When news of the Gilbert Arenas-Rashard Lewis trade broke, it was received with a groan. The less-than-enthusiastic reception of the 31-year-old Lewis wasn’t so much a public damnation of his basketball abilities, nor an uninterested dismissal of his more intangible, clichéd qualities – veteran leadership, for instance. No, it was the result of a city, of a fanbase, coming to grips with the end of an era.
The Washington Wizards traded away their (cult) hero, and all they got in return was a “lousy” stretch four.
Just a week before Christmas, Lewis arrived in the nation’s capital with his long frame, his long contract, and his long face. Rough. Nick Young—by way of Gilbert Arenas’ interview with ESPN’s Michael Wallace—made Lewis’ first impressions public:
“He was telling me about Rashard Lewis. Nick was like, ‘I don’t know if he’s going to make it two weeks here. He feels like the world just ended.’ “
From a professional standpoint, getting traded to the Washington was one of the worst things that could have happened to Lewis. In the time it takes to pen a bit of chicken scratch on a trade agreement, he went from championship contender to NBA doormat. But for the Wizards, the acquisition of the former All-Star was the best thing that could have happened to team—luck of the lottery draw notwithstanding.
The fact of the matter is that somewhere between the halfway house and the 2010-2011 media day, Gilbert Arenas had morphed into a roundball zombie. He showed no emotion. He looked slow, overweight, even lost on the court. He couldn’t buy a bucket with what was left of that $100 million contract. His only redeeming quality—amidst a rotten temperament and spoiled skills—was that he could grow a beard that would make James Harden proud.
The Wizards were fortunate. Orlando Magic president Otis Smith believed that the Arenas could bring “a little bit more punch” to central Florida. Not so. During the 2010-2011, Arenas started just 2 games out of a possible 49 for the Magic and averaged less than 22 minutes per game.
Player Comparison via Basketball-Reference.com
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By their numbers spanning the entire 2010-11 season, there is little question that the Wizards ‘won’ that trade, but that isn’t to say that Lewis was, nor ever will be the Wizards’ knight in shining armor. The man is past his prime. He’s not snapping the team’s dreadful three-year slump … especially when you could make a convincing argument that the Wizards have become all too comfortable with losing. Was his year memorable? Not at all. Was he great? No. Reliable (before his season was cut short due to injury)? Productive? Professional? Those earmarks would most certainly apply. He is an asset the Wizards have at their disposal, to keep them competitive, and to help them mature.
But what about the money?
I don’t buy that his contract is big, bad, and bloated. The Wizards owe Lewis $43.8 million (just over $21 million guaranteed) over the next two years. That’s not cheap. But for the Wizards, it’s not a raw deal. What would they even spend that cap room on? The Wizards roster is young and inexpensive, plus there is money coming off the books.
Both Nick Young and Yi Jianlian are restricted free agents. While the Wizards should extend a qualifying offer to Young ($3.7 million), telling Yi to kick rocks would save the team $5.4 million. Mustafa Shakur, Othyus Jeffers, and Larry Owens are also restricted free agents, worth a combined $3 million. (Keep Jeffers, cut the fat.) Finally, Josh Howard’s expiring contract frees up an additional $3 million.
By not extending qualifying offers for the players listed above, the Wizards could open up over $15 million—which would be extra cushion for a team already expected to be well-under a to-be-determined-by-a-new-CBA salary cap.
The way I see it, Lewis will help the Wizards rebuild by fulfilling his veteran responsibilities both on and off the court. When his tour of duty in D.C. comes to a close in 2013 (or perhaps even in the summer of 2012), the Wizards will be a focused, hungry, and battle-hardened bunch. The reassembled roster will have the pieces in place to be “a very good team for a long, long time.” That is the plan, right?
And if they miss in the draft, whiff in free agency, and Leonsis’ plan falls apart? Well, hey, at least the Wizards aren’t paying Gilbert Arenas.
Sweet Lew drops veteran knowledge through a trying experience:
[photos: Kyle Weidie, Truth About It.net]