Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza and the $43 million problem

Harry How

It's not a huge deal that the Wizards are 0-3. It it a problem that their two most expensive offseason acquisitions are contributing nothing.

On the surface, an 0-3 start isn't really that big of a deal. Everyone and their mother knew that the Wizards were going to struggle without John Wall and Nene in the lineup. That they were competitive in two losses to a tough Boston Celtics squad is encouraging. That young players like Kevin Seraphin, Chris Singleton, Jan Vesely and Jordan Crawford have had their moments is doubly so.

But there's one major problem here. More accurately, there's a $43 million problem.

Forty-three million dollars is what the Wizards are slated to pay Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza over the next two years. If the first three games are any indication -- and to be fair, we are just talking about three games -- that money appears to be a complete waste. When they have been in the game, the Wizards have been an awful team. When they have been out, the Wizards have shown lots of promise. That's really not that much of an oversimplification.

This is exactly the scenario that detractors of the trade feared when it was made. Ariza had bounced around the league aimlessly since leaving the Los Angeles Lakers, frustrating the Houston Rockets and New Orleans Hornets with lethargic play, horrendous offense and untapped athleticism. Okafor had been fine for the Hornets, but he was never a game-changer and was in decline. Both players were pretty redundant with the current roster's makeup. Ariza blocked Singleton, and Okafor blocked Seraphin, Vesely and Trevor Booker. Declining, redundant and expensive. That's a triple-whammy.

But this bad? It's hard to have even envisioned that scenario. Surely Ariza and Okafor would at least be so-so contributors, but instead, they've hurt offensive spacing, missed defensive assignments and showed a complete inability to put the ball in the basket. They should get better, but so far, it's been worse than almost anyone could have expected.

There are two damming ways to think about the trade now that we're into the regular season. First, consider what the Wizards would look like without those two playing at all. Martell Webster and Kevin Seraphin would likely start, and unless their games fell off a cliff for some reason (which rarely happens when bench players become start), they would provide more production, especially offensively. Cartier Martin would jump into the rotation, and all of Okafor's minutes could be made up with more time for Vesely and Earl Barron. How much worse would the Wizards be? Would they even be worse?

Second, we once again must consider what Ernie Grunfeld could have done differently. I know, I know, coulda woulda shoulda, we don't know what was available, etc. But I think enough time passed over the summer that several more cost-efficient options existed. The Wizards could have released Rashard Lewis for $14 million, or bought him out for less. They could have entered the amnesty bidding and claimed a veteran like Elton Brand, Luis Scola or even Brendan Haywood for a fraction of the price Okafor cost. They could have then used the remainder of their cap space to acquire shooters like Dorrel Wright or Kyle Korver, both of whom were salary-dumped by their teams. It's still early, but those options sure look good right now. More patience would have mitigated some of this problem.

Instead, we all sit here hoping that Okafor and Ariza truly aren't this bad. On the one hand, it's nice that Randy Wittman is willing to sit them if other players are producing. On the other hand, it really shouldn't have to come to that.

Ariza and Okafor need to be much better than this. Otherwise, Grunfeld's offseason trade will have been a huge -- and expensive -- failure.

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