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Wizards Primed to Contend for Mediocre After Offseason of Missed Opportunities

The Wizards could have taken the Big East Player of the Year at 32. Instead they got a Euro with a balky jumper they hope wont be on the team for the next few years.

I know, I know...Washington Wizards training camp opens in a week, and I'm supposed to be all optimistic about the team's prospects this year. They acquired some veterans. They drafted a promising youngster. What's not to like? A lot, actually.

A week before the NBA draft, the Washington Wizards traded the expiring contract of Rashard Lewis and a 2nd round pick to New Orleans for Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza. Over at the Wizards board on RealGM , I went on record as strongly disliking the trade.

The argument in favor of the trade was that it provided some certainty. The Wizards could be assured of having a couple solid players on the roster without worrying about the mercurial nature of NBA free agency.

My objection: it dealt away ALL the team's cap room for at least the next two years in exchange for a couple guys who will help the Wizards contend for the 7th or 8th playoff spot for the next couple seasons — not compete for a championship within the next 3-5 years. In effect, the Wizards won't have cap room for the foreseeable future because of pending contract renewals that will come due as Okafor and Ariza's deals expire.

The counter to my objection has generally been to talk about the difficulty Washington would have recruiting free agents. But, there are more ways to use cap room than merely signing free agents, and preserving the flexibility to pursue some of those "ways" would have been preferable to the trade they made.

And the events of this offseason demonstrate that.

While some NBA teams have been overpaying players, others have been snapping up relative bargains. Dallas, for example, claimed Elton Brand in the amnesty waiver draft for just $2.1 million. His production last year was worth  $9.4 million, according to my salary formula.

Brand's teammate Lou Williams — a combo guard who scores efficiently — signed a mid-level deal starting at $5 million. His production last year was worth $8.8 million.

The Spurs re-signed the criminally underrated Danny Green for three years and $12 million total ($4 million per season) — Green's production last season was worth more than $7 million.

Phoenix recently amnestied Josh Childress, a SF who has disappointed in the desert. And, while Childress hasn't been worth his contract, he'd be an asset to a team as an off-the-bench swingman for 25-30% of his deal.

Had the Wizards bit the financial bullet and bought out Lewis for $13.7 million, and followed that up by amnestying Blatche, they would have had sufficient cap space to outbid Dallas for Brand, outbid Atlanta for Williams, and outbid San Antonio for Green. Then they could have used minimum salary deals to bring in depth players.

Or, they might have been able to use the cap space they traded to New Orleans to do what the Hornets did — acquire 23-year old PF Ryan Anderson in a sign and trade with the Magic.

While the Wizards made the right pick at the top of the draft when they selected Bradley Beal, they squandered opportunities with their 2nd round picks. First, they inexplicably included their second 2nd rounder in the trade for Okafor and Ariza. Usually, when one team takes on another team's salary cap problems, it GETS picks. New Orleans got the cap space they needed to acquire Ryan Anderson, and somehow got a pick too. Strange.

Worse, when it came time for Washington to use its high 2nd round pick (32nd overall), they chose Tomas Satoransky -- an athletic Euro who has an iffy jumper. Except, Satoransky won't be with the Wizards this season. They picked him as a "draft and stash" -- a guy who will play overseas for a few more seasons in the hopes that one day he might actually be ready to play in the NBA.

Meanwhile, they bypassed the opportunity to pick Jae Crowder, the Big East Player of the Year, and the second best prospect in the draft, according to my draft analysis. Crowder went to Dallas with the next pick. They also could have used the pick on Will Barton (a top 10 prospect in my system) or Marcus Denmon (another top 10 prospect). Or Darius Johnson-Odom (a top 20 prospect) or Orlando Johnson (top 25), and so on.

Had the Wizards kept both their 2nd round picks, they could have drafted Beal at three, Crowder at 32 and Denmon at 46. That would have given them three of the top 10 prospects in my ratings, and a serious influx of mature, hard-working, talented young players.

Crowder might have started at SF as a rookie. Denmon could be a nice 3rd or 4th guard for someone. Beal, of course, could be a perennial All-Star. They would have given themselves two chances to "get lucky" and have one of those second rounders become a quality player. Instead, they gave away one of the picks, burned the other on a guy they don't want on the team until a few years from now (if ever), and instead used the roster spots on the likes of AJ Price (a below average player who's not getting better) and Martell Webster (another below average player who's not likely to get better).

That's enough for today. Next time, I'll explain what motivated the subpar offseason.

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