Trevor Ariza (#1) is on his way to Washington
Even before season's end, there is a big NBA trade being made that could have a drastic effect on next season.
Two teams in the top 3 of this year's draft who are going in opposite directions—even though the team with the No.1 pick (New Orleans) had a better record than the team with the No. 3 pick (Washington)—agreed on a deal that would send Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor to the Wizards, and Rashard Lewis' expiring contract and the No. 46 pick in next week's NBA Draft to the Hornets, according to ESPN's Marc Stein.
Though the deal is quiet because of the crazy and intense NBA Finals, this trade could make an impact as big as any this offseason, save for a Dwight Howard trade, of course. With that in mind, here are five observations from the perspective of the Washington Wizards, followed by five observations from the perspective of the New Orleans Hornets.
Emeka Okafor joins a deep frontcourt that includes Hilario Nene.
While Andray Blatche will likely be amnestied this offseason, according to SI.com, there is no question that the Washington Wizards could still have a decision or two left on their frontcourt rotation.
At power forward, Hilario Nene would be the likely starter if Okafor is healthy enough to start at center. This leaves Trevor Booker—an undersized (6' 8'') but tenacious rebounder with a career field goal percentage of 53.9 percent—Frenchman Kevin Seraphin—who improved tremendously from last season, and is also someone like Nene who can play either the 4 or the 5—and combo forward Jan Vesely, who is a tremendous athlete (6' 11", 240) with the ability to play in transition, and is working this summer on his shooting, according to truthaboutit.net.
At center, if Okafor is the primary player at the 5, Nene can spell him for stretches in an up-tempo offense, as can Seraphin. Okafor's presence will provide great defense, and a type of player who can be more productive offensively than JaVale McGee was with similar defense without the bonehead plays. That assumes, however, he is healthy.
At small forward, Trevor Ariza is a starting-caliber player who can stretch the floor with his shooting, and is a more pure 3 than Vesely or Chris Singleton. Plus, Okafor and Ariza will give Washington's starting lineup ideal players for both the positions and scheme.
If Vesely becomes a better shooter, he could potentially be an Andrei Kirilenko-type talent, and possibly surpass Ariza, but for now, he is better developing off the bench and possibly coming off as a stretch big man.
Bradley Beal (#23) would be the perfect complement to John Wall.
With John Wall potentially having two pick-and-roll partners like Nene and Okafor, plus the rest of the talented big men, every position on the starting lineup is filled except one: shooting guard.
With Nick Young and Jordan Crawford taking turns at the shooting guard spot until Young was traded, both could take a lot of crazy shots. Problem was, instead of shooting like Ray Allen, both guys reminded fans of Gilbert Arenas.
A young Ray Allen would be the perfect backcourt mate for Wall, as his ability to penetrate into the paint would force perimeter defenders to take notice, allowing space for outside shooters to score. Beal, who has been compared to Allen, would allow Crawford to come off the bench, and even play a little bit of point guard at times, which he isn't terrible at.
Bottom line, Beal allows the Wizards to have a pretty intriguing and versatile lineup that could become formidable in the Eastern Conference if everything goes well. SI.com's Sam Amica's mock draft today, however, has the Bobcats taking Beal at No.2 before Washington, though it could change if any other guy impresses Michael Jordan.
Lets just take a look at how the roster would look if Beal is the No. 3 pick in the NBA Draft, and this is before Washington uses its early second round pick, signs any free agents or makes more trades.
PG: John Wall, Shelvin Mack
SG: Bradley Beal, Jordan Crawford
SF: Trevor Ariza, Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton
PF: Hilario Nene, Trevor Booker
C: Emeka Okafor, Kevin Seraphin
Not too shabby.
Randy Wittman has been retained as head coach.
Randy Wittman being retained as head coach is an indication of the Wizards believing "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Washington won its last six games and finished 11-14 after the Nene trade, despite him not playing in a pretty substantial amount of those games. Therefore, Wittman deserves an opportunity to work with this young team that has now added some veteran talent and experience.
Okafor has played on two young and struggling teams in his career, and that experience will help John Wall and the rest of the young core, while Trevor Ariza won a title with Los Angeles and helped the Hornets to the playoffs two years ago.
Though this team's core is still youthful, speeding up the learning process for these players with veterans while increasing the chances of making the postseason is important. This is because Wall is one year away from being eligible for a long-term extension, and he will want to see some progress and substance to his work.
John Wall will no longer have boneheaded players around him, potentially allowing him to become a Derrick Rose-esque talent.
With all the participants of the Gilbert Arenas gun incident gone—Blatche is on his way out and JaVale McGee was traded at the deadline—General Manager Ernie Grunfeld has made it clear that the chemistry of this team is more important than the overall potential of some young players.
Washington is putting all its eggs in one basket with the additions of Ariza and Okafor, because they are giving away an asset that has allowed teams like the New York Knicks and Miami Heat to create intriguing trios: expiring contracts. And Rashard Lewis' deal was the best there was.
But whenever you get two starters for someone who wasn't going to contribute at all, it instills confidence in your team that the management does know what it's doing. This deal also puts pressure on players to perform to expectations, due to the ability of the front office to pull off a unique robbery.
Though this trade isn't exactly as uneven as Pau Gasol for Kwame Brown, it is the type that will allow Wizards fans to talk about something they haven't before.
Jan Vesely (#24) will be an intriguing player who will make some noise on a Wizards team looking to make a playoff run.
Yeah, I know this team was 20-46 last season. But remember how Oklahoma City was 3-29, and the next year they challenged the eventual champion Lakers in a first round series?
Here are the facts: The Bulls are without Derrick Rose and possibly looking to play without the luxury tax, the Pacers are possibly losing Roy Hibbert and/or George Hill along with assistant coach Brian Shaw, Orlando is possibly getting rid of Dwight Howard, the Knicks trio of Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler are not as good as advertised, and the Boston Celtics have a lot of offseason decisions to make.
Based on that, I believe the Wizards can be a top 4 team in the Eastern Conference.
That may seem crazy right now, but they are a team with a top 5 pick and the No.32 pick, plus a great assortment of young and poised talent along with the momentum of last season's final run.
Washington could easily be a 50 win team.
Many people said the same thing when they made the trade for Randy Foye and Mike Miller a few years ago—the season of the Gilbert Arenas gun incident—but with this group of players, coaches and management, the era of losing may have ended this season for Washington. It is time for the Wizards to catch Magic in a bottle.
Trevor Ariza (#1) and his two year contract that averages over $7 million is out of the big easy.
The dreaded Rashard Lewis contract has probably has made its last stop in New Orleans, as according to Pro Basketball Talk, the Hornets can buyout his contract for $13.7 million.
Not only do they remove more than $6 million of salary space this year, but over $20 million in the 2013 off-season, when players like Josh Smith, Kevin Martin, David West, Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, and Andrew Bynum could be available. Right now, the Hornets are at about $31 million in cap, so there is already potentially $25 million in space for this off-season.
That will be more than enough money to get the two top 10 draft picks and match any deal for Eric Gordon, so the young core of the Hornets will include those three plus Al-Farouq Aminu, who played better with more minutes done the stretch of the season.
Then in 2013, New Orleans could have enough money to potentially add a max-level talent to their roster, or give a couple of stud-level contracts to pieces around Anthony Davis and other young players. The Oklahoma City model of a team that was 3-29 three and a half years ago and is now the Western Conference representative in the NBA Finals appears to be the method to which Owner Tom Benson and General Manager Dell Demps want to build this team.
This brings me to my next point.
After winning a National Title in his only year at Kentucky, Anthony Davis will have to endure tremendous growing pains early on.
Hall-of-Fame coach Larry Brown believes that whatever team drafts Davis will win 50 games and also that Davis is in the class of Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson.
That hyperbole will show itself very quickly this season.
I believe no other player has come in to the draft with the more skills and ways to help a team win other than LeBron James, and even Cleveland was the 10th worst team in the league in his first year.
Monty Williams is an excellent coach, and Eric Gordon (if he stays) could compete for the All-Star team. However, unless you know a lot of NBA Basketball or are a huge Hornets fan, I guarantee you probably don't know any other players on New Orleans' current roster.
Davis will look like a rookie early on, as the cupboard will be beyond bare with him, Jarrett Jack, Gordon, and whoever the tenth pick is being the four key players on the roster. Coach Monty Williams did well to make the most out of a team without its All-Star point guard in Chris Paul, and its biggest asset in the trade to let Paul go—Gordon—missing almost the entire season due to injury.
Davis is athletic and has more range than any big man in the NBA right now. However, he is 220 pounds, and is the Kevin Durant of power forwards (or centers if he plays at the 5) in that he is very skilled, but he has almost no muscle on his frame, and could stand to get a lot stronger.
But, if you can get a stretch of two or three straight top 5 picks that work together, the Thunder have proven that eventually all that talent will work together.
Al-Farouq Aminu is a very talented combo forward, but could he be moved to Power Forward to have Anthony Davis play Center?
With veterans Chris Kaman and Carl Landry becoming free agents and Okafor shipped out today, Jason Smith is the only frontcourt player signed for next season.
Davis will join him soon, but depending on how Monty Williams wants to use Davis—whether it would be at center or power forward—Al-Farouq Aminu could either start at the 3 or 4. As the 4, he could be the type of player that Josh Smith became, as he has a similar skill set to block and alter shots, and is offensively challenged in terms of his jumpshot.
Plus, it would allow New Orleans to become a more exciting, up-tempo team, similar to the team new owner Tom Benson has created with the NFL's New Orleans Saints. Unless Illinois' Meyers Leonard falls to the Hornets at No.10—which is looking less and less likely by the day—there won't really be a perfect complementary center to Davis worth picking in the draft at that point, as Tyler Zeller isn't very athletic or strong...but Leonard would be a perfect fit.
Whatever happens with the No.10 pick, the fact is a young player will be joining Anthony Davis in the starting frontcourt.
Eric Gordon, if healthy, is a great 1-2 combination with Anthony Davis.
With the salary dump of this trade, New Orleans will add a third wheel either in free agency or with one or two lottery picks in the next couple years.
Assuming the Hornets bring back Gordon, the Big Easy has two young studs to get excited about and a lot of room for improvement for both players, along with the rest of the pieces on the squad. Plus, the roster flexibility will allow fans to not get disgruntled or disappointed because there will be the optimism of a new era without restrictions—a great fan base in Oklahoma City helped launch the Thunder franchise both locally and nationally.
Big 3's are all the rage in the NBA, whether it's OKC (Durant, Westbrook, Harden), Miami (James, Wade, Bosh), New York (Stoudemire, Anthony, Chandler), or LA (Bryant, Bynum, Gasol).
Therefore, if you can't beat the best, copy their formula with the assets that you have.
So far, New Orleans is potentially well on their way to building its own trio of stars to lead its squad to the promised land.
With today's move, Anthony Davis is part of a future that begins now for New Orleans.
With today's trade, it is all on Anthony Davis' shoulders to give the Hornets their first championship. After winning a title despite a 1 for 10 shooting performance in the national title game in the Big Easy, the road to winning at the highest level again will be much more difficult.
But if anyone can accomplish it in this draft, it is Anthony Davis and no one else. New Orleans may be putting its eggs in one basket, but when that basket is a player who can volume rebound, become the best shot blocker in the game, shows guard-like shooting and penetrating skills at times, and has a big a ceiling as any player in the National Basketball Association, you really wouldn't want it any other way.
As is often talked about with almost all sports superstars, you have to suffer early on in your career in order to succeed later on. With the trading of two starting-caliber players for salary cap relief later, New Orleans is sending the message that it wants to start rebuilding immediately, but rebuild with the NBA's next potential superstar in Anthony Davis.