With starting center Emeka Okafor sidelined by a neck injury and facing a sub-par performance so far in the preseason, the Washington Wizards attempted to solidify their center position in an Oct. 25 trade with the Phoenix Suns for center Marcin Gortat.
The move dealt Okafor and Washington’s 2014 first-round draft pick—protected if Washington misses the postseason—to Phoenix in exchange for Gortat and guards Shannon Brown, Kendall Marshall and Malcolm Lee. Washington replaced an aging defensive center with an equally aged but more offensively skilled substitute in Gortat. Though Gortat’s scoring ability is a plus, Washington surrendered a valuable trade asset in Okafor’s expiring $14.5 million salary, as well as a potential pick in what’s projected to be a deep and talent-filled 2014 NBA draft. Was the move a good one? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate the question.
Riley: When you have $14.5 million in-cap-space and you can’t pull in a major piece to your puzzle, then it’s a failed move. The worst case scenario is Washington barely makes the playoffs, forcing them to surrender a pick in a valuable draft, and loses Gortat when his deal expires at the end of this season. It’s too much of a gamble and too much of a waste of such cap room. Washington could have easily packaged Okafor’s expiring contract and Trevor Ariza’s expiring deal and gained $21 million in breathing room. But now that option is gone and Washington is left with just Ariza’s contract—which might only give general manager Ernie Grunfield the chance to get outwitted again.
Green: The move is solid. As we saw in the preseason, Washington was nowhere close to being the playoff team some expect them to be. No Okafor meant no enforcer in the middle, and forced the talented but oft-injured Nene to slide over from his power forward spot and play out of position at center. Gortat can score, is a serviceable player, and is rarely injured or heard complaining. This was a good move, and the ideal scenario for this team is to find a big man in free agency next summer. The perimeter spots on the roster are already secured by John Wall, Bradley Beal and rookie Otto Porter alongside highly paid backup in Martell Webster. The need next summer is not for a rookie big in the draft, but an experienced frontcourt star. Now the Wizards have the option of going for a big fish or resigning Gortat to a smaller deal and using the other cap space to land another piece. A perfect scenario, if you ask me.
Riley: The problem with that strategy is that NBA free agents don't necessarily flock to Washington, D.C. Neither the team nor the city has exactly been a big draw for top-flight free agents. By using that cap space to land a player with a matching salary, Washington could have secured another talent without the competition in free agency of potentially better options and bigger markets. Does anybody see Washington winning a war of free agency against any of the more established teams in the league? I know I can’t. There’s no question that going into the season without an established center would have been a major issue for the roster, and a move needed to be made. I just don’t agree with the Gortat trade when there had to have been a better way to handle as much as $21 million of expiring, tradable contracts.
Green: Why can’t you see Washington winning a war of free agency? This is D.C., one of the most attractive cities in the world. With John Wall here, attracting a co-star to run the franchise shouldn’t be too difficult. I think you’ve totally misinterpreted the trade for Gortat. It’s essentially a low-risk, medium-reward move. Not only is Gortat’s deal expiring after this season, but so are the deals of the three guards they also acquired in the trade. They’ll still have plenty of cap space following this season. As for the draft pick they gave up, this Wizards team probably won’t make the playoffs anyway and won’t have to give up the pick. The trade makes Washington a better team, if not exactly a winning team. Either way, they’ll be looking to land a star through free agency or another trade in 2014.