An Unnecessary, But Good, Trade

Unexpected. Odd. Great. Perplexing. Aggravating.

All of these are understandable adjectives to describe the trade the Wizards made on Wednesday afternoon, when they sent Rashard Lewis and the 46th pick in next week’s draft  to New Orleans for Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza. We’ve known for months that Ernie Grunfeld was dangling Rashard Lewis and Andray Blatche on the trade market just hoping that some stupid fish would take the bait. Yesterday a fish did bite, but they weren’t stupid.

The New Orleans Hornets are in the midst of a major organizational overhaul. Tom Benson has taken over ownership and they own the first overall pick in next week’s draft. They know they aren’t going to be contending next year or the year after that — it’s about the future and about cap space. By trading away Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza, the Hornets are off the hook for the roughly 42 million dollars combined that those two are owed over the next two years. And instead they’ll just give Rashard Lewis his buyout check of 13.7 million dollars. With all that cap space they’re now in a position to add an expensive free agent in the summer of 2013 and they’ll be able to match any offer sheet Eric Gordon signs next month. Makes sense for them, right? Absolutely.

But it also makes sense for the Wizards.

As I wrote in the title, this trade was unnecessary. The Wizards didn’t have to trade Lewis and take on more salary. From a financial standpoint, it made a lot more sense to just give Rashard Lewis his buyout check and move on with more cap space. After all, the Wizards are rebuilding, right?

Well they were.

John Wall is entering his third season; Kevin Seraphin has developed a polished post game; Trevor Booker has proven himself valuable; Jan Vesely has shown flashes. Make no mistake about it. . . The Wizards are still a young team. But the time is now. Ernie Grunfeld and Randy Wittman are working on two-year contracts, and John Wall has two years remaining on his contract as well. In fact, the only Wizards employees with contracts running beyond the next two seasons are Nene and Andray Blatche. By trading for Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza, the Wizards are almost guaranteed playoff contention at the very least, if not a low playoff seed next spring.

I don’t know how I feel about moving up the time frame of the rebuilding effort to match Ernie Grunfeld’s clock. That’s the part I don’t like.

But this trade also fills needs. Emeka Okafor is a double-digit rebounder and Trevor Ariza can defend on the perimeter and run on the break with John Wall. The biggest glaring need remaining is shooting. Enter Bradley Beal. Next Thursday, the Wizards will select third in the draft and Bradley Beal is almost assured to be the pick if he’s available.

This trade fills needs, adds veterans, and brings relevance back to the Wizards. But what about all the money the Wizards took on in trading for Okafor and Ariza? By trading for Nene at the trade deadline and taking on Okafor and Ariza’s contract, the Wizards are now relegated to the bench this summer and next on the free agency market. They just don’t have the cap room to sign anyone of significance. But I don’t care.

In essence, Ernie Grunfeld and Ted Leonsis signed Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza to two-year contracts as free agents. It’s a lot of money — 27 million for Okafor and 15 million for Ariza — but if they flop, so what? It’s only for two seasons. However, I don’t expect either player to flop with the Wizards. I expect them both to be the quality role players they’ve been during their respective careers. And let’s be honest, what free agent worthy of a big contract was going to sign with the Washington Wizards?

The Wizards will get two good years out of both players and they’ll actually win some games. Then when their contracts expire in the summer of 2014, John Wall’s potential contract extension will begin to kick in — and this trade helps ensure that Wall will sign an extension with the Wizards.

It works out beautifully.

The concerns about the Wizards being stuck in “NBA purgatory” are all over the place right now, but after what Wizards fans have endured the last four seasons, is a 40-win season and first round playoff exit the worst thing in the world?

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