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2018 NBA Trade Deadline: Wizards face tough decisions

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Washington Wizards v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Brock Williams-Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

Are the Wizards a buyer or a seller at the trade deadline?

Washington will probably try to dabble in a little bit of buying and selling at the trade deadline.

The most important thing is to address is adding more talent, which will take some buying at the trade deadline. The starting unit is still performing well, and the bench unit has improved from last season, but it hasn’t translated to additional success. They have the talent to beat anyone, but they haven’t been consistent enough pose a serious threat to the top of the Eastern Conference hierarchy.

That said, the Wizards wouldn’t be opposed to shedding some salary if they get the chance. They’re currently $5.8 million over the luxury tax line. If they could get a team to take on Jason Smith and one other player, whether it be Chris McCullough, Jodie Meeks, Tim Frazier, or even Sheldon Mac, they could get back under the tax this season, which would make it easier for the team to avoid the repeater tax down the road as the team gets more expensive.

Currently, the Suns and the Pacers are the only teams with enough cap space to take on Smith and another player without sending salary back, but the Wizards could work around that by packaging players in separate deals with teams that have smaller chunks of cap space or trade exceptions.

What assets do the Wizards have and which players are untouchable?

Kelly Oubre and Tomas Satoransky have emerged as key parts of the team’s success this season, which is a blessing and a curse. They’re both in high-visibility positions where they’ve been able to demonstrate what they can offer to teams looking to rebuild, but they’ve also been part of some of the team’s most successful lineups this season. If you make the wrong deal, you run the risk of hurting the team both now and later.

If Washington is hesitant to part with players who are making an impact this season, they also have their own first and second round picks at their disposal. They can attach those picks to players on unfavorable deals to get back someone more useful like they did last season in the Andrew Nicholson-Bojan Bogdanovic swap.

The thing to keep in mind is Washington has done this several times in recent years, leaving them short on young players to develop. Kelly Oubre and Tomas Satoransky are the only players on rookie deals that extend beyond this season. Any move that involves those two players and/or future picks needs to be one that significantly raises the team’s ceiling because it’s going to leave the cupboard extremely bare moving forward.

Unfortunately, the team doesn’t have much to offer in terms of expiring money. Only four players are on expiring deals (Tim Frazier, Chris McCullough, Sheldon Mac, and Mike Scott) and all of them are making less than $3 million this season.

What holes will the Wizards try to fill at the deadline?

The biggest short-term hole is at backup shooting guard behind Bradley Beal. Jodie Meeks has struggled to get the ball in the basket all season long, shooting career-lows from the field and from deep. On top of that, he doesn’t bring enough to the table in other facets of the game to make up for his poor shooting.

There are several wing players who could be available for the right price at the trade deadline. Established players like Lou Williams, Marco Belinelli, Will Barton, Tyreke Evans and Joe Johnson could be available since they’re on expiring deals. But there’s the rub: If all these players are rentals with little chance of returning, it doesn’t make sense to give up a first round pick, Oubre, or Satoransky unless you think they can make Washington a true contender this season.

If Washington wants to think about more of their long-term issues, they should look at trying to upgrade at power forward or center. Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat’s production is down this season. Morris has struggled to recapture his form after undergoing hernia surgery this fall, and Father Time is slowly starting to catch up with Marcin Gortat, who said next season will “probably” be his last one in the NBA. If a better player is available at either position, it’s absolutely worth a look.

Beyond that, the Wizards also need to consider their end-game strategies with both players. Their expiring deals won’t provide any value to Washington next summer, because Washington will still be over the cap once their deals expire. Unless the Wizards are set on bringing them back, they’d be better off trying to flip them for players who they feel more comfortable with going into the 2019-20 season. They’ll still have time to do that after this year’s trade deadline, but if the right deal comes along now, they should listen.

What’s your “dream trade”?

Before the season, I made the case for why DeAndre Jordan should be the Wizards’ top trade target. Nothing has changed on that front.

DeMarcus Cousins is tantalizing, but he won’t do anything to improve the team’s issues with their suspect defense and playing down to inferior teams. Paul George would be great, but he’s too much of a flight risk to give up what it would take to get him. Marc Gasol isn’t what he used to be and he’s only a year younger than Gortat.

A dream trade would look something like this:

Wizards receive: DeAndre Jordan, Lou Williams

Clippers receive: Ian Mahinmi, Jason Smith, Jodie Meeks, Tim Frazier, Washington’s 2018 1st and 2nd round picks.

The reason why that’s a dream trade is because the Clippers would never agree to it. They don’t want Mahinmi’s contract, and they probably don’t want to pay for another year of Jason Smith and Jodie Meeks, especially if all they’re getting back is a pair of draft picks. Anything that includes Jordan and Williams would require Kelly Oubre.

A more modest dream trade would look something like this:

Wizards receive: DeAndre Jordan

Clippers receive: Marcin Gortat, Jason Smith, Tim Frazier, Washington’s 2018 1st and 2nd round picks

That still may not be enough to get a deal done, especially depending on what other teams are willing to offer, but that’s probably the best deal Washington can make. It wouldn’t make sense for them to include Oubre because it would take away their best lineup, playing him, Porter and Jordan together. A lineup with Porter, Morris and Jordan would be good, but it would struggle against the smaller lineups most teams use late in games.

If they wanted to go in another direction, something like this would be interesting:

Wizards receive: Nikola Mirotic, Quincy Pondexter

Bulls receive: Markieff Morris, Jason Smith, Washington’s 2018 first round pick

Mirotic is in the midst of a great season. He’s averaging over 17 points per game, and shooting 45 percent from deep on a healthy number of attempts. His shooting range would open up a lot for Washington’s offense and they would actually get to offload some money for next season because Pondexter is on an expiring deal.

There are two issues. One, he has veto rights on any deal this season, so if he isn’t interested in joining the Wizards, they’re out of luck from the get-go. That probably won’t be an issue considering everything that’s happened in Chicago this season, but it’s worth noting.

The other problem here is that Mirotic’s deal expires in 2019, which as we already discussed, creates challenges because they’re still going to be over the cap. In trading for him, the Wizards would have to commit themselves to bringing him back after his current deal ends in order to justify giving up the pick. Still, it makes more sense to commit to Mirotic at age 28 than Morris at 30.

Washington shouldn’t try to stand pat at this year’s deadline. They have a number of issues to address, both in terms of making the current roster stronger and addressing future holes the team will face. If nothing else, a trade might be good just to shake things up for a team that’s looked awfully complacent this season.

That said, the Wizards need to prioritize the right things in a trade. Unless a huge name is available, they’re more than one move away from being a Finals contender, so they shouldn’t surrender the future for a move that only helps this season.

The focus needs to be on finding moves that address the team’s long-term issues. In less than two years, the team’s starting power forward and center could both be gone, and there aren’t any viable prospect to pick up the slack other than moving Otto Porter to power forward full time and starting Ian Mahinmi, who will be 33 when the 2019-20 season starts. Washington needs to start being proactive about filling those holes before they get in the way of what the young stars can accomplish.