I harbor absolutely no ill will toward Antawn Jamison. In point of fact, one thing that's become a bit more clear from covering the team more in-person is the intangible benefit his presence provides. He plays through pain, rarely complains about it, talks to the media about all the off-court drama so nobody else (namely, Caron Butler) has to and squeezes as much as he can out of his talent. That's not to say people get carried away sometimes praising his virtues when he's obviously not perfect, but by and large, Antawn Jamison is not what's wrong with this team.
That said, Antawn Jamison's time in DC is up. It was arguably up last season -- I remember arguing that then -- but at least the Wizards could rationally believe that Gilbert Arenas would come back, everyone's injuries would go away and they could make one more run toward semi-contention. At this point, though, there's little justification for keeping him beyond the trade deadline. All this hand-wringing with the Cavaliers better be just the typical negotiating that teams do two weeks before the trade deadline, and not a sign that Jamison is here to stay.
Below the jump, six reasons why Jamison has to be moved right now.
1. The Wizards are rebuilding
Self-explanatory, I know. Rebuilding teams don't employ players in their mid-30s who make eight figures.
2. Jamison's contract is abysmal for a rebuilding team
In a world where the Wizards are a solid playoff team poised to take the next step toward contention, Jamison's four year, 50+ million dollar contract is at least somewhat defensible. Good teams have a core and try to augment it, and Jamison's certainly capable enough to be a part of some good team's core (though perhaps not at his salary). However, in a world where you're not making the playoffs, the goal should be to keep long-term contracts to a minimum, develop your young players and keep stockpiling. Having a 33-year old Antawn Jamison around for that is counterproductive to long-term goals. Leading by example only goes so far. At a certain point, young players have to play and learn by playing. Jamison's presence is currently preventing Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee from getting that court time. (Now, whether they deserve it or not ... oh let's not deal with this tug of war again).
3. Jamison's contract is abysmal for a rebuilding team in 2010
More than ever, I'm convinced that 2011 expiring contracts are going to be even more highly valued than 2010 expirings. Why? The looming expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement should bring some pretty big changes. Player salaries will certainly go down, and they could go down drastically. That's not good for teams that employ players who have contracts past 2011, such as the Wizards with Jamison. They're going to be stuck paying good, but not great players a salary that is way above the figure they'd get under the new CBA. Jamison's scheduled to make $15 million in 2012 when he's 35. That isn't great business under normal circumstances, but it's going to be particularly bad when the going rate for players of similar skill could be anywhere from a third to half that price under the new CBA. Trading him now, even if it's just in a money-saving move, prevents this inevitability.
4. The market won't be there in the future
Because of the new CBA, and because Jamison's salary only escalates as his body continues to break down, we're dangerously close to the point where Jamison's considered a toxic contract. No doubt about it, Jamison can still play, but with most teams hemorrhaging money, there's just too much of a cost for even a playoff team to add him. There will inevitably be chemistry issues to work out, and if they don't work out, you suddenly have an immovable long-term contract on your hands. Owners are going to be very wary of adding Jamison in the future, so much so that any move to get him out for short-term contracts right now has to be done.
5. The market's arguably not there right now
Here are the current suitors for Antawn Jamison: Cleveland, and ... yeah. There's nobody else, for all the reasons stated above. Jamison is not Andre Iguodala, a 26-year old athletic stud that will surely be productive for the duration of his (admittedly) long-term contract, so teams like Dallas, Boston, Phoenix and others have no interest. The only reason the Cavaliers have interest is because they not only are willing to spend, but also possess a need for a stretch power forward, although they have played extremely well of late with youngster J.J. Hickson starting.
That's the other thing -- the Wizards may be misunderstanding Cleveland's negotiating position. Yes, LeBron James has reportedly lobbied for Jamison, and yes, there's the whole "LeBron could walk" thing, which could force Cleveland's hand if they want to keep the guy. However, there are several things working in Cleveland's favor, namely a) they have the best record in the league with the mix they have, having gone 37-8 since a 3-3 start; b) they have other options in case Jamison falls through that are either less financially taxing (Troy Murphy) or bring someone younger (Amare Stoudemire, Iguodala); and c) though it failed last year, they can always use the "don't tinker with a good thing" excuse. There's also Cleveland's own worry that James will walk even if Jamison comes by, leaving Cleveland stuck in the same situation the Wizards currently are in, potentially without their top young player to boot.
Basically, there are all sorts of reasons for Cleveland to drive a hard bargain for Jamison. The Wizards? Well, they have to create leverage by trying to sell the "franchise cornerstone" thing, which is about as much of a joke as anything I've read during the entire deadline season.
And what if Cleveland ends up passing on Jamison and winning the title anyway? Those same non-suitors for Jamison aren't likely to return by draft day, not with the new CBA cloud looming. No, the Wizards really have one team to deal with now, and it's Cleveland.
6. Jamison deserves to play for a winner
Okay, I don't mean this in the literal sense. The NBA is a business, and ideas like "loyalty" and teams owing it to their players to trade them to contenders don't actually hold any water. However, they are easy ways to explain a trade to a fanbase that believes in loyalty and is severely distressed by everything that's happened this season. Obviously, you have to refine the message, but there will be enough fans that sympathize with Jamison for putting up with all the crap that's happened this season enough to prefer he end up in a good situation even if it hurts the team in the short term.
Now, this runs up straight against the other thing fans are thinking about: trading Jamison to the "hated Cavaliers." I've spent much of the past few years loathing those guys, so seeing Jamison help LeBron James will obviously be uncomfortable. But the truth is, the rivalry is dead, and Wizards fans will eventually get over their short-term anguish because of the loyalty factor and because they'll realize the Wizards are making a prudent long-term decision. In other words, holding on to Jamison to spite the Cavaliers is living in the past.
To be honest, so is holding onto Jamison past the trade deadline.