NBA trade deadline: Wizards favor future over win-now with Daniel Gafford

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Chase Hughes
·4 min read
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Wizards favor future over win-now moves at trade deadline originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

General manager Tommy Sheppard and the Wizards are staying the course, just as they did last offseason, despite what appears to be some level of urgency to make the playoffs. 

On Thursday, they resisted making win-now moves ahead of the annual trade deadline, instead executing a trade that was more about the long-term. They traded two young players in Troy Brown Jr. and Moe Wagner who had fallen out of their rotation for two young players who had fallen out of the Bulls' rotation; Daniel Gafford and Chandler Hutchison. Gafford was the big piece, as he gives Washington a 22-year-old big man who can block shots and play above the rim.

Gafford could help some in the short-term by adding athleticism and rim protection to their frontcourt. But he's not the type of proven veteran that would signal a go-for-it mentality from Washington. What they did is they added a prospect with a high ceiling who could prove to be a diamond in the rough over time.

This sticks to the plan Sheppard and the Wizards have maintained going back to when he took over as GM in the summer of 2019. They have mostly made moves to add youth and upside to their roster while keeping financial flexibility and their draft picks, aside from the highly-protected first round selection they sent to Houston in the Russell Westbrook trade.

The reason why the Wizards keeping their long-term options open is interesting in part because they have Westbrook and Bradley Beal atop their payroll. Those two in the nucleus of a team suggests a goal of winning now, and so would the fact head coach Scott Brooks is in the final year of his contract. But the way they operated at the trade deadline makes it clear they do not want to sacrifice their future in any significant way.

Perhaps their urgency will increase in the offseason when the Wizards face a situation where Beal only has one year left on his contract that is not a player option. But for now, they are not showing any signs they feel pressure from that dynamic.

Gafford gives the Wizards something they haven't had in quite a while, which is a young big man with a high defensive ceiling. He's 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and a 36 1/2-inch vertical leap, according to 2019 NBA Combine measurements. And he's averaged 3.3 blocks per-36 minutes so far in his career. He is also tied for second in the NBA this season in box outs per-36 minutes (5.9).

Gafford will step right into the Wizards locker room as perhaps their most athletic player. He can run the floor and throw down lobs. His speed and bounce should give the Wizards a new element with Robin Lopez and Alex Len also at center.

As for Hutchison, it's unclear what to expect. He hasn't played in a game since Feb. 5 due to personal reasons. The last reports had him out indefinitely. He was a first round pick in 2018 but has barely played for the Bulls the last two seasons.

Gafford was the headliner in this deal and the Wizards now have him under team control for two more years after this one. He can grow alongside the team's other young players like recent first round picks Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija. 

Gafford could develop into a nice complement to Hachimura at the four. Hachimura is a talented player, but does not protect the rim and is a not a great rebounder. By filling in the gaps of Hachimura's game, Gafford can help the Wizards maximize his strengths.

The Wizards' long-term future looks a little brighter than it did, but Gafford is unlikely to move the needle in a major way as the team aims for a playoff push down the stretch of this season. They are 3 1/2 games back from the final spot in the play-in tournament. To get there, they will have to rely mostly on the players they already had.

Though the Wizards are looking up in the standings, they also currently have the fifth-worst record in the NBA. That would mean the fifth-best draft lottery odds if the standings hold. This trade may ultimately help them maintain their shot at a high draft pick in a class that has some potential stars at the top.

Perhaps that weighed heavily on the Wizards as they pondered moves ahead of the deadline. This season has not gone according to plan and apparently that did not sway them into doing something drastic to correct course.