January 11, 2010
We're a little more than a month to go before this season's trade deadline, and if the rumors are to be believed, the Washington Wizards might not be what the kids call "a major player" in the swirling back and forth. According to some outlets, Wiz GM Ernie Grunfeld just might be willing to sit the season out, holding onto Antawn Jamison(notes) and Caron Butler(notes), especially if all he gets in return are giant expiring contracts.
And all those expiring contracts do is clear your roster full of high-priced clutter and make it easier for your team to start over with younger talent. Stupid expiring contracts.
Now, I completely and utterly believe that this is the line that Grunfeld is tossing out. Both as a negotiating ploy (do all you can to get a young, eh, "stud" like J.J. Hickson(notes) Big Ern!), and as a stubborn "I-thought-our-team-was-fine-to-begin-with" kickout.
But Ernie, goodness gracious sakes alive, you've just been handed a golden parachute that just doesn't exist in this league. Pull the freakin' cord, mate.
You've got a shooting guard who is barely functional on an above-average level (once you factor in what might be the league's worst perimeter defense) whose contract is trying to be dissolved for you by three different branches of law enforcement. LeBron James(notes) is just about writing "Stretch 4" on his shoes every night as he walks out to work another 1-on-5 set, and it's fair to say that just about every team in this league will disregard Caron Butler's 2009-10 season thus far if they could get him for expiring deals.
Honestly, if Arenas' deal goes kaput (and there's plenty of time for that to happen between now and the summer), and you can dump Jamison and Butler for salary relief alone, you're looking at around $68 million in total expiring contracts coming off your books this summer. Not only does this make you a major trade player for the coming month (with guys like Mike Miller(notes), Brendan Haywood(notes), Fabricio Oberto(notes) and Mike James(notes) also seeing their contracts run out), but it also completely annihilates your books next summer.
In a good way.
Ernie, I wouldn't even want some of these semi-prospects in return if offered. Why would you want Hickson (jokes aside, a fine player), if it means a few more million in flexibility? Why would you want some really good team's really poor first-round draft pick clogging up your coffers with a guaranteed salary for the next few years?
Oh, yeah. I forgot. It's because you're a general manager. You are, by nature, sickeningly optimistic, thinking you can turn each No. 27 pick or backup into something special. And, because this is your team that you put together by working your tail off, you have a special connection to the personnel and promise of a roster that some punk behind a laptop couldn't possibly understand.
I understand that, but you have to move forward here.
Grunfeld can tell any source-quoting scribe who will listen that he's going to want more than just expirings for Jamison and Butler, but he's going to have to face the immediacy of his situation.
He's going to have to understand that, despite all that cash and all his effort, directly or indirectly he's given Washington fans a pretty crap product over the last two seasons just because nobody's been healthy and nothing's gone right. And his team has been awful this season, even with the "Big Three" mostly around. So why would he think Washington fans (what's left of them) would be waiting outside the castle with torches if he blew it up for the second half of the season? What would be different? Besides, of course, the warming promise of future flexibility and hope. And the heat from all those torches.
Starting to feel cold over the Arenas thing? A bit wary because you're essentially dumping him and his salary because of a series of stupid jokes gone wrong?
Well, get over that.
Gilbert Arenas(notes) will probably be suspended for the rest of the season, mainly because the NBA has now put the figurative ball in the investigator's court, and with the way these courts move, things aren't going to be hashed out until well after Washington's season ends. Once the summer hits and the gavel comes down, then, yes, you can try to lose the next four years and $80 million on his contract. You can avoid the right to pay this guy over $22 million in 2014.
Feel kind of over the top for some jokes gone wrong? You certainly should. Because it is over the top, if that was the reason you were dumping him.
Arenas isn't being potentially dumped for jokes gone wrong. He's being dumped for a career gone wrong. Because if this were LeBron James or Kobe Bryant(notes) or Dwyane Wade(notes) or Brandon Roy(notes) or any other player worth hanging onto at a fair price (no matter how high the price), the Wizards would be working their tails off to turn their guy into an innocent man.
He's not being dumped because of jokes gone wrong. He's being dumped because he's not that good anymore. He's a sometimes-potent shoot-first point guard who doesn't really play well in any system that would do anything beyond shore up his stats, and his defense might be the worst in the league. And after all these surgeries, he'll only get worse. That's why the Wizards want out from under his contract. It ain't about the finger guns.
And if Grunfeld doesn't take advantage of this ill will to start over, then he's lost a once-in-a-career opportunity. Something that even goes way beyond, "I've nearly found a way to get Michael Jordan and Chris Childs!" stage from his time with the Knicks, back in the summer of '96.
Remember, it's not just luring players to your cash via free agency. It's being able to trade for someone else's superstar for just a second-round pick and a trade exception. It's about freedom and flexibility and fireworks on the 4th and collector's plates with the President's face on them. It's about giving up on this whole post-Michael Jordan run. It was fun and it was goofy and it gave us Abraham Lincoln tattoos and phenomenal swag, but it just didn't work. For you guys and 25 other teams.
So find a way to get Zydrunas Ilgauskas(notes) for Jamison, and make his agent happy by sending Z back to the Cavs soon after. Dump Caron Butler for Travis Outlaw(notes), Patty Mills and Steve Blake(notes). Make Blake's agent happy by sending him back to Portland, which makes Nate McMillan and Brandon Roy happy, for whatever reason. And clean house. And start over.
And be thankful that you got to run a team the way most GMs dream of. To spend huge gobs of money, with an owner that was desperately in love with his players, and then get to start over with about $16 million in payroll (depending on whether you extend qualifying offers to Randy Foye(notes) or Dominic McGuire(notes)) in the biggest free-agent market of our time.
All it takes is you falling out of love. You're a robot, Big Ernie. You are Shiva, Destroyer of Worlds. Engage.