Salary Cap

Four Words You Thought I’d Never Write About Mike Wise

Rescue crews battle against the fumes from Mike Wise's latest column.

Rescue crews battle against the fumes from Mike Wise’s latest column.

If the Washington Post’s Mike Wise is trolling Wizards fans with his latest epistle in praise of Ernie Grunfeld…kudos to him. If he really believes what he wrote…holy crap.

Now for the payoff to that Upworthy headline: Mike Wise is right. Well, his basic conclusion that Grunfeld will keep his job is correct. But just about everything else he wrote? Ill-informed, error-riddled, poorly reasoned garbage.

Now that Wise is allegedly finished expressing his thoughts, bear with me as I retort.

Wise leads off with this:

Among the barbershop banter going around Verizon Center’s media room Wednesday night was the topic of which Washington Wizards small forward had to go in the offseason to avert a talent-and-minutes logjam: Trevor Ariza, Martell Webster or Otto Porter Jr.?

By the time arguments were made on each player’s behalf (given his age and upside, everyone agreed moving Porter after his rookie year would be downright foolish), it dawned on the half-dozen or so of us: We were talking about players who might have to leave Washington because of too much depth at their position. No one could remember such a discussion about a Wizards roster this decade.

This was when I realized Ernie Grunfeld had definitely saved his job.

Several things are downright amazing in these four sentences. Face palm “amazing,” not “John Wall just threw down a breakaway 360 windmill” amazing.

First, mediaites are just now talking about the Wizards having a lot of guys at small forward? Second, this is somehow a good thing? And third: it took Wise until March 5 to “realize” Grunfeld’s job was saved?

Yeah, the Wizards do have a theoretical logjam at SF. People paying attention to the Wizards recognized a potential logjam at that spot before last year’s draft. That’s before the team selected Otto Porter — which was as predictable as…well…Wise writing an inane column for the Washington Post.

That potential logjam — recognized before last year’s draft — called into question the Wizards’ entire offseason strategy. Picking Porter to play SF was a fine move, especially if you’re a “best player available” proponent (as I am). Trading two second round picks for one and selecting SG/SF Glen Rice Jr. was another perfectly acceptable move. Keeping Trevor Ariza for the final year of his contract (instead of trading him) was also a fine move, as was re-signing Martell Webster.

What was decidedly NOT sensible was doing all four in the same offseason. And, a number of smart observers who pay attention and give actual thought to how to construct a good NBA team have been saying so since June 2013.

Grunfeld’s choice to invest so many resources at one position left the Wizards lacking depth up front, which was yet another thing that concerned fans who were paying attention. Washington was counting on two 30+ year old bigs, and 30+ year old athletes predictably do two things: get hurt and get worse.

What happened? Thirty-one year old Emeka Okafor got hurt before the season started, which meant that the Wizards NEEDED to acquire a replacement if they hoped to salvage their season. We’ll get into that in more detail very soon.

Meanwhile, 31-year old Nenê hit the 30+ exacta by both declining AND getting hurt.

More from Wise:

On a playoff-or-bust edict from his owner since training camp, out of injury alibis and facing the prospect of no postseason for a sixth straight spring, the oft-slammed team president launched a deep three-pointer in late October.

Grunfeld acquired a journeyman center from Phoenix and some loose change for an injured Emeka Okafor and a protected first-round draft pick.

That player, Marcin Gortat, has started 60 of 61 games this season.

Gortat has double figures in points and rebounds in 24 of those games.

He has bailed out his team down low, especially now that his bookend 6-foot-11 big man, Nene, is out for at least another month because of a sprained knee ligament. When Nene is healthy, the two play off each other brilliantly; the more Gortat bangs inside on offense, the more Nene can do his ballet outside the key.

That first paragraph is pure sophistry. Trading for Gortat wasn’t a “deep three,” it was a layup, a sure thing. Ditto for the trade to obtain Okafor and Ariza. Wise is suggesting that Grunfeld was taking a chance to get the team back in the playoffs. A competent GM would have addressed the team’s glaring need for frontcourt depth during the offseason instead of burning all of his assets on small forwards and a backup point guard who had been demonstrably terrible for four seasons.

The trade for Gortat isn’t evidence of Grunfeld’s executive acumen, but prime evidence of his incompetence. When the team’s starting center was out of commission, they couldn’t turn to their bench and have even a reasonable hope that the next man up could do an adequate job. Nope, they had to burn a future asset — likely to be in one of the deepest, most talented drafts of the past decade — to achieve the very modest short-term goals for this season.

Next, Wise seems surprised at the level of Gortat’s play this season. While “journeyman” is a fair descriptor, Gortat is doing exactly what should have been expected. Regular readers may recall that before the season, I projected Gortat’s Player Production Average (an overall production measure I developed) this season would be 146. Gortat’s PPA as of my most recent update: 141.

More Wise:

Okafor, still rehabbing, has yet to play a game.

“With March and Nene, we can match up with anybody inside,” Grunfeld said at halftime of a victory over the Jazz on Wednesday night as he leaned against a wall in the club suite where he watches games.

“It was big at that time we made the trade because we knew Emeka was hurt. To bring in a big guy who plays both offense and defense and has a very positive attitude, we were very happy.”

Ernie won’t talk about his future, pleading that I write about something else. Ted Leonsis won’t talk about Ernie’s future, just as he won’t talk about George McPhee’s future with the Capitals. All Monumental Sports business apparently will be handled this summer.

But while McPhee may need a Stanley Cup playoff run of at least two or more rounds to warrant an extension, the signs of Grunfeld being re-signed are growing daily.

ESPN has calculated the odds of Washington returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2008 as 100 percent (since Golden State and Portland don’t yet have that designation, it apparently does help to play in the Eastern Conference).

I’ve already addressed the content of the Grunfeld quotes. What he says is accurate enough, if looked at in a vacuum. The trade for Gortat (which cost the team a future first round pick) wouldn’t have been necessary if they’d done a reasonable job of adding depth in the offseason. Or, if they’d used the cap space they traded for Okafor and Ariza to get younger players that could be just as productive and have the prospect of improving.

It was nice to see Wise at least acknowledge the benefits of playing in the weak sister Eastern Conference. To add some teeth to the aside, keep in mind that Washington’s record (compiled against the league’s 8th easiest schedule) would rank 10th in the Western Conference. At 32-29, they’d be four games out of 8th place.

Realistically, Washington’s record would be worse in the tougher conference. In my analysis, they’d fall 11th. In the East, they’re fourth or fifth.

More from Wise:

I’ll admit it: I thought Ernie was finally toast. Though I’ve consistently defended him on essentially the same grounds Leonsis has used — Grunfeld is executing the gradual rebuilding plan his employer instructed him to — I wasn’t sure he could recover from re-signing Gilbert Arenas and Andray Blatche to a combined $146 million in 2008 and 2010.

But the recycling king did it, turning Arenas into Rashard Lewis, then into Okafor and Ariza (a trade widely criticized as the Wizards taking on two aging role players for too many guaranteed years and millions) and finally Okafor into Gortat.

The first paragraph from this excerpt is absurdity. The Wizards talked about doing a gradual rebuild, but when presented with resources to acquire young, productive players with a future, they instead traded for older players who could speedwalk them back to mediocrity.

The Arenas for Lewis trade was a solid move. Trading the cap space for older players was shortcutting the rebuild.

Note that last line: “…and finally Okafor into Gortat.” No, it was Okafor AND a first round pick for Gortat. Here’s the total price: maximum cap space, a future first round pick and a future second round pick for Ariza and Gortat. And, if the Wizards want them back, it’ll cost them max cap space again.

More Wise:

This is a very good core group, with its two best players 20 and 23 years old, respectively. The Wizards have put themselves in position salary-cap wise to spend in free agency the next two seasons.

Everything here is wrong. The core group is not “very good,” it’s average. Its best players are 28 and 23 (Ariza and Wall). The Wizards have NOT put themselves in a good position to spend in free agency. The last point is one I addressed last November.

To summarize: the Wizards won’t be in position to ADD to their team via free agency. If they’re to have significant cap room to sign a “name brand” free agent, they’ll have to let Gortat, Ariza and Booker depart. If those guys leave, Washington will need to REPLACE them. If they re-sign Gortat and/or Ariza and/or Booker, they won’t have cap space to pursue a significant free agent.

Now, the team could re-sign Gortat and Ariza (and maybe Booker too), and then go shopping in free agency using the MLE. Then they’d be adding. But, they’d also then be tied to two 30+ year old big men (Gortat and Nenê), who would more likely be declining as Wall, Beal and (maybe) Porter are approaching their potential.

More Wise:

As time has gone on, the bigger picture of Grunfeld’s vision is beginning to emerge. Taking on Nene’s $65 million deal or the remaining $15 million of Ariza’s deal appeared risky, if not foolish, in 2012. But without those pieces and Gortat surrounding John Wall and Bradley Beal, the Wizards aren’t three games over .500 for the first time since the Arenas era and less than two months from possibly their first playoff series win since 2005.

Vision? There’s no vision here. The team is the assemblage of a man trying to save his job. There’s little apparent thought given to a long-term goal like building a championship contender.

The stuff about Ariza, Nenê and Gortat supposes that those were the only moves available. What’s more, getting these players (instead of younger guys who might grow with Wall and Beal) is indictment of Grunfeld’s alleged vision. Gortat and Ariza must be re-signed — re-acquired at the cost of a second helping of maximum cap space. And, as some (including myself) predicted, Nenê is in the expensive, injured, decline portion of his career.

And this is before even getting to the bungling that made trading for veterans a consideration in the first place. When Washington dealt for these guys, younger players — all of whom were selected by Grunfeld — were setting new standards for ineptitude.

Wise writes:

With Joe Dumars reportedly on his way out in Detroit, Grunfeld would have the fifth-longest tenure among NBA GMs behind Miami’s Pat Riley, the Lakers’ Mitch Kupchak, San Antonio’s R.C. Buford and Boston’s Danny Ainge.

Yes, Grunfeld’s the only one on that list without an NBA title. He’s also the only one who was expressly told to do it on the cheap for a few years.

More sleight-of-hand sophistry. Note the use of “…an NBA title,” as if Grunfeld’s team was oh-so-close, but just fell short. So, let’s compare the records of the longest-tenured GMs:

NBA RANK TEAM GM W L W-L%
1 SAS Buford 611 254 .706
3 LAL Kupchak 520 346 .600
4 MIA Riley 515 348 .597
8 BOS Ainge 472 392 .546
11 DET Dumars 458 407 .529
28 WAS Grunfeld 345 520 .399

Perhaps you’ll notice what I did — during the time Grunfeld has been in charge of the Wizards, they’ve had the league’s third WORST winning percentage. In that same timespan, those who have been in place longer have run three of the league’s most successful franchise. And the fourth guy — the one reportedly close to being fired — guided a franchise that was one of the NBA’s best for a seven-year span, and which won a championship.

What’s remarkable to consider is that 22 other NBA franchises were better than the Wizards teams Grunfeld assembled…and replaced their GM.

Wise blathers:

He doesn’t get a pass for drafting Jan Vesely at No. 6 or Oleksiy Pecherov at No. 18. He’s also not the only NBA executive who didn’t take Stephen Curry before No. 7 or DeJuan Blair before No. 37 in 2009.

But, apparently in Wise’s book, Grunfeld does get a pass for picking Chris Singleton ahead of Kenneth Faried, for signing Eric Maynor, or for trading the 5th pick for Mike Miller and Randy Foye.

Wise bleets:

Here’s hoping those in the Why-Isn’t-Grunfeld-Gone? mob can lower their pitchforks and finally notice the team in front of them.

Last month in Sochi, Russia, I ran into a former acquaintance of mine and Grunfeld’s who, within minutes, wanted to know, “How does Ernie still have a job?” I’ve heard this often the past few years, often from people looking for work themselves.

Now that the Wall era is within weeks of its first postseason, the answer is easy: Ernie Grunfeld and his closest advisers were given just the right amount of time they needed to fix what was broke.

For this year, the team is enjoyable to watch. But, those who pay attention to the team know that scaling Mt. Mediocrity this season (and really, it was supposed to be scaled last season, but…you know…that injury to Wall and (this may sound familiar) lack of depth) comes at the expense of the team’s future.

They spent their cap space on older players. To keep those older players, they’re going to have to spend even more cap space.

Because one of those older players got hurt (and they hadn’t obtained a solid reserve big man despite a glaring need for depth), they had to spend a future first round pick (probably in a deep draft) to get another older player.

Because they flunked player evaluation, they had to spend their biannual exception, a previous (failed) first round pick, AND a future 2nd round pick to get an “on his last legs” backup PG.

This kind of twaddle from Wise is what I expected from casual fans when the Wizards punted on the rebuild and instead went all-in for mediocrity. What the team did was cynical in my view — they created an illusion of improvement, not by doing a genuine rebuild with younger players who have a future, but by spending resources on established players on short contracts.

It’s not about lowering pitchforks or wanting Grunfeld gone. When I’ve met Grunfeld, I liked him. In fact, I’ve liked and respected all the front office guys I’ve had a chance to meet. But they haven’t done a good job over the past decade, and there’s little reason to think they’ll abruptly improve in the future.

Wizards Plan Doesn’t Add Up

Wizards owner Ted Leonsis assures us fans that they have a plan and that they’re sticking to it. However, I think The Plan is a lot messier than it seems to be on the surface — and I don’t think it includes a clear and realistic path to building a championship contender.

What is The Plan exactly? It includes young players like John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter. It includes trading for veterans like Nene, Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza and (most recently) Morcin Gortat. It includes shopping for what Leonsis called a “brand name” free agent. That aspect of The Plan was articulated well by Daniel Friedberg at RealGM. Wrote Friedberg:

The recent transactions by the Wizards (the Marcin Gortat trade, declining the fourth year options of Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton) will give them $15 million in cap space in the summer of 2014, making them major players in free agency. That exact amount also depends on what they choose to do with Gortat. While all the sorcery in the world won’t bring LeBron, Carmelo or Bosh to the nation’s capital, a playoff run this year will make this squad more of a draw for lower tier free agents. After a half decade of basement-dwelling drudgery, the Wiz faithful finally have reason for optimism.

But how much optimism is warranted? The Wizards could indeed have $15 million (or even a little more) in cap room next offseason. All they have to do is renounce Gortat, Ariza, Trevor Booker, Jan Vesely, Kevin Seraphin and Chris Singleton. The last three don’t matter much. They’re bad NBA players and will be gone after the season.

If the Wizards are to make a playoff run this season, Gortat and Ariza will be major contributors, and Booker is likely to be at least a significant part of the rotation. A Wizards “get into the playoffs” rotation is probably going to include Wall and Eric Maynor as the PGs, Beal and Martell Webster or Garrett Temple as the SGs, Ariza and Webster as the SFs (with a possible contribution from Porter), Nene, Booker and Harrington at PF, and Gortat and Nene at center.

That rotation will have to look something like this:

  • PG: Wall and Maynor
  • SG: Beal and Webster/Temple
  • SF: Ariza and Webster
  • PF: Nene and Booker/Harrington
  • C: Gortat and Nene

It’s at this point that the “logic” of the whole getting into the playoffs will make the Wizards more attractive to free agents part of The Plan breaks down. If the Wizards sign a significant free agent next offseason, that free agent cannot be addition. Since the team can’t have cap space unless it’s willing to give up Gortat, Ariza, Booker, etc., any free agent signing will be replacement of those players. In effect, they’ll be trading the departed players for the new guy.

So, put yourself in the mind of a “brand name” free agent. If you’re interested in playing for a winner, why would you pick the Wizards? The group that “won” (meaning they got into the playoffs) can’t be kept together if the team decides to sign you. Key contributors would have to be let go — guys without whom Washington would have missed the postseason.

In other words, a potential free agent can’t go to the Wizards to “join” a winning team — he has to take the place of important contributors and hope that what he has to offer plus the continued development of the team’s remaining players is enough to do more than keep the team treading water. I don’t see how that package would be attractive to a prominent free agent who wants to compete for a championship.

The Wizards’ cap situation provides some flexibility, which is a positive. If the salary cap rises to $62 million (which is what’s expected), Washington could clear as much as $16 million in cap space. That sounds like a lot, but when the cap increases, maximum salaries increase as well. That $16 million would be sufficient to pay a maximum salary to a player with 0-6 years of experience, but would fall short for players with 7-9 years or 10+ years.

If the Wizards decide to let everyone leave so they can sign Chris Bosh, they’ll either need to convince Bosh to take a starting salary $4.2 million less than the maximum he could receive — and $4.5 million less than he’s due to receive under his current contract — OR work a sign and trade with Miami OR trade away other players (like Beal or Porter) to clear additional cap space.

Let’s say they go after Detroit’s Greg Monroe instead. Monroe would have to take slightly less money (about $2.6 million over the four years of a maximum contract), AND Detroit would have to decide not to match. But let’s say all that happens. At that point, the Wizards would have eight players under contract and about $2 million in cap space to fill the rest of their roster — and they’d be working without a first round pick, which they traded to get Gortat. Who, in this scenario, would be playing elsewhere next season.

Which means, the team would continue to lack depth, especially up front where they’d be reliant on Monroe, an aging Nene and whatever they could get from the second round or the free agent “remnants” bin.

The question really comes down to this: What goals does the front office really have? If the Wizards are serious about contending for a championship with this group, the path to contender status is heavily reliant on player development and hoping to get lucky in free agency or the draft. If their goal is to make the playoffs and then see if they can go on a lucky run, they’re probably setting themselves up to make moves that will keep them treading water.

All that said, the team could still become a title contender if some combination of Wall, Beal or Porter develop into true franchise players. The front office has already committed to Wall as its franchise bedrock with the absolute maximum contract they could give him. Wall hasn’t shown to be worth that kind of money yet, though his breakthrough may be coming.

Beal’s rookie season was a lot like Ray Allen’s, a guy who will be in the Hall of Fame, but wasn’t a true franchise player. Porter, of course, is a question mark — his hip injury has kept him on the sidelines. As a college prospect, he graded as a good-but-not-great prospect.

I’m definitely not saying the team is going to stink. They have sufficient resources to be a perennial playoff team for the next few seasons. That path to being a title contender is less clear, however. The two major trades the past couple years (acquiring Okafor and Ariza; then trading Okafor and a first for Gortat) don’t really look like the moves a team aspiring to win a championship in the near future would make. They seem more like the moves of a team content to make the playoffs in the short term, but without a genuine plan to transition from playoff contender to championship contender.

My expectation for the 2014 offseason is that the team will essentially punt on free agency. My guess: they’ll re-sign Gortat and Ariza to four-year contracts in the name of continuity, and use the MLE to add frontcourt depth rather than taking a plunge in the free agent waters. Then they’ll hope that development from Wall, Beal and Porter will be enough to make them title contenders before age and injury wear down their 30-plus year olds up front.

It’s not the way I would have done it, but there’s at least a chance it could work.

Gortat Trade Is Culmination of Series of Bad Moves for Wizards

Late Friday afternoon, news emerged that the Washington Wizards had traded injured center Emeka Okafor and a first round pick to the Phoenix Suns for center Marcin Gortat and salary cap ballast. While Gortat is a good player who will help the Wizards more games than they would have with Okafor sidelined, it’s a terrible move for a rebuilding franchise.

Unfortunately for fans who had hoped to see Ted Leonsis and Ernie Grunfeld construct a team that could contend for championships in the near future, it’s merely another example of the team squandering opportunities and mismanaging its assets. In the summer of 2012, for example, the Wizards could have amnestied Andray Blatche and released Rashard Lewis — moves that would have carved out enough cap space to acquire a quality front court player, sign good young players to mid-priced contracts, AND preserved future cap space for possible future free agents.

Instead, they traded for Okafor and Trevor Ariza — both of whom figured to be two-year rentals, at best. While the rebuilding Wizards added a 30-year old Okafor to pair up front with the 31-year old Nene, rebuilding New Orleans used the cap space they’d obtained from the Wizards to acquire Ryan Anderson — a productive 24-year old power forward.

This offseason was even worse. After last season, the team’s biggest need was obvious: front court depth. Okafor and Nene were reasonably effective, but both were 30-plus years old — an age at which NBA players typically see declines in productivity and increases in time missed due to injury.

So, they went into the offseason stocked with these assets:

  • Promising starters in the backcourt (John Wall and Bradley Beal)
  • A solid SF in the final year of his contract (Ariza)
  • The third overall pick in the draft
  • Two second round picks
  • The Bi-Annual Exception (BAE)
  • The Mid-Level Exception (MLE)

They used that draft pick on SF Otto Porter, who should be a good professional player once he’s healthy. In my pre-draft analysis, I had Porter rated in a tie for fourth overall, so picking him third wasn’t much of a stretch. And, the difference between Porter and at least two of the guys I had ahead of him (Cody Zeller and Nerlens Noel) was small enough that reasonable minds could differ on which of the three projected to be the best pro.

They swapped their 2nd round picks to move up a spot and take Glen Rice Jr., which might work out as a decent move. My analysis of his D-League performance suggests Rice may have been worth a mid-first round selection — he could turn out to be a terrific value as a 2nd rounder.

But here’s where things got puzzling. On the first day of free agency, they spent their BAE to sign reserve PG Eric Maynor — a consistently crummy NBA player. Guys who performed like Maynor are ones teams invite to training camp on non-guaranteed minimum salary contracts. The Wizards acted like they were getting a steal.

Weirder yet, they never made an offer to their incumbent backup PG, A.J. Price, who was a) better last season than Maynor has ever been as a pro, and b) would have been happy to get the minimum salary for another year.

Then, with Ariza coming back for another year, having drafted Porter third overall, and having dealt to get Rice (a SG/SF type), Grunfeld gave the full MLE to bring back Webster — yet another SF. Now, Webster did play well last season, and his three-point shooting and heady play was certainly valuable to the team. But, having spent their draft picks on swing men and their BAE on a scrub PG, they still had gaping holes up front, and no way to fill them other than trading or signing minimum salary free agents.

They flirted with San Antonio’s DeJuan Blair, but presented with competing minimum salary offers, Blair chose Dallas. They did manage to sign Al Harrington — one of the more overrated players of the past decade, who was available at a deep discount because he’s 32 years old, coming off the worst season of his career (due to illness), and working his way back into shape after recovering from that illness.

And oh yeah, burning that BAE on Maynor knocked them out of the running for good reserve guards like Nate Robinson and Darren Collison — each of whom signed for the BAE or less.

Taken together, the Wizards spent all of their offseason assets without addressing their single biggest need: depth up front. In effect, they were gambling on the health and productivity of 30-plus year olds, and the insanity of that gamble became evident when Okafor herniated a disk in his neck. With an uncertain timetable for recovery, the Wizards were stuck. The team’s stated goal was to reach the playoffs — something that just wasn’t going to happen if they had to rely on Kevin Seraphin and Jan Vesely, who were two of league’s least productive players last season.

And so, staring into the maw of yet another 30-win season, Grunfeld and Leonsis blinked. They swapped Okafor (who may not play this season) and a first round pick for Gortat, who played at borderline All-NBA caliber a couple years ago. Make no mistake: Gortat is a good player. But here’s the problem — the Wizards spent a future asset on a guy they’re hoping will be on the team for just one year. See, during the summer, Leonsis talked openly about signing a “brand name” free agent. That’s something they’ll need cap room to accomplish, and the only way they’ll have cap space is if they let Gortat depart.

Perhaps the most prevalent counterargument in favor of this trade is that the pick is top 12 protected in 2014 and that good players aren’t usually picked that late in the draft. This is unpersuasive to me because it ignores the reality that in every NBA draft, quality players are selected 13th or lower. Sure, a GM like Grunfeld has a lower probability of finding a good player later in the draft, but that’s a point in favor of keeping picks and acquiring extras, if possible. More picks increase the odds of getting a quality player. Now that’s not even an option.

Another line of argument is that the Wizards could re-sign Gortat, which would make the trade look better for the team. The problem with this thinking is that it would mean the team struck out in free agency (or decided not to even take a swing). Gortat is good, but he’s most certainly not a “brand name” free agent. Plus, Gortat turns 30 next spring, which means he’s more likely to be in the expensive decline portion of his career than he is to remain productive.

It seems like such a classically Wizards transaction. Presented with opportunities to build a potential title contender, the owner and the GM opted to pursue short-term goals that don’t mean much. I find it cynical and disappointing. Makes we wonder why I’m still following this team. But that’s a topic for another day.

No, The Wizards Should Not Sign Carmelo Anthony

 

Atlanta Hawks v New York Knicks

Over at Yahoo!, Drexel Perry hypothesizes that Washington could be a free agent destination for Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony. Unfortunately, it’s a bad idea for the Wizards, and it’s highly unrealistic.

Why would it be a bad move for the Wizards? Simple: Anthony may be the game’s most overrated player. He continues to be touted as a superstar, but as I’ve written elsewhere, he’s more of a media star and fan favorite than a win producer. Folks believe Anthony is a star because he scores a TON of points. And, he scores a ton of points because he shoots a lot.

So yeah, Anthony is a big time scorer. But, his efficiency is only okay, in part because he seems to believe extra points get awarded for attempting difficult shots. (Note: they’re not.) For a more in-depth look at Anthony’s scoring, click here to jump to a piece I wrote at my old blog.

While Anthony does score a lot, scoring in only one aspect of what wins and loses basketball games. When looked at through the lens of a measure that accounts for a player’s overall effect on his team’s ability to win or lose, Anthony rates as a good — but NOT elite — player.

In Player Production Average (PPA)*, MVP candidates typically score solidly over 200 (where 100 = average and higher is better). All-NBA candidates usually rate 160 or better. Anthony’s best season (last year) rates a 162. That’s good, but not elite, and not worth the $20+ million salary he’s getting now, and definitely not worth the $22 million Perry suggests the Wizards offer.

* PPA is a stat I developed to account for what causes winning and losing. It’s pace neutral, includes defense, and has a degree of difficulty factor based on the level of competition a player faces.

Perry’s analysis of the team’s hypothetical on-court workings is okay. A small-ball approach could work — Anthony just had the best season of his career playing mostly at PF. Nene could (at least in theory) play center. Otto Porter projects to be a good NBA small forward. For my tastes, Perry should have given more (some?) attention to the reality that both Anthony and John Wall are ball-dominant. Wall, of course, is a willing passer. Anthony — not so much.

The other big problem is counting on an aging Nene at center. Fact is, the big Brazilian is in the “expensive decline” phase of his career — witness him talking about “pushing through” soreness after the team’s second pre-season game. Anthony would also turn 30 before the 2014 season begins, which means the Wizards would (once again) be purchasing the wrong end of a player’s career.

But all of the forgoing is largely beside the point for a simple reason: despite Perry’s assertions, the Wizards will not have the cap space to sign Anthony. Writes Perry:

The money that currently counts against the salary cap occupied by Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor could simply be used to bring Anthony to Washington in 2014.

Ariza and Okafor combined cap dollars of approximately $22 million will come off the books next summer. That could easily be enough to lure Anthony to Washington. By becoming a free agent, Melo’s already taking a discount because only New York can offer him a max five-year deal for $129 million.

So Washington’s potential offer could be in the neighborhood of what teams other than the Knicks can bring to the negotiating table.

But no — this is simply erroneous. The Wizards are over the salary cap. They don’t get to just plug a new salary into the combined slots of departing players — they have to fit new salaries under the cap. If Washington lets Okafor, Ariza, Vesely, Booker, Seraphin and Singleton depart, they’d have total salary of $43.9 million vs. a cap of roughly $59 million.

The picture isn’t even that rosy, however. They’d still need to account for their first round pick, as well as cap holds for empty salary slots. To pay Anthony $22 million, they’d need the Knicks to cooperate in a sign and trade, or they’d need to dump another $8-9 million in salary. Not gonna happen.

So, forget about Anthony. He’s overrated, brutally expensive, and will be on the wrong side of 30 by the time he’s even the remotest of possibilities. And, the Wizards don’t have the cap space or the resources to acquire him without detonating long-term assets.

How to Reach A Bad Conclusion: Omit Relevant Facts

RG3

Writing for Yahoo! Finance, Tony Manfred proclaimed that the 2012 trade of Robert Griffin III has been bad for both Washington and St. Louis. It’s not like there’s no evidence to support this theory — and Manfred cites some good ones:

  • both teams have bad records
  • the Rams need a better QB, and
  • Washington has needs at multiple positions that could have been filled with draft picks.

The problem with Manfred’s analysis is that he left out some relevant details. First, the draft is not the only mechanism for NFL teams to acquire talent. And second, Washington was handicapped in its efforts to fill holes at other positions by a preposterous, unfair, and in all ways ridiculous $36 million salary cap penalty.

And let’s keep in mind that the salary cap penalty was announced on the eve of free agency — after Washington made the trade for Griffin. Had the penalty been assessed earlier in the off-season, the team’s draft strategy may well have been different.

Just theorizing here, but if Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen had that $36 million in cap space, they likely would have spent on it some of those problem areas like offensive line, cornerback and safety. You know, instead of bargain shopping for the likes of Will Montgomery, Tyler Polumbus, Brandon Meriweather and Reed Doughty.

It’s improbable to think they really thought that a sixth round pick (Baccari Rambo) would make for a competent starter. There’s just no way they’d be using a four-cornerback, one safety alignment if they had that cap space available.

All that said, Manfred may be correct when it comes to the Rams. I pay little attention to the team. That said, their reasoning in trading Griffin was clearly that they thought Sam Bradford would become a franchise quarterback.  That’s turned out to be an error.

From Washington’s side, I wouldn’t quibble too much if someone wanted to argue the team paid too high a price for Griffin — the price was steep. But for that argument to have merit, all the relevant facts need to be included.