By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst
Posted Oct 25, 2013 7:39 PM - Updated Oct 25, 2013 8:15 PM
This is a classic NBA trade.
The Washington Wizards, spurred on by an impatient owner and fan base, are trying to win as soon as possible. The Phoenix Suns, in a long-term rebuild that will take many years, continue to amass as many usable assets as possible. And a future first-round Draft pick from a Wizards team that hasn't made the playoffs since 2008 and just five times in the last 25 years could be quite useful down the road.
Hence, the Wizards, on Friday, sent veteran forward-center Emeka Okafor, and a 2014 first-round pick (protected to 12 in the Draft, meaning the Wizards will keep the pick if it is one of the first 12 in next year's loaded Draft) to Phoenix for veteran center Marcin Gortat and three other players — guard Kendall Marshall, the Suns' first-round pick in the 2012 Draft, veteran guard Shannon Brown and second-year guard Malcolm Lee.
But the deal was, essentially, Gortat for the pick. The Suns have no use for Okafor, who has not yet played this season for Washington and is out indefinitely with a herniated disc in his neck. The 31-year-old Okafor, when he recovers, could be an attractive free agent for contending teams if and when the Suns reach a settlement with him on the final year of his deal, which pays him $14.5 million this season.
With 15 guaranteed contracts already on the books, including Gortat's, Washington, according to sources, will not keep Marshall, Brown or Lee.
Okafor was one of the catalysts for Washington's terrific defense last season, which was top 10 most of the year both in traditional and advanced statistics. With Okafor and Nene up front, and John Wall, Bradley Beal and small forward Martell Webster, Washington had one of the best defensive starting fives in the league. Okafor was 11th in the league last season in defensive rating, according to Basketball Reference.
Gortat, with his own expiring contract ($7.7 million), was one of the most attractive players that was expected to be dealt before next February's trade deadline. Capable of scoring and hitting the boards (he was 13th among centers last season in rebound rate), Gortat would help the Wizards' depth up front and allow them to bring some scoring pop off the bench if he backs up Nene.
Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has made it clear that he wants to be in the playoffs this season, and with both general manager Ernie Grunfeld and coach Randy Wittman in the final year of their respective contracts, the pressure is on. But this is not a desperation deal. With Wall and Beal expected to be one of the league's top young backcourts, and with Otto Porter, Jr., the third pick overall in this past year's Draft, veterans Nene, Webster and Trevor Ariza, along with free agents Al Harrington and Eric Maynor, the Wizards are pushing for a postseason berth.
Meanwhile, Phoenix is in full rebuild, with first-year GM Ryan McDonough and coach Jeff Hornacek taking the long-range approach. They've cleaned house in a little less than six months on the job, jettisoning Marshall, who was supposed to replace Steve Nash, and all of the Suns' significant free-agent pickups in the summer of 2012 save one — guard Goran Dragic. They cut Michael Beasley, the former second overall Draft pick, and let Wes Johnson go to the Lakers. They traded Jared Dudley to the Clippers over the summer in a three-team deal that netted them promising guard Eric Bledsoe, who will be part of the franchise's new core group with first-round picks Alex Len and Archie Goodwin.
The Suns now have as many as four potential first-round picks in next year's Draft, which is expected to be one of the best in recent years. (Washington, though, does have protections on the pick through 2019; if it doesn't convey to Phoenix next year, the pick is protected through 10 in the 2015 through 2019 Drafts, meaning Washington would keep it if it was one of the top 10 in any of those Drafts. If it has not yet been conveyed to the Suns by then, Phoenix gets the pick with no protections in 2020.)
The Suns now have their own pick, along with Minnesota's (protected through 13 next year and through 12 in 2015 and 2016), Indiana's (protected through 14 from 2014 through 2019) and Washington's. While it's likely Phoenix will get the Pacers' first-rounder next year, it's not as certain they'll be getting the Wolves and Wizards picks immediately.
Nonetheless, Phoenix only has $28.8 million committed in salary for 2014-15, giving the Suns the potential for massive amounts of cap room next summer. The Suns will almost certainly have a chance at one of the top two or three picks in the '14 Draft, with some of the most anticipated underclassmen in recent memory likely to declare.
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