Piece by piece, the Washington Wizards are looking to continue in their rebuild efforts and make a serious push for a playoff birth in the 2013-13 NBA season. Friday, they moved one step closer in the right direction by completing a multiplayer trade with the Phoenix Suns to acquire center Marcin Gortat, Shannon Brown, Malcolm Lee and Kendal Marshall in exchange for center Emeka Okafor and a 2014 first round pick. Brown, Lee, and Marshall will be waived by the team to ensure that they are under the 15 player team limit for the season opener.
The choice to part with a first round pick, especially by a franchise that has averaged 23 wins per season for the past five years and lost roughly 70% of their games could be seen as a risk. However, given the abundance of young, emerging talent on the roster, the move for a veteran center should be seen as a practical move as opposed to keeping Okafor, who is clearly on the decline.
Gortat was known best for his years in Orlando as Dwight Howard’s backup. In 2010, he was traded to Phoenix and thrived in his role as a starter averaging roughly 13 points and 9 rebounds per game for two and a half seasons. His presence around the basket gets him plenty of put-back opportunities and high percentage shots. His 6’11’’ frame also assists him averaging a block per game, though he has been criticized for being slow and late on rotations.
With Gortat penciled in as the starting center for the Wizards, it allows Nene to move into his more natural role as a power forward. The Wizards will see greater flexibility in their ability to play big or small, depending on the opposition. With Trevor Booker, Kevin Seraphin, and Al Harrington on the bench, they will have plenty of able bodies to shore up the front line and provide valuable minutes for Gortat and Nene to rest.
From a salary cap perspective, the Wizards took on little risk if Gortat falls victim to injury or simply does not work out with the team’s plans. He is in the final year of his deal and is owed $7.7 million before becoming a free agent at the end of the season. Okafor is also in the final year of his deal, owed $14.5 million. Phoenix was willing to trade for him largely for the reason of a higher salary coming off of their books at the end of the season as they are in cost cutting mode ahead of a talented 2014 free agent class.
The Wizards are making the statement to their fans that they are gearing up to make a serious run at making the playoffs and ending their streak of five consecutive losing seasons. With a healthy John Wall, a rising Bradley Beal, and a frontline comprised of Gortat and Nene, they look to be – at least on paper – in good position to compete for the 7th or 8th seed in the Eastern Conference.