With the acquisition of former New Orleans Hornets center/power forward Emeka Okafor and swingman Trevor Ariza, the Washington Wizards look set to break in three new starters to next season’s rotation. Ariza and Okafor, primarily known for their defensive prowess, add length, experience and defense to a team that is currently undergoing a mental morphosis under interim coach turned permanent coach Randy Wittman.
If Washington goes forward with rumored plans to draft Kentucky defensive stalwart Michael Kidd-Gilchrist later this month, the team could be fully equipped to contend for a playoff spot next year, providing the team’s younger players develop as promised.
"We are pleased to add two more solid pieces as we continue to build our roster with a balance of proven veterans and the core of young talent that we have developed," Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld said in a statement on June 20. "Emeka's defensive presence and rebounding ability will combine with Trevor’s versatility to add new dimensions to our frontcourt, and both players fit in very well with the type of team-first culture that we have been working to establish."
Okafor, 29, and Ariza, 26, signify a refocus in Grunfeld’s original plans of building through the draft. The Wizards’ president has still managed to build most of his roster with draft picks but the addition of veterans Ariza, Okafor and center Nene over the past few months have fortified Washington’s lineup with enough maturity to avoid another series of disastrous seasons similar to what the club went through from 2010 to the early parts of this past season. The six-foot-10-inch Okafor holds an eight-year career average of 12.7 points, 10.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game while Ariza was a key defensive component on the Los Angeles Lakers 2009 championship team as a six-foot-8-inch lockdown defender and three-point specialist.
Ironically, Ariza now gives the Wizards defensively what many had predicted Kidd-Gilchrist would provide but with better outside shooting. It’ll be interesting to see if Washington still pulls the trigger on the former Wildcat or if they elect to go with proven scorers like North Carolina Tar-Heels wingman Harrison Barnes or University of Florida guard Bradley Beal.
Whatever direction Washington elects to go, the team will still stand a notch or two better at the end of this month than it did at the end of the season. Washington lost no players of importance in the trade with New Orleans as it sent little-used forward Rashard Lewis along with a mid-second round pick to New Orleans in exchange for the forward duo. Washington is now committed to roughly $43 million between the two players over the next two seasons but both contracts have early termination clauses that can be used after next season, making the trade an affordable one for Washington.
The move gives the Wizards help in the meantime while still freeing them up to become players in next season’s summer free agency if they chose to do so when a buffet of National Basketball Association (NBA) stars could be available. Milwaukee Bucks guard Monta Ellis, Philadelphia 76er swingman Andre Iguodala, Sacramento Kings guard Tyreke Evans, Oklahoma City Thunder guard James Harden, Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith, Utah Jazz center Al Jefferson, Los Angeles Laker center Andrew Bynum and Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard could all potentially be available for hire. Grunfeld has played his cards well but he still has some wheeling and dealing to do.