The other most-overlooked ramification of this deal is the opportunity cost. Some might read my rant about how much this costs the Wizards and wonder why I care. After all, it isn’t my money. Those who are discerning might already know that the answer to that question is because of salary cap space that this deal punts away. An argument that I have heard from such discerning ones is that cap space is overrated, and that you have to convince a player to actually take that cap space for it to be of any value. That logic ignores the notion of opportunity cost, which plays a crucial part in ensuring that scarce resources are used efficiently. Cap space is a scarce resource; it must be used efficiently. Two years of near-superstar money for solid-starter production, with no upside and little chance of having anything to show for it after those two years is not an efficient use of this scarce resource. Without the anticipated cap room from cutting Lewis paired with using the Amnesty on Blatche, the Wizards will have little room to be players in amnesty auction bids – a potentially low-cost way to swipe up an another team’s unwanted veteran, like the Los Angeles Clippers did with Chauncey Billups a year ago.
Washington will also unlikely be able to participate in any trades where they use their cap-space to facilitate a deal between two other teams, taking on an unwanted/excess contract for the price of a draft pick, asset in the form of a young player, or some other future consideration. An example of this would be the trade that the Wizards themselves facilitated between the Mavericks and the Knicks that brought Rony Turiaf to Washington a year ago, and netted them two future second-round picks, one each from Dallas and New York, for their troubles (one of which became the 46th pick in this draft, which they just gifted to New Orleans in this heist I have been rambling about).
Yes, cap space is a scarce resource that can allow a team that is considered a “have-not” in terms of talent or stars to be a “have” with regard to opportunistic asset-sniping/facilitation at the expense of teams who are trying to trim fat. These types of moves are the type of moves that smart, savvy teams make when they have managed their cap well, and are gathering and developing assets while following a slow and steady building process. By tying up their cap space in these two overpaid (according to market value), limited players, the Wizards have “hamstrung” themselves, in that they have severely limited their flexibility going forward.
Second-round picks may not sound like much to you until you consider that the team (Cleveland) just one spot below the Wizards in tomorrow’s draft may use just such an extra pick (in conjunction with their own first-rounder) to move ahead of Washington to select the very player who fills the one need left gaping even after this veteran splurge, the one player they are rumored to covet: Florida’s sweet-shooting two-guard, Bradley Beal. Of course, this eventuality is only made more possible by the timing of the Lewis-Okafor/Ariza deal, essentially tipping the Wizards’ hand a full week before the draft.
The logic that Okafor and Ariza themselves are short-term free-agent acquisitions doesn’t make this look better either, unless you think they could get what they are owed on their current deals in an open market. Given the fact that their previous team considered them their two-worst contracts, or the unanimous consensus that both players will certainly exercise player options they hold for the final year of their deals (2013/14), it is clear that their value is disparate with their salaries. To put it simply: they are overpaid, and therefore an inefficient use of a limited resource. We will live another day to discuss the playoff chances of this team and any impact they have on the team’s culture or development of their young core of Wall/Vesely/3rd pick. Some of my other colleagues here on Wiz of Awes have sounded off in favor of the deal, and I don’t disagree with some of the basketball logic provide. But there can be no debate that this trade was just awful from a competitive negotiating/opportunity cost/financial standpoint, and mediocre at best from a basketball standpoint. If it does produce less than desirable results, then we will be forced to do this dance all over again in a year or two. And so it is that this results-oriented transaction has proved to be a microcosm of Grunfeld’s tenure.