Sometimes one can be so desperate for change that you fail to realize that change is not better than what you had before. That notion is what the Washington Wizards dealt with embattled center Marcin Gortat. Gortat’s time with the Wizards had run its course and both he and the Wizards needed a change. On Tuesday, both sides got their wishes as Washington traded Gortat to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for guard Austin Rivers, yeah, the Austin Rivers whose father is the head coach of the Clippers, Doc Rivers.
Yes, Gortat had to go. There was no way Gortat and Wizards’ franchise cornerstone John Wall could effectively coexist in the same locker room another season. Their hot-and-cold relationship had also run its course. Wall put that stamping when he detailed that the Wizards needed “athletic bigs” following their first-round series loss in the playoffs to the Toronto Raptors. Wall’s words were a direct message to Gortat.
Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld understood Gortat had to go and according to multiple reports, surfed through the NBA looking for someone to offload the “Polish Hammer” as many like to call Gortat and his whopping $13.6 million expiring cap hit. The hope was to acquire draft picks in return, but after the NBA Draft came and went with no deal in place, it appears Grunfeld had to settle for another expiring contract that brought another undesirable cap hit.
Rivers does provide a much-needed reserve combo guard to backup the Wizards’ all-star backcourt of Bradley Beal and Wall. Last season, Rivers averaged a career-high 15.1 points. He also shot a career-high 37.8 percent from three-point range and dished out a career-best four assists per game.
His ability to move the ball, shoot threes, and score in spurts is exactly what the Wizards need going into 2018-19 season behind Wall and Beal. When Wall and Beal come off the floor the Wizards look a lot like a lottery team. Sure, Tomas Satoransky stepped in for an injured Wall last season and had a good stretch at the start of Wall’s absence, however, over a long course of action, Satoransky had more moments of forgettable basketball. By the end of Wall’s time out of action, the “Everybody Eats” mantra that was adopted by nonsense fans and media alike was silenced and those same fans and media were begging for Wall’s return.
Rivers on the floor whether off the bench or filling in for an injured Wall or Beal will be a welcomed long-term upgrade. Rivers can create his own shot at a larger cup than Satoransky. He is a more aggressive shooter than Satoransky as well, taking 19 shots per 100 possessions compared to Satoransky’s 11.6 shots. Rivers also averaged 5.9 points more per 100 possessions.
Given the aggressive style of play of Wall and Beal along with Rivers’ 6-foot-4 frame, the trio could be a nightmare for opposing teams, with all three being able to handle, pass, and score whether shooting long-range or driving to through the lane.
Rivers can also play off the ball and because of his ability to knock down long jumpers, could slide over to any guard position with any combination of Wall and Beal or play some two-guard with Satoransky at the point. Rivers shot .035 percentage points better than Wizards reserved two-guard Jodie Meeks last season from three.
Rivers’ ability to move the ball even when he plays off the ball gives Satoransky more opportunities to shoot spot-up jumpers. Last season, Satoransky shot an incredible 46.5 percent on treys and 52.2 percent on catch-and-shoots from the same distance. Even Satoransky’s 2.2 three-point attempts per game should increase under the same setup.
Having the quintet of Wall, Beal, Rivers, Satoransky, and Meeks as your guards is noteworthy. The addition of Rivers makes the Wizards’ inept bench better, make no mistake about it.
So, what’s so bad about the trade of Gortat for Rivers. Let’s examine:
Who Will Play Center for the Wizards?
Gortat’s departure leaves a gaping hole in Washington’s roster. Who will play center?
Right now, the options are Ian Mahinmi, who is a waste of a $64 million contract. He cannot stay healthy and when he does, anything over 20 minutes a night seems to be a disaster. Then there is Jason Smith, who is a defensive liability to say the least. He had the team’s worst net rating of minus-13.4 in the regular season, a glaring reason to why his minutes were so limited last season,
Washington surely cannot have the plans of starting either Mahinmi or Smith at center. Neither can run the floor with the speedy Wall and Beal not like they prefer. There is always the option of Kelly Oubre sliding into the starting lineup and shifting Markieff Morris to center, but can Otto Porter consistently play power forward?
There are rumblings already surfacing that the Wizards could be interested in soon-to-be available Dwight Howard. He was recently traded to the Brooklyn Nets from the Charlotte Hornets with Brooklyn having the full intent to buy out his contract to make him a free agent.
The Wizards acquiring a player of matching contracts for Gortat leaves them with the same salary cap issues as they had with Gortat. The most the Wizards can offer is a $5.5 million mid-level exception. Given Howard is going to grab about $15 million-plus in the Nets’ buyout, there’s a good chance he would accept the $5.5 million MLE from the Wizards. But, do the Wizards want to deal with the headache of Dwight Howard?
Howard will be playing on his fourth different team in the last four seasons. His sixth since 2012-13. At the top of a list of reasons to why Howard has been tossed around the league lately stems from his inability to get along with teammates in the locker room. Do the Wizards want to deal with his personality issues especially after just getting rid of a similar situation in Gortat?
Sure, Howard can give you roughly 17 points and 12 rebounds per game and the thought of the endless lobs from Wall to Howard in the pick-and-roll game is very intriguing. However, he is not as fearful on defense as he was in his younger days — last season he posted the worst defensive rating of his career (106.4). His immature ways could be bad for a Wizards team that is looking to get over a troubled past of chemistry issues. Accessing all of the known, and Howard’s potential addition may not be the greatest ideas, but it’s unfortunately probably going to be Washington’s best option…
Makes Not Drafting Robert Williams Worse
This would be a perfect trade had Grunfeld not blown last Thursday’s draft by selecting wing Troy Brown Jr. No disrespect to Brown, the kid has potential and brings a lot of positives with his game, but he was not what the Wizards needed most — not another wing player even if Oubre more than likely will leave the team next summer in free agency. It was arguable that Brown could fill in as a two-guard off the bench, despite not being a good shooter. Even if that was the case, trading for Rivers now negates that notion, right?
It’s no need for Brown if Oubre stays healthy and is not needed to be supplanted into the starting rotation. Even if he is, adding Rivers with Meeks back from suspension, the more seasoned 6-foot-7 Satoransky can fill the reserve small forward spot. Adding to the reasoning to why the Wizards should have not drafted Brown, goes the fact the team just traded Gortat and leaves a gaping hole at center considering they passed on the “athletic” 6-foot-10 Robert Williams.
Instead, Williams is now a member of the Boston Celtics, still one of the Wizards’ biggest rivals. Knowing Gortat was on his way out, fans were ready to anoint Williams or any other young athletic big as the center of the future. Adding Williams and Rivers this off-season to a team when healthy can win 50 or more games and compete for an Eastern Conference title would have been an A-caliber summer. However, it’s the Wizards and their general manager’s last name is Grunfeld.
So, the Wizards get Rivers, dump Gortat, and are still searching for a modern-day center. Mahinmi and Howard are still stone-aged centers. Not what the Wizards need, or its stars apparently want. All could have been avoided if Grunfeld had taken Williams or even Mitchell Robinson, who can hit the three and close out on spaced shooters better than Williams.
Austin Rivers’ Reputation Follows Him to Wizards Locker Room
Any time a son who has Rivers’ abilities on the court is traded by the team that his father coaches can speak volumes. The Clippers are in a rebuild mode created by Jerry West, I understand that, but the let’s not act like Austin Rivers is not known for rubbing teammates the wrong way. The minute his father, Doc, was no longer the general manager, the Clippers pounced on the opportunity to offload him. So, just as fast as Washington was looking to get Gortat out of the locker room, L.A. was doing the same with Austin Rivers.
Rivers’ relationship with Chris Paul is rumored to be a huge factor to why Paul wanted out of Los Angeles last summer. Then there are the allegations of former teammates like Matt Barnes and Glen “Big Baby” Davis that paint a picture of an arrogant, entitled brat. And to be clear, Rivers pretty much acknowledged the reputation and welcomes it.
Wall and Beal are strong personalities and the cut-and-dry leaders of the Wizards locker room. Their personalities are while not overbearing to the level of being pricks, but it can overshadow and intimidate teammates. It was obviously too much for Gortat and it can put guys like Porter in a shell. Rivers has to understand that, even in a temporary setting — one year. This Wizards’ team has a goal of winning championships, believing there are worthier to contend for an NBA title than they really are. Throwing in a personality as strong as Rivers’ could throw off chemistry more than it was with Gortat.
Fortunately, if there are issues with Rivers he can’t run to his father to solve them. The impartial Scott Brooks will be able to hammer out any wrinkles. But, there is the potential of issues crippling the locker room and that’s been one of the biggest problems that has plagued the Wizards in recent years.