The Washington Wizards' trade deadline primer, or why a big move is unlikely

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

A long look at the Wizards' situation heading into the deadline, which explains why a major move isn't likely to happen.

We're just nine days from the trade deadline, and reading the tea leaves, it's clear the Washington Wizards are kicking the tires on a lot of different scenarios. But it's also clear that there's no immediate, obvious deal on the horizon, and you have to wonder if any move will happen at all.

There are a number of reasons why we're in this situation. Let's try our best to run down all of them.

A MAJOR ASSET HAS ALREADY BEEN USED

Remember, the Wizards already made their big move back in November when they dealt Emeka Okafor's contract and a 2014 first-round pick for Marcin Gortat. In the short term, Gortat has stabilized the frontcourt. Without his competency, the Wizards aren't a playoff team. Of course, the move has worked out even better for Phoenix, who replaced Gortat with the younger Miles Plumlee, stunned the league by becoming a winning team and now have four first-round picks, several young players and the Okafor deal at their disposal for a major move.

More on the Gortat deal

But all that means that a key wheel-greaser in a big trade is now gone. Grantland's Zach Lowe, while noting that several other buyers have also dealt recent first-round picks, explains how this cools the market.

These teams, chasing wins today, have thus forfeited a crucial source of currency in dealing with teams chasing wins tomorrow. That changes the way everyone in the market behaves, and will make it harder for the tankers to net a coveted first-round pick by dangling their assortment of perfectly nice but replaceable veteran types - Brandon Bass, Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo, Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes, Marvin Williams, et al.

Without a first-round pick, the Wizards, as well as all these other teams, must get creative if they want to make a big play. We'll get to this in a second.

THE TREVOR ARIZA SITUATION IS COMPLICATED

I don't know this for a fact, but I suspect the Wizards did not anticipate Trevor Ariza having this kind of year. They drafted Otto Porter to be the small forward of the future, then re-signed Martell Webster to help keep the position warm. Ariza was going to be a short-term rotation player at best and a trade asset at worst. His presence meant very little given the decisions made this summer.

But a funny thing has happened: Ariza is by far the best small forward option. His defense has been essential, and his three-point shooting continues to flourish at a level we hadn't seen in any of his previous NBA stops. You could argue he's been the team's third-best player this year behind John Wall and Nene. Unless a major player is coming back, trading Ariza makes the team worse this season, and we already mentioned how trading for a major player is difficult without a first-round pick.

That leaves the Wizards with a few options, all of which have their plusses and minuses.

KEEP ARIZA, LET HIM WALK THIS SUMMER: This is the most likely scenario to me. As mentioned, the 2013-14 Wizards need Ariza. Trading his expiring contract for another role player with long-term money just adds more problems. It likely makes this year's team worse and it also hurts the cap sheet.

As for letting him walk ... they might not have much of a choice. From the sounds of it, Ariza could ask for a lot of money. Via NBA.com's David Aldridge, one of the most reliable sources on everything Wizards:

They've already committed $80 million to Wall in a new extension, and Beal will be in line for his in a couple of years. And they can't let unrestricted free-agent center Marcin Gortat walk. Gortat, acquired from Phoenix after Okafor suffered a season-ending neck injury, has infused the locker room with his goofiness and tough play inside.

But they can't pay Ariza, who also pines to return to the West coast, what he'll likely ask for as a free agent. Ariza recently hired Rob Pelinka as his agent, a man not known for taking 70 cents on the dollar. It's a tough, tough call for a team that desperately needed a perimeter defender like Ariza. Yet if the Wizards let both Ariza and Gortat walk in July, they'd have enough cap room to go after a major free agent to pair with Wall, Beal, Nene and first-rounder Otto Porter, Jr., for at least two years.

Ariza's not old, but he's also not young and he's having the best shooting season of his career. If he asks for a four-year deal for $7 million or more, do you really want to give it to him? Ask the Cavaliers how signing Jarrett Jack, who was in a similar situation to Ariza and was acquired for a similar dollar figure, is working out. That's why folks like Kyle Weidie of Truth About It advocate this route.

The downside? Losing Ariza's defense will hurt, and if the Wizards use most of their cap space to keep Gortat, it'll be tough to take that money and sign an impact player elsewhere. The Wizards have about $43 million in committed salary with a cap likely to approach $60 million; if Gortat takes $10+ million of that number that leaves only a little more than the value of the mid-level exception and the $2.5 million Room Exception left to upgrade the team. The small forward position would again be manned by a combination of Webster, who is a major defensive downgrade, and Otto Porter, who hasn't shown even flashes that he can be counted on to step into that role yet.

More on the Ariza situation

That leads to ...

KEEP ARIZA, RE-SIGN HIM THIS SUMMER: Ariza may not be young, but he's also not old either. He'll want to cash in on a contract, but he is certainly important to the Wizards. I'll accept arguments that he matters more than Gortat for this team's future.

But it'll require some rejiggering of the team's finances to really make this work. Even if Ariza accepts a contract that keeps some options open for the Summer Of Durant (say a three-year, $22 million deal with the third year partially guaranteed), that still clogs $13 million or so into the small forward position for at least two years, with last year's lottery pick waiting in the wings. If the Wizards keep both Ariza and Gortat, they'll have no good way to upgrade the team this summer and will have long-term contracts for veteran players on the books, making it difficult to upgrade the team in the future. Hello, three more years like this one.

There are a couple other options. The Wizards could let Gortat walk and sign a cheaper replacement. There aren't many of those, but perhaps someone like Spencer Hawes (probably won't be much cheaper), Jason Smith (will be, but has a long injury history) or even Kevin Seraphin (a stretch ... but is it that big of one?) could work. The Wizards could try dealing someone else on the roster to clear the salary and/or roster spot that Ariza will represent. Webster's long-term deal probably won't entice a ton of teams, but maybe a club that is in need of perimeter shooting -- **cough** Detroit -- would be somewhat interested and could offer salary relief. (That's why I keep pitching variations of this deal on Twitter).

But those deals are unlikely, and you could construct an argument suggesting that despite Ariza's stronger season, Webster's shooting is more important to the Wizards' future.

TRADE ARIZA: Anticipating these issues, the Wizards could try to move Ariza for a piece that can help the team for multiple years. He's an expiring contract! Those have value! Except, not really. Via Lowe again:

The value of expiring contracts, once such juicy assets, has been in continued decline for years. The new collective bargaining agreement has resulted in shorter contracts, leaving fewer toxic long-term deals that teams are willing to dump in exchange for expiring flotsam. And teams that do have those expiring deals are more willing than ever to simply let them expire if the only alternative is dealing them for blah long-term money.

In other words: Ariza's expiring isn't getting you Thaddeus Young, especially not with the 76ers so far under the cap already. Maybe it gets you Jared Dudley or Brandon Bass. Dudley's a good shooter and Bass is a solid big man, but both have long-term money and I don't think either helps this year's Wizards more than Ariza does. This is a non-starter to me. This is why, as Lowe reports, the Wizards are seeking out the market for the expiring deals they have and gaining "little traction."

There's a more interesting option to consider, though.

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TRADE OTTO PORTER: Again, from Lowe:

Any of these pick-less buyers seeking to add a major player will have to find another form of currency to grease the wheels. The most obvious such device would be players on their rookie contracts.

That would include the Wizards' rookie, who has obviously gone through a lost season thanks in large part to injury. I've no clue what Porter's value is right now, though I think it's safe to say that pitching him for Greg Monroe won't get the Pistons remotely interested. If the Wizards want to make a major move, though, I think Porter yields a higher return than Ariza.

What's a major move? Tough to say. To me, Thad Young would qualify if Philadelphia was interested, though the latest signals suggest they aren't. Monroe obviously would qualify too. Taj Gibson ... ugh I don't know, tough call. But other than that, I'm really not seeing much.

Still, it's something to think about. Maybe it's Porter that should be moved, not Ariza.

***

All of these options have drawbacks. Keep Ariza, and you risk losing him for nothing. Trade Ariza, and you likely make the team worse. Trade someone else and you probably need to take an equally rough contract back. Trade Porter and you run the risk of him blossoming elsewhere.

That's why the only move I'd expect to see is something for a backup point guard. There have been tons of rumblings about this, with the latest coming from both Marc Stein:

And Lowe...

They'd surely love to upgrade the backup point guard slot after the Eric Maynor flop, and given the front-office connections between Denver and Washington, a deal involving the exiled Professor Andre Miller, PhD, would seem to make sense. But the Wizards are just $1 million under the tax line, meaning they'd have to send out significant salary to offer Miller tenure.

(Sidenote on Lowe's final paragraph: Not only are the Wizards very close to the luxury tax, but they are while paying about $4.5 million in dead money to Shannon Brown and Kendall Marshall. Yes, the same Marshall that's succeeding at point guard for the Lakers and would be very useful here. In addition to that, the Wizards still owe Andray Blatche over $7 million for amnesty payments. While that doesn't show up on the cap, it does come out of Ted Leonsis' wallet.

If the Wizards make a trade, don't expect them to take on any salary. Going over the luxury tax is incredibly painful in the new CBA; going over it for a backup point guard would be unbelievably short-sighted).

That would be a minor move, but it might be the best the Wizards can do. We'll see what happens in nine days, but I don't think we should be getting our hopes up for anything major.

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