HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — No excuses in Washington this year.
That’s what Wizards’ owner Ted Leonsis has been preaching for months. Injuries will not be used an excuse for the Wizards not chasing a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
So, out goes injured center Emeka Okafor, who is out indefinitely after neck surgery, and in comes Marcin Gortat from Phoenix. It’s a deal that bolsters the Wizards’ frontcourt rotation and allows them to continue on with their plans to ride John Wall, Bradley Beal and a talented young core group into playoff contention this season.
It’s the sort of aggressive, risky move you would expect from a team with playoff aspirations that they want to realize now rather than later. Leonsis planted the seed after last season, when injuries to Wall and others prevented the Wizards from taking off the way they expected.
When Wall signed his five-year, $80 million extension in August, it became a playoffs-or-else proposition in Washington. The injury to Okafor, as well Chris Singleton and rookie swingman Otto Porter Jr., took some of the steam out of the hype train. But the arrival of Gortat, a 7-footer who averaged 11.1 points and 8.5 rebounds last season in Phoenix, pumps some adrenaline back into things in Washington.
The deal, first reported by ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, will also include the Wizards getting veteran guards Shannon Brown, Malcom Lee and Kendall Marshall, who was at one time expected to be the heir apparent to Steve Nash, for Okafor’s expiring contract and a protected first-round pick in the 2014 Draft.
The Wizards are not expected to keep Brown, Lee or Marshall on their already stocked roster, waiving all three to get to the league-maximum 15-man group in time for the start of the regular season next week.
The Suns acquisition of both Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe in consecutive summers, however, pushed Marshall into the margins in a rebuilding process in Phoenix that has yet to find a true foundation.
With a new direction and a new boss, general manager Ryan McDonough, the Suns are essentially waiving the white flag in the Western Conference playoff hunt and plotting a course with assets, cap space and a robust crop of talent in the 2014 Draft pool. Contract extension talks with Bledsoe are reportedly ongoing, but he appears to be the only established player safe from the trade chatter. (There have been rumors for months about Dragic being dangled as trade bait for the right asset).
It’s an interesting move by both parties, one that signals a definite shift in strategy by a Wizards team focused on the here and now and similarly deliberate move by a Suns team planning for the long-term future.
Randy Wittman and the Wizards have the big man they need to fill out that supporting cast around Wall and Beal. And Gortat gets his chance to prove he’s not just a great backup (to Dwight Howard in Orlando) or a guy who can put up solid numbers on a struggling team.
The best part, though, is the Wizards are not just talking about doing whatever it takes to become a part of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, they are making the moves necessary to make sure those words have a chance to become a reality.
It’s like the owner said, no excuses.