in 2 years to sign the guy(s) to put us over the edge as contenders (hopefully) in two years as our young guys are older and (hopefully) continue to progress. It would have been nice to get the #10 pick that the Hornets have because there is a chance they would have given that up with the great deal of cap space that they got out of this trade. In the end I am okay with this trade because it doesn’t really affect us after 2 years from now when we are most likely to become contenders anyways and I believe we were destined for mediocrity these next 2 years our young guys continue to progress and grow anyways.