In our preview of the Washington Wizards’ upcoming 2013-14 turn, we chided Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld for creating a salary structure so out of whack that he was unable to even spend a veteran’s minimum salary on a backup center to replace the injured Emeka Okafor. Just adding a $1.4 million salary slot would put the Wizards over the luxury tax, and you don’t want to pay the luxury tax for a team you hope can at least approach a .500 record in a season.
Well, in one fell swoop, Grunfeld has not only replaced Okafor with a better and younger center that will be able to show up healthy on opening night, he’s chopped a couple hundred thousand bucks in salary off of his books. Bust out the champagne, right?
Eh, just not yet. A lot has to go right for Grunfeld and the Wizards, first.
The Wizards sent Okafor to the Phoenix Suns on Friday evening for offensive-minded pick and dive king Marcin Gortat, while taking back former Suns lottery pick Kendall Marshall, former Lakers champion Shannon Brown, and Malcolm Lee along the way. Because the Wizards are full of guaranteed contracts, Marshall, Brown and Lee will all be waived immediately per NBA rules.
The problem here is that the Wizards also gave up a 2014 draft pick to Phoenix, protected through the top 12 selections. It’s the absolute “last chance” move for Grunfeld, whose contract expires at the end of the season, as he attempts to cobble together a Wizards team that could make the postseason for the first time since 2007-08.
Now, this isn’t a complete bust of a trade for Washington. For once.
Because the rebuilding Suns are doing Washington such a favor, one would think that new Suns GM Ryan McDonough could force the Wizards to lighten up the lottery restrictions on the pick his team will receive. Perhaps to a top-ten level, even, in case the injury or “we’re still the Wizards”-bug hits Washington this year. We pegged the Wizards to win just 33 games this season, but that number could shoot up a bit with Gortat (as adept as they come at screening and finishing, someone that will work well with point guard John Wall) in the middle. Just in case the Wizards falter, though, don’t you want to open up the potential range a little bit?
(The further protections on the Wizards pick? Top ten protected from 2015-19, no protection after that.)
One supposes not. McDonough likely targeted a low-level lottery selection for Gortat (in his prime, of no use to the rebuilding Suns, a free agent in 2014) all along, and he jumped at the chance to grab one. It’s hard to argue with that, especially with the Suns likely to have four first round picks in next June’s loaded NBA draft – their own, Washington’s, Minnesota’s, and Indiana’s.
For Washington, it’s the ultimate “win, now” move. This team badly needs to make the playoffs in order to justify this payroll and the potential loss of their top pick in 2014. Still, the move does leave a little room to breathe on the other side of things.
The Wizards will likely decline the 2014-15 team option on Grunfeld’s former lottery pick Jan Vesely sometime in the next few days. If the team also declines to pick up the qualifying offers (or outright sign) Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker, the team could have quite a bit of cap space to work with in the summer even if it re-signs Gortat to something approaching an eight-figure yearly deal. Gortat will be 30 by then and coming off a year that saw him make over $7.7 million, but he’s a center than can walk and chew gum at the same time, and he’ll have suitors.
Whether Grunfeld will be around to see any of this is left to be, um, seen. He’s spent quite a bit of money in his up and down Wizards career, and it’s questionable that he’ll be management’s top choice to lead the team as John Wall enters his first year of a maximum deal. We’d question that choice, at least.
The Suns, meanwhile, have Okafor’s massive expiring contract (and his potential to help a team in dire need of a bully at center for the postseason) to play with in a trade, along with all those picks. This is how you rebuild.
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