In trading useless forward Rashard Lewis and the No. 46 pick in this Thursday’s draft to the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday, the Wizards acquired veterans who have displayed professionalism and a willingness to play defense and rebound. The Wizards have performed as poorly in those key areas as the Oklahoma City Thunder did in trying to slow LeBron James.
With centers Okafor and Nene, who was acquired in March, and forward Ariza on the roster, the Wizards now have a more grown-up look. Next season, they could realistically aspire to end the league-wide laughter at their expense, or at least make it less boisterous.
But after years of providing their fans with a product that’s even more awful than Andray Blatche’s half-hearted approach in the weight room, simply becoming less of a punch line isn’t good enough.
Fans want their teams to aspire to greatness. They’re encouraged when management articulates a clear plan to improve.
The savviest in any sport realize that reaching the top, or climbing within shouting distance of it, usually isn’t an overnight process. Franchises supposedly committed to winning (the Wizards claim to be one) eventually need to show significant progress. The Wizards’ latest move provides another example that they need to raise their bar.
The 2012-13 season will be the Wizards’ third since they began their latest (perpetual?) rebuilding project. During that time, owner Ted Leonsis and President Ernie Grunfeld have been open about their strategy of building through the draft, creating salary cap flexibility by jettisoning unwanted players and supplementing their core group with the right veterans through free agency and trades.
Over the next two years, the Wizards will commit $43 million in salary to Okafor and Ariza. That’s grossly overpaying for guys who haven’t been difference-makers in their careers, especially on what figures to be a middling team with no more than 30-something-victory potential.
How bad are the contracts the Wizards just added? New Orleans had hoped to unload either Okafor or Ariza. Essentially, the Wizards enabled the Hornets to amnesty two horrendous contracts and gave them a draft pick. That was the plan after the Wizards dismantled their roster?
Last season, Grunfeld finally acknowledged it made sense to have an old hand around to guide the Wizards’ kid-dominated lineup. Even on Sesame Street, there are a few wise adults.
The past few seasons, the Wizards’ most experienced players weren’t productive. It’s hard to lead from the bench.
Nene brought a sorely needed hard-hat-and-lunch-pail mentality to the carefree Wizards, who often worked harder in the clubs than on the court. He backed it up with borderline all-star talent, leading Grunfeld to see the light.
“We found out last year that when we added Nene to the team, everybody played better,” Grunfeld said in a phone interview Thursday. “You need that leadership and the veteran calmness that’s brought to the table by guys like that.”