"We all wanted to go in the rafters together, as crazy as that sounds now," Butler said Sunday night. "Antawn and I would actually talk about it. That was the plan: play hard, compete night in and night out and give us a chance to win a title. For a while that's what it looked like." Now it's over. Whatever the Wizards' trio of all-stars were -- once a bona fide Eastern Conference playoff team -- that collection of talent didn't end up sticking around for the long haul after all.
It's been nice having a player as talented and forthright as Jamison in a Washington Wizards uniform for the past five years. But Saturday's big trade with the Dallas Mavericks means the snow will last longer in D.C. than Jamison will. Dealing Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood to Dallas means the Wizards have officially waved the white flag and announced that the fire sale has begun. With Gilbert Arenas suspended for the season and Butler sent away, Jamison is the last of the "Big Three" who only a few years ago gave Wizards fans hope of raising another banner while Abe Pollin was alive to see it.
Washington needed to do this deal. It's not the most creative expunging of contracts we've seen, but the Wizards badly need to rebuild, and they have no use for a player in his prime, working with an eight-figure contract in 2010-11. Losing Butler's deal and Stevenson's player option (which he will no doubt pick up) for next seasson opens up more and more cap space for this team. Especially if Gilbert Arenas'(notes) deal is voided, and (more likely than the Arenas void) Antawn Jamison(notes) is sent to another team later this week. Drew Gooden has given the Mavericks a very good season, actually playing better defense (though he's still routinely out of position) and hitting the offensive glass hard. One wonders if he's a potential buyout candidate, though with a possible Jamison trade looming, the Wizards might need all the warm bodies they can get to keep coach Flip Saunders sane. Then again, keeping coaches sane isn't exactly one of Gooden's strengths.
The Wizards weren't going to win anything keeping that group together any longer. Every night they took the court together as of late was a waste of the franchise's time. The team had simply reached its expiration date, probably more than a year ago. Keeping Stevenson (over Roger Mason Jr.) was a huge mistake; paying Gilbert Arenas $111 million turned out to be one of the league's biggest mistakes in years.
If you’re the Wizards ownership in limbo, guess you gotta spend money and give away value to save money, perhaps for the sale of the team. With part of potential majority owner Ted Leonsis’ ‘10-Point Rebuilding Plan’ being to always seek a "pick and a prospect," we now have some insight that, perhaps, Grunfeld was working under edict of the Abe Pollin estate to cut costs no matter how much it might set the franchise back in the future. Abe’s dream of his team winning another championship has been put to rest, now the Washington basketball patriarch’s squad could be being dismantled just to appease the financial gain of those he left behind. Sorry Wizards fans, the legacy of Abe Pollin still haunts the franchise. Not until Leonsis takes over can you rest assured that the team you love will be firmly headed in a positive direction, or at least open with fans on that direction, which would likely sooth baffled impatience in these current trying times.
Josh Howard has gone from waiver-wire material to bona fide second-half sleeper. By the end of this week, Howard could be the No. 1 scoring option in Washington. Of course, he could also tweak an ankle, knee, wrist or elbow getting off the plane at Dulles, but it's unquestionable that Howard's fantasy value has almost doubled overnight. If Howard is healthy -- a big "if" -- he's good for 18.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, a 3-pointer and a steal per night. Don't discount the chance that Howard should be as motivated as he's been in years. He's a head case, and there's a chance his play goes even further south, but there's also a chance the change in scenery and the fact he's playing for a new contract just might inspire his box scores down the stretch.
Did the Wizards come up on the short end of the stick by not being able to get a draft pick in the mix? Possibly. But given Washington's situation -- their 17-33 record and the fact that it was no secret that they needed to blow this team up -- they didn't have as much leverage as they could have. I'm told they approached -- and continue to approach -- the trade deadline with somewhat of a checklist. They wanted/want to make deals that give them A) salary relief, B) young talent and or C) future picks. The Wizards would have viewed a deal that gave them all three as fantastic, a deal that gave them one of the two as great, and a deal that at least gave them salary relief as pretty good. Since they didn't really get any young talent in this trade, then this is a pretty good trade because in it they got a former All-Star in Howard and a player with starting experience in winning situations in Gooden, who also provides a low-post presence. And they get two players (Ross and Singleton) that they can evaluate.
Now that trade season is really underway (with the reported swap of Mavericks Josh Howard, Drew Gooden, Quinton Ross and James Singleton for Wizards Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson), the consensus among basketball watchers is that the Mavericks have improved themselves with the addition of Caron Butler -- who has long proven he's capable of big-time feats such has averaging 20 points per game. This is hardly just a Caron Butler trade, however. In fact, for the Mavericks, the big prize of the day may well be center Brendan Haywood.
Still, this is the deal the Wizards made. So even though I hate to use a phrase like this, it is what it is. The Wizards wanted to shed some salary, and they gave up the two best players (Butler and Haywood) in the deal to do so. Maybe the Wizards could've gotten more from another team, but this is the trade Grunfeld made.
I’m not anti-cap space. It provides GM-envious flexibility. With cap space, you can do things like gain cheap assets by just helping facilitate a trade between two other teams. Recently the Oklahoma City Thunder were able to get Virginia Commonwealth’s Eric Maynor from the Utah Jazz for just a second round pick and for being able to take on Matt Harpring’s retiring/expiring contract so Utah could reduce their 2010 luxury tax hit. But with cap space comes risk. With more and more talented players on the market seemingly willing to take less pay to play for a contender, the Wizards run the risk of competing against high, frugal competition by over-paying for a free agent. Or, by throwing money at one less likely to pan out, especially possible since there are not really any building blocks. At least Wizards fans can (hopefully) trust Ernie Grunfeld not to pull a ‘Joe Dumars’ and throw money at a Ben Gordon or Charlie Villanueva-type player. And hopefully the ghost of Jaromír Jágr has been exorcised from the Verizon Center.