One of the more interesting aspects of the Wizards' rebuild under Ted Leonsis and Ernie Grunfeld is that even though the Wizards have embraced a slow, steady rebuild centered around John Wall, they've been active at every trade deadline since they drafted Wall in 2010. Let's review what the Wizards have done at the trade deadline since the start of the Wall/Leonsis era:
- 2011: Wall's rookie year, the Wizards traded Kirk Hinrich and Hilton Armstrong to Atlanta for Jordan Crawford, Maurice Evans, the first round pick that became Chris Singleton and Mike Bibby, who they bought out to create extra cap space.
- 2012: The Wizards traded Nick Young and JaVale McGee in a three-way trade with the Clippers and Nuggets that netted the team Nene, Brian Cook and second round pick.
- 2013: Jordan Crawford was shipped up to Boston in exchange for Jason Collins and Leandro Barbosa.
- 2014: The Wizards bolstered their bench by picking up Andre Miller in a three-way trade, while shipping out Jan Vesely, Eric Maynor and second round pick.
[And let's not forget the Wizards were busy at the final deadline before the start of the Leonsis/Wall era, shipping out Caron Butler and Antawn Jamsion, among others, as the Wizards officially kicked off their rebuild. That's five straight years of action at the trade deadline.]
Yet this year, even as the trade mill has been spinning wildly out of control, the Wizards have not just avoided a deal, they haven't even really been mentioned in any trade rumors. The only scuttlebutt the Wizards have been involved in is their constant pursuit of Ray Allen and their flirtation with Will Bynum. Barring some sort of injury that forces the Wizards to shore up their depth before the trade deadline, it appears like the Wizards are set to break their streak of five straight deals at or near the trade deadline.
To understand why the Wizards probably aren't going to be wheeling and dealing at the deadline, first you have to understand how the Wizards have gone about rebuilding around John Wall. Within the lengthy rebuild, there have been three separate, two-year phases with clear, distinct objectives.
- Phase 1 (2010-2012): Utilize cap space and whatever salvageable assets you have to acquire as many draft picks and prospects as possible to surround John Wall with other young talent.
- Phase 2 (2012-2014): Develop into a playoff contender by building around the team's young cornerstones, Wall and Bradley Beal. If the young players around the cornerstones aren't helping, ship them out for veterans who can get the job done.
- Phase 3 (2014-2016): Continue to develop into an elite team through the internal development of the team's young stars and the acquisition of veteran players on short deals who can fill specific roles on a winning team. All moves need to be made without sacrificing cap space to make a run at a game-changer in free agency in 2016. Rumor has it a well-liked hometown hero may be available.
In each phase, the Wizards spend the first three-fourths of the phase making moves aligned toward that goal. As they reach the trade deadline in the second season of each phase, the Wizards then decide whether or not to stay the course, or make necessary corrections to get the team back on track.
The 2012 trade that came near the end of Phase 1 was an example of a clear course correction. The Wizards had too much young talent, and it was creating a toxic environment where the team's young talent wasn't developing. In response, the Wizards decided to get a jump start on Phase 2 by turning two underdeveloped young assets (Young, McGee) into one fully developed veteran asset (Nene).
If you're looking for a visual, hopefully this helps:
Right now, the Wizards are still in the early points of Phase 3, and it shows in their current roster setup. Their bench is Otto Porter, Kevin Seraphin and DeJuan Blair and six guys who are 28 or older and have no contractual guarantees after the 2016 season. If you go to the starting lineup, you'll find Paul Pierce, Marcin Gortat and Nene, who also fit the 28 and over club.
The thing is, once a player gets to that point in their career, it's hard to trade them to help improve your team in the short-term. Once players hit that age, they usually only get moved for two reasons:
- Teams are unloading veterans because they're not making the playoffs and they want to rebuild with some young assets and/or draft picks and hopefully clear some future cap space while they do it.
- Teams are trying to get veterans because they're looking to add another piece and they're willing to give up a young asset and/or draft pick, plus sacrifice some future cap space to make it happen.
Clearly, the Wizards don't fit the first category, and they would be hard pressed to add another veteran through a trade without going against the plan of Phase 3. To align with the goals of the plan, the Wizards need to find someone who can contribute AND avoid cutting into cap space beyond 2016. You can't just cobble together your vets on short-term deals to get one nicer veteran that's also on a short-term deal. If the Wizards wanted to add another piece, they'd have to give up one of their young guys to do it.
Problem is, the Wizards only have four young assets right now. Two are untouchable (Wall & Beal), one is too much of an unknown to trade unless it's a home run deal (Porter). And let's not forget Kevin Seraphin can veto any deal he's involved in, because he's on a qualifying offer deal. So unless the Wizards can find a way to move him into a situation he wants to be in AND get a player back that's more useful than Seraphin, he's not going anywhere either.
So that leaves draft picks. You could argue that trading a mid-to-late first rounder to get someone who can help right away would fit within the goals of Phase 3, but again, they have to have an expiration date of 2016. How good would the player have to be for that year and a half to justify giving up a first round pick?
Given the Wizards history with second rounders, they probably wouldn't be opposed to sending one out if they could get someone usable in return. But mid-to-late second round picks are basically NBA lottery scratchers. While you might have something of value there, no one is going to give you more than two bucks for one unless you know exactly how much it's worth. Plus, at that point you have to determine if anyone who is available at that price point is better than your free agent options like Ray Allen and Will Bynum, who wouldn't cost the team a draft pick to sign.
Certainly, there's an argument to be made that now is the time to make a move that can push the team to a new level, but it just doesn't fit with the team's M.O. since Ted Leonsis took over. We can spend time squabbling about how a trade here or there could make the team better right now, but they're not going to sacrifice the long-term to do it. At the end of the day, it's still all about Phase 4.
Or if you prefer, you can call it Phase 3.5, because it looks really nice seeing that 3 and 5 so close to each other in Washington.