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Why the Wizards’ decisions to trade first round picks hurt long-term opportunities

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NBA: Washington Wizards at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The trade for Bojan Bogdanovic marks the third time in the past four seasons the Wizards have used their first round pick in a trade to acquire a rotational player. Most would agree the deals to acquire Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat paid dividends for the Wizards, even though it cost high draft picks. The early returns on the Bogdanovic trade have been good as well.

When you look at these moves individually, you can find many positives. All three trades have helped the Wizards fill major holes and improve the team. Still, we also must consider the long term negative effects of this strategy and what necessitated the moves in the first place.

Prior to the Gortat trade in 2013, the Wizards thought they had a strong starting tandem with Emeka Okafor and Nene. They had finished the previous season on a high note and posted the league’s 9th best defensive rating after the All-Star Break. Unfortunately, Emeka Okafor’s unexpected neck injury forced Washington to make a move to fill the void at center.

But what if the Wizards didn’t have to make a move for a big man because they already had one ready to go after all the draft picks they had used in previous years? Then you're no longer looking at using your draft pick for a quick fix. Instead, you can use the draft pick to develop another player who can fill a void down the road.

The other thing to consider here is if you keep your picks, you are keeping cheaper salaries on the books, and you have them under team control for longer thanks to restricted free agency. When you replace those players with established veterans, you not only pay more upfront, but you pay more later when they hit unrestricted free agency, as we saw with Marcin Gortat.

When you accumulate these drafted players, they become more attractive to move because those cost controlling measures generally make them more reasonable for other teams to acquire. When you have more assets, it puts you in a position to avoid overpaying players, and gives you as a franchise greater leverage once they do hit free agency. In the situation with Gortat, bringing him back was necessary to validate the trade that brought him here. Although many would consider his contract to be reasonable for his production, the team had very little leverage to drive his price in free agency due to the holes in their roster and the trade that cost them a first round pick.

The Wizards will face a similar situation this summer with Bogdanovic. Either they let their first round pick turn into a rental, or overpay for the privilege to keep him around.

When you consider that type of risk that is involved an d the loss of assets, these trades ultimately do not signify genius, they signify failures with drafting and free agent moves. When you excel at free agency and drafting, you can bundle draft picks and other assets together to get a bigger return and perhaps entice a team to give you the final piece to put your team over the hump, without sacrificing a key part of your core to do it.

The Wizards can learn a thing or two from two trades in recent NBA history that helped put teams over the top. In 2004, the Pistons acquired Rasheed Wallace, who helped lead them to a championship that season and another Finals appearance the next season. In 2008, The Lakers traded for Pau Gasol, a move that helped Los Angeles earn two NBA titles.

Both teams had to give up important future assets -- The Pistons traded away the pick that became Josh Smith, the Lakers gave up Marc Gasol -- but they didn’t have to attach an albatross salary as part of the deal or give up someone who was a key part of their core to add the piece that put them over the top.

The Wizards can get to the point of making a move of that sort in the coming years, but in order to do so, they need to be smarter about accumulating assets. If the only way they can make a move is to trade an important rotation player and/or a draft pick, then it's going to be challenging to become a measurably better team. If the Wizards can do a better job in the offseasons for the next few years, without the need to make a desperate trade deadline move, then they may someday be able to accumulate enough assets to make that trade that adds the final piece to a championship puzzle.