Salary Cap

Responding to Ted Leonsis “Wizards Add Talented Big Man” Post

Wizards owner Ted Leonsis weighed in at his blog with his thoughts on the team’s acquisition of center Marcin Gortat. As usual, I’m not sure whether Leonsis actually believes what he’s saying, or if he’s merely careless with words, or if he’s applying PR spin, or if he’s being cynical. Either way, I thought some of what he wrote was worth a response:

Leonsis opened his blog posting with this:

The Wizards made a trade to add a talented big man to our roster Friday night — and Marcin Gortat will contribute right away to our team. It was important to our franchise to enter this season at full strength and to have depth and show upside and improvement.

Lots here. Yep, Gortat is talented, and he will contribute immediately. Part of that is because the other guys on the roster at power forward and center are so awful. More on that in a moment.

That second sentence is one of those that make me wonder if he’s being careless with words or whether he’s really that cynical about fans of his team. In sports-speak, “upside” means potential and “depth” means having more than one good player at a position.

Maybe I’m just THAT stupid, but I can’t figure out how trading for a 29-year old center on a one-year contract can count as “upside.” If Gortat does his job, the team will likely get to the playoffs, which won’t mean much unless they re-sign him, which they really don’t want to do because of Leonsis’ previous chest-thumping about signing a “brand name” free agent.

His “depth” comment is a face palm moment. Why wasn’t frontcourt depth important to “show” during the summer? With a solid small forward on the roster for another year (Trevor Ariza) and two more swingmen joining the team through the draft (Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr.), why spend the mid-level exception on yet another SF (Martell Webster)? With an acceptable backup point guard easily re-signed for the league minimum (A.J. Price), why rush out the first day of free agency and burn the bi-annual exception on a scrub (Eric Maynor)?

As for that “improvement” thing — it’s kinda hard to know what he means. Does he mean the team’s record? If so, then I’d sort of agree. The team should win more games this season. It could be an illusory improvement, however because Gortat and Ariza are on expiring contracts and could depart whether the Wizards want to re-sign them or not. Plus, as mentioned above, Leonsis is hoping to attract a free agent — something that can’t happen if the team re-signs Gortat and/or Ariza.

Moving on:

We traded a protected first round pick to get the deal done. We have many young players on our team today and we believed that  using our conditional pick to get the deal done was the prudent  move for our franchise at this time in its development. Of our 15 players under contract 8 players have been drafted by us in the first or second round in the last 4 off seasons. We are a very young team still.

We have noted that we would use the draft, first and foremost, to rebuild our team. 8 players and make trades to bring on vets such as Trevor Ariza, Nene, and now Gortat — or free agency such as Martell Webster, Eric Maynor and Al Harrington. We dipped into the D league for Garrett Temple.

This kind of claptrap has me leaning more toward the conclusion that Leonsis is being cynical. Leonsis is suggesting that the team is actually building through the draft and that they’re just bringing in a few veterans here and there to kinda supplement these wonderful young players, who dangit arejust too young to carry the burden themselves.

But let’s go through who these eight draftees he’s talking about:

  1. John Wall — Consensus number one overall pick. Woefully inefficient on offense throughout his career (terrible shooting and lots of turnovers). Had a month last season where he played like a potential league MVP candidate. While he received a maximum salary contract extension, Wall has been more potential than production through his first three seasons.
  2. Bradley Beal — Third overall pick last season. Struggled at first, but played at a borderline All-Star level for a stretch until he had to sit due to a leg injury. His rookie season statistically looked a lot like Ray Allen’s.
  3. Otto Porter — This year’s third overall pick has been injured. In my pre-draft analysis machine “YODA,” Porter rated as a top five pick in most drafts. When he was selected, Cody Zeller and Nerlens Noel rated as better prospects. Porter should be a good pro, however.
  4. Glen Rice Jr. — The team trade two second round picks for the second round pick they used on Rice. His amateur/minor league career has been…interesting. He rated poorly as a draft prospect in college, but played well in the D-League last season. If he’d done in the NCAA what he did in the D-League, he’d have rated as a mid-first round pick. Assuming his off-court baggage is abandoned, he could make for a solid reserve SG/SF.
  5. Trevor Booker — The team made a draft-day trade to acquire him three years ago. The big issue with Booker: health. He’s been solidly productive when he’s played, but he’s missed substantial time due to a series of injuries.
  6. Kevin Seraphin — Obtained in a 2010 draft-day trade, Seraphin’s awful play was a big reason why the team had to trade a future first round pick to get a good player at center when Okafor got hurt. Last season, he was the league’s least productive center (minimum 500 minutes).
  7. Jan Vesely — Chosen sixth overall, Vesely has been an abject disaster. While Vesely has been awful, others chosen later (like Kawhi Leonard, Nikola Vucevic and Kenneth Faried) have thrived. In my analyis, Vesely last season rated as the league’s least productive power foward (minimum 500 minutes).
  8. Chris Singleton — Chosen 18th in the same draft that brought the Wizards Vesely, the team’s braintrust picked Singleton over Faried, Reggie Jackson, Jimmy Butler and Chandler Parsons. This was not a good decision. Singleton has been almost as bad as Vesely. Last season, he rated as the league’s second least productive power forward (ahead of only Vesely).

So, to recap, these young building blocks include a potentially good PG, a potentially good SG, a potentially good SF, a probable rotation swingman, a decent rotation PF, and three of the worst basketball players in the league. And oh yeah, Booker and Seraphin are on expiring contracts, and the team just declined to pick up the fourth year options on Vesely and Singleton. In other words, half of these eight draft picks that make this team so young, will likely be gone after the season. In effect, the team already released Vesely and Singleton. And, any money they spend re-signing Booker or Seraphin would cut into their salary cap space, which would hinder their pursuit of a “brand name” free agent.

Here are some additional clips regarding the trade.Check them out here,here,here, and here.

Shocking that he didn’t include my analysis.

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.