The prevailing logic is that the Washington Wizards are a team on the rise. With a lot of young talent and an increasingly savvy front office, the team looks poised to compete in a couple years.
But with the 2011-12 season in lockout jeopardy, Wizards fans may not be afforded the chance to see their young talent develop on the court. It becomes hard to make intelligent roster decisions if guys don't get a chance to prove themselves in real, live NBA games.
Setting roster development aside, I've been thinking a lot about what moves the Wizards can make in an abbreviated free-agency period to become contenders in the short term. It's not a likely scenario, or perhaps even the best one for the long-term outlook of the team, but fans are itching to watch the youngsters sport those new unis in May and June.
Most of my rumblings have revolved around the Amnesty Clause, a stipulation that may be included in a new CBA. According to John Canzano of The Oregonian, one important development in negotiations is a growing consensus that Amnesty will be included. And it is not the luxury-tax-only version the league got in 2005, one that wouldn't help the 2011 Wizards in any fashion.
According to Canzano, the proposed Amnesty would "give NBA teams the ability to release one player, pay his salary, take no luxury tax liability and also, not have that player count against the season salary cap." The inclusion of the salary cap means pretty much every team would have incentive to send one of their guys packing.
However, waiving Rashard Lewis and his monster contract wouldn't necessarily be the no-brainer move for Washington. Sure, it would give them a lot of room to offer more contracts this offseason. But given an already weak free-agent class that is now dealing with a number of players opting to play overseas, that money may not be spent wisely until the summer of 2012.
Conversely, the Wizards could realize Lewis is the prize of the Amnesty crop—the single least desirable contract available and worthy of a blockbuster trade with a team that drastically needs a salary purge.
Enter the Memphis Grizzlies.
After an inspiring postseason run, the Grizz seem set for some competitive years out West. Especially impressive was their ability to do it without Rudy Gay, he of the Max Contract, who was on the sidelines after a midseason injury.
While Tony Allen, Sam Young, Darrell Arthur and Xavier Henry successfully replaced Rudy's production, it seems quite unlikely the same would have been said of Hamad Haddidi had Marc Gasol been the one sitting in street clothes. Gasol made a powerful case for why he's one of the league's best young centers, and no longer a project or "second fiddle" to his more decorated older brother.
Yet the prospects of the coming season suggest this may be the Grizzlies' fate. They have about $53 million in contracts going into next year, and face the likelihood they'll have to operate under a flex-cap around $55 million with fewer exceptions.
The aforementioned "bird exception" is the key. Without it, the Grizz won't be able to re-sign Gasol; he could get twice as much as they can even offer, on the open market.
Without making a deal, amnesty does the Grizzlies little good. They won't waive Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay, Mike Conley or OJ Mayo outright—they're the only four with large enough salaries to transition into a competitive offer for Gasol, but they're all too valuable to sacrifice for cap space.
So, with the specter of Gasol leaving for another team hanging over their heads, the Grizzlies would at least have to consider the following deal:
Wizards trade SF Rashard Lewis, SG Jordan Crawford and SF/PF Chris Singleton for Grizzlies SF Rudy Gay, SG OJ Mayo and G Grevis Vasquez
This maneuver would allow the Grizzlies to immediately shed $21 million in salary to help re-sign Gasol before he hits free agency, while getting back two talented young assets in Singleton and Crawford. It would also allow them to continue working their playoff rotation for a full season—the four wings mentioned previously make less combined than Gay did in a single year.
For the Wizards, it would solidify the starting SG and SF spots while freeing up their amnesty to be used on Andray Blatche—should they be so inclined. They would also have at least $10 million in cap space to re-sign Nick Young or make a play for a guy like Nene Hilario.
The trade may seem like a fleecing at face value. But while Gay is a desirable asset, he's owed a lot of money in the next four years and teams may be wary to take on that much money in the first year of a new CBA.
The team has also been trying to jettison Mayo for the better part of year, since he is due a potentially big raise next offseason and plays a position of relative strength for the Grizz. The Wizards risk Gay turning into an overpaid albatross and Mayo leaving next year in free agency.
But the Wizards would be competitive immediately. If they play their cards right, they could end up with the following depth chart:
PG John Wall, Greivis Vazquez
SG OJ Mayo, Shelvin Mack
SF Rudy Gay, Trevor Booker,
PF Andray Blatche, Jan Vesely, Kevin Seraphin
C Nene Hilario, JaVale McGee, Hamady N'Diaye
They would be contenders in the East, competing for a home playoff game in the first round, while still trotting out one of the youngest rosters in the league. And they'd do so without having to give up their first-round pick next season, which they could then use to draft a shooting guard or power forward for the future.
What do you think of this trade? Are there any other amnesty trades you think the Wizards should consider? Post your responses below.