Wizards Without Arenas? What Should They Do?

Steve O Speak

Now that the NBA has suspended Washington Bullets Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas (really how ironic that this situation happens to a team who changed its name from ‘Bullets’ to get away from the idea of gun violence in Washington?) for the season, the team has to figure out what its next step is. The Wizards are in a tough spot because the loss of Agent Zero completely changes their plans for this season and the future. Originally it looked as though the only decision in Washington was whether or not they should trade one or two of their other star players for expiring contracts to use in the banner 2010 free agent class next summer. The idea made some sense, go with Arenas, who ever you pick up in the trades, and the young guys the rest of the way. If you make the playoffs great, if not you are in perfect position to grab one of the big stars to play alongside Arenas and add one or two other free agents. Now those plans are dashed, and the team is left with a major decision about what do they do now. While things look dire in Washington, I think if the Wizards are smart they can make the most out of this situation and come out ahead.

The good thing with the suspension of Arenas is, it should help give them precedent to void the remainder of his contract. Now I realize that there are reports that the Wizards won’t be able to void the contract, but I don’t see that as the case. First off, Arenas will be charged with multiply felonies, by both State and Federal authorities. Secondly, Arenas has fully admitted what he has done, so it will be hard for him to take back his statements now. Finally, the league has deemed that his actions (which also broke league rules) are punishable by suspension for at least the rest of the season. Those factors combined, in addition to the violate nature of his actions, lack of remorse, and negative public opinion, all spell doom for Arenas’ efforts to fight the legal case and the termination of his contract. With Arenas’ contract voided, the Wizards will have plenty of additional money to play with next season.

Now the Wizards options seem to be either keeping Antwan Jamison and Caron Butler and using the Arenas money to lure a top FA, or blowing up the team entirely and signing a couple of big name free agents. The big problem with the first idea is that Jamison and Butler’s best positions (PF and SF) just so happen to be the positions of most of the free agent talent. You could move players around and have Butler play the 2 or Jamison the 3, but you would still be without a true point guard or center on your roster. I think that lack of a PG or C will keep the cream of the crop from considering the Wizards. I think their second option (blowing the team up) is the better way to go.

Now conventional wisdom would say to blow the team up, and acquire a few young players/draft picks but mainly to acquire expiring contracts for Jamison and Butler, to further invest in next years free agent pool. I mean can you imagine signing Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, then adding Raymond Felton to play point guard? No I can’t, because there is no chance of that happening. It doesn’t matter whether the Wizards have $5 million to spend or $50 million to spend, they aren’t going to get one much less two of the top free agents. They don’t have the nucleus to offer to the top tier guys. I’m sure they can spend their money on the Drew Gooden’s, and Hakim Warrick’s of the league (which aren’t necessarily bad signings as long as they don’t overpay) but unless there are some big surprises I don’t think they can compete with they big market/playoff caliber teams that have money to spend.

This is where I think the Wizards should get radical, instead of going crazy to clear cap space for next season, they should focus their trades in acquiring young talented (cheap) players and multiple draft picks (2010 is looking like a much better draft class) and even be willing to take on salary for next season. I know this concept of foregoing the 2010 market is sacrilege in NBA circles.  But the Wizards are in prime position to be a serious mover and shaker at the deadline in February (hopefully they start sooner) not counting Arenas’ voided contract. They have over $30 million in expiring contracts to move (and about half of that is for two players who have some legitimate value Mike Miller and Brendan Haywood). In addition, they have two star players they can move (Jamison and Butler) that don’t have prohibitive contracts, and a couple of young pieces that could be enticing for clubs. And is there a playoff team that wouldn’t want Earl Boykins coming off the bench during the stretch drive (his minimum contract could be added to just about any deal)? Since the Wizards will find themselves on the outside looking in in this year’s market, they should look to use their expiring contracts as an advantage get more additional young players/draft picks and focus on having cap room in 2011. Now the 2011 class isn’t as good as this year’s, but the Wizards would be one of the few teams able to make a big signing 2011, so they could actually get the creme of the crop (potentially two big names depending on how much money they free up), and in the process they can build a young talented core that can set them up to compete in 2011.

Here are a couple of trades I’d explore if I was the Wizards, all of these trades worked in ESPN’s Trade Machine but could need some subtle tweaks with money/draft picks.

Trade 1: Wizards trade Antwan Jamison to the OKC Thunder for Jeff Green, Nick Collison, Eric Maynor and a 1st round pick.

Why this works for the Wizards:  Green is signed through next season and is a restricted free agent after that. He would be a perfect player for the Wizards to extend and build around, he can fit in either the 3 or the 4 and is a home town guy for Wizard fans to root for. Maynor is another local guy, and has a lot of upside, though probably a year or two away from really showing it. Collison isn’t anything special but his deal is up after next season, and can give them solid minutes at either the 4 or the 5.

Why this works for the Thunder:  OKC needs another star to go along with Durant and Westbrooke. They aren’t going to be a big player in free agency so they should look to add their PF through a trade. While they are giving up some talent, it isn’t anything they could live without. For a team that is a surprising contender this season, the Thunder should make a run at it and Jamison could be the piece that they need.

Trade 2: Wizards trade Caron Butler to the Phoenix Suns for Lenardo Barbosa, Earl Clark and a first round draft pick* (this might need to be a future first rounder and not next season’s)

Why this works for the Wizards:  Barbosa is a solid role player and could be a decent starting shooting guard for the Wizards the next year and a half, and give them cap room in 2011. Clark has struggled so far this season but he is a player with a ton of potential and should be a good trade chip/starter in the future.

Why this works for Phoenix:  The Suns weren’t supposed to be a contender this year, but they are in the middle of the pack out West. Their one weakness is their small forward play, adding Butler would give them a top-notch starting five.

Trade 3: Wizards Trade Brendan Haywood to the Trail Blazers for Steve Blake and Juwan Howard and a first round pick* (this is another one that could be a future first rounder)

Why this works for the Wizards:  This deal would give them two former Wizards, in addition to another first round pick. The too veterans could offer much needed respect and leadership (as well as being fan favorites) to the young Wizards. They are also both free agents after this season, maintaining some cap room for Washington.

Why this works for Portland:  Injuries along their front court have set back the Trail Blazers playoff hopes. Center is the one position where Portland could use a major upgrade for the postseason. At the same time they won’t be giving up any significant contributors, while keeping their cap room for next year.

Trade 4 (This i’m borrowing an idea from Bill Simmons about the Knicks): The Wizards trade the expiring contracts of Mike James and DeShawn Stevenson for Jordan Hill and Jared Jeffries (plus some cash).

Why this trade works for the Wizards:  While the Wizards would be conceding some Cap space next season, they get a young upside PF in Hill and a solid contributor in Jeffries. Jeffries is another player whose contract is up after next season, while Hill is a nice project big man. That is a decent return considering James and Stevenson aren’t contributors on the Wizards.

Why this works for the Knicks:  New York is desperately trying to clear space for next years free agent class and could add another $8.5 million for the offseason. They could miss Hill down the road, but he’s far from a finished product, and if they can end up with two of the stars from the FA class I don’t think anyone will be complaining.

Trade 5: The Wizards trade Randy Foye and Dominic McGuire to the Grizzlies for Sam Young, Marcus Williams and a 1st round pick (The Nuggets pick that Memphis has)

Why this works for the Wizards:  The Grizzlies are one of the few teams in the league that can take on any salary and stay under the cap. Young would be a solid 2 or 3 off the bench. He has ton of potential and is the exact character guy that this team needs an influx of (not to mention he is a local guy who grew up in MD). Since the Wizards aren’t doing anything this season they should save some money against the luxury tax as well as pick up a few good pieces for the future.

Why this works for the Grizzlies:  The Grizzlies are an up and coming team, that could use a good player on the wing. Foye fits perfectly for them since they don’t want to take on any long term deals, and is a restricted free agent next season.Since the Grizzlies have two extra first rounders, they can give up one to add a good player.

Trade 6, Out of all these deals this probably has the least likelihood of happening, but  here it is: Wizards trade Mike Miller (Expiring contract), Andray Blatche, Nick Young, JaVale McGee to New Orleans for Emeka Okafor and Morris Peterson

Why this works for the Wizards:  Up until this point the Wizards have focused on the future, with guys with potential and draft picks. Here they can use they’re cap situation to get them some legitimate talent. By taking on Peterson’s bad contract and giving up some potential and cap space, they get a very good PF/C in Okafor. Okafor isn’t a superstar, but gives the Wizards the power big man they’ve been lacking for years. Blatche, Young, and McGee all have potential, but haven’t consistently shown it for the Wizards. Peterson is an okay player, and will give the Wizards another contract that is up after next season.

Why this works for the Hornets:  New Orleans, thought the addition of Okafor would make them a frontline contender, but that hasn’t been the case this season. They have one of the worst salary situations in the league and moving Okafor would allow them to keep their top two players (West and Paul), and get rid of Peterson’s contract. While there is some upside in the trade the main feature would be the cap room saved next year with the expiring contract.

While fans may be upset and hate the idea of these trades they are the right move for this franchise. By acquiring a number of cheap, young players, they can build a solid core and have the depth to build for the future. They could package some of that young talent with their additional 1st round picks and trade up for another lottery pick. Washington will also free up some money from their cap number this year, reducing their luxury tax number. They will still have the money to add a 2nd tier free agent this season, and will have enough coming off the books to be a big player in 2011. It might be an ugly year and a half at the box office in D.C., but will finally put this team on the right direction.

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