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The Wizards Trade Okafor, Pick For Marcin Gortat

Continuing in the grand tradition of last year’s James Harden trade, the Phoenix Suns and Washington Wizards wanted to make sure no season preview (LIKE, FOR INSTANCE, THIS ONE, RIGHT OVER HERE, READ IT) is accurate going into opening night. And while this trade is unlikely to have as big a long-term impact over the league as the Harden one, it could still have some implications over the races to both lower Eastern playoff spots and the top position in Tankapalooza 13-14.

Take it away, ESPN:

The Washington Wizards, trying to strengthen their hand for a playoff push in the Eastern Conference, have acquired center Marcin Gortat from the Phoenix Suns in a five-player deal reached Friday.

The Wizards will get a scoring presence in the paint in Marcin Gortat to go with their prized young backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal.The trade sends Gortat and guards Shannon Brown, Malcolm Lee and Kendall Marshall to the Wizards for the expiring contract of veteran big man Emeka Okafor and a protected 2014 first-round pick to No. 12.

via Washington Wizards reach deal for Marcin Gortat, Shannon Brown, Kendall Marshall and Malcolm Lee for Washington Wizards Emeka Okafor, pick – ESPN.

The motivation for Phoenix is clear. Gortat is a serviceable NBA center, something the Suns have no current interest in, and is 29 years old, which they openly shun. Most likely, the plan was to hold onto Gortat hoping that a 2014 first rounder would eventually be offered in return; once the Wizards jumped the gun on that offer, accepting it was a no-brainer. Losing Brown, Lee and Marshall is probably inconsequential, although giving up on Marshall so ridiculously early is, if nothing else, curious. Okafor may play for Phoenix, and he may not; regardless, he will leave once his contract expires, and only that lovely pick will stick out from the burnt ashes. Forgive me for oversimplifying the Suns side of things, but such is life for bottom-dwellers in today’s NBA.

The Wizards side offers more in both intrigue and potential downfall, centered solely around Gortat (the other three incomers will probably be cut). Okafor is out indefinitely with a herniated disc in his neck. Gortat is not. For a team that has designated another trip to the lottery as a non-starter, gambling on Okafor’s return timetable being a friendly one as the likes of Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker play major frontcourt minutes just wasn’t an option. There is too much committed to a successful season for the Wizards to leave anything up to the injury gods, and if a first round pick is the blood price of the ritual that turns an injured center into a healthy one, so be it. (Of course, if the injury gods deem Wall or Nene as their next target, the Wizards are probably doomed anyway, but that’s another discussion entirely).

Meanwhile, Washington will have to accept something of an identity shift as a side effect. Okafor was the anchor of Washington’s surprisingly stingy defense last season, a defense that was supposed to provide a backbone for this year’s hopeful playoff squad. Gortat, while not a sieve, is a lesser performer in both leading a defensive unit and actively participating in one. If the plan was to make the playoffs by the strength of a top defense and a poor offense that manages to outpace atrocious, those scales have evened out.

The question is by how much, and whether that’s enough to hold off a slew of lower-rung Eastern competitors. Gortat is a better offensive player than Okafor, actually providing a threat to score the ball in more than just clean up situations and the occasionally connecting mid-range jumper. He thrived in particular as the roller in Steve Nash led pick and rolls in his maiden Suns days, and the chemistry he develops with Wall on such plays could be crucial. Between Bradley Beal and Martell Webster, the Wizards should have the theoretical spacing to complement such plays, and Nene can fit in perfectly as a low and high post hybrid. But Wall is no Nash, and the two will have to cobble together such synergy without the benefit of a training camp.

The best case scenario, though, can have interesting long term implications that go beyond Gortat. The Wizards have hitched their wagon to Wall in the most dramatic way possible this summer, giving him a 5 year max extension. Wall has shown the potential to live up to that billing, specifically during the final two months of last season, but he can still use some polish, especially when running a stand-still, pick and roll based, half court offense. Marcin Gortat is Polish, especially when running a stand-still, pick and roll based, half court offense. It’s a match made in heaven.

As far as long term decisions go, this move is hilariously fitting in the context of the Grunfeld-era Wizards. Gortat probably isn’t long for this squad, as his contract expires after this season, and losing the pick in a quixotic push for a first round exit is textbook Ernie. But if we just accept the Wizards for who we are and legitimize their motivations, this move is solid. The Wizards needed an able-bodied NBA big man, and they needed him immediately. In Gortat, they now have a fairly good one.

Noam Schiller

Noam Schiller lives in Jerusalem, where he sifts through League Pass Broadband delay and insomnia in a misguided effort to watch as much basketball as possible. He usually fails miserably, but is entertained nonetheless. He prefers passing big men to rebounding guards but sees no reason why he should have to compromise on any of them.