Yesterday’s trade of Rashard Lewis for Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor brought a lot of criticsm to the Wizards and in particular their general manager Ernie Grunfeld. John Hollinger absolutely ripped into the Wizards (for some reason the ESPN link wasn’t working) in an article analyzing the trade which was highlighted by his quote “Seriously, can anyone explain why this guy is still running a basketball team?” However, unlike Hollinger I don’t mind this trade because like I said while we are guaranteeing ourselves 2 years of medicority, we are also setting ourselves up for success in 2012 if the dominoes fall our way (which we would need them to anyways to be successful). This title sounds very condescending but really this post is not meant to rip Grunfeld because of this most recent trade but the question I am asking myself is if EG (Ernie Grunfeld) really meant to set this team up for success in 2012 or was his plan for the team that he will be fielding in the next 2 years to be title contenders?
Okay so I am being a little condescending with this post because I am basically questioning EG’s competency with this trade in particular. For those who didn’t read my last post analyzing the Wizards-Hornets trade, here is the brief version of it: The Wizards picked up Ariza and Okafor for the next 2 years, but in turn basically used up all of their cap space for the next 2 years so now pretty much who is on the roster now is who they will most likely have for the next couple of seasons (sans a draft pick or two). The problem with this is that the current team isn’t nearly good enough to be contenders, they are contenders for a playoff spot and will probably range anywhere from the 6th spot in the East to just missing the playoffs but nobody will confuse this team with serious contenders. Being that the goal of NBA teams is to be a serious contender this move could be construed as a serious waste of cap room from the Wizards and basically forced us into 2 years of guaranteed mediocrity (though that will seem like an upgrade for most Wizards fans). Fortunately for Wizards fans there is a silver lining in this trade (other than the Wizards actually contending for a playoff spot for once) and that is that in 2 years once Ariza and Okafor come off the books for about 22 million we should have some solid cap space left even if we extend some of our young guys whose rookie contracts will be ending at the same time (ie. Wall,Booker,Seraphin,Crawford). Basically we are conceding these next 2 seasons and hoping that we can sign a solid FA (most likely SF) to put us over the top in 2014 with all of our young guys then entering their prime. So while we don’t have any cap space these next 2 seasons, this trade pretty much just pushes that space back 2 years for when our young players are older and presumably better. As I said before though my question is was this the plan of EG to have some cap space in 2 years when our younger players are older and better or were his thoughts to compete with this current team?
Most GM’s I probably wouldn’t ask this question about because it is pretty obvious that the current team that is assembled has virtually no shot at being a contender. Even if we stay remarkably healthy we have little to no chance of being better than the Heat, Pacers, Bulls, and probably Knicks just to name a few in the Eastern Conference. I ask this question because numerous times in the past EG has put together squads (as the Wizards GM) in hopes that they would take us to the promise land when in reality they weren’t even close to having a chance of doing so.
His first try was with the Arenas/Jamison/Butler era where he thought that core would be enough to make us contenders. Just a few years ago he even made the trade that I guess he thought would put us over the top by dealing our #5 overall pick for the likes of Randy Foye and Mike Miller. As everybody saw that plan went into flames immediately as we ended up with one of the worst records in basketball that year and received the #1 pick and got John Wall out of it (actually the exact opposite of EG’s plan with that trade). That group made the playoffs multiple times but only won 1 playoff series in the 3 or 4 years that they were together and really where the epitome of a team that was decent but had no potential to be a legitimate contender.
That was probably the better example but his next plan exercises the same principle to a lesser degree. After trading away the previous core in hopes of starting anew, EG now had a new trio that he thought would bring the Wizards to greatness. Along with Wall, EG was hoping the magnificent trio of Young/McGee/Blatche would turn the Wizards into contenders in no time. The only thing these 3 did was make us annual contenders for the first pick in the draft. As everybody knows and has been stated before at least EG realized this trio was an even bigger failure than the first and quickly dealt them away before we could get them for nothing and ended up with a quality big man for the next 4 seasons. Either way though this was just another example of EG evaluating his talent poorly because it was obvious that trio never had a chance to lead us anywhere and in my opinion EG basically wasted 2 years on them to see if they would work out.
For me this beckons back to the original question as to whether or not it was EG’s plan to basically move the available cap room to 2 years from now when we will be more ready to win a championship or did he make the same mistake again and think that this team was good enough to contend for a championship? As I said clearly it is not and while it is a refreshing upgrade for Wizards fans (playoffs fairly likely), it still doesn’t reach the ultimate goal of an NBA franchise which is to be a contender for the championship. Personally I have to think that this was a joint decision between EG and Ted Leonsis and while I am not sure Leonsis has an amazing basketball background or acumen I definitely trust his judgement just in general (which is a pretty sad indictment of a basketball man his whole life in EG) and his fingerprints seem all over this one. Leonsis likes the strategy of using your FA money via trades when you aren’t a very attractive franchise for FA’s at the moment (see Nene) and tag that along with the fact that the next couple of FA’s markets far are fairly weak, I believe the EG/TD plan was to build a decent team for the next couple of seasons and put some fans in the seats and give the fans some actual hope with a solid team to root for while also using the veterans brought in to mentor the young guys for the future. Then in 2 years when our young guys are more seasoned, decide which are going to be part of our future and have plenty of cap space to add around them; and I am cool with that. Like I said though, I assume that was the plan but I can only wonder with EG’s history if he actually believed that this team would be good enough to be a contender? I sure hope not but after his last 2 trio failures, anything is possible.