Washington Wizards: Now in NBA Purgatory After Trade with New Orleans Hornets

Sean BafaroContributor IIJune 20, 2012

Earlier this morning, the Washington Wizards and New Orleans Hornets completed a trade (via Yahoo!) sending Rashard Lewis' mammoth contract and the 46th pick in the draft to New Orleans in exchange for small forward Trevor Ariza and big man Emeka Okafor.

For New Orleans, the logic of this trade is easy to understand.

After having traded away disgruntled superstar Chris Paul prior to the start of 2011-2012 season, the Hornets were clearly entering into a rebuilding phase.

The team has also finally been sold to New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson after being league-owned since December of 2010. Previous owner George Shinn was forced to sell the team due to financial difficulties.

The Hornets can buy out the final year of Lewis' contract of $13.95 million and, by doing so, they will free up roughly $30 million over the next two years.

Owning the first pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, what better time than now to rid themselves of long-term salary commitments and rebuild the team from the ground up around future first overall pick Anthony Davis?

For Washington, it is more difficult to wrap your head around their rationale for making this trade.

On paper, it is easy enough. Okafor and Ariza are both veteran players who are above-average defenders.

For a Wizard team who was ridiculed for being immature, unprofessional and poor defensively for much of this past season, it would make sense why they felt the need to go out and get some veteran leaders in that locker room.

However, Washington is now facing a team that is going to be very hard pressed to score points.

They have very little perimeter shooting, which will allow opposing teams to pack the paint to take away John Wall's drives or Nene's post opportunities.

The likely solution to the lack or floor spacing will be the Wizards drafting shooting guard Bradley Beal. But, one player won't be able to solve this problem when the rest of the roster consists of poor shooters.

Washington is a team who's biggest problem this year was the ability to shoot the ball and space the floor. This trade not only doesn't improve their shooting woes, it actually makes them more pronounced.

Despite the likely offensive struggles, the biggest problem with this trade for the Wizards is that they have completely ruined their flexibility for the next two seasons by taking on the inflated contracts Okafor and Ariza both possess.

Even if the Wizards use their amnesty clause on Andray Blatche, they still will not have cap flexibility to improve their roster.

The Wizards will now be out of the running on any big free agents, as they will only have their mid-level exception to use.

They won't be able to absorb a contract while picking up a solid player. They won't be able to be a factor in amnesty waivers either. Their ability to add any impact talent to their roster has basically been nullified by going out and trading for Ariza and Okafor.

Don't get me wrong, Ariza and Okafor are solid players and many contending teams would love to have what they bring to the table—although not necessarily at their price.

The problem is that the Wizards are far from a contending team. The best-case scenario for the Wizards is that they sneak into the playoffs as a low seed and promptly get blown out in the first round.


The problem is, we've seen Ernie Grunfeld make this kind of trade before.

After an abysmal 19-win season, the Wizards traded their fifth overall selection to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Mike Miller and Randy Foye. The thinking was that Foye and Miller would be the missing pieces and make the Wizards legitimate contenders in the East.

Fast forward three years later, and both Foye and Miller are on new teams while Ricky Rubio, who Minnesota selected with that fifth overall pick, is one of the best young players in the NBA.

You would think Grunfeld would learn his lesson from that disastrous trade, yet here we are seeing history repeat itself.

Now the Wizards are stuck without cap flexibility and overpaid for non-impact talent, all to be a .500 team at best. In a weak Eastern Conference, they will be too good to add an impact player via the draft, but will be too bad to make any noise in the playoffs.

In other words: welcome to basketball purgatory, Washington.