The Washington Wizards were on a mission to retain all of their key free agents this off-season, as well as patch up some of the glaring issues they had this past season.
After re-signing Marcin Gortat to a five-year deal, the Wizards were poised to get a deal done with Trevor Ariza, who had a career season in the nation’s capital, but were unwilling to overpay to keep him. Trevor Ariza ultimately agreed to a deal with his former team, the Houston Rockets, that will pay him roughly $8 million per season. Although Washington had reportedly offered Trevor Ariza a similar deal, he decided to go to Texas where there’s no state income tax.
However, despite losing Trevor Ariza, the Washington Wizards were savvy enough to work out a sign-and-trade which gave them more financial and roster flexibility. They completed a three team deal with the Rockets and New Orleans Pelicans in which they received an $8.5 million trade exception and Melvin Ely, who they later waived.
Washington used the majority of the $8.5 million trade exception to acquire Kris Humphries, who will play the role of their third big man, which is something they needed after Trevor Booker signed with the Utah Jazz. Oh, and the Wizards also managed to acquire future Hall-of-Famer Paul Pierce for the mid-level exception.
So with all that said, although the Wizards bounced back and did not panic when it looked like they’d lose a major contributor without getting anything in return, they will still have to find a way to fill a huge hole made by Trevor Ariza’s departure.
Trevor Ariza was the Washington Wizards’ best defensive player last season and arguably one of the most reliable players on that end of the floor in the entire league, and it’s no secret that much of their success is credited to their elite-level defense.
Randy Wittman’s team has played great defense ever since he took over for Flip Saunders in 2012, and with Trevor Ariza gone, he will no longer have that sense of security defensively, especially on the perimeter.
Now, I’m not saying that a team with John Wall, Bradley Beal, Nene and Marcin Gortat cannot continue to play top-10 defense, but they will no longer have a player that could defend the best player on the opposing team on a nightly basis.
Simply put, Trevor Ariza was the Washington Wizard’s defensive stopper. Remember when Trevor Ariza held the NBA’s second leading scorer, Carmelo Anthony, to just 10 points and 9 turnovers at Madison Square Garden last season? How about when Trevor Ariza held his own defensively against the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant? Well, they will no longer have that luxury.
Instead, the Washington Wizards are going to have to find a way to replace Trevor Ariza’s defense with a team effort.
As I previously stated, the Washington Wizards don’t have anybody on their current roster that earns a living strictly playing defense. Paul Pierce will give the Wizards more versatility offensively, as he’s capable of creating his own shot and will give Washington another scoring option in the clutch, but he’s never been an elite defensive player and at age 37 I don’t expect him to become one.
The Washington Wizards were the best defensive team in the NBA Playoffs last season in terms of defensive rating, but much of that could be credited to playing against two of the worst offensive teams–the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers. In order to continue playing elite-level defense, they’re going to have to play better team defense.
With Trevor Ariza gone and Martell Webster sidelined for at least 3-5 months, I expect Summer League MVP Glen Rice Jr. and former third overall pick Otto Porter to become a part of Washington’s rotation. Both Rice and Porter looked solid defensively, and although he’s not Ariza, I think Porter could certainly become a very good player on that end.
Much like Trevor Ariza, Otto Porter has shown the ability to get in passing lanes and crash the glass on offense, while Glen Rice Jr. will contribute more by defending ball handlers. Again, I don’t think either player will match Trevor Ariza’s defense, but they will help fill the void.
Washington’s interior defense has also improved with the addition of Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair. Gortat and Nene were both very good defensively this past season, as Gortat served more of a rim protector while Nene continued to defense pick-and-rolls and disrupt offense, but they did not get much help from their backups. Trevor Booker was competent, but certainly is not winning the Defensive Player of the Year Award anytime soon, while Al Harrington, Kevin Seraphin and Drew Gooden all struggle defensively.
While Blair and Humphries are not elite defensively by any means, they should be upgrades over Booker, Harrington and Seraphin.
I also believe that Washington’s improvement offensively will balance out the hit they will take defensively. The addition of Paul Pierce will give Wittman plenty of options offensively, while Humphries and Blair will give Washington more depth at both front court positions. A full season of Andre Miller (
Let’s not bring up Eric Maynor and how he completely demolished Washington’s second unit for much of last season) and a youth infusion with Rice and Porter should also give Washington’s bench a boost this upcoming season. Washington was a below average offensive team last season, ranking 17th in offensive rating, and I expect them to be much better on that end. Pierce will take some of the scoring pressure off Wall and Beal, while Blair and Humphries should also boost the Wizards’ rebounding totals, which is another aspect of the game Washington struggled with at times last season.
The Washington Wizards will not be able to replace Trevor Ariza’s defense with a single player, but I still believe they are capable of playing top-10 defense if Wall and Company improve next season. There are still some decent defensive wing players available in free agency, and the Wizards do have one roster spot open, but I would not expect them to make any more moves prior to the beginning of free agency.
The lack of an elite perimeter defender is a bit concerning, but the Washington Wizards have the talent to overcome the void left by Trevor Ariza. Their improvement offensively, additional depth and the growth of their back court could be enough to counteract some of the loss defensively.
How concerned are you about the lack of perimeter defense? Let me know in the comments section.