Wizards rebuild underway
A lot of NBA teams stood pat. Some went all in. The Washington Wizards folded.
The NBA trade deadline on Thursday saw some Eastern Conference contenders load up for possible postseason runs. But for the Wizards, reeling from the prospect of a year or more without the injured John Wall, the focus seemed to be on a rebuild. A big one.
The Wizards were quiet one day after sending Otto Porter on Wednesday to the Chicago Bulls and Markieff Morris to the New Orleans Pelicans in what amounts to a salary dump.
But Eastern Conference powerhouses Toronto and Milwaukee both beefed up their rosters, with the Raptors acquiring center Marc Gasol and the Bucks dealing for forward Nikola Mirotic. A day earlier, the Philadelphia 76ers added Tobias Harris.
The biggest possible “get” on trade day, the Pelicans’ disgruntled star Anthony Davis, remains in New Orleans.
While the contenders were looking ahead to the postseason, the Wizards were looking to shed salaries.
The Wizards did get players for Porter and Morris. Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis, both from Chicago, are two veterans with some upside, and Wesley Johnson, from New Orleans, is an experienced journeyman.
But the Wizards don’t have to commit to any of them beyond this season, creating some financial flexibility for the franchise. Morris was on an expiring contract ($8.6 million in 2018-19), but Porter was set to make $55 million over the next two seasons.
The trades put Washington under the luxury tax, and the Wizards can now comfortably afford to sign guard Tomas Satoransky and center Thomas Bryant to new deals when they’re restricted free agents this summer.
There were also moves the Wizards didn’t make that were telling.
The team kept veteran forwards Trevor Ariza and Jeff Green, though both are on expiring contracts. ESPN reported the Wizards and Ariza have a mutual interest in agreeing to a long-term deal after the season. Ariza turns 34 in June, but he has been a solid pickup since the team reacquired him in December.
Still, the Wizards arguably could have tried to get compensation for Ariza and Green with the team now 10 games under .500. While the Wizards cleared salary cap space, Wednesday’s deals failed to net any additional draft picks.
The Wizards got a 2023 second-round pick from Chicago, but they sent their own second-rounder to New Orleans. If the Wizards are going to rebuild, having draft picks, even in the second round, are crucial.
Washington also kept star Bradley Beal, though that was no surprise. The team values Beal at a high price and he’s been by far its best player this season.
Speaking to reporters after Wednesday’s blowout loss in Milwaukee, Beal said he wished Porter the best.
“We still gotta compete and play,” Beal said. “You know me, I’m always a fan of ‘we’ve got to work with what we got.’ We’re all pros. And you know, sometimes, a lot more is asked of us. In a situation like now, a lot’s going to be asked of each of us.”
Thursday’s trades have helped set up intriguing potential playoff matchups in the East, with three of the top four seeds Toronto, Philadelphia and Milwaukee making moves that should strengthen their rosters.
The Raptors sent center Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, C.J. Miles and a 2024 second-round draft pick to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for Gasol, who is a capable rebounder and 3-point shooter. Even at 34, Gasol represents an upgrade that position.
The Bucks, with the best record in the NBA, added Mirotic another shooter for their 3-point happy system from the Pelicans, who received four second-round picks and Stanley Johnson from Detroit. He figures to fit in perfectly to space for the floor for MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo. To complete the deal, Milwaukee also sent center Thon Maker to the Detroit Pistons.
Those moves were made to combat Philadelphia’s acquisition of Harris, who gives the 76ers a “Big 4” alongside starts Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Jimmy Butler. Interestingly enough, the 76ers also traded former first overall pick and DeMatha Catholic product Markelle Fultz on Thursday to the Orlando Magic in exchange for guard Jonathan Simmons, a 2020 first-round pick and a second-round pick.
The Boston Celtics were the only contender in the East that remained steady at the deadline. They’re saving their assets for Davis this summer after the Pelicans agreed to hold on to their 25-year-old superstar.
Because of a technicality in the collective bargaining agreement, the Celtics weren’t allowed to acquire Davis in-season unless they parted ways with star Kyrie Irving. But they’re free to try after the season once Irving opts out of his current contract.
In the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Lakers traded for center Mike Muscala after striking out on Davis. They sent center Ivica Zubac and forward Michael Beasley to the Los Angeles Clippers to complete the deal.