Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The 2017-2018 season didn’t quite go how the Washington Wizards drew it up. From being one win away from the Eastern Conference Finals last year, to getting bounced in six games by the Toronto Raptors this year. Not only were the Wizards dealing with an injured Wall, but also a fractured locker-room. The disfunction between former Wizards center Marcin Gortat, and Wall, may even be a bit overstated at this point. From “great team win” innuendos, to “spoon fed” haymakers, this team was destined to shake up the locker room sooner, rather than later.

So here we are, Gortat was shipped to the Los Angeles Clippers for 25-year-old guard, Austin Rivers. The move on the surface seems to break even on both sides. Washington saves $1.4 million in luxury tax payments next season, and seeks to add some scoring and playmaking off the bench; something they’ve systematically had problems with. And thanks to Jodie Meeks’ 19-game suspension for violating terms of the NBA/NBPA anti-drug program, the Wizards were heading into the season with just three guards: John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Tomas Satoransky.

So now, staring down the barrel at centers Ian Mahinmi and Jason Smith, something has to be done to address that position void if the Wizards are serious about winning right now.

Wall notably made headlines during his exit interview when he clamored for “an athletic big”. He made it clear that “Ian [Mahinmi] is older, [Marcin Gortat] is older,” and that “ They’re not athletic guys.” Which leads us to wonder, what athletic big does Wall want in D.C. (easy answer), but more importantly, what can Ernie Grunfeld pull off, how he’ll fit on the roster, and how much he can add to this team’s success.

This piece is just part one of the Wizards offseason center tracker series: “The Popular, The Unpopular, and the Affordable.”

Let us start with the popular, Demarcus Cousins.

A dream scenario that wizards fans (and players) have been replaying for some 3 years now. Boogie joining forces once again with his University of Kentucky brother, John Wall, to seemingly rekindle the Calipari glory days in 2009, when the Wildcats lost just 3 games that season. Wall averaged 16.6 ppg, 6.5 apg, and 1.8 spg, while shooting 46% from the field (something he’s never done in the pros). While Cousins was averaging 15.1 ppg, 9.8 rpg, and almost 2 blocks. The Wildcats finished 1stin the SEC that season, but fell short of their goal when they lost to the West Virginia Mountaineers in the Elite Eight.

But enough about the good ole’ days. It’s 2018. Cousins is coming off a season where he only played 48 games with the Pelicans, due to a torn Achilles he suffered with eight seconds remaining in January’s 115-113 win over the Houston Rockets. DMC still managed to average 25.2 ppg and 12.9 rpg which was worthy of a 4thconsecutive all-star selection. Wall only played 41 games because of a nagging knee injury which seemingly never allowed him to return to 100% when the postseason came around.           

Firstly, Washington’s cap situation is one of the worst in the association, sitting at $-25,611,460 in cap space; the only team worse off is the Toronto Raptors at $-26,576,032. Washington’s only real chance to acquire Cousins would be via sign-and-trade with the New Orleans Pelicans. With that being said, according to ESPN Senior NBA Insider, Adrian Wojnarowski, Cousins is “very likely to return to the Pelicans on what might be a two-year deal.”There are also teams that can simply sign him outright, because he is an unrestricted free agent, and leave the Pelicans with nothing; i.e. the Los Angeles Lakers, who have room for two max contracts, and is former Cleveland Cavaliers owner, David Griffin’s, pick to land the 27-year-old commodity.As well as the Dallas Mavericks, however, it seems as though they have their eyes set on DeAndre Jordan…again.

The Sign & Trade Scenario

For a more condensed form, and theory of why DMC may be headed to the nation’s capital, here’s the link to my twitter thread from 3 days ago. [Please be advised, the thread details Marcin Gortat as a piece of the offer to the Pelicans, things have obviously changed.]

Remember, Cousins would have to agree to a sign-and-trade first before this proposal could be completed.

The most viable deal would have to be a package focused around Otto Porter Jr. Porter was Washington’s 1stround pick in the 2013 draft out of Georgetown University. In his 2017-2018 season, Porter averaged 14.7 ppg while shooting 44% from 3-point land. He was second on the team in 3-point percentage behind Tomas Satoransky (46%), but to be fair, Porter attempted about 4 threes per game, while Satoransky attempted just 1.4 per game. Porter’s contribution from behind the arc allowed the Wizards to finish third in the league in 3-point percentage (37.4%), just behind the Sacramento Kings (37.5%), and the Golden State Warriors (38.3%) go figure. The Pelicans finished 13thin 3-point percentage last season at 36.2%, which isn’t terrible, but Porter wouldn’t only add to the team with his shooting. The addition of him in New Orleans would put a smaller more versatile team around Anthony Davis. Porter is long, can defend, and can post up smaller players.

So here’s the proposed trade:

Pelicans Receive

  • F Otto Porter Jr.
    • Current contract: 4 years / $106,524,975
    • 2018 – 2019 Cap Hit: $26,011,913
    • 2021 / UFA
  • 2019 2ndRound (Protected top 55)
  • 2020 2ndRound (Protected top 55 from Milwaukee Bucks)

Wizards Receive  

  • C DeMarcus Cousins
    • 2018 / UFA
  • F Solomon Hill
    • Current contract: 4 years / $48,000,000
    • 2018 – 2019 Cap Hit: $12,752,928
    • 2020 / UFA

Why this works:

Pelicans Don’t Need DeMarcus

Cousins owes nothing to the New Orleans Pelicans. He’s an all-star center that produced mightily, when healthy. He was on pace to secure a five – year, full max contract until the Achilles injury derailed his free agency gravy train. Now would the Pels like to have Boogie back in Smoothie King Center, absolutely; but, let’s not forget this team pieced together a 21 – 13 record after he went down. They finished the season in a tie for the 4thbest record in the Western Conference, the No. 6 seed, and a first – round sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers.

The subtraction of Cousins from the lineup also allowed for Davis to average a league –leading 30.2 points over the season’s final 33 games, converting 51.4 percent from the field and pulling in 11.9 rebounds per game (sixth-best in that span).

Without Cousins, New Orleans also averaged the most possessions in the league (104.5 per game), averaged a league-leading 19.1 fast-break points in that span, and their defensive efficiency improved to fifth in the league (103.7 points per 100 possessions).

Otto Porter’s Impact

There’s no denying, Porter’s contract is um, substantial to say the least. However, from the Pelicans perspective, taking on the 3 – year, $81 million contract of a healthy, (he’s played 74+ games in 4 of the 5 seasons he’s been in the league) elite, three-and-d player, would be a better bet than potentially overpaying a center coming off a torn Achilles; especially if that center takes away from the production of your star power forward, in the same space on the floor.

Porter’s 3-point shooting is glaringly the best aspect of his game. Porter and Jazz F, Joe Ingles, are the only 2 players in the league to finish top 5 in 3 – point field goal percentage in the past two seasons. Porter’s accuracy from downtown is something the Pelicans just don’t have, even with well renowned knockdown shooter, E’Twaun Moore on the roster. Out of the players who played in 40+ games last year for the Pelicans, only two of them shot over 40% from downtown (E’Twaun Moore – 42.5% and Darius Miller 41.1%). Keep in mind, the Pelicans were bounced in the second round of the NBA playoffs to a Golden State Warriors team that has three Hall-of-Fame players who shot over 40% from beyond the arc last season (Klay Thompson – 44%, Steph Curry – 42%, and Kevin Durant – 41%).

Not only did Porter shoot better than Klay Thompson from 3-point range last season, but he’s a long, versatile, 6-8 200lb forward, who’s talented on defense, and cleaning the glass. Each season he’s been in the league, he’s improved his rebounding and steals per game; 5.1 & 1.5 respectively.

And a more understated aspect of Porter as a player: he’s quiet. One thing you’re not going to get with Porter is a hot head or outspoken personality. He won’t make the headlines for any outlandish on-court actions, or locker-room outbursts. He just shows up, plays basketball, and goes home. Which may cause you to wonder, why Wizards fans are so keen to give him up for the player that DeMarcus Cousins is.

Wizards Need a Center and a SPLASH

At this point, General Manager Ernie Grunfeld should be on the hot seat. But the only thing hot about his seat right now is the heated feature on the Osaki OS-Prohe sits in, while making abysmal roster decisions. The least Grunfeld can do this offseason is take Wall’s advice: add a more athletic big.

Last year, Washington got very little production from Gortat down low. As my colleague Becca Winkertpointed out to me, Gortat has played all 82 games, 3 out of the last 4 seasons for the Wizards. His durability is absolutely commendable, however 8.4 ppg & 7.6 rpg last season just isn’t going to cut it. The league is moving towards more versatility at the five position. My friend Jerry Brewer of the Washington Post said it best: “The elite centers play more like forwards, handling the basketball, scoring from all over and even directing the half-court offense. Or they’re athletic marvels like DeAndre Jordan, anchoring the defense and mostly catching lobs on offense.”

Cousins adds such an offensive repertoire to the position, that 12-year-old AAU centers are now working on their dribble packages and pullup jumpers, more than their drop steps and rim runs. He can create his own offense, shoot from 3-point range, disembody you in the post, and be the primary ballhandler on a fast break. He’s just that good.

But with his most recent injury, executives around the league aren’t buying into the hype that he can return to his old self.Especially at his size.

Which has Wizards fans in a dilemma: is Boogie at 60-70% of himself still worth it?  

I was asked this question on the “I Called Game” podcast wit Ben Standig of the Sports Capital. He also wanted to know why Wizards fans were so enamored by the idea of Cousins in red, white, and blue this season. Simply put, my response was that Wizards fans just want to be wanted. The whole ordeal surrounding Kevin Durant’s free agency definitely hampered the hearts of these die-hards. The hiring of Scott Brooks without interviewing any other candidates, because Brooks coached Durant in Oklahoma City. The fact that Durant grew up in the area, and became a free agent precisely on the heels of LeBron James making the decision to return home. Having a young backcourt seemingly one ‘’Kevin Durant piece” away from making a run at James in the Eastern Conference Finals. To have all these stars align, and not land a big ticket free agent, hurts.

That’s why this splash is so important to the fanbase. And this feeling of being in the conversation for a player of his caliber, due to his reportedly expressed interest in teaming up with Wall once again, has the month of July once again tugging at the heart strings of #DCFamily.

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