DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 03: Nene Hilario #31 of the Denver Nuggets drives to the basket against Andrew Bynum #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers at the Pepsi Center on February 3, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Wizards fans have been resting in a comfortable ignominy for the last several seasons. We've been watching Ernie Grunfeld labor to clear away the detritus of past contracts while securing a promising nucleus to grow around John Wall. Wednesday's deadline blockbuster to acquire Nene hit me like being dragged from a cool, dark place recovering from a migraine/fever/hangover into a dance rave. Noise, confusion, pain...someone get me a drink.
Recalibrating Expectations, Or Not
As jefe immediately pointed out, this trade represents a massive acceleration in the Wizards approach to contending. While the team was in danger of falling behind the curve (if it hadn't already), this doesn't feel to me like a panic move, though it would be exceedingly easy to classify it as such. If the Wizards had let JaVale McGee and Nick Young walk in free agency and brought Nene in at 4 years/$52 million as a UFA, I probably would have said it fit with the attempt to acquire David West last summer. Of course, Nene never would have signed here. West didn't.
Maybe we can think of this as free agency the hard way for a cellar-dwelling team everyone loves to rag on. Sure, that contract is at least one year longer than I'd like ... but maybe the Wiz had to overpay to get their man. And if they did, they could do a lot worse. Adding a worthwhile free agent veteran has been part of the plan, as has getting rid of distractions. The timetable has radically advanced but I don't feel we've gone completely off the reservation.
Movin' On Up, To Purgatory?
Hooray! Let's head to NBA Limbo! Population: Well, most people are here are on timeshares ... except Hawks fans. It's not as bad as all that, actually. This team was not one very good player away from the playoffs even in the Eastern Conference, and if you counted Nick Young and JaVale McGee in the 'plus' column we're at a net negative. But for now we'll assume this trade makes the Wizards a more sound basketball team, because it's true. Even if the Nick Young get turned from Eric Bledsoe, a future first and an expiring contract into a 2015 second round draft pick. Brian Cook, ftw!
The Wizards may move from the high to the mid lottery this season ... and next? Well, that depends heavily on the offseason. With a premium draft pick, continued growth from the nucleus and a John Wall/Nene Hilario core, suddenly DC has a shot at signing a building block. Or at least Nicolas Batum won't publicly scorn the notion of signing with the Wiz. As Mike said, the timeline has been kicked into overdrive. P.S. Karma, Nic. Karma.
Maligned as basic stats are, Nene is not going to replace Nick and JaVale in the final spread but he is going to make those around him better basketball players. That probably translates into poorer lottery odds, but I'd rather have a better developmental environment on the court and off for the guys Ernie Grunfeld has bet the farm on. A true starting-quality veteran who isn't looking past the end of an expiring deal isn't a ticket past the Knicks, Bucks and Cavaliers into playoff hell and this rebuild is nowhere without the example fundamental play provides.
A Few Spots In The Draft Lottery Means A Great Deal
- 1. You're assuming Nene's play and the subtraction of JaVale and Nick will result in a significantly higher win percentage, which is possible but certainly not guaranteed.
- 2. With recalcitrant injuries, the Wizards will hopefully rest Nene if nenecessary (sorry) and ease him gently back into the lineup to protect his long term health. Because the Wizards are great at not leaning on injured players in the lineup.
- 3. Would you like some Kevin Seraphin with your meal? Improved play from your favorite Frenchman probably played a role in EG selling Ted on trading both JaVale McGee and Ronny Turiaf for a Center ... playing his preferred position at Power Forward this season. Keveen seems to be approaching a point where playing time is doing him some good, and this is a perfect time to get more. Will that translate to more wins? Actually ... maybe. But probably not.
So the Wiz can, should and might bring Nene in slowly. That's a long contract and hopefully Randy Wittman learned the lesson Flip Saunders and John Wall provided last season about protecting a player from himself. In any case, there's a lot of statistical production to replace and Keveen will see more playing time. You can make an argument the Wizards are going to end up with poorer lottery odds, but it is by no means a sure thing.
Many Of The Truths We Cling To Depend Greatly On Our Own Point Of View
Alright, I'm rambling. Here's my take:
- Nick Young was probably going to walk for nothing. I am not happy about the return. The front office must have felt this was addition by subtraction because a second round draft pick three years from now is not especially quanitifiable as an 'asset' ... although the Hornets look poised to be bad for quite a while.
- I'd rather overpay Nene than JaVale McGee. Nene might have the Center version of Andre Iguodala's contract, but I'm hoping he can have the kind of positive overall impact in D.C. that Iggy has in Philly.
- That said ... there's been a lot of talk about Centers playing into their late 30's. That's true ... but Nene's game thrives on his athleticism, the kryptonite of aging well in the NBA. For a player whose defense is iffy and supposedly prefers to play power forward ... let's just wait and see, shall we?
- I'm firmly in the If-JaVale-is-going-to-'get-it'-it-isn't-going-to-be-here camp. Eventually there's so much history built up that you just want to let go and hope it isn't too painful.
- I look towards free agency with hope. The Wizards may have done enough to alter their perception around the league and in any case, it's a new day in D.C.
I vacillated wildly trying to get my thoughts in order for today's column and I'm not finished sorting everything out. None of us will be until we see Nene on the floor in a Wiz uni and calibrate our eye tests for the new look Wiz. That's Nene Hilario, Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin as your top three big men. You wanted a big, tough front court? D.C., you got it.