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3-on-3 Roundtable: Ariza’s fate; expectations of Otto; and avoiding a lapse

Over the past two weeks, the Wizards have managed to rejuvenate from a hampered start to the season, winning 7 of their last 9 and climbing up as high as the 3rd spot in the East. Since the Wizards have been off since Monday, the conference seeding has shuffled a bit since their win against Orlando, however, at 9-9 the Wizards remain in strong pursuit. In this week’s roundtable, our hot topics are as follows…

– With much of their success coming by way of Trevor Ariza, we examine the options the Wizards have in handling his expired contract.

– Ariza’s potential replacement, Otto Porter, is inching closer to his return (possibly as early as tonight) and we discuss his possible contributions as he works his way into the system for the first time.

– Lastly, the Wizards are riding a train of momentum with their recent success and we’d like to be ensured that we don’t witness any sort of lapse over the next few weeks. How can the Wizards avoid that?

Your answers are all right here courtesy of Jamal, Dre, and Shaun.

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Trevor Ariza is playing the best basketball of his career this season. With Ariza being an impending free agent who also happens to play the same position as the team’s top draft pick in Otto Porter, the Wizards have several options for how they want to handle him: explore trade options to get compensated for his strong play and improve the bench; have him play out the season and risk him walking in free agency; or the least likely option of negotiating an extension despite multiple players at his position. What would you do?

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Dre: I think it’s pretty obvious that you have to explore trade options for Ariza. It’s a bit of a risk waiting until the end of the year to explore a sign-and-trade option. Ariza is having the best season in his career at the moment, so as it stands his trade value is at an all time high. One has to wonder what’s on the table for the Wizards. It’s bittersweet because short-term he’s so good for this team right now, but long-term (after this year) he may walk and you get nothing for him. His play has warranted a nice contract after the season, but with money tied up in Otto Porter & Martell Webster it’s just not logical to spend more at the wing position.

Jamal: I’ve struggled with this one.

Indeed, Ariza is playing better than anyone could have expected. His offense and ability to hit big shots is matching his defense. One of the biggest knocks on Washington for years now has been the ability to close games, and Ariza is arguably playing his best when the Wizards are looking to close out opponents whether at the end of regulation or in overtime.

With that said, I don’t think he’s a worthy of a new contract in Washington. Yes, he is a key piece of Washington’s rotation, but there are two other players signed long-term that possess the same skill set. If Otto is up to speed and playing well when the trade deadline arrives, the Wizards have to explore moving Ariza. I think he’d be worth a veteran and maybe a second year prospect.

The team chemistry would take a hit, but Washington shouldn’t think emotionally here.

Shaun: Managing a sports franchise is no easy task when it comes to making decisions in which you have to decide whether to sacrifice the happiness of fans, the chemistry of a team, or what is most prudent for a franchise from a financial standpoint. Knowing there would be backlash, I would still pull the trigger on making an attempt to trade Ariza before the deadline. I would do my best to keep this as quiet as possible until a deal is in place – but in a day an age of social media and a million rats – I mean, “anonymous sources” – it’s unlikely it would stay under wraps. Still, it makes financial sense to move Ariza because giving him an extension when the position is adequately filled isn’t wise. Ariza is also having a career year in a contract year so that should tell you that it might be more of an outlier than anything else. Third, with Porter hoping to play at some point this season and a solid – and newly re-signed – veteran, Martell Webster, already on the roster, the Wizards would not have a sudden gap in their lineup. Sure, it would be ideal to keep Ariza around for the season and get some value back for him later but with the trade deadline in the middle of the season, that simply isn’t a posibility. Trade now, get value for tomorrow. Fans will get over it.

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Reports say that Otto Porter, Jr. is very close to making his career debut, maybe as early as tonight. What are your season expectations of Porter as he gradually eases himself into the rotation? What are you most excited/anxious to see from Porter’s game on this Wizards team?

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Dre: As a long time Georgetown Hoyas fan, I’ve had the pleasure of watching Otto play every one of his collegiate games. Starting his career at Georgetown, he came off the bench and wasn’t the focal point of the offense but he made the team instantly better every time he stepped on the court because his basketball instincts were so good and he just has a nose for the ball. This is what I expect his Wizards career to start off like, he won’t come in scoring a bunch of points but his basketball instincts will allow him to impact the game in multiple ways. I’m most anxious to see Otto running the floor with John and his rebounding ability from the wing position.

Jamal: First, I hope Washington keeps his minutes reasonable for the first couple months. This shouldn’t be an issue considering the depth at the small forward position, but the Wizards have had a history of running prospects into the group with unrealistic expectations.

Second, I hope he can continue to work on his jumper, preferably working on a quicker release. Otto has a sort of hitch in his shot, but I think that can be corrected. With better floor spacing in the offense now, I think Otto can take advantage of a lot of opportunities to leak out for field goals.

Last, I want Otto to continue to do what he does best: play defense. The East has some dangerous wings (Lebron, Melo, Paul George), so having a defender that can bother shooters with length will go a long way.

Shaun: I don’t expect much at all from Porter for the first month that he plays. He is going to have to work himself into playing shape while also trying to earn minutes. That’s no easy task with the play of Ariza and Webster. My expectations are different from most when it comes to rookies – first rounders or not. I don’t expect much for the first year other than getting their feet wet and getting accustomed to the rigors of the constant travel and physical play. If Porter can be somebody that can come off the bench for 8 minutes a game and give the team some energy while scoring a couple of buckets and grabbing a few boards, I’ll be happy. I am not expecting, nor should anyone at this point, that he comes in and becomes a starter while putting up double-doubles night in and night out. Expect that for year three, if the Wizards are lucky. Draft picks are hit or miss no matter where they are selected so based on my history of being disappointed, I’m setting the bar really low.

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The Wizards have won 7 of their last 9 games and seem to slowly develop an identity for themselves. Despite their recent success, the team still needs improvement in order to maintain that success throughout the rest of the season. In your opinion, what must the Wizards work on the most to avoid any kind of lapse?

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Dre: First and foremost the bench production has to get better in order to sustain success. The starting 5 can only carry you for so long, and thankfully for the Wizards, the returns of Otto, Al Harrington and Bradley Beal are around the corner. But injuries happen throughout the course of the season; it’s inevitable and ideally you’d like to think you have depth to keep the team on track.

Also, ball movement. When Wall is on the bench, or he gives it up when he crosses the half-court line at times the ball movement looks really bad and becomes a one person/one shot offense. This is usually highlighted when the team gives up a big run during the game. The team just has to get stronger with mental focus because their leads evaporate too easily.

Jamal: I think they first need to find a reliable rotation. Once Beal gets healthy, Martell will be the best offensive player in the second unit, but it’s a little difficult to find a scoring punch beyond him. Vesely is getting minutes, but has been relegated to offensive rebound tap-outs; Maynor has been a little up and down; Singleton is playing okay, but in spot minutes; and Seraphin and Booker just haven’t been consistent. I think finding a solid three contributors (along with role players) will ensure not only steady gameplay, but much needed relief in demanding game stretches.

The Wizards also need to find a way to play better on the road. Granted, the opening of their schedule was brutal, but they traditionally struggle away from home. Taking at least half of the games on road trips will go a long way. (Related: don’t drop games to inferior teams)

Shaun: The NBA season is a marathon broken down by many ups and downs, good runs and bad skids. The Wizards are in the midst of a good run and they should enjoy it. They have earned the wins and are playing improved basketball. I’m going to step away from the on the court, tangible improvements and look at something from a psychological vantage. The good teams in the league make it a point to beat up on bad teams when at home or on the road – specifically on the road. The Wizards recent trip to Milwaukee was a game that I had circled hoping that they would blow them out by 15+. Unfortunately, that game went into overtime. The silver lining was that the Wizards managed to find a way to win where in years past, they would have folded. What I’m looking for is to see this young team not only get up for the elite, star studded teams and play their best on those nights, but to also make it a point to dominate and punish the inferior teams. If they can do that, it will give them a mindset and a confidence that hasn’t been seen around the franchise since Gilbert Arenas was in his prime.

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Marcin Gortat said the Wizards could win 50 games this season. Is he crazy or realistic?

Dre: Before the season, I thought this team was capable of winning 46 games. Looking at how terrible the East is, Marcin might not be crazy. There is a lot of teams to beat up on in the East, so 50 wins is not out of the question. The Wizards just have to approach every game with a sense of urgency.

Jamal: Slightly crazy. I have the team winning around 41 games.

Shaun: Normally, I’d say he’s crazy. Considering the Wizards are hovering around 3rd place in the Eastern Conference with a 9-9 record, I feel like I don’t know anything about anything anymore (which was probably always the case). That said, 50 wins is a possibility, but a remote one. For now, Washington should focus on trying to take games one at a time (cliche, but true), and keep their heads above .500. That would be a tremendous improvement over their 20 win seasons.

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