At the end of the day, the Wizards did what they had to do. This team badly needed to be blown up. It probably ran it's course by the time last year rolled around, but with Abe Pollin desperately seeking a winner before he passed on, we tried to ride this thing out one more year and make something happen. It didn't happen, so we needed to start over. As of yesterday at 3 p.m., we have officially started over.
In that sense, it's hard to call this series of moves a failure, per se. Ernie Grunfeld and the rest of the management team were given a directive to clean house and get under the luxury tax while doing it. They accomplished that. The absolute worst thing that could have happened was salary-dumping Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood while holding onto Antawn Jamison and staying over the luxury tax. That would have meant that Ernie failed to accomplish even the most basic of tasks set before him. You could kiss goodbye maximum cap flexibility in 2010 and 2011 and any hope of any development of our youngsters. Luckily, Ernie found a way to move Jamison a day before the deadline, thereby avoiding that doomsday scenario.
Then again, it's hard to call this series of moves a success either. Yes, we got maximum cap room this summer and beyond. Yes, we eliminated all our high long-term salaries, except Gilbert Arenas' of course. But it still stings to think that, in return for our three best players, we got just expiring contracts, a 26-year old Al Thornton, James Singleton and what'll likely be the 30th pick in the draft. That's rough. We're always dealing with incomplete information when assessing whether a GM got proper value for his players, but I think it's safe to say that Ernie got almost no on-court value for guys that should have yielded some. In that sense, this is a failure.
While we moved Jamison in the end, I still strongly disagree with the decision to move Butler and Haywood out first for expiring contracts instead of moving Jamison first. Even with Butler's spotty play this year, we could have likely gotten more for him than we did. If not, the Butler/Josh Howard trade was always going to be there, and we could have thrown someone like Nick Young their way for their trade exception to help with the luxury tax problem. Judging from what I've been reading, Dallas was prepared to move Howard anyway. As for Haywood, Portland supposedly offered a pretty good package (Steve Blake, Jeff Pendergraph and a pick, or possibly the rights to Petteri Koponen) before they eventually moved on to Marcus Camby. Had we held out until closer to the deadline, I'm confident someone would have budged and offered some good basketball assets for Haywood. These were missed opportunities.
Still, at the end of the day, the necessary rebuilding has begun. While we should have gotten more prospects and/or picks, it's unlikely we could have received a true building-block type of player anyway for Jamison, Butler or Haywood. Cleveland held out J.J. Hickson, Dallas held out Rodrigue Beaubois and Portland said no to Rudy Fernandez -- and those aren't even building-block types. A failure to get one of those guys is a failure, but it isn't an epic failure. This team's prospects don't dramatically change if J.J. Hickson is on the roster. They would have dramatically changed if Antawn Jamison and his big long-term contract stayed on the roster. Now, we can at least begin the slow, patient road back to respectability and more, when hopefully 40-45 wins and first-round playoff exits are disappointments, not something to cheer.
I realize we, as fans of this franchise, have witnessed too many failed rebuilding efforts to put too much trust in rebuilding, but just because it failed before doesn't mean we should refuse to rebuild. Every great team in this league (except the Lakers, who are the Lakers) went through rebuilding. It's the only chance you get to get good. That doesn't mean every rebuilding team succeeds, but to win in this league, you need a franchise cornerstone, smart cap management, several building blocks to complement your cornerstone and a few veterans to help show the way. You don't get those pieces unless you commit to a long-term rebuilding plan and give yourself options.
At the very least, we accomplished that. We didn't accomplish it as well or as smoothly as I would have liked, but we did accomplish it.