Washington's recent slide, coupled with Rasual Butler's nasty regression and Paul Pierce's slumping play has sparked some revisionist history from this fanbase in regards to the handling of Trevor Ariza's free agency. The short of it: The Wizards badly miss Ariza on both ends of the floor, and were wrong in letting him walk in free agency.
This seems to overshadow the fact that the Wizards did offer Ariza a contract well within Houston's ballpark, and he balked at a chance of returning and continuing to build on their playoff success. They drew a line in the sand, forced him to choose continuity over a slightly more lucrative offer, and when he didn't comply, went to a Plan B that was met with resounding approval. It was never ideal to replace his "3 and D" role with a 37-year old Pierce, but concessions had to be made, and cashing in on another career-year from a wing player was never going to pass with flying colors.
That's the mistake they made with Martell Webster three years ago. In a vacuum, you could live with these types of decisions, but the Wizards' problem is depth just as much as it is three-point shooting. If there's one thing they can afford to punt on, it's shelling out large sums of money on spot-up shooters while banking on John Wall making hay with whatever they land off the scrapheap in free agency.
The book on the Wizards hasn't changed either. They didn't take enough three-point shots last year, which contributed to same problems they're still facing this year. Ariza is shooting more than seven a game this season for Houston, while shooting just around five per game in two seasons for Washington, which is entirely emblematic of the philosophical difference between the two teams. He's a product of his environment for better or worse, which is not what the Wizards need right now.
Adding that extra punch off-the-dribble in the form of Pierce has not paid dividends this season, but it hasn't hurt either. If the Wizards want to spend big on a wing in the future, it shouldn't be for a one-dimensional talent.
The league's new TV deal looms over all of this though, and with Ted Leonsis being a major voice within those negotiations, you have to assume the Wizards anticipated a big leap in cap was coming. In theory, yes, they could've retained both Marcin Gortat and Ariza, but at what cost? The Wizards depth is problem now, but imagine a world in which Ariza is eating into that potential cap savings, producing at the level he is now (38/34/87 shooting splits), AND costing the Wizards a chance to improve along the margins.
All of that adds up. It's not only the long-run in which they benefit, it's the haul the received in the immediate aftermath. They used a large portion of that trade exception they received from Houston to acquire Ramon Sessions. Say what you will about their free agent signings, but the starting lineup is virtually the same production-wise as last year's with Pierce replacing Ariza (if not slightly better), and he comes at a fraction of the cost, which freed up room to sign Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair.
This was the wiser allocation of resources. In 2012, the front office was bashed for punting on cap space by trading for Ariza and Emeka Okafor when they simply could've amnestied Rashard Lewis and taken him off their books completely or by outright releasing him and offloading $9 million from their cap. If flexibility was a concern then, when the Wizards had more cost-controlled talent on rookie deals, it's even bigger now with Wall in the middle of his max extension.
Perhaps the real topic for discussion is choosing Gortat over Ariza. The Wizards intimated as much by locking up the former first, and it's clear he was the bigger priority, but I'd be interested to see how much of that preference has changed now after-the-fact. Going big over small is always the safe bet, but with Gortat's struggling under Wittman, and his fully-guaranteed five-year deal, you have to wonder if there's even a modicum of buyers remorse now. Pierce likely goes to the Clippers in that scenario, but the Wizards would have more room to go after a Spencer Hawes or Channing Frye while adding another bench piece to their rotation.
Regardless of how things have shaken up, the Wizards made the right decision here, and it's hard to see them regretting it moving forward. Trevor Ariza was great for them last season, but the underlying problem with the offense is still the same.