Were the Wizards Wrong to Trade Gortat?

Washington Wizards Marcin Gortat and Los Angeles DeAndre Jordan (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Washington Wizards Marcin Gortat and Los Angeles DeAndre Jordan (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images) /

With all the turnover and tumult within the Washington Wizards organization since the beginning of the offseason, players from last year’s roster already seem out of sight and out of mind.

Perhaps the most notable transaction came when the Washington Wizards finally parted ways with longtime starting center Marcin Gortat in a trade to the Los Angeles Clippers for Austin Rivers.

But Gortat now finds himself as a starter on what could be the Western Conference’s best team, depending on the night. Meanwhile, the Wizards have been on the outside looking in on the playoff picture since the season started with an inconsistent crop of big men and Rivers coming off of the bench. It raises the questions whether the Wizards should have ever moved on from the Polish Hammer.

In fairness, and in many ways, it felt like it was time for the Wizards to shake things up. The starting lineup  of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris, and Gortat had seemingly hit its ceiling after a few seasons together and mixed success.

It didn’t help that Gortat and Wall seemed to be at odds personally, even though their on-court chemistry appeared largely in tact with their pick-and-rolls. Gortat had emerged as the most likely to be moved and the most expendable, and the team ultimately pulled the trigger in the offseason.

Gortat may have left a lot to be desired as a starting center, but his absence has highlighted how weak of a position that is for the team. Dwight Howard was supposed to fill that spot and bring some athleticism, but his butt… I mean, gluteal injury… had other plans. That couldn’t necessarily have been predicted, but an injury to Howard left the team extremely thin at the 5.

Youngster Thomas Bryant has performed admirably in spots, but is still raw. His advanced metrics mirror Gortat’s, but can only stay on the floor for about half the time. Don’t get me started on Ian Mahinmi and Jason Smith. When all is said and done, when combining the per-game production of Bryant, Mahinmi, and Smith from this season, those three just barely surpass Gortat’s from last season.

Gortat’s durability was also perennially underappreciated by Wizards fans. In his five seasons with the team, he played in 82 games three times, and 81 and 75 in the others. To put it in perspective, both Howard and Mahinmi have each missed more games already this season than Gortat missed in his entire DC career.

But his absence doesn’t all happen in a vacuum: The Wizards did get Rivers back, who presumably would fill the void of a playmaker and ball handler. After all, let’s not forget that Ty Lawson, straight off the plane from China, played meaningful playoffs minutes for the Wizards. (Neither the Wizards not Shandong Golden Stars brought Lawson back this season).

Unfortunately, Rivers has been disappointing thus far. Among Wizards players who have played in at least 15 games this season, his overall field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage are the worst on the team, as are his Offensive and Defensive Ratings per 100 possessions. His per-game numbers are fine enough, but advanced stats show there’s increasingly little reason to keep him above Tomas Satoransky on the depth chart, who was already on the team before the Gortat trade.

For a direct apples-to-apples comparison, Gortat also has Rivers beat. Gortat has better Offensive and Defensive Ratings, nearly doubles Rivers’s PER, and has a positive Box Score of 0.9 to River’s negative -4.4. Not to mention, in per-100 possessions and per-36 minutes statistics, Gortat averages just as many points and assists as Rivers, and nearly triples his rebounding numbers.

As far as their respective teams go, the Clippers are currently one game out of first place in the Western Conference with a 16-8 record. The Wizards are 11-14 and closer to last place in the Eastern Conference than first.

When both teams made the trade, they were undergoing sizable overhauls and looking to move players that had gotten a bit stale with the franchise. This was far from a blockbuster trade, and both players only had one year left on their contracts, so it was worth it for both team’s to see if they could make something work with new blood.

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Thus far, the results seem to show that the Clippers got the better end of this deal, which will happen as you can’t win them all. But perhaps the main takeaway for Wizards fans should be that they may have not appreciated what Gortat gave them for five solid seasons as a consistent and reliable presence at center.