Washington Wizards offseason review: Did they overdo their culture change?

Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE

The Washington Wizards placed a huge emphasis on changing the culture of a team that became the laughingstock of the league, but did they overdo it and lock themselves into a mediocre squad?

The Washington Wizards continued their culture shift after being the league's laughingstock for the first half of last season, but did they swing too far to the other side of the pendulum? We consider that question in this offseason review.

TRADED FOR EMEKA OKAFOR AND TREVOR ARIZA

Here's what strikes me as problematic about this trade: it can be defended, but only with a theoretical argument that takes a thousand-foot view of the franchise. That thesis goes something like this:

  • The Wizards were a cultural mess last year.
  • They had a deadweight contract in Rashard Lewis that they had to do something with, and soon. They could have outright released him, but it would have had to happen before June 29, and the Wizards would have had to eat just under $14 million next year. Rather than spend $14 million on nothing, why not spend $22 million on something? What's the difference?
  • The Wizards were the joke of the league and had to make a long trek back to respectability, which means challenging for the playoffs next season.
  • Okafor and Ariza's contract expire just in time for John Wall and the Wizards' other members of their standout 2010 draft class to eventually get extensions.
  • Ergo, they needed veterans like Okafor and Ariza to bridge the gap.
Package this argument together, and you could say this is a masterstroke. But in doing so, you lose track of several details. Namely:
  • Why were the Hornets making this move? They were just as bad as the Wizards last year and were about to stumble into their own franchise player in Anthony Davis. How could Okafor and Ariza be deadweight to them when the Wizards saw them as valuable pieces? It's not like the franchises are in completely different places in the league's hierarchy.
  • The Wizards' culture had already changed with three key moves: the midseason trade for Nene, the banishment of Andray Blatche and the retention of Randy Wittman. The Nene trade changed the locker-room dynamic and allowed Kevin Seraphin to get more minutes to shine. The banishment of Blatche divorced the biggest underachiever from his mates. The retention of Wittman, though curious to outsiders, was a key step because the players appreciated his no-nonsense attitude. Those moves fixed the team's culture. The Okafor/Ariza trade was overkill.
  • How do these two players actually address the Wizards' weaknesses? Ariza is a poor perimeter shooter and offensive player; nobody on the Wizards' roster last year was a good perimeter shooter. Okafor is a serviceable, slightly-overpaid big man that doesn't have shooting range; doesn't that make him a slightly worse Nene? If you're going to go for veterans, why not try for ones that address the team's shortcomings more effectively?
  • Why compound $14 million of deadweight by adding nearly $40 million combined over the next two years of store-brand paint? It's been repeated ad nausea but it's still relevant: had the Wizards passed on this trade and just released Lewis, they would have saved enough cap space to bid on Elton Brand or Luis Scola to add another frontcourt body, then acquired someone like Dorrel Wright or Kyle Korver to fix perimeter shooting. Those players would have cost far less, allowed the Wizards to save some powder for 2013 and would have come closer to addressing weaknesses.
All this is to say that, while I understand the team's motives, the Wizards overreacted here. It was a move that won't provide nearly as much short-term benefit as it will cost them in short-term salary.

DRAFTED BRADLEY BEAL

Beal, on the other hand, perfectly addresses the Wizards' weaknesses. He's an excellent perimeter shooter, an underrated shot creator and a disciplined floor-spacer that will fit into the Wizards' offensive sets seamlessly. Expect Wittman to run Beal off several baseline screens to initiate his offense once he gets his feet wet. He does have his issues -- he's undersized and prone to taking himself out of games with passive play -- but he was absolutely the right pick at No. 3.

USED AMNESTY CLAUSE ON ANDRAY BLATCHE

A no-brainer that the Wizards only dragged their feet on because they would have had to eat a lot of money without creating any real salary-cap space. But it was the only move to make.

SIGNED A.J. PRICE

A sound signing, given the price (pun intended!). Price's shot has deserted him in recent years, but if he can get that back to a respectable level, he's pretty solid elsewhere for a backup point guard. It's not his fault that John Wall's injury has pressed him into a role he can't fill.

SIGNED MARTELL WEBSTER

So far, Webster is looking like a steal for $1.6 million next season. Webster looks healthier than he has been in years, and he's hustling defensively and on the glass like he never has before. Throw in solid perimeter shooting, and it's worth wondering why the Wizards even needed to trade for Ariza.

SIGNED JANNERO PARGO

Emergency signing, nothing more.

GRADE: C+

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