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June 20, 2012
Transaction Analysis

by Kevin Pelton


New Orleans Hornets

Acquired forward Rashard Lewis and the No. 46 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft from the Washington Wizards in exchange for forward Trevor Ariza and center Emeka Okafor. [6/20]

With one move, the Hornets basically finished hitting reset on the Chris Paul-David West-era team. Okafor and Ariza were the last two big additions from that era, both coming in trades where New Orleans took on long-term salary commitments in order to try to upgrade the talent around Paul and West and stay competitive. That plan failed, of course, but at least the long-term ramifications were limited. By next summer, the Hornets will have nearly a complete fresh start in terms of salary.

New Orleans will surely waive Lewis by July 1, meaning he'll be guaranteed $13.95 million of the $22.7 million he was scheduled to receive in the final year of his contract, per Sam Amick. That saves the Hornets a little less than $7 million as compared to the $20.8 million Ariza and Okafor were due--not enough to make New Orleans a big player in free agency, but a nice bonus.

The real payoff comes in the summer of 2013, when the Hornets shed $22.2 million. At this point, New Orleans' biggest salary for the 2013-14 season is forward Al-Farouq Aminu's $3.8 million team option. The No. 1 pick (read: Anthony Davis) and a possible new contract for restricted free agent Eric Gordon will add to the Hornets' payroll, yet New Orleans could still have upwards of $20 million in cap space for accumulating assets. If the Hornets are unable to lure a marquee free agent, which is a long shot, they can still use the room to trade for a veteran or stockpile draft picks in exchange for taking on bad contracts.

Losing Ariza and Okafor means little to New Orleans, since the team is still in the early stages of the rebuilding process. Aminu, who started down the stretch last season, has the potential to become an Ariza-like player at small forward and is five years younger. Landing Davis made Okafor expendable, and at 29 the center never fit into the Hornets' long-term plans. The couple of wins the Hornets give up next season are meaningless in the bigger picture, and possibly even a good thing in terms of ensuring a high draft pick next June.

Washington Wizards

Acquired forward Trevor Ariza and center Emeka Okafor from the New Orleans Hornets in exchange for forward Rashard Lewis and the No. 46 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. [6/20]

From the Wizards' end, this deal is a bit more complex. The question here is whether Ariza and Okafor were better than alternate uses of the cap space created by Lewis' expiring, partially guaranteed contract. In 2013-14, the answer to that question is clearly no. If Washington signed Ariza and Okafor to one-year contracts totaling $22 million next summer, people would rightfully question those moves. However, that's not exactly what happened here. The Wizards have turned the sunk cost of Lewis' 2011-12 contract into something of value, so really they've paid the difference between Lewis' guaranteed deal and Ariza's and Okafor's (about $29.2 million) for two years of their production.

My initial reaction was that Washington did not get enough. SCHOENE disagreed. Three-year projections show Ariza (3.6, 3.3) and Okafor (3.2, 2.6) contributing nearly 13 WARP over the next two seasons. On the open market, given the usual relationship of $2.5 million per win, that would be worth about $31.5 million.

That's tempered by a couple of factors. For one, the three-year projections have no way of considering health. Okafor missed 39 games due to a sore left knee, and it's not entirely clear how much that was the Hornets sitting a veteran with nothing to play for as opposed to a serious condition that will bother Okafor going forward.

There's also the question of how Ariza and Okafor fit with the Wizards. Conventional wisdom has quickly imagined Okafor and Nenê playing together in the Washington frontcourt. Consider me skeptical. Neither player has defended power forwards on a regular basis in years, and neither really has the kind of midrange game required of modern fours. If Okafor and Nenê can only play the middle, suddenly the Wizards have sunk $27 million a year into the center position.1

Ariza's inefficient scoring doesn't exactly solve Washington's offensive issues, especially because he's a relative non-shooter at small forward. Even if the Wizards draft Florida guard Bradley Beal with the No. 3 pick, a lineup with Ariza, Nenê, Okafor and John Wall is basically an invitation for opponents to play zone and pack the paint. Those four players combined to make 32 three-pointers last season in 133 attempts. Ouch.

Looming over everything is the question of what Washington wants to be. The Wizards have now added two players nearing 30 in the last three months (Nenê and Okafor); Ariza, at 26, is still in his prime but unlikely to age well given his dependence on athleticism. Washington's desire to add veterans is an understandable response to the shenanigans of the Andray Blatche-JaVale McGee era, but the Wizards seem to have gone too far in the opposite direction, leaving little upside around the duo of Wall and the No.3 pick.

Maybe Jan Vesely and some of Washington's other young talent (Trevor Booker, Kevin Seraphin) can change that, though adding Okafor cuts into their playing time. And maybe the Wizards win enough games over the next two seasons to become a destination for free agents by the time Ariza and Okafor come off the books in the summer of 2014. I think it's more likely this trade reminds us of the last time Washington made a deal leading up to the draft, when Ernie Grunfeld dealt the No. 5 pick (ultimately used on Ricky Rubio) to Minnesota in exchange for Randy Foye and Mike Miller. That move failed to produce the kind of short-term dividends needed to make up for its long-term cost. I suspect this deal will fall short by the same measure.

Footnote: Yeah, I completely blanked on Nene playing next to Kosta Koufos and Timofey Mozgov in the Denver starting lineup last season, which ... yeah, that's pretty bad. Anyways, Nene played 272 minutes at the four. As compared to other lineups with either Koufos or Mozgov, those groups scored much worse (104.1 points per 100 possessions, down from 110.5) but defended much better (allowing 100.9 points per 100 possessions, down from 108.3). On net, they were better than other Koufos/Mozgov lineups as well as lineups with Nene at center. I might be overstating the importance of matching up defensively at power forward and understating the importance of size in the paint to an effective team defense.

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Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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