When rumors surfaced prior to the NBA Draft Lottery that the Washington Wizards were considering a trade that would send Trevor Ariza (and his expiring $7 million salary) along with our lottery selection (presumed to be 8th overall) to the Milwaukee Bucks for Ersan Ilyasova, I thought it would actually be a half-decent move and would fit a major need to bring in a power forward who could bring a defender more than 5 feet away from the basket. Besides, this draft was projected to be the worst in the last 10 years.
When the ping pong balls fell the way they did and the Wizards vaulted up to the #3 spot, the hypothetical trade slipped right out of my mind. We were fortunate to be getting a key player when not many were available. My preference was Otto Porter, a versatile small forward from Georgetown who could come into the league and be an impact two-way player, similar to Kahwi Leonard in San Antonio. I had already personalized a Wizards jersey with ‘PORTER’ on the back, just to see how it’d look in red, white, and blue threads. I created his likeness in NBA 2K13 to see how he’d fit next to John Wall and Bradley Beal. I even messaged him some links to apartments he should consider in the area (none of these things are true…I think. Besides, he doesn’t need my help – he’s lived here for two years! I will show him around if he asks though). Needless to say, I was on board and excited for the Otto Porter Era to start in the nation’s capital. What happens next in this presumably heart-warming tale is something you’d only hear from Washington’s professional basketball team.
Reports from the Racine Journal-Times cited discussions continuing to take place between Washington and Milwaukee to bring Ilyasova to DC, and this time (unfathomably I might add) the #3 pick was now the center piece of the deal. What??
Wait a second.
For the second time in four years, Washington moved up from their projected spot in the lottery and lucked into a potential franchise player in top-3 of a draft. Yet they continued discussions to trade for a player who just set his career high in points per game…with 13.2? I understand that is pretty rudimentary analysis, and we’ll dive into some more advanced statistics down below, but the fact remains that Ilyasova, albeit a nice player, was probably not going to be much more than a role player for a contending team. Seeing as the Wizards all of 29 games last season (two less than Miami did in their win streak), I’m not sure this roster qualifies as contending for anything other than ‘Which team has most players expected to provide depth who actually provide none’ race.
This is why the rest of the league laughs at Washington. John Wall makes a comment about how the team needs a pick-and-pop power forward and suddenly Ernie Grunfeld sprints as fast as he can to his computer to find out which player over 6’10” can shoot 3s. You know what John Wall also weighed in on last year? Bringing back Randy Wittman, and if we’re still debating whether that was a good move or not then I don’t know what to tell you. Grunfeld sits in the front office for a reason and Wall plays point guard for a reason (by the way, I’m still determining what the reason is for that first one). And if I need to add any fuel to the fire, we only have to trace back to 2009 to bring up memories of selling on a high draft pick for the sake of winning now. Randy Foye and Mike Miller both send their regards – they participated in this year’s playoffs; for teams not named the Wizards. Ricky Rubio says hey also.
Looking to Ilyasova, there’s no doubt he would add a dimension that this team is sorely in need of. He’s a good, yet streaky shooter who has knocked down 45% of his 3 pointers over the last two seasons. He only played 28 minutes a game last year but tallied 13 points and 7 rebounds, a PER of 18.3 and an impressive Offensive Rating of 114. He also carries a salary of a shade over $32 million for the next 4 years (which would soak up some of the 2014 cap space) and plays defense at a less than preferred level. Ilyasova only averaged a combined 1.4 blocks/steals last season and finished with a Defensive Rating of 104. He’s never been the type to dominate the glass either, and his light frame makes it difficult to guard certain big men around the league. He’s the type of player you would love to throw some money at in the offseason or trade expiring deals to obtain. He is not the type of player that you would give up the #3 pick in the draft for. At 25, Ilyasova is still relatively young and can be a productive piece in the NBA. Washington has a need for him but not at the price they are expected to pay. Consider, that the Wizards passed on James Harden (only one of the best 10 players in the league) so they could hold on to last year’s #3 pick. Not sure that point needs to be explained any further.
The issue in Washington has always been an organizational vision, or lack thereof. When Ted Leonsis bought the team, he vowed to stay the course and build through the draft, similar to the path lain out by his Washington Capitals. Of course, that didn’t stop Grunfeld from overturning the roster and acquiring high priced veterans to take the team to the next level (in case you’re still following, yes, this is still while the team was allegedly rebuilding).
Making a move like this would scream of the same confusion. The core is in place and another key piece can be added. The team as currently constructed is probably headed to next year’s playoffs. Ask yourself – is Ilyasova worth the price to move up one seed; Or can a talent like Porter or Anthony Bennett actually make this squad relevant again? These are the questions that face Wizards management.
The right move is to stay put. I won’t hold my breath though.