This is Part II of a six-part series noting the impact of last March's stunning deal for Nene. In this section, we ask whether taking on the final four years of Nene's massive contract was really worth it.
Normally, when a team trades a guy on a rookie contract for a high-priced veteran the salary cap implications aren't so good. Why would you trade someone who more likely than not is on their way down for someone who costs less and is on their way up? It's the kind of thinking that almost always leads to mediocrity and salary cap purgatory.
And yet, in the case of the Wizards and the Javale McGee for Nene trade, the team might come out of this thing ahead.
Nene is signed for $13 million a year through 2016. Had McGee stayed in Washington, he'd have likely received a contract roughly equivalent to the one he signed in Denver, which will pay him about $11 million a year through 2016. Sure, Washington could have let McGee walk, but signing away another team's free agent is generally more expensive than re-signing one of your own, especially when the player in question is a restricted free agent with some upside.
There's also no guarantee that the player or players the team would have signed would be a better value than McGee or Nene. Remember, Ernie Grunfeld is still the GM here. It's entirely possible that, even if he did find a young, unrestricted free agent whose team wouldn't match Washington's offer, the player in question would have been someone who wouldn't have been worth the money. Sure, Ryan Anderson would have been nice, but what if Grunfeld gave Landry Fields $7million and Spencer Hawes $6 million in order to give the team more depth?
Despite his youth, McGee could wind up being less productive than Nene throughout the life of his contract. Nene is deceptively skilled, can make a jump shot, hasn't played a lot of minutes due to his numerous health problems and has a very high basketball IQ, so you could see how his game might age reasonably well. While players do tend to decline once they hit their 30s, Nene will be only 33 in the final year of his contract. For the sake of perspective, that's the age Antawn Jamison was during his last season with the Wizards. Nene's not going to get any better during the life of his contract, but he'll still likely be, at a minimum a, decent starter in its last year.
Meanwhile, McGee will likely continue to be productive for the next few years, maybe even moreso than he is now, yet there's no guarantee that he'll even be able to learn defensive rotations well enough to start. Even if McGee does get it together and becomes something of a DeAndre Jordan clone, that still might not be as valuable as the playmaking, positional defense and leadership that Nene provides.
Trading McGee for Nene simply cost Washington cap space that could have been used on a maximum contract or a couple of smaller deals. Even if Nene isn't an ideal player to eat up that $13 million in cap space, he's still probably better than many of the alternatives.