A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

How the Marcin Gortat trade shows once again the Wizards don’t get it

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English: Gorat, 2011

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Wizards and Suns made a fun trade this week, the Suns sending Marcin Gortat to Washington for injured Emeka Okafor and a top 12 protected first round pick. The Suns also sent Kendall Marshall, Shannon Brown and Malcolm Lee to Washington, but they are expected to be waived.

Gortat is a good center despite his off season last year. He’s 7 foot, athletic, can rebound and can hit the midrange shot. With Okafor’s injury, the Wizards were left shallow at the C position. With Gortat they undoubtedly have a better chance at making the playoffs.

The problem for the Wizards isn’t Gortat’s caliber of play, it’s that he’s an unrestricted free agent next summer. Therefore as soon as this season is over, the Wizards will have nothing in return for the first round pick they gave up. They traded a long term asset for a short term asset.

Now you may say, if they re-sign Gortat, doesn’t that give them long term value for the 1st round pick? Not entirely. The Wizards were already set to have over 15 million in capspace next summer, meaning they already had the capspace to sign Gortat. Even if having Gortat now increases their chance of re-signing him if he likes the team situation, there is not necessarily value in this. Signing Gortat for a presumed over 10 million a year contract, comes with an opportunity cost of other free agents signings for the same amount. The only way having this “dibs” on re-signing a 30 year old Gortat becomes valuable, is if for the presumable over 10 million a year long term contract he produces at a level that can’t be replicated on the free agent market. If re-signing Gortat doesn’t have any more value than the next best option for their capspace, that eliminates the value of securing him early.

In my opinion, there’s no reason to believe that Gortat’s UFA contract will provide a better bang for your buck than the alternatives for the same price. This is especially true considering that with Carmelo Anthony, Luol Deng, Pau Gasol, Zach Randolph, Paul Pierce, Andrei Kirilenko and Rudy Gay if he opts out, the Wizards may prefer any of these FAs to Gortat. The Wizards may find themselves having reserved a table in the middle of the restaurant at the cost of a 1st round pick, only to walk-in and find the window seat is free, making their reservation unused.

For the most part, the value of the trade for the Wizards will be felt in 2013-2014 and no later. By next summer they will have one less positive value asset than if they kept the pick. The Wizards under Ernie Grunfield have proven to me they don’t understand asset strategy and why increasing asset value over time, not decreasing it is how you win. It’s not as much about the chance of the 2014 draft pick turning into a core player for the Wizards, it’s that the pick is a trade asset. For example if all went well, without this trade the Wizards may have spent their capspace on a Gortat or a free agent like Deng, Gasol, Randolph – then in addition, been able to trade the 2014 pick for an upgrade on Gortat’s level. In other words, you may get two Gortat caliber starters for the price of one by waiting. Or another example, perhaps if shopping both Otto Porter and the 2014 pick by next summer, the opportunity to trade both for an all-star comes. But by not having the pick and only offering Porter, they can’t make the deal.

By trading away the 2014 pick for a short term asset, the team will have less trading opportunities heading into the 2014-2015 season. This is of course all in addition to potential value of hitting on the 2014 draft pick. For example when the Toronto Raptors traded away a late teens pick in a short-sighted move for Jermaine O’Neal, they lost an opportunity to draft Roy Hibbert or other eventual starters available like Nicolas Batum or Serge Ibaka. In that same draft the Wizards made a successful pick in taking Javale McGee, eventually having enough trade value to be dealt for Nene when he was a strong asset.

With moves like a 1st for a rental Gortat, franchises like the Wizards live paycheque to paycheque. They buy short term gratification like chasing after a playoff spot they may not even get, but sacrificing assets hurts their potential in the long term. The two moves perennially struggling franchises make in all four major sports, is overpaying players and trading first round picks for short term veteran contracts. Unfortunately for the Wizards fanbase, only half a decade after disastrously giving a post surgery Gilbert Arenas 6 years, 111 million and trading a 5th overall pick for Mike Miller and Randy Foye in a calendar year, they’ve once again made similar mistakes by giving John Wall a maximum contract and trading a 1st for half a season of Gortat. I guess when you keep the GM that gave the Arenas deal and made the Miller/Foye trade, you’re inviting the losing into your house and giving it a glass of wine.

Written by jr.

October 27, 2013 at 1:11 pm

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