Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Latest trade is more of the same from Grunfeld

Oh, hey, the Wizards made a trade today, shipping Rashard Lewis and his huge, expiring contract, along with the 46th overall pick, to the Hornets in exchange for Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza. Okafor and Ariza both have two years remaining on their contracts, meaning the Wizards think enough of both guys to want them around and play significant minutes. Okafor is scheduled to make $13.5 million next season and $14.5 million the season after, while Ariza will make $7.3 million and $7.7 million in the same time frame.

I'm not going to go through all of the other salary information and potential roster ramifications -- Mike Prada of Bullets Forever already did a fantastic job of that here -- but the trade boils down to Ernie Grunfeld choosing Okafor and Ariza over other free agents the team could have rolled with instead, either this upcoming year or next. And, even though my initial reaction to the trade was an indifferent one, I now believe that it's a puzzling decision, at best.

If you look at the trade simply, then the deal doesn't look so bad for Washington. Lewis was going to be paid his money and sent packing regardless of where he was traded, so getting two players for nothing is always nice. Also, instead of paying Lewis to walk away next season and getting nothing in return, that money is being used to pay part of Ariza's and Okafor's salaries. Unfortunately, the Wizards sacrificed a lot of cap flexibility, particularly in 2013.

And there's another small problem: Neither player is a major upgrade or adds much to the team. First, let's look at Ariza. Athletic and 6'8, he's a versatile defensive player, which the Wizards don't have a whole lot of on the perimeter. Chris Singleton was supposed to be a lockdown perimeter defender, and he still may develop into one, but he struggled mightily to stick with quicker, more accomplished scorers last season. That's not unusual -- he was a rookie, after all -- but he has a lot of work to do. Ariza is an upgrade in that department. But the skill the Wizards arguably need the most is shooting, which is not one of Ariza's strong suits. He hasn't made more than 46 percent of his shots since 2008-2009, and he's just a 31.7 percent three-point shooter for his career. He's a better scorer than Singleton, but not overly so. Here's Ariza's career shooting stats compared to Singleton's last season (keep in mind, there's a much larger sample for Ariza, who's been in the league since 2004):

Ariza: 43.1 FG% / 31.7 3P% / 67.4 FT%
Singleton: 37.2 FG% / 34.7 3P% / 68.2 FT%

Again, Ariza is easily the better all-around player than Singleton, and he could end up putting up improved numbers with John Wall running the show and creating some easy buckets for him. But Singleton still has time to get better and is still much cheaper since he's on his rookie deal. Singleton will still get minutes, but not as much with the veteran blocking him from starting at small forward. Hopefully Singleton is still able to get the necessary minutes to improve his game.

On to the addition of Okafor, which seems superfluous for a Wizards frontcourt that already includes Nene, Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker, and Jan Vesely. At 6'10, 252 pounds, Okafor is similar in size to the 6'11, 250 pound Nene, and he'll help with the team's rebounding and ability to protect the rim. But can they both share the court at the same time? And how are the Wizards going to get playing time for all of Seraphin, Booker, and Vesely? Those three, especially Seraphin, at times showed flashes of improved play, so it seems a bit odd to bring in another guy who's going to play a bunch of minutes. It's possible that this trade is just the first of one or two more that round out the roster a bit, but right now there are huge question marks. Then again, Nene and Okafor have both dealt with nagging injuries in their careers, so it wouldn't be a bad thing to have guys ready behind them if/when they go down. But it was also much easier to defend the Nene trade last season since he's the better player and also still allowed the Wizards to play the youngsters beside him. With Okafor in Washington, there aren't as many minutes to go around.

So the Wizards took cap space they were going to have after next season and filled it with two players who don't make the team that much better but who are names that fans have probably heard of. And the two players aren't even great fits for the team. Yes, that seems like a Grunfeld move: wasting cap space for no apparent reason while fitting square pegs into round holes.

Many have speculated that with Ariza now in Washington, the Wizards, with the third pick, will target a shooting guard. Picking Brad Beal or Harrison Barnes, who are both better shooters than nearly every current Wizard, would make a lot of sense even if the Wizards didn't already have Ariza. But shouldn't the Wizards take whichever player they wanted most in the draft anyway? The belief that because Ariza is here that Grunfeld won't take the top player available -- probably a guard (Beal, Barnes) or even another small forward (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) -- is questionable. And if that is indeed true, Grunfeld should be fired on the spot. Don't be fooled: Hitting on the No. 3 pick is way more important than just about any trade Grunfeld can make this offseason, and adding another talented player to this team is vital.

But Grunfeld really shouldn't still be running the show in Washington, but you knew that already. Fans who were against Ted Leonsis and the Wizards bringing back Grunfeld as the team's general manager were afraid of moves like this. It's looking like they were right.