I fully understand the Wizards' desire to keep Marcin Gortat. He's going to be expensive and he has already cost a first-round pick, but without him, your frontcourt is a brittle Nene and ... nobody. The Wizards can't enter next season with no reinforcements there. Yes, this is the logical cost of failing to stockpile a frontcourt with the many draft picks acquired over the past few years, but even in a normal world, bigs get paid on the open market. Gortat brings a lot of positives that are hard to notice (screen-setting, soft hands in pick and roll, a proficient mid-range jumper from many different spots) and very difficult to replace.
What makes less sense to me, though, is adopting the same philosophy with Trevor Ariza.
The small forward had a great season, don't get me wrong. The Wizards don't make the second round of the playoffs without him. But his skill set -- defense, three-point shooting, running the floor -- is significantly easier to replace and thus should not cost nearly as much on the salary cap.
One has to consider the kind of team the Wizards are trying to build around John Wall. They have a young, blossoming guard that can shoot the lights out, is a developing playmaker, can come off screens and is quickly developing into the yin to Wall's yang for years to come. They have one big man that, for now, provides some semblance of balance in the low and high posts at a hefty price, at least when healthy. They appear to be prioritizing the need to play two traditional big men to help the team's defense, and it sure would help if that big could run pick and roll and hit mid-range jumpers -- hence, the interest in keeping Gortat.
In this setup, the other starter's role is simple: hit open threes, plays defense and runs the floor. Additional playmaking is nice, but not essential. A post game doesn't matter. Isolation skills won't matter once Beal's fill out. Hit threes, defend and run. That's it.
Yes, Ariza did all three of those things fantastically ... last year. He should have earned more all-defense consideration. He hit 41 percent of his threes. He did significant work to improve his release and stay consistent. He ran the floor nicely and was a threat spotting up.
But ultimately, the story of Ariza's season is that he filled a fairly simple role very, very well. That he did it very, very well is great, but the simplicity of the role is exactly why the Wizards must be careful not to overpay for it.
They already have twice: once in giving Martell Webster a four-year, $22 million deal coming off one good season and once in spending a top-three pick, albeit in a weak draft, on Otto Porter. And now, they seem to be considering doing it a third time with Ariza. In a capped league, that's a really bad use of resources.
In a perfect world, a team makes that decision once. The difference between a viable rotation player and a fringe talent can be noticeable -- just ask the Rockets, who lacked playoff-ready backup wings in the playoffs last year. But if the Wizards give Ariza a contract around the value of his current one, they will have something between $12 and $15 million committed to just Ariza and Webster, with a top-five pick behind them. All this to play a role that -- again -- is fairly simple in the Wizards' setup.
How simple? Consider the Phoenix Suns, a team also built around two guards. Phoenix's starting small forward was P.J. Tucker, a former college star that was so on the fringes of the league that he went to Ukraine and Israel to play. He was a rugged defender that wasn't much of a shooter or dribbler, and yet, he thrived because he stuck to his best spots (the corner) and was enough of a threat to keep defenses honest. He cost the Suns under $900,000 last year, yet in the context of their team, he filled an essential role.
Or, consider an even more germane example: the 2012-13 version of Webster. His career seemed in doubt before Ernie Grunfeld shrewdly signed him to a one-year, $1.6 million contract. He ended up fitting in beautifully alongside Wall and Beal, hitting 42 percent from downtown while playing passable defense. That led to the costly full mid-level contract, after which he faded in favor of ... Ariza, who himself was salary-dumped out of New Orleans two years ago because they didn't need him anymore.
There's a pattern at play here. As great as Ariza was last year, his role -- and even his 2013-14 production -- is replaceable. This is especially true on a team quarterbacked by a point guard that is the league's two-time corner three creating champion and has a knack for raising the three-point percentages of his wings beyond their career norms. Wall assisted on a whopping 68 percent of Ariza's corner threes last year; that's an amazing number that shows how Wall-dependent Ariza's offense proved to be.
The Wizards can find another wing to spot up in corners, take those pinpoint passes and knock shots down while approaching Ariza's defensive impact. They can do so while paying significantly less than the $7.7 million Ariza made this season. Tucker himself is available. So are Marvin Williams, Thabo Sefolosha, C.J. Miles, Brandon Rush, Jordan Hamilton, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Shawn Marion, Alan Anderson and even Nick Young. These are affordable free agent options with games Wall has proven he can amplify. More importantly, so are Webster and Porter, who are already under contract and on the roster.
There's surely a price point where the difference between Ariza and those names is inconsequential. If Ariza can be had for, say, three years and $15 million, I won't complain.
Any more, though, and I think the Wizards are better off saving Ariza's money for bigger prizes down the road while finding a cheap replacement. Wall and the team's infrastructure can amplify the remaining resources enough to replace Ariza's contributions.