Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza: A two-headed monster built for future success?

Rob Carr

Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza are both playing well, but can the Wizards afford to keep both of them on the roster going forward?

Michael Lee has a piece up today about the two-headed small forward monster of Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza, which has been one of the team's bright spots. Webster has contributed excellent perimeter shooting, while Ariza has come in off the bench and changed the tempo of many games with his defensive versatility.

As A.J. Price noted:

"Seems like the second half of the season they've been playing unbelievable, both knocking down shots, both making plays, both playing defense," Price said. "With both guys playing like that, we're very tough to beat."

This is all well and good, but can it last going into next season?

Certainly, the two can continue to thrive at the same time, but consider the salary-cap implications. Webster is a free agent this summer and is someone the team should want to keep. Ariza is likely under contract for $7.7 million next season unless he opts out, which seems unlikely. It's not clear how much Webster will end up getting, but you could certainly argue that he merits a starter's salary that approaches the full mid-level exception.

Which means: the Wizards would be investing a lot of money in two decent options. Suppose Webster's first-year salary is $5 million. Add in Ariza's nearly-$8 million contract, and the Wizards could be spending between a fourth and a fifth of their salary-cap on a two-headed role-playing small forward monster. Throw in Nene's big contract, Emeka Okafor's additional year at $14 million and a possible John Wall extension, and it's worth wondering if this is palatable going forward.

The other thing to consider: small forward is a pretty deep position in this year's draft, with Otto Porter, Anthony Bennett and Shabazz Muhammad all capable of playing there. If the Wizards commit to this two-headed monster, it makes less sense to draft one of those players. Again: is the tradeoff worth it?

One possible silver lining: Webster and Ariza, as noted in Lee's article, have actually played well together this year. They've shared the court for just 338 minutes, but in that time, the Wizards have outscored opponents by nearly 12 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com's stats page. Many of those minutes have come with the two players at small and power forward in small lineups, and they've all come against particularly advantageous matchups, but the amount of money spent on the two players is a little more useful if Webster can log serious minutes at shooting guard.

Nevertheless, it's absolutely worth wondering, even given their success, if pouring that much mid-level money into two role players is a worthy expense in an era where nobody, especially Ted Leonsis, is going over the luxury tax.

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