Offseason In Review: Washington Wizards

December 6 2012 at 8:10pm CST By Luke Adams

Hoops Rumors is in the process of looking back at each team's offseason, from the end of the playoffs in June right up until opening night. Trades, free agent signings, draft picks, contract extensions, option decisions, camp invitees, and more will be covered, as we examine the moves each franchise made over the last several months.

Signings

Trades and Claims

Draft Picks

  • Bradley Beal (Round 1, 3rd overall). Signed via rookie exception.
  • Tomas Satoransky (Round 2, 32nd overall). Will play overseas.

Camp Invitees

Departing Players

Rookie Contract Option Decisions

As far removed as they were from the 2012 playoffs, the Wizards seemed to have a reasonably clear direction heading into the offseason. Six of the team's players, including John Wall, were on rookie contracts, and while not all of them have lived up to expectations yet, they're still young, promising, and affordable enough that Washington picked up its 2013/14 options on all of them. Throw in the No. 3 overall pick and the trade-deadline acquisition that the team hopes will be a fixture for years to come (Nene) and it seemed the Wizards didn't need to make many major moves this summer.

The Wizards did need to make decisions on two overpaid, underperforming players, however, in Rashard Lewis and Andray Blatche. Lewis was under contract for one more year at $22.7MM, of which $13.7MM was guaranteed. Blatche, meanwhile, still had about $23.4MM remaining on his deal, though that amount was spread out over three years. Lewis and Blatche were coming off awful seasons and didn't appear to be part of the Wizards' plans, making both amnesty candidates.

Washington's eventual decision on the those players changed the team's outlook not only for this offseason, but for next offseason as well. Rather than amnestying Lewis to clear his entire $22.7MM from the cap, or simply releasing him and reducing his cap hit by $9MM, the Wizards found a team willing to trade for his contract. However, in exchange for the Hornets taking on Lewis, the Wizards gave up a second-round pick and took on two questionable contracts in their own right, in Emeka Okafor's (two years, $28MM) and Trevor Ariza's (two years, $15MM). Washington then used its amnesty clause to release Blatche.

The Wizards' thinking here is clear enough — the team rightly believed that even if it cleared out some cap space by amnestying or releasing Lewis, free agents were unlikely to come to Washington, a team that hasn't won more than 26 games since 2007/08. So rather than overpaying players on the open market, the Wizards acquired a couple of overpaid, but potentially productive, players via trade.

While I understand the logic, I don't agree with it. Had the Wizards, for instance, amnestied Blatche and released Lewis, it may not have freed up enough room to make another move this past summer, but it would have meant a ton of money coming off the books next July. Even if the team was pessimistic about luring top free agents, there are always players simply seeking the highest offer. If the Wizards had overpaid to sign someone, could the price have been much worse than having Okafor for $14.5MM and Ariza for $7.7MM in 2013/14?

On top of that, having cap room next summer wouldn't even have meant the Wizards needed to use that space to sign free agents. As other teams have shown, cap room can also be a valuable asset for facilitating trades in which a club with space takes on a bad contract and gets a draft pick or a talented young player as well. Generally, when a club takes on bad multiyear contracts like Okafor's or Ariza's, it should be receiving assets for its trouble, like the Bobcats did when they received Ben Gordon's multiyear deal and a first-round pick from the Pistons for Corey Maggette's expiring contract. Unfortunately for Washington, the team seems to simply be stuck in a cycle of trading one bad contract for another, from Gilbert Arenas to Lewis to Okafor and Ariza.

The Wizards were still able to land a potential core piece in the draft in Bradley Beal, and with Wall and Nene healthy, there will certainly be some talent on the roster. But a trade like the Okafor/Ariza acquisition is the sort of move a team makes when it's on the verge of big things and believes that there's a one- or two-year window to contend. Perhaps the Wizards thought the deal would help ensure that Wall wants to stay in Washington when he hits free agency in 2014, but even that argument doesn't make much sense to me. After all, Wall will be a restricted free agent that summer — even if he's not happy with the Wizards, there's no risk of the team losing him for nothing unless they choose to do so.

A club in the Wizards' position should be exercising a little patience, waiting for its young players to develop and building toward contention by continuing to add core assets. While Washington did that by drafting Beal, the trade for Okafor and Ariza was the kind of move that could set the team's rebuilding process back a year or two by handicapping its flexibility going forward.

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