Analysis of the Wizards’ trade for Marcin Gortat

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Updated: October 26, 2013
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By now, you know the Washington Wizards traded injured center Emeka Okafor, in the final year of his contract, to the Phoenix Suns for center Marcin Gortat, in the final year of his contract, plus three other players and a top-12-protected first round draft pick in 2014. Here is what I like about the trade from a Wizards perspective, what I don’t like, and then an overall summary and grade for the transaction.

WHAT I LIKE FOR THE WIZARDS

The Wiz swapped an injured big man for a healthy big man. There has been a lot of optimistic talk about the Wizards making the playoffs, but I’e been more skeptical and after Okafor’s neck injury, I found it very difficult indeed to see the Wizards making the playoffs with that roster. Nene can’t play center for extended minutes because he’s too fragile. Whenever he’s been successful Nene has been paired with another powerful front court player to take a lot of the pounding off him. If Nene had to play that role he would not play it for long. Already fragile, Nene would bust into pieces as the front court tough guy battling with big centers night after night. Before long, the Wizards would be without their two best front court players, Okafor and Nene..

Which brings me back to Okafor. He’s injured. My guess is the injury is quite serious. My view is that the Wizards would have been lucky to get anything at all from Okafor this season before his contract ran out and he became a free agent with a bad recent injury to his neck. My extremely pessimistic realistic of Okafor’s health situation led me to downgrade the Wizards’ prospects this season significantly. To me, a Wizards team that gets nothing from Okafor and plays without Nene in the lineup half the time [that's about what I figured] would be a bad team, missing the playoffs and getting a draft pick somewhere in the 6-12 range of the first round. In other words, par for the course.

This trade confirms my suspicions about Okafor’s health. The Wizards didn’t see him coming back any time soon [and when he did come back he'd probably get re-injured quickly] and decided to get something for Okafor from a team that doesn’t care if Okafor never plays a second this season. The Phoenix Suns are terrible and after this trade they may very well be the worst team in the NBA. And that’s by design. The Suns are all in for that first pick in the draft to turn around their season. If they get the Wizards pick in this draft they will have four first round picks in a draft that will be very talent-rich. So trading Okafor for Gortat is an easy deal for the Wizards to make. Both players are in the final year of their contract, but one is healthy and may never be right again — certainly not this season. The other, Gortat, is healthy, 29 and can bang, shoot down low and rebound. Gortat was hurt much of 2012-13, but even then he wasn’t a bad player, averaging 14.5/40, 11.0/40, with a TS% of 54.3 and a PER of 15.5. Not great, but decent. However, in 2011-12, before he was hurt, Gortat was much better, putting up 19.2/40, 12.5/40, a TS% of 57.8 and a PER of 21.2. If Gortat is healthy — as he is now — and he gives Washington something like that 2011-12 season, the Wizards will have a very good center on their team, one that should pair up nicely with Nene. Gortat thrived with Steve Nash feeding him the ball and Channing Frye spacing the floor nicely. The Wizards will have John Wall feeing Gortat the ball and should be clear plenty of room for him with perimeter shooters like Martell Webster, Trevor Ariza, Bradley Beal and Glen Rice, Jr.

The Wizards are trying to imitate the 2010-11 Indiana Pacers, who reached the 8th seed in the playoffs, lost to the Bulls in the first round, but showed enough promise that they were able to attract forward David West in the free agent market. The result is Indiana is now a regular playoff team and lost to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals last season. The Wizards should have between $12.5 and $13 million in cap space available in the offseason, allowing them to make a play for a big man like Greg Monroe or someone else. The point is, the Wizards want to show enough promise to attract a top free agent and then go from there. This deal, they hope, will allow them to do that.

What about the first round pick? Well, it is protected for the first 12 picks, meaning that if the Wizards don’t make the playoffs and have a draft pick in the first 12 of the first round, they don’t have to give it to Phoenix. So if the Wizards should fall apart this season and have a chance to take Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker or Julius Randle they won’t lose that exceedingly rare opportunity to the Suns because of this trade. The Wizards draft pick is more likely to be in the 14-18 range, and GM Ernie Grunfeld‘s history of drafting in that area — Nick Young, Oleksiy Pecherov, Javale McGee — is not good.

The Wizards know more about Okafor’s neck injury than anyone else and this indicates that, as I expected, the injury is very serious and they don’t see Okafor doing much in the final year of his contract. The Wizards get Gortat and if re-signing him is the best they can do in free agency then having his Bird rights will give the team a big advantage over other potential suitors for the Polish big man. The Wizards got younger, healthier and will have an extra year to make Gortat a part of their system before he hits free agency.

WHAT I DON’T LIKE FOR THE WIZARDS

This trade demonstrates the hazards of, well, moral hazard. The Wizards didn’t give up anything of value in 2013 [I place no value on a seriously injured Emeka Okafor], but they did give up a first round draft pick. If the Wizards make the playoffs that first round pick won’t be extremely valuable and Ernie Grunfeld will probably still have his job. If the Wizards do not make the playoffs then Grunfeld is probably fired anyway. So what does he care? Owner Ted Leonsis wants to make the playoffs this year and Grunfeld is trying to give the owner what he wants in order to keep his job. If/when the draft pick is sent to the Suns, Grunfeld might not be in his current job and the fate of the Wizards will mean nothing to him.

Washington felt it had to make this deal because the big frontcourt depth behind Nene and Okafor is Kevin Seraphin, Chris Singleton, Jan Vesely and Trevor Booker. That’s terrible. Of course, Washington could have done something different in the 2013 NBA Draft to fix that situation, but they chose not to. They relied on Okafor and Nene, two guys on the wrong side of 30, to stay healthy. When that didn’t happen, they had to make this move, which has the whiff of a bit of panic. This deal would not have been necessary if the Wizards came out of the 2013 draft with a solid young big to move into the rotation with the two veterans. But they didn’t. So this is where they find themselves.

Did the Wizards just trade a first round pick to rent a big man for one season? Maybe. Maybe not. We’ll see. How Gortat plays and what the Wizards eventually do with him will determine the final grade for this deal. Right now, I’ll give this trade a…

OVERALL GRADE FOR THE TRANSACTION: B-/C+


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