The Marcin Gortat era in Washington is officially over. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, Sam Amick of USA Today, and Tim Bontemps of The Washington Post are all reporting the Wizards have traded Marcin Gortat to the Clippers for Austin Rivers.
It’s been clear for some time the Wizards were ready to move on from Marcin Gortat, so this move is not a surprise. However, the return here is interesting. If you’re looking at it strictly in terms of on-court value next season, this is probably a win for the Wizards. Yes, they’re trading a starter for a bench player, but Gortat was only a starter last season because of Washington’s lack of alternatives. His production dropped off significantly last season and was only going to get worse next season as he turns 35.
Rivers, who turns 26 in August, is about to enter a contract year and is coming off the best season of his career. He averaged 15.1 points and 4.0 assists per game while shooting 37.8 percent from deep on nearly six attempts per game last season and fills a much-needed role on this team. He can play either guard position, which will make it easier for both John Wall and Bradley Beal to get more rest, and he could even play alongside both guards in closing lineups when Kelly Oubre Jr. struggles.
Let’s talk for a second about the economics of the trade, because that’s where this move gets really interesting for the Wizards. Bobby Marks of ESPN is reporting the trade will save the Wizards $1.4 million in luxury tax payments next season. However, the team will still be well over the salary cap line next summer when Rivers hits unrestricted free agency. If he joins a new team next summer, his expiring deal won’t free up spending money for Washington, so they’ve just handed a lot of leverage in free agent negotiations to a player who doesn’t ever project to be more than the third guard.
Beyond that, the Wizards still need to figure out what they’re going to do at center. Surely, the team doesn’t plan on going into next summer with Ian Mahinmi and Jason Smith as their only options at center, but they don’t have many options to get better. They can only offer the taxpayer mid-level exception (worth around $5.5 million annually) to free agents, which significantly limits their options.
It’s also going to be tricky to make a trade for a starting center without moving a key player. Their remaining expiring contracts (Jason Smith and Jodie Meeks) won’t fetch much, even if they throw in Tomas Satoransky, who is much more expendable now, as a sweetener. That means they’ll likely need to move Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr., or Kelly Oubre Jr. in order to make something work if they want a clear upgrade over Gortat.
Acquiring Rivers helps the Wizards address a clear hole on the roster, but it will be difficult to fully evaluate this move until we know how the Wizards plan on patching the other hole they just created.