I hate to disappoint many of you, but I don't see the Wizards making any major changes to their roster this season. Other than potentially signing someone like Bonzi Wells for a one-year minimum contract, what you see is what you'll probably get for the duration of this season.
Considering their payroll structure, a major move this season doesn't make sense. Their projected 2009/10 payroll is likely going to place them above the luxury tax threshold even if they do nothing. They also don't really have any assets that are valuable this season. Unless you count Dominic McGuire and Dee Brown, the Wizards have no players whose contracts expire in the offseason. Additionally, with the possible exception of Andray Blatche, the Wizards don't really have any youngsters who have shown much, unless Nick Young's rookie season or Dominic McGuire's Summer League campaigns count.
Many see this as a bad thing, but not me. Truthfully, we're not close enough to be making that final move to put us over the top. We haven't laid much of a foundation, having won 45, 42, 41 and 43 games in the past four years. One could argue that necessitates making a big move, but as indicated above, we simply don't have the assets right now. Any move will likely involve a key member of our team, and that's not something we should be doing.
The picture changes, however, after the end of next season. Suddenly, we're armed with three players (Brendan Haywood, Antonio Daniels and Etan Thomas) who give us a combined 20 million dollars in expiring contracts. We're also likely armed with youngsters like Young, McGuire and maybe Pecherov, McGee and a potential 2009 first-rounder who have shown enough to be used as legitimate sweetners in a trade. Finally, if we stay healthy this year, we'll likely win more than 45 games and create a more solid foundation for which to take that next step.
That, combined with the allure of the 2010 free agent class, should allow us to make a trade for a strong player on a team looking to the future. It's very difficult to say exactly which players will fit the bill, but this post will try to target some guys who could provide us with missing ingredients (perimeter defense, rebounding, versatility, etc.) that can turn us into legitimate contenders.
The key, though, is to not trade any of our core guys. That's why the Lakers' trade for Pau Gasol was successful and the Mavericks' trade for Jason Kidd wasn't. By "core guys," I'm talking about players who are essential for their respective teams, not necessarily the best players on the club.
So who is part of the Wizards' core? Here's how I'd break it down.
- Gilbert Arenas: Pretty self-explanatory
- Caron Butler: Ditto.
- Antawn Jamison: It's mostly because of his contract. Still, every time Jamison gets hurt, this team suffers tremendously. I imagine he's going to start a slow decline next year, but even so, his value is extremely important both on and off the court.
- Brendan Haywood: This is a tough one for me. On the one hand, Haywood represents six million of the Wizards' 20-million dollars of expiring contracts in 2010, but on the other hand, Haywood's the only real center on the team and the only strong interior defender. He also doesn't really need to score a ton to be effective on the other end, so in this respect, he blends well with the Big 3. The only way I'd trade him is if a real superstar (e.g. Amare Stoudamire, Yao Ming, etc.) is out there. For these second-tier guys that will be discussed, it's not worth trading Haywood.
- Andray Blatche: I'm also going to put Blatche in this group because his contract is too small to account for his upside. He's not only our best prospect, but he's also locked up to a long-term deal for only three million dollars a season. Like Haywood, if a megastar was available, I'd consider trading Blatche, but for these second-tier guys, I'm hoping our other young guys are good enough to be sweetners.
Outside of those five guys, I'd trade anybody.
So who do I have in mind? Make the jump for some possibilities.
Joe Johnson, Atlanta Hawks (2009/10 salary: 14,976,754)
I talked a lot about Johnson in this comment, but I think he'd be an outstanding fit on the Wizards. Seeing as how Atlanta lost Josh Childress and is set to lose Josh Smith, Johnson, at 27, is likely not in their future plans, and he might not have been even if they continued to improve. He's definitely a shooting guard, but he has very solid point guard skills even though he's not a pure point. In Atlanta, Johnson's assist ratios were always very strong and his turnover percentage was pretty low. That would make him a perfect fit for the Princeton, who needs players who can create for themselves and others.
The issue with Johnson is that he's not particularly efficient offensively, but I think that's because he was forced to do too much in Atlanta. His usage rates were astronomically high in Atlanta, but pretty low in his last years in Phoenix. He posted his highest effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage in his final year with the Suns, when he wasn't a primary option. On the Wizards, with Arenas, Butler and Jamison already in the fold, Johnson won't have to do as much as he did in Atlanta. Johnson's also a pretty decent defender, so he might help there as well.
The issue is that Johnson is a free agent after the 2010 season, but Atlanta likely wouldn't retain him anyway. Still, this means that we need to offer Atlanta comparable money in expiring contracts, plus a sweetner that would allow them to get a little more than cap space for Johnson.
I'd offer Etan Thomas (7.3 million in 09/10), Antonio Daniels (6.6 million in 09/10) and Nick Young (1.7 million in 09/10) for Johnson. Atlanta gets nearly as much expiring money, plus a promising replacement in Young. The Wizards would be a little thin in the backcourt, so we might need to go over the tax to get a backup replacement for AD, but we were likely over the tax anyway. We'd start Arenas, Johnson, Butler, Jamison and Haywood, with Blatche, Songaila and DeShawn Stevenson as the key reserves. We still need another point guard and it'd be nice if McGuire took a step forward, but that's a dynamite eight-man rotation.
Emeka Okafor, Charlotte Bobcats (2009/10 salary: ~12 million)
Okafor probably isn't worth 12 million, but I think he could help for a pretty low price. At the very least, Okafor could be a third big, along with Haywood and Jamison going forward. He's an excellent rebounder and shot blocker, and on this team, I'm willing to excuse his offensive struggles. He could do the dirty work for about 30 minutes a night even if he is overpaid.
This might also move Jamison to the bench, where he can serve as a sixth man and still play starter's minutes. Okafor's a good enough defender to cut into Haywood's minutes, though I'd still try my best to get Haywood 30 minutes a game.
My proposed offer is Etan Thomas (7.3 million), Darius Songaila (4.5 million) and a 2010 protected first-rounder for Okafor. Charlotte saves money in both 2010 and 2011 while getting two frontcourt guys for the price of one. Okafor is better than Thomas and Songaila, but Charlotte's pretty thin up front even with Okafor. We get a guy who can immediately become our best rebounder and shot-blocker and could allow Jamison to rest more, all while holding on to AD's expiring contract, which would allow us to pay Haywood.
My biggest worry is the long-term commitment we're making to a marginal player. Okafor isn't worth 12 million for one year, much less six. He would be brought in to play a specific role when someone cheaper would do.
Speaking of Charlotte, Jason Richardson could be another option. He makes less money than Johnson, albeit for one more year. I don't know how he'd fit with us, but that's another possibility.
Richard Hamilton (2009/10 salary: 11,625,000, but with an ETO) or Tayshaun Prince (2009/10 salary: 10,324,380)
Detroit is definitely a team we should target. Their core could very well be broken up soon, because their progress has stalled. All of their best players are second-tier guys that we would have a chance at securing. Rasheed Wallace would be the perfect fit, but he's a free agent after next season and is getting up there in years.
My two best bets are Hamilton or Prince. Hamilton would be very ironic, but I see him possibly helping. He's more of a set-play type of guy, but he moves so well without the ball that he could definitely boost the offense. He's not known as a great defender, but he's shown that he can play excellent defense. Prince plays Butler's position, but he's versatile enough to allow Butler to shift to shooting guard and he's an outstanding defender.
How would we get either?
One offer could be Etan Thomas (7.3 million), DeShawn Stevenson (3.9 million), JaVale McGee (1.5 million) and a 2010 protected first-rounder for Hamilton (11.6 million) and Arron Afflalo (1.1 million). Detroit gets a stopgap replacement for Hamilton and still saves a decent amount of money while getting a big man prospect and another draft pick.
I like this one better, though. Etan Thomas, DeShawn Stevenson, Dominic McGuire (~1 million) and a 2010 protected first-round pick for Tayshaun Prince (10.3 million) Arron Afflalo (1.1 million) and Will Bynum (900,000). It's about the same package, but this way, Detroit saves more money in 2010, since Prince's contract doesn't expire until 2011. They would need to find a small forward, so I still don't think they go for it, but it's worth checking out.
Shawn Marion, Miami (2009/10 salary: ~12 million?)
In a lot of ways, Marion is a perfect fit. He's an extremely versatile player who can guard a ton of positions and compensate for a lot of Jamison's problems. I'm less concerned with moving Butler to shooting guard if we somehow got Marion, because Marion can even guard shooting guards. He's also mostly a perimeter player, so that would convince Jamison to stay in the post. The problem is that Marion is looking for a big extension and only Miami will likely be able to give it to him.
Maybe we could jump in with a sign-and-trade in the offseason. If so, assuming Marion's value is 12 million dollars (a major assumption), here's a potential offer for Miami:
Antonio Daniels (6.6 million) + Etan Thomas (7.3 million) + Nick Young (1.7 million) + 2009 rookie (~1.5 million) for Marion (3 years at 12 million per) + Marcus Banks (4.5 million).
Banks stinks and has a deal through 2011, but he could at least fill the backup point role behind Arenas. Marion slides Butler to the shooting guard and Stevenson to the bench, giving the Wizards a lot of versatility on the perimeter. We also preserve our frontcourt depth by keeping Songaila and McGee.
We can go small (Marion at the PF with Stevenson and Butler), big (Butler at SG with Jamison and Marion) or more traditional (Stevenson/Butler/Jamison) and still be effective. It would probably force Blatche to play more center, but he needs to be inside anyway.
The issue is that I don't think we'd want to invest more than four years in Marion. If we signed Marion for four years, we'd have Butler, Jamison, Marion and Arenas coming off the books in sequential years. That'd make it somewhat difficult to re-sign any of those key pieces without venturing over the luxury tax (not to mention Haywood, who becomes even more important with all the youth behind him).
Still, it's a move I'd consider. Marion's the type of player that we should go over the luxury tax to sign.
Michael Redd (2009/10 salary: 17,040,000)
Might as well mention him, since he'll almost certainly be available once Milwaukee realizes they need to rebuild. I don't like him because he doesn't play defense and is expensive, but he's certainly interesting. That said, I'd only offer Milwaukee Daniels/Thomas/Stevenson for Redd. No prospects. That'd save Milwaukee 14 million dollars and provide them a replacement for Redd. We'd start Redd with Arenas/Butler/Jamison/Haywood, with Dee Brown, Nick Young, Dominic McGuire, Andray Blatche and Darius Songaila as our top bench guys. There's too much youth on that bench for my taste and we'd certainly be over the luxury tax.
-Shane Battier (2009/10 salary: 6,864,000)
I don't think that Battier is redundant with Ron Artest, but what happens if Artest ends up hurting the Rockets more than he helps them? I'm guessing they would want to rebuild, and Battier is one of the few contracts that extend past 2010. They might be open to moving him even if they are good next season.
Here's my offer: Etan Thomas (7.3 million) and Nick Young (1.7 million) for Battier (6.8 million) and Chuck Hayes (1.9 million). For the Wizards, Battier and Hayes will provide a ton of defense and toughness inside. It's not a sexy move, but it goes a long way towards fixing our deficiencies. Houston saves 7.3 million with Etan and gets a potential replacement for McGrady in Young for two role players that don't figure in their future plans.
Our depth chart becomes crowded up front, so it might make sense to find a taker for Songaila, but here's how it looks otherwise.
SF: Battier/McGuire/09 pick
Alternatively, we could start Stevenson and make Battier the sixth man. Either way, I like this move as a low-risk deal. It goes a long way towards fixing our biggest problems and it won't cost us much.
-Brad Miller (2009/10 salary: 12,250,000)
Miller has been rumored to go elsewhere as early as this offseason, but if he's still on the Kings' roster, he'd fit in well because he's an excellent rebounder and a solid passer. He's getting up there in years, but we could easily re-sign him for less money after 2010.
What about offering Etan Thomas (7.3 million), Antonio Daniels (6.6 million) and a 2010 first-rounder for Miller (12.3 million) and Quincy Douby (2.1 million). Sacramento gets an extra asset for Miller while saving the same amount of money, while the Wizards get a solid frontcourt reserve who can still really play and a young combo guard to replace AD. This would probably signal the end of Songaila's tenure in D.C., though I'm not sure who I'd get for him.
We'd have the same starting lineup, but Miller would be an outstanding sixth man. Again, my biggest worry is our lack of experienced depth, so I'm hoping that one of Douby, Brown, Young, McGuire, Blatche and McGee can become a solid reserve. If not, re-sign Miller for less after 2010 and use money that would have been allocated to some of those guys to get a good role player for the MLE.
Andrei Kirilenko (2009/10 salary: 16,452,000)
Kirilenko's contract is monstrous, but like Shawn Marion, he would dramatically improve the Wizards' defense. The problem is that Kirilenko isn't as good as Marion and costs more, but I still think it's worth taking a look at what it would take to acquire him.
My best offer is Etan (7.3 million), AD (6.6 million) and Dominic McGuire (~1 million) for Kirilenko (16.4 million). Etan and AD can fit in as backups, while McGuire may help fill Kirilenko's void. I doubt Utah goes for it, though, because they wouldn't have a small forward.
I imagine more possibilities will emerge, but those strike me as the most likely. Of the ones mentioned, my favorite would be the Joe Johnson proposal, followed by the Battier/Hayes package.
Either way, there are possibilities out there that will help us much more than being hasty and trading a member of our core in a desperate attempt to get better right now.