The Washington Wizards have been in the doghouse of the NBA for quite some time now. They’ve been a top 7 lottery team for the past four years now. Previous to those four years, the team was in NBA purgatory. They were a playoff team that would be eliminated in the first round. Normally by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Wizards, since, have been in a state of rebuild. They’ve got their franchise centerpiece in John Wall and are looking to continue to build around him. This is probably going to be the most crucial year of the process because John Wall will be coming up on what will be the third year of his rookie deal. By this year, the Wizards should be looking to make significant progress in getting back into the championship hunt.
This third pick is by far the most important of the Leonsis era. Making a wrong pick here could set the Wizards back for some years. The Wizards must make the right pick because they need to win right now. Wasting what they have left of John Wall’s rookie deal would be a waste if they didn’t bring in Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza.
A few days ago, the Wizards traded Rashard Lewis and the number 46 overall pick for Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor.
With that, they dumped a guy who made over 20 million dollars last season and was unquestionably going to have his contract bought out this season for about 13 million dollars. That cap hit would’ve been significant for a player who hasn’t produced in years. They brought in over 41 million dollars in salaries for the next two years, however, the players that they brought in will produce.
Emeka Okafor’s career average hovers around double double territory. While he isn’t a top 50 player in this game, he is a competent center. That’s something that many teams don’t have at their disposal at all. Also, centers are vastly overpaid in the NBA. To find someone at the center position in free agency would have meant paying nearly the same dollar amount against the cap possibly for beyond the 2014 season.
Also, there aren’t many more centers that are as productive as Okafor. Coming off of a season where he missed plenty of games with a sore left knee, he averaged 9.9 points and 7.9 rebounds. A healthy Okafor would likely increase both of those totals, but what the Wizards really want is his rebounding ability. They have a piece to compliment NeNe who is more of a power forward than a center. He has never been a good rebounder like Okafor has been throughout his career.
In Trevor Ariza, we’re getting someone who has been able to compete on the defensive end of the floor especially. He hasn’t really thrived in the league since playing for the Lakers in 2008, but if he’s able to add some much needed depth to the small forward position for the Wizards.
What baffles me is how much people are saying that this will put the Wizards in the middle of the lottery instead of the top. I think that the goal is progression here, and saying that getting more wins is a terrible thing is pretty absurd. It’s never good to be stuck in the middle of the pack for years, but the Wizards are still on their path to rebuilding. This move eliminates the Wizards from being big players in free agency for the next two seasons, but they weren’t going to be anyway.
For one, Ted Leonsis is big on keeping talent in house and building through trading and the draft. He isn’t a huge supporter of free agency and trying to steal every big name player off of the market. This move shows us that he is sticking to the script that he came into the organization with in 2010. He’s more concerned about the growth of John Wall than anything and he’s trying to put pieces around him to succeed.
The Wizards will upgrade at virtually every position this season and will be a team with unquestionable depth and youth. The starting line-up should be like this: Wall at the point, Beal at the two, Ariza or Singleton at the three, NeNe at the four, and Okafor at the five. The bench will showcase Jordan Crawford as a budding scorer, a three with length coming off of the bench in Ariza or Singleton, Kevin Seraphin who put up big numbers to finish off the season, and Jan Vesely who is growing as a player in many areas of the game. Not to mention Trevor Booker who was the starting power forward for the Wizards for a majority of the season.
They’ll have a lot of new pieces that could contribute to the teams success. I think they’ll be able to work for a playoff seed somewhere between six and eight, but depending on the growth of John Wall and how he works with whatever piece they draft, the Wizards could go as high as a four or five seed. That’s probably a stretch for right now, but if the plan works out how it should, in a few years it isn’t out of the question.
Getting back to the monetary part of this acquisition, Ariza and Okafor will definitely hold the Wizards hostage in their cap situation for the next two seasons. The future isn’t that uncertain in Washington as far as the cap is concerned though. By the time they both come off the books, John Wall will be eligible for a qualifying offer. By now, the Wizards should know, or at least have a glimpse, at what Wall could be and choose whether to extend that offer or match any other offers that come Wall’s way. The free agent class will be headlined by Wall, Evan Turner, Demarcus Cousins, Paul George, and Greg Monroe. The Wizards will be able to attack that class if they wanted to, or start a new rebuilding plan all together.
Once you look deeper into this move, the future looks brighter and brighter in Washington. It looks like Ted and Ernie had thought things out before they made this move. Hopefully, everything happens the way that it should and Washington can, once again, be relevant in basketball conversation across the country.