Washington must make a trade during this season with a depleted 2014 free agency classPosted on October 24, 2013 by Leigh Allen
The Wizards face a dilemma.
Assuming that teams pick up no-brainer team-options like Kawhi Leonard or Chandler Parsons, the 2014 free agency class looks grim for teams with a massive amount of cap-space. The Wizards are expected to have over $22 million of cap-space if the roster remains untouched during the season. While the class will be headlined with players like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony (who are expected to exercise their Early-Termination Options), the pool drops off considerably after the top tier of free agents.
This season, the majority of Wiz fans are looking forward to a .500 record and getting a taste of the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Conversely, some fans have them landing the 6th seed (myself prior to the Okafor and Porter injuries) and there are always the pessimistic fans preparing for the worst. With the season beginning in just under a week, I'm relatively confident the Wizards can eek out the 7th seed provided on three factors - Bradley Beal makes the transition from average shooting guard to all-star consideration shooting guard (plausible from his preseason play - 7 GP, 30.1 MIN, 51.9 FG%, 47.2 3P%, 20.7 PTS), John Wall continues to play like he did post all-star break (20.7 PTS, 7.8 AST, 44.7FG% - again... not out of the realm of possibility) and Emeka Okafor comes back by the end of December (BIG IF...).
After the Otto Porter Summer League Experience, I wrote an article basically outlining that I have no expectations other than for him to be a capable contributor until his third year where he could make the transition into a regular and dependable contributor. I'm relatively confident that Martell Webster/Trevor Ariza can fill this void sharing minutes and producing a similar output to last year. When sifting through the available small forwards for the Wizards (not named LeBron or Melo), only Danny Granger and Luol Deng stood out. It would be both damning and embarrassing if the Wizards paid either of these players near eight-figure salaries per year after drafting Porter so high and signing Webster to a four-year, $22 million contract this off-season.
In terms of their trade assets, the Wizards are virtually where they were at the conclusion of the 2011-12 season (minus the cultural problems) when they had a firm grasp on Rashard Lewis' $24 million expiring contract. To the chagrin of many Wizards fans, they decided to trade for veterans Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza - good cultured locker room veterans both coming off injury-plagued seasons. Although they catapulted the Wizards up the defensive ranks, they were untradeable last year. This season however, their expiring contracts are valued for teams looking to clear cap space. The Wizards will have two choices - allow Okafor and Ariza to play out their final season of their contract and let them assess their options, or trade them to a team looking for a 'salary-dump' to take on a player with multiple years remaining on their contract. With so many potential free agents signing extensions, I believe the Wizards must make a trade this season in order to progress rather than overpaying an average player to come to town.
Both Zach Lowe and Bill Simmons of Grantland have forecasted on numerous occasions that if things go sour for the Wizards, they will immediately panic-trade. While I share some of their predictions (John Wall snagging an all-star spot, Bradley Beal making the 'leap' and doubting the Otto Porter pick), as long as either Nene or Okafor are active, the Wizards should be able to compensate. If both are out for any period of time resulting in losing streaks, then the Wizards won't be shy to pull the trigger on a trade for a valid replacement. Simmons has been fairly broad with whom they should trade for, lumping the Wizards in with around a third of the league that could target Danny Granger or Rudy Gay. Lowe, however, went as far to say in his most recent column on Grantland that "Washington will trade for a big man in the next month — if Emeka Okafor's prognosis is bad." Unfortunately, he didn't drop any notable players but transitioned into discussing the prospect of Denver trading Kenneth Faried. While I'd be thrilled to have Faried on the Wizards (perfect forward to play with Wall), the Wizards don't have enough assets unless Denver realizes they're more a lottery team than a playoff team and decide to take on expiring contracts. Denver would be looking more for high draft picks or players with potential who haven't been given the opportunity yet (for example, Jeff Green or Thaddeus Young before this year).
As the role of the center diminishes in today's NBA, the vast majority of players who play either power forward or center can switch between positions - they just have to be able to complement each other well to be effective (high/low, inside/out). Perfect example being Roy Hibbert and David West while worst case scenario being that of the Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol experiment. Piggybacking off Lowe's comments, here as some potential bigs the Wizards could target via trade.
Omer Asik - Ever since the acquisition of Dwight Howard, Asik has been pleading for a trade with the Rockets. The Rockets however, have yet to grant the Turk his wish. Asik's contract is heavily back-loaded with his final year yielding nearly $15 million - a massive expiring trade chip. It wouldn't be surprising at all if Houston holds onto Asik this season and then shops him around to potential buyers for another young asset to add with Harden, Howard and Parsons.
Zach Randolph - As Randolph continues on his steady decline, the Grizzlies will give Ed Davis his fair share of opportunities this season to assess whether he is their long-term option at power forward. Randolph has a $16.5 million player option next season which he will most certainly pick up where ever he may be playing.
Greg Monroe - It's unusual that out of all these players receiving extensions recently, Monroe has a the best resume to be deserving of a maximum extension. Detroit may be thinking long-term who knows that in a couple of years, they'll have to pay Andre Drummond the maximum as well. By spending a decent amount on Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings, this could leave Monroe as the odd man out. If the Pistons have come to terms with the notion of not signing Monroe to a near-maximum contract, then it would be wise to trade him during the season to yield an asset or two. The Wizards would most likely need help from a rebuilding team with young assets in a three-team trade to make this happen.
Anderson Varejao - Has a team-option of $9.8 million that won't be picked up because the Cavs will be clearing cap-space in the hope of luring LeBron back to Cleveland. Varejao has shown that, when healthy, he's a walking double-double. Though it would be a cute Brazilian tandem with Nene, imagine the health risks with those two... so that's a no.
Marcin Gortat - There is a 100% chance Gortat will be traded this season - he's in the final year of his contract and will not resign with the Suns who are in a total rebuild. His contract could yield an asset or two from a playoff team looking to add a solid contributor. Think of the J.J. Reddick trade resulting in the Magic nabbing Tobias Harris. Gortat will face exactly the same situation and like Reddick, will have all the power at his Polish fingertips. If he doesn't like the team he's dealt to, Gortat can sign with another team in free agency. With the track record of 'putting-a-playoff-team-over-the-top' trades struggling in recent history, I'd strongly advise against this for the Wizards.
Kevin Love - It's been well documented that Love's four-year, $62 million contract extension has an opt-out clause after the third year. If Minnesota endures another season of misery, then expect the Timberwolves to shop around Love who will be more than happy to opt out of his contract in 2015 and join a contender through free agency.
LaMarcus Aldridge/Al Horford - Both Aldridge and Horford are facing similar situations - mediocre teams who potentially can go either way. They can strive for their ceiling resulting in a 5th or 6th seed in their respective conferences, or blow it up and decide to rebuild around young assets. As shown through Kirk Goldsberry's innovative shot chart below, Horford is an underrated NBA scorer. Advanced metric geeks love his elite inside scoring ability. He has an automatic baseline shot in his arsenal and has the rare ability of scoring both inside and out - making him more flexible in front court tandems. If either one of these teams decide to rebuild, expect heavy trade speculation surrounding their talented big.
David Lee - By adding Andre Iguodala this off-season, the Warriors have created a self-inflicted logjam at the wing position. Andrew Bogut is already in talks for a contract extension (urgh) after his playoff-swinging performance against Denver last season and Harrison Barnes has shown that he is better suited as a small-ball power forward. If Bogut breaks down during the back-end of the season or playoff stretch (likely) and the Warriors want to grant Harrison Barnes more minutes, then they might give the Wizards a call inquiring on Okafor - provided he's back healthy and averaging a double-double. Although he is talented offensively and an elite rebounder, David Lee struggles mightily on defense (shown below in Goldsberry's opponent's field goal percentage comparison). With three years and over $44 million remaining on his deal, Lee's salary would limit any potential future smaller moves and may cause cap problems when it's Bradley Beal's turn for a huge pay-day.
Chris Bosh - Bosh's name will inevitably get tossed around in rumors like it does most years when Miami is on the brink of failure. If LeBron does indeed opt-out next season then Bosh may want to abandon ship as well. Goldsberry's shot chart below identifies Bosh's elite ability to knock down the mid-range jump shot from both sides of the floor. He is also extending his range to the three-point line and would be John Wall's ultimate 'stretch-four'. Bosh endures unwarranted criticism from the public playing the third banana alongside James and Wade but if he is available in free agency, the Wizards should consider throwing as much money as they could at him as he would thrive playing with Wall's ability to penetrate & kick and Beal's shooting prowess.
No-one can predict trades or who will become a prized asset. Who would've known that Tobias Harris would become the biggest steal of last season or that even after making the worst 'get-us-over-the-top' trade, the Bucks would still have Larry Sanders, John Henson and the Greek kid, who is my age, as coveted young assets. So who knows? The makeup and direction of an NBA franchise can be changed in the matter of one transaction. Let's hope Ernie changes his wicked ways.
Episode 2 of the WizardsXtra NBA 2K14 season simulation pushes the Wizards near 50 wins. Martell in the starting line-up proves to have its offensive benefits.