The New Orleans Hornets, with a much-debated-about top overall pick set to take to the team in the coming week and free-agent vets like Eric Gordon and Chris Kaman rumored to be headed elsewhere as soon as NBA-feasible, are apparently dead set on starting this whole damn thing over.
The Washington Wizards? As has been the case for, oh, our entire lifetime? They're putting together a curious move that seems to combine hefty salary with mismatched vets that might not suit the team's young and emerging core. Yet another deal with enough upside and NBA-orthodoxy to allow us to argue away its better points, while still leaving us dubious because it's the bloody Washington Wizards.
[Marc J. Spears: LeBron James feeling comfortable on the cusp of a title]
What's the deal? As first reported by Draft Express' Jonathan Givony, the Wizards will send Rashard Lewis to the Hornets along with the 46th pick in next week's draft for sturdy center Emeka Okafor and shot-happy defender Trevor Ariza. And if this deal, the first NBA transaction since last March's trade deadline, seems weird on paper — it gets a whole lot weirder on NBA-supplied parchment. Because the amnesty provisions and salary machinations behind this sort of swap turn things into a complicated yet intriguing mess that only the NBA could provide.
The NBA's amnesty provision was developed last fall. As a major part of the league's new collective bargaining agreement with its players, the NBA allowed teams that had signed players to contracts prior to the new CBA to cut those players from their squad and salary cap ledger while still having to pay the players the full amount of their contract. The provision can only be used once per team, but it lasts as long as 2014, while teams figure out just what they're doing with either that bloated one-time All-Star on the end of their bench, or the smaller-salaried add on whose contract is either the difference between a luxury tax penalty or a chance at signing yet another free agent.
Rashard Lewis, who was signed to a six-year, $112 million contract in 2007 by since-deposed Orlando Magic GM Otis Smith, would seem to be one of the better fits for the amnesty provision. And yet, because the final year of his deal (since dealt to the Washington Wizards and, apparently, the New Orleans Hornets) is only guaranteed for $13.7 million out of a potential $22 million, the Wizards passed on dumping Rashard last winter in their first chance to use the provision, and the Hornets will be forced to do the same this summer.
Because, make no mistake, this deal is all about the salary dump for New Orleans. Starting over at absolute scratch, with even the currently tangible (because the team has yet to use the 10th overall pick acquired in the deal) assets from last December's Chris Paul deal potentially moving on to other teams. On top of that — New Orleans just dealt for Rashard Lewis, post the new CBA. So they can't amnesty him, as Washington could. If the team wants to get really wild with it, they could even use that provision on Jarrett Jack and just about entirely clearing the books; completely making this team everyone's trading partner this summer as it works with endless amounts of cap space.
Rashard Lewis may have played his last NBA game (Getty Images)As it stands, though, presuming the expected release of Lewis under his contract's unguaranteed terms? The team clears about $10 million in both payroll and salary cap space for next year. Significant for a team that, respectively, struggles at the gate in a small market and is looking to rebuild with flexibility at its core.
Washington? It can't dump Okafor and Ariza — two prime candidates for the amnesty provision — following the trade. Which means that this club is shooting for both 45 wins in the Eastern conference and a massive (over?) reaction to the knucklehead era that defined its 2008 to 2012 run.
That run, with types like Gilbert Arenas, Javaris Crittenton, Nick Young, JaVale McGee, and the still Wizardly employed Andray Blatche produced some of the worst basketball we've seen in our lifetime. Terrible play is common amongst a third of the NBA's 30 teams, but this stuff was downright brainless. And, starting with last March's trade deadline, the Wizards set to end it by dumping McGee (who still could turn things around) on Denver and Young in the Los Angeles Clippers, acquiring in-prime and heavily compensated veteran center Nene in the process.
Nene was thought to be an impermanent fix, an asset to move along eventually as the team worked around a young core featuring point guard John Wall, 2011 lottery pick Jan Vesely, and whomever the club selects with the third pick in this year's draft. By acquiring the unmovable Okafor and Ariza, though, the team is committing to a defense-heavy (and, frankly, offensively-awful) squad full of Good Dudes With Big Hearts That Can't Shoot.
Who, by the way, will be around for a spell. Both Okafor and Ariza have options for 2013-14, making about $22 million combined on deals they're absolutely certain to pick up. Okafor will be the team's ostensible center, with Nene's quick feet moving around at big forward, in a pairing that should be envied even if it is able to be taken advantage of by opponents. Ariza will shut you down defensively, but he'll also shoot you out of things. None of this appears to matter to Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld, who in the wake of seemingly committing to a rebuilding process by re-hiring placeholder coach Randy Wittman, is moving all in for an attempt at a .500 record and not losing his start point guard to the dregs of endless losses and low expectations.
As with all Wizard moves, we get it to a point. But as with all Wizards moves, this is a lot of money spent on players far older than the Wall-Vesley-third pick triptych. And even when the team uses that amnesty provision on Andray Blatche, the team will only be a few million under the salary cap. Sure, we knew that 2015 (and not 2012) would be "the thing" for Washington as it slowly worked around its past mistakes. We just didn't think they'd fill the roster with highly paid vets while it waited that growth out. And we sort of hoped Grunfeld could have done better than taking on more salary for so-so players in exchange for Lewis' partially guaranteed deal.
Intriguing, as always. And, despite the big contracts involved, not a terrible risk for either side.
And a clear reflection of what either team is after, as both teams attempt to work back toward relevance. We get it, guys. We get it.
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