NBA Roundtable

Trade: Emeka Okafor for Rashard Lewis

In Trade Talk on June 26, 2012 at 11:32 pm

ESPN writes

The New Orleans Hornets traded forward Trevor Ariza and center Emeka Okafor to the Washington Wizards on Wednesday for forward Rashard Lewis and a second-round draft pick.

“We are rebuilding our team and this is one step in our new direction,” Hornets general manager Dell Demps said. “This trade will provide an opportunity for our young players to develop and create flexibility to add to our core group moving forward.”

Grunfeld said the deal won’t have any effect on the team’s draft plans.

“We felt like we needed to add some veterans to the roster, and we were able to do that with this move. … We get players that are good solid players and fill two needs for us,” he said. “Instead of going into free agency to try to fill our needs, we did it through a trade.”

The second round pick is the #46 pick.

Analysis

New Orleans Hornets

This is a good trade for New Orleans but part of me is sad that Anthony Davis won’t have Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza to help him out defensively and show him the way forward early on in his career.

My expectations for Davis in the long term are very high but in the immediate sense, I am expecting him to be more of a quality 30mpg rotation player than an All-Star caliber player.

Having a defensive anchor like Okafor alongside him at center (while Davis starts off at PF) would have taken a lot of pressure of his shoulders and allowed him to develop at his own pace.  Someone who can lead while Davis finds his comfort level in the NBA. Ariza too, a top notch defensive wing, someone who can take pressure off of Davis and make his life easier. Be the Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins to Davis’ Serge Ibaka if you will.

That all said, moving those players will make New Orleans a lot worse in the immediate sense and give them higher draft picks moving forward which will help them put other top tier young talent alongside Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon which will help them long term. So there is clearly enough value here to make this worthwhile for New Orleans. Still, part of me is disappointed that Davis won’t have that extra help while he learns the ropes in the NBA.

Potential Roster

PG – Jarrett Jack, Greivis Vasquez
SG – Eric Gordon, Marco Belinelli
SF – Trevor Ariza,
PF – Anthony Davis, Carl Landry
C  – Emeka Okafor

The Hornets could even go a step further and bring back Chris Kaman here and bolster their frontline even more. That said, I wouldn’t have done that. I would have preferred to give Davis some minutes at center while Okafor rests alongside Carl Landry. I think those three players could make a potent three player big man rotation. Someone like Jason Smith and/or Gustavo Ayon as the fourth and fifth bigs.

That team would have been really solid. A .500 team comfortably. Maybe slightly above. A 45 win team perhaps.

Anyway, it was not to be.

Actual Roster

PG – Jarrett Jack, Greivis Vasquez
SG – Eric Gordon, [Marco Belinelli]
SF –
PF – Anthony Davis, [Carl Landry]
C  – [Chris Kaman]

With Okafor gone, I think the odds of New Orleans choosing to keep Chris Kaman will have grown considerably. And with a dodgy free agent marketplace for Kaman, I think the odds of him choosing to stay are pretty high too.

Then there is Landry and Belinelli plus their #10 draft pick. Three more variables.

So there is still a chance to have a decent team there next season. If they decide to go the other way and dump some of those veterans, they could fall back to that 25-32 win territory and pick up another top draft pick. Given the loss of Okafor and Ariza, that is my preferred long term strategy. If, however, they choose to win-now with their veteran FAs … I will be disappointed that they didn’t just keep Okafor and Ariza instead because I think they (Okafor especially) would have been very beneficial to Anthony Davis’ development.

Cap Flexibility

The Hornets get their cap space a year earlier now.

I don’t see this as a major advantage because I doubt they’ll be able to convince any headliners (free agents) to sign there for at least two years anyway … until Anthony Davis establishes himself as an All-Star caliber player. Like I said earlier, my expectations for him as a rookie are well short of that so I don’t think he’ll be a major draw for FAs next year.

That said, they can still get some value out of that cap space by renting it out for a year in return for young talent / draft picks.

Washington Wizards

Short Term Gain, Long Term Pain?

Not wild about this move for Washington. Concerned actually. With this move, Washington has tried to fast-track their development by making short-term upgrades to their roster that will unfortunately also limit their long term opportunities.

Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza are a pair of quality veteran players and are average starters at their respective positions. Neither is a high level offensive player but they will do a lot in other areas. Individually and combined, they will bring a large does of defense and possession creation.

So, they will provide the club with a large boost in the W-L column next season. However, that will come at the cost of the Wizards draft pick slots for next year and the year after. A higher placed finish in the league leads to a lower draft pick. Which is fine when you have a quality core to build around long term but Washington isn’t there yet.

The Wizards have only one  genuine building block on their roster and that is John Wall. Emeka Okafor and Nene are both fine players but they will both turn 30 in the near future and are exiting the prime years of their career. Neither one offers a long term future to the team. Trevor Ariza is a role player. Blatche is a question mark (read: a colossal mess who is highly unlikely to put it together). Their other young players (J.Crawford, Seraphin, Vesely, Booker), well, none of them look like star talent in the making.

Which brings us to their draft pick in this year’s draft. The #3 slot. There is a lot of pressure on this pick. Washington need a home-run. They need to find an All-Star caliber prospect here to put alongside John Wall. To at least give them a second building block with the hopes of adding a third or fourth down the road in free agency and/or in trades. Because if they fail to do that, if they strike out on a star talent (and draft another Kwame Brown or even a Mike Conley type player), that will be a major blow to their long term hopes of winning a league title.

So bringing it back, with an improved roster that stands a good chance of making the playoffs next season, the Wizards should be finishing somewhere in the middle of the first round next year and hopefully even higher the year after. However, without Okafor and Ariza, and if they were building patiently instead, the Wizards would likely add another top 5-7 pick and a top 10-15 pick the year after. Two more chances to add another high level prospect + quality prospect to their core before they are ready to start moving forward.

The question then is: Which option gives them a better chance of competing for a title in the future? Okafor and Ariza? Or the higher draft picks in future seasons?

And then we have the loss of cap flexibility in 2013/14 which could have garnered further assets.

Roster

PG – John Wall,
SG – Jordan Crawford,
SF – Trevor Ariza, Jan Vesely
PF – Nene, Trevor Booker
C  – Emeka Okafor, Andray Blatche, Kevin Seraphin

Plus, their #3 draft pick which very well may be Bradley Beal. Obviously, he’d be the guy who most naturally fills that void at SG. Although, Harrison Barnes may also be a good option here.

With that draft pick addition + with some work adding bench players (especially in the backcourt), the Wizards stand a good chance of being a .500 team next year.

Fair chance John Wall makes a leap next season too after stagnating this past year. The Wizards could end up being a dangerous team.

Impatient Owner

Ted Leonsis got sick of losing a large number of games and all the immature nonsense of their young players (Nick Young, Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee) and demanded they turn it around more quickly.

In doing so, he has harmed the Wizards long term development. They will win a few more games next year though and that’s what matters, right? Not winning a Championship, that simply isn’t a priority.

To me, there has been a serious lack of leadership and long term planning from the ownership and front office in this decision.

#3 Draft Pick

To reiterate — this year’s pick is huge. This will likely be their last top five pick, last lottery pick, for the foreseeable future.

The Wizards need a home-run here. They need a second (young) All-Star caliber player to put alongside John Wall.

Otherwise, they are heading down a win-now road with no idea as to how they will build a title contender further down the line (other than getting on their hands and knees and praying for it).

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  1. While I usually agree with your analysis, in this case I don’t. In your perspective, you feel that basically “tanking” another year would ensure they acquire another top draft pick and build around Wall, 2012 first round pick and 2013 first round pick. I would be hesitant because of the struggles almost every lottery team has to make the jump to even mediocrity and seem to be stuck in upper lottery every year (Sacremento, GS etc.) The only recent example of a team truly building from the draft is OKC, every other team required significant trades or FA pickups to become a playoff contender. Also, Wall will probably become disillusioned with the Wizards and will likely demand out.

    With this move, the Wizards will likely contend for a playoff spot and will have a nice mix of youth (Wall, Vesely, 2012 First round pick, Seraphin) and experience. Honestly the team would just be too young and I feel these were needed veteran heads. Another thing to consider is that the Wizards are taking 4 million dollars worth of salary this year and will have two expiring contracts next year so the deal is close to riskless in terms of future salary obligation.

    In essence it is an argument between having another top 5 pick or the development or a strong defense-first culture and I feel that latter is more important for the Wiz right now.

  2. Hey Anish,

    Sorry for the no-reply on your previous comment during the Boston-Miami series. Anyway, your comments are much-appreciated and will be replied to in a more timely fashion in the future. Sorry again.

    —————————————————————-

    I have two principles I like to judge a move like this from:

    (1) Is the core strong enough to grow into a core capable of fielding a title down the line?
    (2) Does the move allow for sustainable development to the point of title contention?

    ——————————————————————-

    In this case,

    (1) Emeka Okafor and Nene are too old to be considered core players 3-4 years from now. The only young talent on their roster that has shown enough talent to be considered a core player is John Wall + maybe their lotto pick in this year’s draft. So you only really have a partial core in place.

    Core player = roughly speaking, an above average starter or greater.

    (2) Climbing each step in the ladder until you reach the top of the ladder. In the NBA, (a) lousy team to (b) near playoff team to (c) low seed playoff team to (d) quality playoff team who can win a series or two, to, (e) title contender. Something like that.

    Has Washington’s move enabled that type of sustainable growth to the point of being a legitimate contender for an NBA Title at some point in the future?

    The method of growth – current talent on roster + potential of roster + ability to make further acquisitions in future years via the draft, trade market and free agency.

    Let’s look at current talent = probably a .500 team

    Future talent = two high end prospects in John Wall and Bradley Beal. A bunch of other young players who project to be role players.

    Future acquisitions = limited draft picks + limited trade assets (expiring contracts + so-so prospects) outside of their two young starlets + a $60+ million payroll for the next two years, then considerable cap space to build around their two young stars + Nene (so long as they gut the rest of their team). So that cap space in two years is their only realistic avenue to adding high quality talent down the road.

    ————————————————————————————–

    That type of limited ability to improve their team is not something I am comfortable with. Now maybe they get lucky and it works out … but they are taking a major risk.

    The most likely scenario here for Washington is that they become a treadmill team and get stuck in that low-seed playoff tier. The second most likely is they manage to make good (but unexceptional) FA signings two years from now and get stuck in that next tier (where the Atlanta Hawks have been for the last 4 years, never get further than the second round).

    The odds of them fielding a title contender are very low.

    They have no real long term plan other than crossing their fingers and hope that things work out.

  3. To continue on, I think the Toronto Raptors are a great example.

    During the Bosh years, the Raptors spent a lot of resources (cap space, draft picks, trade assets) in a premature and ineffective long term manner that didn’t allow for long term growth and made them into a treadmill team. That is the road Washington is currently on.

    Also, last year, the Raptors brought in a defensive minded coach in Dwyane Casey and some defensive minded veterans like Jamaal Magloire + Anthony Carter + Rasual Butler and implemented a defense first mindset to build off of. A level of professional and dedication to their jobs. Exactly the type of culture you want your young players to be around.

    They did it with minimal resources and without effecting their ability to improve in the long term. That is perfect (and the opposite of what Washington is doing).

    If Washington wanted to create a type of environment conducive to development for John Wall and their other youngsters, they could have done so without costing themselves high draft picks + limiting their cap flexibility on old talent (Okafor, Nene) who will be too long in the tooth to be high end players by the time their young guns are ready.

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