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Wizards keep playoff goal intact by trading injured Okafor for a healthy Gortat

Oct 26, 2013, 6:30 PM EDT

Marcin Gortat, Patrick Patterson AP

WASHINGTON – Sometimes trades instinctively bring out the head scratcher in all of us. The Wizards acquiring center Marcin Gortat isn’t one of those times.

Washington hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2008. Unlike teams that bailed on the upcoming season to ensure a lottery finish, the Wizards have shaped their John Wall-led roster with the goal of a postseason return.

Emeka Okafor‘s herniated disk in his neck threatened to derail those plans.

Fearing the defensive presence might return later than sooner, the playoff-pushing organization addressed the matter sooner than later.

Following Saturday’s practice, management, coaches and players discussed the necessary move, which included not just a swap of expiring contracts, but the Wizards shipping a protected 2014 first round pick.

Wizards team President Ernie Grunfeld: “Obviously if Emeka didn’t have the [injury], probably wouldn’t have been as imperative for us to get another big man in there. We don’t know what his status will be. Obviously, Emeka was very frustrated by his situation and there is really no timeframe for him.”

Wall: “It’s tough to see a guy like Mek go that was a great professional for us and what he did for our team, especially helping me in learning things, but it was kind of tough not knowing if he would play this year.”

Head coach Randy Wittman: “We’re not just trading a player for a player, with Mek not being on the floor yet this year. That’s the beauty about the situation. We had no idea when, or if, Emek, was going to be back. So, this gives us a free body that we didn’t have.”

Not just a free body, but a big body, a 6-foot-11, 240-pounder efficient in the pick-and-roll and better offensively than the man he replaces. Nor Okafor’s equal on defense, but Gortat is a big body willing to bang and defend those in the middle so power forward Nene and his perennial aching body doesn’t have to.

“Now we have a true center. Look at my face,” said the grinning Brazilian big man, who has not been shy about stating his positional preference. “[Gortat] is going to help us a lot. He’s a veteran … high IQ big man. He knows how to play. We feel sad for Emeka, he was a great teammate, but we need the position. [The organization] did an amazing job. They surprised me.”

Considering the team’s playoffs-or-bust mentality, considering the young frontcourt options — namely Kevin Seraphin and Jan Vesely — provided no assurance they could step up into larger roles, nobody should be surprised. Considering the trade laid out on a Venn diagram would show a tiny not-so-sweet spot, nobody should be scratching their head.

The first round pick is protected through the 12th selection. If the Wizards make the playoffs for the first time in six seasons, the pick heads to Phoenix without complaint. If the Wizards miss the playoffs, they keep the pick as long as they don’t end up with the 13th or 14th selection. Barring bad luck with ping-pong balls, that’s a safe bet considering there are more strong teams than available postseason berths out West.

The Wizards will enter next offseason with a hole at center — and potentially around $16 million in cap space now that they have reportedly declined options on Vesely and Chris Singleton. Make the playoffs and the Wizards become more attractive to high-end free agents as a rising franchise headlined by the electric backcourt combo of Wall and Bradley Beal. Miss the playoffs and the Wizards have both a first round selection and cap space to address needs.

“That could become available to us if that’s a direction we want to go,” Grunfeld said of potentially adding a max contract free agent. “But we’ll worry about that next summer.”

They could also re-sign Gortat, who averaged 11.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks last season for Phoenix in what some considered a down effort. If the “Polish Machine” helps makes the Wizards a better team — he should offensively — and the money works out, why not.

As for guards Kendall Marshall, Shannon Brown and Malcolm Lee, Grunfeld will only worry about the other ex-Suns acquired in the deal for another day or so. Washington must trim three players by Monday to reach the league-maximum of 15. Grunfeld said he hasn’t made a final decision, but nobody is expecting that trio to stay with the Wizards.

The idea of making the playoffs this season, that notion has staying power. Without making the trade, maybe not.

“It hasn’t changed any,” Wittman said of the team’s postseason goals. “We talked about that. This wouldn’t make it change any. We still expect to fight for a spot in May. That’s our objective here.”

  1. crownmethegoat - Oct 26, 2013 at 6:36 PM

    It’s about time Wizards actually get out the lottery and do something with all their talent. John Wall is poised to breakout, and with Beal and Otto Porter, those positions are locked in for the future. Nene and Gortat can man the frontcourt and with decent depth, they should at least make the playoffs as a low seed.

    • redbaronx - Oct 27, 2013 at 12:12 PM

      @crownmethegoat – I’ve been suffering through bad Wiz teams for years. This year is the most optimistic I’ve been since we had CWebb and Juwon Howard.

      I’m just crossing my fingers that everyone stays healthy….

  2. hildezero - Oct 26, 2013 at 7:56 PM

    Mek might be pissed at this, but I’m sure he’ll be happy if the Suns resign him in the offseason when the Suns draft a great first round draft pick, especially with all those picks that they have. Wiggins maybe?

    • redbaronx - Oct 27, 2013 at 12:15 PM

      hildezerio – Emeka is a smart, team kind of guy. I’m sure he isn’t pissed at all and understands the situation. I was thinking that he might even decide to retire early. He’s had a lot of bad injuries and I don’t want to see the guy have walking problems. Herniated discs are no joke!

  3. thekingdave - Oct 26, 2013 at 7:57 PM

    If I was a Wizards fan I’d be concerned about the long term. It’s obvious Grunfeld is making this move to save his job, but does sneaking into the weak East really merit an extension? With Nene on the books you’re not as flexible as you could be. What if in some small world KD wanted to come closer to home via free agency at some point? The goal is to win titles, not get demolished by the Heat as an 8th seed. Right?

    • memorexbanana - Oct 26, 2013 at 8:13 PM

      What are you talking about? What does Nene have to do with this trade? And for your information, KD contract will end after 2015-2016 season, the same time Nene contract will end. And if you were talking about Gortat instead of Nene, Gortat contract will end after this season.

      • casualcommenter - Oct 26, 2013 at 10:47 PM

        Not sure why people are down-voting your comment.

        Durant’s contract clearly goes until 2016. I think some people are confused by the recent article about Jalen Rose speculating about Durant leaving in free agency to go to Houston.

        Rose wasn’t making a prediction about this upcoming offseason – it was a prediction for 3 years from now.

    • cbrown386 - Oct 26, 2013 at 9:16 PM

      By this logic, everyone except for title contenders (maybe 6 teams?) shouldn’t worry about winning, just waiting for free agents?

      They’ve already stated that the plan is the roll with Wall, for better or worse. Their current 5 with Gortat is arguably just as strong as anyone in the East sans Miami. They need some depth and veteran presence, but to say that this is a bad move for them is ridiculous.

      Much like the Howard/Houston situation, if Durant were to come out and say he wanted to go to DC, they would find a way to make room. To worry about that now and not be concerned with winning games is crazy.

      • thekingdave - Oct 26, 2013 at 9:36 PM

        And no, it isn’t “much like the Houston situation.” Tons of moves were made throughout a 3 season period to make that possible. All that was left to do was dump off Thomas Robinson.

      • redbaronx - Oct 27, 2013 at 12:54 PM

        @cbrown386 – Spot on. I don’t know why you’re getting so many thumbs down. I think this starting 5 puts them in position to compete for the playoffs 4/5-8 spots. And you’re absolutely right about finding a way to make room. Gortat is off the books next year, and the only real contract they might want to shed in another year from now is Nene (depending on how well he’s playing and injuries at his age).

        Even Nene could be valuable as an expiring contract to somebody a year from now, so I see this as a win-win for the Wizards.

    • thekingdave - Oct 26, 2013 at 9:33 PM

      A) Durant can opt out after this season I believe

      B) You’ve allowed Grunfeld to be the architect of a middle of the pack team in the weak Eastern Conference who was capable of making it to the second round and losing. On a good day. How did that go?

      C) Randy Wittman, Let me say that again. Randy Wittman.

      • casualcommenter - Oct 26, 2013 at 10:44 PM

        Durant is locked in until 2016. No player option.

        Source 1 – http://hoopshype.com/salaries/oklahoma_city.htm
        Source 2 – http://www.rotoworld.com/player/nba/1358/kevin-durant (click “View contract details)

        Trust me – if Durant could opt out after this year, he’d be mentioned along with Carmelo and LeBron when it came to top-tier free agents in 2014.

      • memorexbanana - Oct 27, 2013 at 10:17 AM

        Where did you get this information that KD can opt out of his contract after this season? Heres the link to the details of the deal since you don’t know anything about his contract: http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/news/story?id=5360721
        “The deal does not contain an opt-out clause after the fourth season, which means Oklahoma City holds Durant’s rights through the 2015-16 season. The new contract kicks in starting with the 2011-12 campaign.” Again, this Gortat deal can not in any shape or form affect the very little chance that wizards might have in getting the KD. None. The only thing I didn’t like about this Gortat trade is that Protected 1st round pick. And yes Im no fan of Grunfeld either (passing up on James Harden in that proposed trade last year for instance).

      • bougin89 - Oct 28, 2013 at 11:52 AM

        Kevin Durant does not have a player option on his contract. He is locked up through the 2015/2016 season.

    • redbaronx - Oct 27, 2013 at 12:33 PM

      @thekingdave – I would never defend Ernie (I’ve wanted him fired and sent emails to the Wizards PLEADING to get rid of him), but this move does make sense short term.

      The real problem is like you said: Nene. That mistake has already been made. I love Nene and he’s a great player, but if I remember correctly his contract runs through 2016. The chances of Nene producing and not getting injured are pretty slim, but if Nene stays healthy, great.

      Irrespective of that, trading for Gortat is a good move in itself, and even if they just let Gortat go, that will just be a slot that opens up for a free agent. The Wizards are going to be very attractive for Free Agents in another year, and they could still clear more cap space!

      I’m dreaming of Anthony Davis to DC for 2015….

      • thekingdave - Oct 27, 2013 at 6:04 PM

        I probably should have clarified the whole point of my post was that this nets Grunfeld an extension in all likelihood. And like I’ve said, he’s already been given one chance to be the architect of a mediocre Eastern Conference playoff team (Gilbert Arenas, Antwan Jamison, Deshawn Stevenson, Brendan Haywood etc.) Plus in terms of this season, that was the one chip on the table you had trade wise. Maybe that gets you a 5 seed best case scenario, but that’s yet to be seen. Wittman has never been successful anywhere as a head coach. I think you should have fired him the moment George Karl became available and given him a blank check. Maybe that’s just me.

      • redbaronx - Oct 29, 2013 at 3:06 PM

        @thekingdave – I would have loved it if the Wizards hired Karl. But I’ll say this in Wttman’s defense, from the sidelines and listening to him talk, I think he can be good despite the lack of past success. We’ll see how this season shakes out.

        Also, Karl is getting on in age and has had a lot to deal with (cancer, family stuff). I think he might need a rest from coaching or he might even retire. We’ll see.

      • bougin89 - Oct 28, 2013 at 11:58 AM

        The Pelicans have Anthony Davis’ contractual rights through the 2016/17 season. That’s if he plays for the 1 year qualifying offer in the 16/17 season and doesn’t sign a max extension, which he likely will do. Unless he gets injured or starts playing a lot worse their is no way the Pelicans are trading him in 2015.

      • redbaronx - Oct 28, 2013 at 1:02 PM

        @bougin89 – You forget that the NBA is running the Pelicans…if there’s even a team there in 3-4 years.

      • bougin89 - Oct 28, 2013 at 2:12 PM

        They are no longer running the Pelicans. Tom Benson bought them. Also, what does that have to do with Anthony Davis getting traded?

        Davis isn’t going anywhere in the next 3 years(and more likely 7 years) unless he has a devastating injury.

  4. letangusespertplus - Oct 26, 2013 at 9:04 PM

    the wizards love picking up past their prime big men.

    • sunsbolts7 - Oct 26, 2013 at 9:46 PM

      Explain to me how a 29 year old is past his prime.

      • letangusespertplus - Oct 26, 2013 at 9:53 PM

        you seem to know what it is. age doesn’t matter.

    • redbaronx - Oct 27, 2013 at 12:48 PM

      @letanugsespertplus – Were Kwame Brown, Andray Blatch, JaVale McGee, or Jan Veseley “past their prime big men”?

      Seriously. Take a moment to rethink your comment. At least if you complained about “young big men who will never have a prime..” THAT I could understand!

      • letangusespertplus - Oct 28, 2013 at 6:46 AM

        well his numbers are down so my point stands until they go back up. misunderstand all you want, but big men don’t exactly flourish in washington.

      • redbaronx - Oct 28, 2013 at 12:59 PM

        @letangusespertplus – I didn’t misunderstand anything. I called you out on the fact that the Wizards do not obtain “past their prime big men” for the most part. Why people simply can’t accept when they’re wrong on here is beyond me!

  5. metalhead65 - Oct 27, 2013 at 1:28 AM

    so let me get this straight if you are a wizards fan whose team has sucked for years you are supposed to be upset because they want to win now? they have enough young guys that need to step up now instead of tanking for yet another lottery pick. what is not to like about this deal? you gave up a guy who may not play this year and a potential high draft pick. in return you get a solid NBA big man who will be a legit center and allow your best player to return to his natural position. plus the guy is not even 30 with an expiring contract so if he sucks for some reason you are not stuck with a long term deal and if he works out you can resign him to a reasonable new contract. you experts have no idea what you are whining about so just let wizard fans have a glimmer of hope. I am a pacers fan so I don’t care what they do but you clowns are making it sound like the worst deal ever for the wizards when it clearly is a good deal for them.

    • redbaronx - Oct 27, 2013 at 12:38 PM

      @metalhead65 – I’m a Wizards fan. I’m not upset AT ALL. Good trade and the Wizards did a great job of both protecting themselves if the pick is in the lottery, and if Emeka never plays again, the Wizards will have made a good trade for essentially nothing.

      If there are actual Wizards fans complaining on these posts, they’re just not getting it. This is a GOOD trade.

      Metalhead65 you just have to understand……we all hate Ernie Grunfeld (rightly), so if any of the Wiz fans are criticizing this trade, it’s just a reflex to Ernie! They’ll come around in a day or two!

  6. psubeerman21 - Oct 27, 2013 at 6:19 AM

    That’s fine wanting to win now, and I am sure this move puts them somewhere between the 5-8 seed. That doesn’t change the fact you overpaid for a guy that might not re-sign with you. Giving up a first round pick in a talent-rich draft for a possible rental is stupid. Have fun getting smoked in the fist round by the Bulls or Pacers.

    • redbaronx - Oct 27, 2013 at 12:42 PM

      @psubeerman21 – I don’t agree with you, but I get your point. This IS a talent rich draft, and your right, this move could backfire.

      But it is a decent risk at the end of the day. If the Wizards are 1-12 in the draft, they get the pick. If not, then we can console ourselves that most picks below 13 are risky + we just opened up a major salary cap slot and have some of the best young talent that can draw Free Agents to town.

  7. tibbs7 - Oct 27, 2013 at 9:47 AM

    At some point in time you have to change the culture.

    For Wizard fans, it has been a long suffering road.

    I will now want to watch this team.

    • redbaronx - Oct 27, 2013 at 1:01 PM

      @tibbs7 – I agree 100%. I’m a Wizards fan and I was starting to cringe at the thought of Okafor being out, and Nene getting injured again. Nightmares really. We really do want to see playoffs again, and smart teams like the Lakers and Boston are always making moves for short and long term goals.

      The worst that can happen here is that we lose the +13 pick if we’re not in the lottery. I get the feeling that Okafor is pretty much done at this point. Yes, we could lose Gortat. But then again we may either want that slot for another Free Agent, or maybe resign him for another 3 years, and at the end he’d be 33. If he’s consistent, I think we could live with that while we take a few more turns in the draft and free agency to build around Wall, Beal, and Porter.

  8. tcclark - Oct 27, 2013 at 10:04 AM

    It’s sad how weak the east is if we’re talking about this team making the playoffs. This team makes the playoffs, but a team with Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordan, Ryan Anderson, and Anthony Davis is projected as the 10th seed in the West. Trust me, as a Sixers fan I love this (I want a second lotto pick), but man it must suck being a western conference team.

  9. redbaronx - Oct 27, 2013 at 12:08 PM

    Nene can be a beast at the 4 spot with Gortat at the 5. I really like this trade just for that reason alone, but getting rid of Okafor and his history of injuries is a net plus. Go to work Nene!

    *Crossing fingers* just stay healthy big guy!

  10. redbaronx - Oct 27, 2013 at 1:09 PM

    Now if only we can get a #1 ping pong ball and draft Wiggins next year! What a great 5 we’d have! **Praying**

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