In a major shakeup unique to most NBA teams the Washington Wizards have traded two starters, Nick Young and JaVale McGee, receiving Denver Nuggets’ Nene Hilario in the exchange: he of the five year, $67 million contract. The Wizards sent Young to the Clippers, while McGee and injured center Ronny Turiaf are on their way to Denver. The Wiz also bring in the Los Angeles Clippers’ Brian Cook and the Hornets 2015 second round pick.
In giving away Young the Wizards lose a potential 20 point per game scorer…for the next 25 games. In sending McGee to Denver they’ve lost a highlight real defender and spectacular dunker…for the next 25 games.
While you certainly could fault the Wizards for not already signing Young and McGee to long term deals, it is fairly clear this was the best move for the team as constructed. Neither player was certain to be a Wizard next season and, for all intents and purposes, both could still return to the Wizards next fall.
With the second worst record in the NBA the Wizards season was going to be, at best, a moral victory. By jettisoning two expiring contracts they acquired a skilled and experienced veteran who they own the rights to for four more seasons.
Just months ago Nene was letting the ink dry on a five year, $67 million deal. Suddenly there is no fear in Oz of being unable to sign any accomplished contributor in free agency and spending another season as a league laughingstock. They get a savvy big man who should flourish against diminished Eastern Conference competition and only lose the right to match an $11 million per season offer for McGee this summer.
And unfortunately that was the reality for the Wizards: both players might leave for nothing in the offseason, and other free agents around the league had little interest in coming to a bottom feeder with little established talent.
And while I’ve been harsh on Ernie Grunfeld in the past, I had to laugh as I watched the midnight SportsCenter. This is exactly what I would have wanted him to do.
Nene has some injury concerns, to be fair. But the past several seasons he’s been as healthy as can be expected of most centers, and brings a welcome attitude to a locker room yearning for more credible veteran leadership.
Brian Cook? Gone after the season with an expiring contract, but in the meantime gives the Wizards a stretch four that can open up the lane for Wall to drive to the hole and Nene and Trevor Booker to operate out of the post. The Clippers second round pick in an upcoming draft? An opportunity to turn a standard second round pick into a first rounder when packaged with one of their four second rounders in the upcoming two drafts.
And while it pains me to see Ronny Turiaf leave without more Wizards game tape (though if he is waived by the Nuggets as expected he could conceivably return as well), he was ultimately another expiring contract for the offseason. Depending on whether the Wizards decide to use their Amnesty waiver on one of the Wizards current employees (“Blatche or Lewis?” is the amnesty version of “Oden or Durant?”), the Wizards could still afford to sign a top tier free agent in the offseason after collecting a top six pick in the draft.
If Wall makes The Leap next season, Nene returns to the production levels of his last three years and the Wizards can hit a home run on this year’s top selection, they are a signing or two away from contending for the playoffs. It may seem like a lot of “ifs”, but it is what we all knew to expect—a project that will take another few years to develop.
And, in some sign of divine providence, Wall showed how close he is to making that jump. He ended his night against the New Orleans Hornets with 26 points and 12 assists and three steals on 11-for-16 shooting, leading his team to an impressive 99-89 road win with a depleted lineup.
With another building block locked up for several more seasons, the Wizards get a competent two way center who still figures to be in the thick of his productive seasons—ones that happen to coincide with the Wizards rights to Wall. Depending on his motivation and injury status going forward, they also have “Nene Hilario’s Expiring Contract” to wield in 2015.
For Wizards fans, the purging of two frustrating talents will bring some measure of peace to the roster. And, if the team decides to go in a different direction when the draft approaches this June, they still have the cap space to bring them back to the Verizon Center next fall.