Quick Thoughts On The Gortat-Okafor Trade

For NBA Franchises, winning is the objective. Well, making money is the objective, but winning is one of the things you can do to increase your bottom line.

Winning means different things to different organizations. For the Wizards, making the playoffs would mark a successful season. For the Heat, winning means championships.

Of course, championships are the ultimate goal for the Wizards. And making the playoffs are a first step. But at times, an organization’s decisions in its quest to make the postseason can actually hinder the larger goal of hanging a championship banner.

So, the question is: Did the Wizards take a step back in their ultimate goal of winning a championship? Below are details of the trade, along with its pros and cons from a Wizards perspective.

Details

The Suns traded Gortat (along with three players subsequently released by the Wizards) for an injured Okafor and a top-12 protected 2014 1st round draft pick (it’s top-10 protected for two or three seasons beyond 2014). Both Okafor and Gortat’s contracts expire after this season.

Pros

The obvious pro in this trade is gaining a competent big man to fill Okafor’s (injured) shoes. Okafor anchored the Wizards’ defense last year, which was the team’s strongsuit. The bigs behind Okafor in the rotation–Seraphin, Booker, and Vesely–aren’t good or consistent enough to hold down a playoff-bound frontline.

Gortat, on the other hand, is a starting quality center and played All-Star-level basketball with Nash in 2011-2012. His ability to play center will also push Nene to his desired position at the power forward.

Perhaps the biggest advantage, other than improving the Wizards’ watchability, is giving Wall and the Wiz an elite pick-and-roll partner. Wall is much improved as a P-n-R theat, but he still has a lot of room to improve.

Enter Gortat. The Polish Hammer is a pro at setting hard screens and rolling hard to the rim. No one can bring it out in him like Nash did, but Gortat’s timing and experience can hopefully rub off on Wall.

This is crucial for several reasons. First, it unlocks a more potent offense for the entire team. More layups for Wall and Gortat. More corner threes for Ariza and Webster. More defensive switches. All good things in the short term.

But in the long term, Gortat will help Wall and the team to gain a feel for what fluid, effective screen-and-roll basketball feels like. Ideally, this is the type of effect that will have a lasting impact on Wall’s career. We won’t know until season’s end (and truthfully, beyond that) whether Gortat truly had this effect, but it’s this part of the trade that will go the furthest toward the Wizards’ ultimate goal of winning a championship.

Cons

In terms of the 2013-14 season alone, it is tough to knock the trade for the Wizards. I suppose Gortat’s presence and floor time will prevent young vets like Vesely and Seraphin from playing/developing, but that’s a pretty small negative considering the Wizards aren’t heavily invested in Booker, Seraphin, and Vesley (and for good reason).

The real negative, of course, is losing the draft pick. The value of picks is difficult to appraise, and it’s made even tougher by the conditions of the protection. Perhaps a look at hypothetical life with and without the draft pick will help us gauge what the Wizards were giving up.

Scenario #1–The current situation: Pretend the Wizards grab a low-seed in the playoffs this season. If this happens, it means the Wizards gained a season of Gortat and the playoffs minus a middling 2014 draft pick. It’s a pick that could be good in a deep draft, but there are no guarantees.

Keep in mind that this middling draft pick is not what they are “giving up”, per se, but rather part of what they are “not gaining” by making the trade (i.e., what they are giving up is the chance to own a high-value draft pick in light of a Gortat/Okafor-less team). 

Scenario #2–What if they hadn’t traded: Pretend the trade never happens and they hold on to the draft pick. It’s impossible to say whether the Wiz would have moved Okafor or their pick in a different trade, so for the sake of comparison we’ll pretend they hold onto both. In this scenario, the Wizards likely get a top-eight pick serving as a true building block.

Of course, it’s possible that even without Gortant or Okafor, the Wiz still wouldn’t get this top-eight pick. And it’s also possible they get the top-eight pick even with the Gortat trade. But more than likely, they are giving up the chance to get an elite prospect by making the Gortat trade.

The Curve Ball

The final point to consider is what this trade means for the Wizards’ front office. Owner Ted Leonsis has playoff expectations. If they aren’t met, GM Ernie Grunfeld, who is the final year of his contract, won’t be resigned.

Unfortunately, this pressure creates perverse incentives for Grunfeld. He now has motivation to make the playoffs and keep his job, even if that goes against the ultimate goal of winning a championship. And while it’s bad that Grunfeld might not be making the best moves for the future, even worse is that if the Wizards indeed make the playoffs, Grunfeld will stay with the team and continue to muck up the Wizards’ championship aspirations.

So What’s Better?

So, what’s better: making the playoffs with Gortat for one year while missing out on a middling 2014 pick (and retaining Grunfeld) OR enjoying a top-eight prospect from the 2014 draft and a new GM?

Again, we have to keep the ultimate goal of winning a championship in mind. If the Wizards get a taste of the playoffs, Wall’s pick and roll improves, and Washington’s success attracts other free agents, then the trade has to be considered a success. Even if they retain Grunfeld.

Without those gains, though, it’s difficult to justify giving up position in a deep and talented draft class.

What do you think of the Wiz-Suns trade? Comment on the article or e-mail us at AGRbasketball (at) gmail (dot) com. Don’t forget to follow @AGRbasketball on Twitter and to like us on Facebook.

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