Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Examining the Wizards-T'Wolves trade

Because I can't watch the NBA Draft tomorrow night, I was going to write a little something speculating what the Wizards could do with the No. 5 pick. Would the Wizards take James Harden, Jordan Hill, or Stephen Curry? Or maybe they would entertain trade offers for the pick on draft night, etc. I was even going to reference Kevin Broom's post over at The Secret Weapon, which broke down the Wizards' chances of getting a solid player with the fifth choice.

Broom's take:

This year’s draft does not appear to have an elite-level talent available at number 5. It doesn’t appear likely that the Wiz will end up with someone who impacts the game like Garnett or Barkley or Wade. But, the Wizards could still end up with a player like Mitch Richmond (Harden?), Steve Smith (Tyreke Evans?), or Raymond Felton (Rubio?). Or maybe it’s someone like Kevin Love or Jason Richardson.

Point is, the fifth is likely to provide a player who will help the team. There’s basically a one-in-three chance they’ll get a future All-Star; a one-in-six chance they’ll land a future All-NBA’er. Only one-in-ten qualify as abject busts over the past 30 years (Bender, Ray and Skita). All this is to say the Wizards are likely to improve themselves, even if they can’t find a trade they like, and end up using the pick on the best available player.

Apparently the Wizards didn't feel they'd be able to pick one of those players, and, as I'm sure you know by now, the Wizards have traded the pick, Darius Songaila, Etan Thomas, and Oleksiy Pecherov to the T'Wolves for Mike Miller and Randy Foye. I really didn't see the move coming, particularly because I thought the Wizards would at least wait until Thursday. Well, I was wrong.

Maybe the Wizards didn't think Harden or Curry would still be on the board, or maybe they didn't feel like rolling the dice at all in this apparently thin draft. Either way, Miller and Foye are Wizards.

It's worth mentioning that the Wizards still have their second round pick -- the 32nd overall choice -- but that's obviously not as exciting as a first-rounder.

Anyway, I've been deliberately avoiding other reviews of the trade all day to make sure not to recycle other writers' and bloggers' thoughts. Sure, my own opinions might not be all that different, but this post will still be original.

Now, back to the trade: I like it. I don't love it or think it's the greatest trade of all time, but it makes sense. Although Ernie Grunfeld may pull the trigger on another trade in the next few days, the Wizards' current rotation is a combination of the following:

PG Gilbert Arenas
SG Randy Foye
SF Caron Butler
PF Antawn Jamison
C Brendan Haywood

G/F Mike Miller
G/F Dominic McGuire
F/C Andray Blatche
G Nick Young
F/C JaVale McGee
G Javaris Crittenton
G DeShawn Stevenson
G Mike James

That's 13 players, so it appears that one or two of those guys could be on the way out in a possible trade -- possibly James because of his expiring $6.5 million contract. Moving Stevenson may be difficult because of 1) his back injury and 2) he still has two years and about $8 million left on his contract.

Also, Foye might not start at the two; Miller or McGuire could also slide into the starting rotation at that spot.

One more thing: Let's take a look at the contracts of all five players involved in the deal (all $ is in millions):

Mike Miller: 2009-2010 ($9.75)
Randy Foye: 2009-2010 ($3.57), 2010-2011 ($4.79 qualifying offer)

Darius Songaila: 2009-2010 ($4.52), 2010-2011 ($4.81 player option)
Etan Thomas: 2009-2010 ($7.35)
Oleksiy Pecherov: 2009-2010 ($1.54), 2010-2011 ($2.38 team option), 2011-2012 ($3.37 qualifying offer)

Money isn't the driving force in this trade. Next season, both teams will pay over $13 million each for these players -- of course, that doesn't factor in the cost of the No. 5 pick for the T'Wolves. Both Miller and Foye could be gone in 2010 for the Wizards, while Thomas will be gone for the T'Wolves. Songaila will surely exercise his option, and Minnesota will likely decline Pecherov's option. But again, this trade doesn't seem to be about money, unless the Wizards really wanted to clear Songaila's 2010 salary to free up some space to possibly re-sign Haywood and/or McGuire.

Strengths of the trade:

  • Mike Miller's shooting. Miller had the worst season of his career last year, scoring 9.9 points per game. But he did average 6.6 rebounds (close to his career high) and 4.5 assists (career high). Unfortunately, Miller shot his worst percentage from three-point range (37.8 percent) since 2003-2004. But for his career he's a 40.1 percent three-point shooter, so it could have just been a bad season. Still, the Wizards' best three-point shooter last season was Mike James (36.7 percent) and they shot 33 percent as a team, so Miller is an upgrade in that department. Playing alongside Arenas, Butler, and Jamison should leave Miller with more open shots than in Minnesota, so he could very well thrive in Washinton next season. He's not a good defensive player, though, which means he should fit right in with this group.

  • Guard depth. Adding Miller and Foye should provide significant depth at the guard position in case injuries strike the Wizards again. When healthy himself, Foye can play the one and the two, while Miller can fill in at shooting guard and small forward. Miller has played in at least 70 games in five straight seasons, while Foye seemed to recover nicely by playing in 70 games last season after missing most of the 2007-2008 season with a hip injury.

  • Mike James's contract. The Wizards sent Etan Thomas and his expiring contract away in the deal, but the Wizards still have James's expiring contract. The Wizards could do one of three things: 1) use James's contract now in another possible trade for a veteran frontcourt presence; 2) keep James for a while and then trade him during the season; or 3) hold on to him for the whole season, allowing his salary to come off the books afterwards. Combined with Miller's and Foye's potential departures, that's nearly $20 million in possible savings.
Weaknesses of the trade:

  • Loss of Songaila. Say what you will about Darius Songaila, but I respect how hard he played in Washington. He shot a career-best 53.2 percent from the field last season while playing in just under 20 minutes per game. He isn't flashy and is out of position when forced to play center, but Songaila was certainly a consistent contributor for the Wizards off of the bench last season. Barring a trade, though, his departure does free up minutes for Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee.

  • Was a better trade out there? There have been so many rumors floating around that it's hard to know exactly what the Wizards could have traded for with a similar package. Some examples: Tracy McGrady and Carl Landry from the Rockets; Vince Carter from the Nets; Shaquille O'Neal (?) or maybe Amar'e Stoudemire from the Suns; Larry Hughes from the Knicks; Ray Allen from the Celtics; Steve Blake, Travis Outlaw, and Jerryd Bayless/Sergio Rodriguez from the Blazers; etc. -- that's a lot of possibilities to consider. No one knows exactly what else may have been on the table, but it's possible that a better trade could have been pursued.

  • Not a defensive upgrade. Another trade may be on the way soon, but right now, the Wizards are still a pretty bad defensive team. Miller and Foye won't change that. Then again, when a team is built around three star players who don't play much defense, it's hard to change a team's identity with a trade or two.
Final Questions/Comments:

  • How good can Foye be? To me, Foye is the biggest key to this deal. My first reaction to the trade was: Great, the Wizards got Miller, and he can shoot. But I didn't know much about Foye. True, the Wizards did trade this year's No. 5 pick, but just a few years ago in 2006, Foye was selected with the No. 7 pick. I did know that, but it's worth noting that Foye is a talented player -- when healthy. He's sort of a scoring, combo-guard type like Arenas at 6-4, 210 pounds, and he can score: He averaged 16.3 points last season. If he can keep improving, he could provide an upgrade over Javaris Crittenton and Nick Young.

  • How will Miller and Foye fit in with the big three? Ernie Grunfeld has made the decision to build around Arenas, Butler, and Jamison, and this move confirms that. Miller should have no problem fitting in at shooting guard; he can shoot threes, pass, and rebound a little bit. Foye will be more of a question mark.

  • Can Blatche and McGee step up? The loss of Songaila, as stated before, opens up playing time for Blatche and McGee, so these two youngsters will need to step up. Blatche will probably be the first big man off of the bench, but McGee appears to have much more upside -- and is certainly more exciting to watch. The Wizards will more than likely bring in another power forward/center, but how the bigs play behind Haywood will be extremely important in the upcoming season.
This trade helps in upgrading the supporting cast of the Wizards, but really, it won't matter much if Arenas isn't able to play like his old self. Butler and Jamison are great players, but when the Wizards don't play defense and don't have Arenas around, they're an average team at best. Miller and Foye should help ease the pain if Arenas can't return to form, but for the Wizards to move to the top of the Eastern Conference next season, they'll need Agent Zero at 100 percent.

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