Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Wizards - breaking down the Okafor, Ariza Lewis deal

Well, that was surprising.

The Wizards jumped into the trading waters on Wednesday, acquiring veterans Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza from the New Orleans Hornets.
Forget a singular focus on rebuilding: With this move, the Wizards have put themselves into the Eastern Conference playoff mix, maybe.
The cost?
Technically, Rashard Lewis’ buyout worthy contract and the No. 46 pick in the 2012 draft. Realistically, the team’s salary cap flexibility for the next two seasons and possible playing time for several recent first round picks.
As an NBA scout described the deal to CSNwashington upon learning about the trade, “You went from a youth movement trying to build from the draft to taking on money and thinking you can get to the eighth spot and next year get into the playoffs."

Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld downplayed the trade’s impact on plans for the June 28 NBA Draft (“It doesn’t affect the draft at all."). We'll see, but Florida wing guard Bradley Beal - myprediction with the third overall pick before the trade - is now the logical front-runner. Washington retained its other second-round selection, No. 32 overall.
Certainly, from a talent standpoint, the Wizards helped themselves with the deal, though hardly in a "Big 3" sort of way. The newcomers each bring a defensive mentality and are all by accounts solid citizens. The 6-foot-10 Okafor, who turns 30 this season, remains a viable interior presence eight years into his career though injuries (sore left knee) limited him to 27 games in 2011-12 (on his post-trade conference call, Grunfeld said the players still must pass their physical exams).
Though he averages a double-double for his career, Okafor's numbers last season – 9.9 points, 7.9 rebounds, 1.0 block – all represent career lows. With his $13.49 million salary next season, the former No. 2 overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft moves past Nene ($13 million) as the highest paid player on the team.
Despite his time in the spotlight with the trophy-raising Los Angeles Lakers a few seasons back, Ariza is only 26 and coming off a bit of a rebound season. His athletic presence on the wing will help John Wall in the open court. His career 31.7 percent from beyond the arc does not address the team’s perimeter shooting woes. This deal overall does arguably more harm than good offensivel
Though Lewis remains a solid locker room presence, injuries sapped his onetime potent abilities. His days with the organization were numbered. We knew this. The question was simply how he would, entering the final year of his deal, receive his walking papers; as part of a trade, a hefty buyout (approximately $13.7 million) or by way of the NBA’s one-time only amnesty clause.
By doing the deal and not writing Lewis a check, the Wizards instead:

- took on two sizable contracts, both of which extend through 2014
 - avoided the uncertainty of free agency by striking now
- kept the amnesty option available for Andray Blatche.
- eliminated much of the team’s cap flexibility. The Wizards will be on the sideline for the free agency period this summer – 2012 is not considered an impressive class - and perhaps the following offseason as well.

“We get players that are good solid players and fill two solid needs for us," Grunfeld said. "So, instead of going into free agency to fill our needs, we did it through a trade."
All together, rather than paying Lewis to leave, receiving no immediate help in return but remaining a player in free agency, the Wizards took on around $46 million in salaries over the next two seasons.
NBA scout: “That’s more of a win now, try to make the playoffs type of push…I’m surprised they took on more money.”
Grunfeld did not elaborate on how Okafor’s addition impacts the interior minutes, though he believes the team will have a ”nice rotation at the 4/5” with Nene and Kevin Seraphin. Okafor averaged 29 minutes in two of the past three seasons, which was also about Nene’s recent average in Denver (a better barometer than his 11-game stint in D.C. after the trade). Ariza averaged 32 minutes per game last season.
Based on those averages, that leaves around 53 frontcourt minutes per game remaining for Seraphin, Trevor Booker, Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton. That quartet played a combined 86 minutes per outing last season. If everybody is healthy, there are only so many minutes to go around.
Grunfeld noted on the call that the young players improved noticeably following Nene’s addition. He anticipates Okafor and Ariza only helping that process. Of course, part of the process is having the kids play.  
Considering Wall is only entering his third season and the roster is still loaded with players under their initial NBA contracts, the Wizards are not in an overt “future is now” situation. With this deal, the team is better, right now anyway. Whether the cost of limited future cap space and potentially taking minutes away from the those who might offer the best long-term hope does more than put the team on a path to the NBA middle, we’ll see.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yeah, not sure. The potential lack of PT for the kids is not ideal. Hope Wall can survive in more halfcourt sets. With those bigs, kinda heading that way.