Again, it does not matter that Grunfeld may have secretly valued Okafor and Ariza all along, just as it did not matter that Kramer would have loved to have free coffee. In competitive negotiating, the aim is to squeeze the most assets from your opponent that you can. You deal from a position of strength. You claim value in your assets, front any leverage you have, and when you have none, you create leverage through diversion, distraction, intimidation, creation of straw man, turn-about or even bluffing. This stuff is competitive negotiating 101.
I have seen arguments that rationalize the trade by focusing on the difference in the salary the Wizards were going to have to pay Lewis anyway – a player whom they clearly consider finished – and the salary they will now pay to employ Okafor and Ariza – a much more palatable difference of ~ $14 million in 2012/13 (more on 2013/14 in a minute) – actual basketball players. This logic is the logic of a negotiator operating from a position of weakness, rather than one of strength and leverage. Again, it does not matter what the Wizards plans were for Lewis, or how they valued Okafor and Ariza. If New Orleans was unwilling to give up the the 10th pick, Washington should have asserted that they were prepared to walk away, merely to take their asset and shopping for a draft pick with another team looking for cap relief; or even that they intended to search for veterans elsewhere, ones that were not so overpaid, if New Orleans tried to sell them on the value of their two unwanted players.
The fact that Washington not only failed to get a sweetener for taking back contracts that New Orleans wanted to get rid of anyway, but that they also threw in a pick of their own on top of that makes this the worst-negotiated trade of the Grunfeld era (at least in the deal where he dealt the 5th pick to Minnesota to bring in Randy Foye and Mike Miller to bring a 19-win team to the brink of contention he cleared more than $13 million in dead-weight salary that oiled the skids for the current rebuilding project). Anyone who says otherwise is focusing too much on the net haul of the trade – or the result – and not enough on the way it was negotiated – the process.
All of this is on top of the fact that the result is far from ideal on the court. I won’t spend too much time expounding on the results because this is the stuff that has been covered, but for posterity, Okafor now becomes the Wizards’ highest paid player – something that owner Ted Leonsis’ 10 point plan says is a no-no (see #8) – a hard-working-but-offensively-limited player who has no upside, who is at least an open question as far as compatibility with their best returning and now second-highest paid player, Nene, and a player who does not address the team’s biggest weakness from a year ago: shooting. Ditto for Ariza who is not only a poor shooter, but one who exacerbates this weakness by seeking out and taking difficult, low-efficiency shots. Yes, they will help the defense – and make no mistake, they are both good, intelligent defenders – but $43 million over two years for two players with no upside who are largely inept offensively, and are not part of the core is quite a price to pay to mitigate an upgrade on one end of the court by clogging up the other end with more non-shooters; an upgrade which is far from guaranteed to amount to success in the form of a playoff spot. Oh, and to throw in a draft pick for, as well.