It’s May in the nation’s capital and for the fifth consecutive year, the only playoff games in the Verizon Center are courtesy of the Washington Capitals. Surely, the Washington Wizards didn’t envision this would be the case after they ousted JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche and acquired veterans Nene, Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor prior to the 2012-13 season.
Much like the 2013 NBA Playoffs, the Wizards were set back by injuries to their star players. John Wall and Nene, along with fellow starter Bradley Beal and sixth-man Ariza, missed significant time on the hardwood and foiled management’s plans of a playoff run. With over $35 million tied up in the contracts of the aforementioned Nene, Ariza and Okafor next season, the Wizards are unlikely to become players in free agency.
If the Wizards are to return to the playoffs, they will have to hit it big in the NBA Draft. With the 2013 NBA Draft void of impact players, the Wizards may have to repeat what they did in the 2009 NBA Draft. Days before the draft, a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves netted the Wizards guard Randy Foye and forward Mike Miller in exchange for Oleksiy Pecherov, Etan Thomas, Darius Songaila and the No.5 pick, which became Ricky Rubio.
While the prospect of such a one-sided trade again happening can be concerning to Wizards fans, one has to take into account that the top prospects in this year’s draft class either don’t fit a need — frontcourt players — or are hampered by the same injury bug that put a damper on the Wizards’ past season.
Potential draftees Nerlens Noel, Alex Len and Anthony Bennett will all be coming off major surgeries that, in all likelihood, will limit their impact on a potential playoff run. Ben McLemore plays the same position as Beal and would be miscast at the small-forward position, while Shabazz Muhammad fits the mold of past high-upside picks, McGee and Jan Vesely, and is thus as risky as a trade. That leaves a local product, Georgetown forward Otto Porter, as the lone fit for Washington. While he is noted for his all-around play, he still is recognized as a player without an elite NBA skill.
If this year’s draft class isn’t discouraging enough then Washington’s propensity to draft poorly should be. Washington’s failed attempt to emulate the Oklahoma City Thunder by building through the draft illustrates this.
Washington has a franchise cornerstone in Wall, a la Kevin Durant; in Beal, they have their James Harden — the Thunder’s offer of Harden for Beal last year indicated that much. Problem is they struck out with first-round selections Vesely and Chris Singleton, and only gained a rotational player in first-rounder Kevin Seraphin.
For Washington, if you can’t draft them, trade for them.
Perhaps a package built around Vesely and Washington’s first-round pick could entice the Toronto Raptors to deal forward DeMar DeRozan, as with the mid-season acquisition of forward Rudy Gay and the drafting of guard Terrence Ross they currently have three starting-caliber wings with only two starting spots. DeRozan, with his finishing ability, would be an excellent running mate to Wall in Washington’s transition offense.
An even better fit would be Indiana Pacers forward Danny Granger. Granger is an upgrade over Martell Webster at small forward and, unlike DeRozan, brings much needed perimeter shooting and playoff experience to the Wizards. With Granger missing most of the 2012-13 season with a left-knee injury and Paul George establishing himself as the alpha-dog in Indiana, Granger’s trade value has diminished. So even in a poor draft, a package built around Washington’s first-round pick and Okafor’s expiring contract, along with salary fillers, could be enough to swing a deal with Indiana.
With a possible max-extension on the horizon for Wall, it’s paramount that Washington surrounds him with such players and not rookies, as their playoff aspirations and Wall’s success hinge on it.
With recent history as their indicator, the Wizards should know by now that a rookie-“Wall” combination doesn’t equate to winning basketball.