Bullets Fever

A blog and community website for the Washington Wizards and their fans.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The 2 for 1 swap

For the second time in as many years, the Wizards lost a key member of their starting lineup from the previous season in the off-season. In 2005, it was unrestricted free agent Larry Hughes signing a 5 year, 70 million dollar contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers. This season, it was restricted free agent Jared Jeffries signing a 5 year, 30 million dollar contract with the New York Knicks.

There are a variety of ways a team can deal with the loss of a key starter. Most of the time, the team will try to replace the player with a cheaper alternative. One recent example is Detroit signing Nazr Mohammad after losing Ben Wallace to the Bulls. For 30 million dollars less, the Pistons got a center who isn't quite as good as Wallace, but at least will be serviceable. The Phoenix Suns also did this last offseason. They traded starting shooting guard Joe Johnson to the Atlanta Hawks and replaced him with Raja Bell. Bell ultimately proved to be nearly as good a fit as Johnson, but came with a significantly lower price tag.

Teams also sometimes try to replace the talent lost with similar talent. An example of this is the Pacers signing Al Harrington after losing Peja Stojakovic to the Hornets. Harrington may have slightly different skills than Stojakovic, but the Pacers would most likely content that both players' overall talent is very similar. Another example with the 2006 offseason is the Los Angeles Clippers replacing Vladimir Radmanovic with Tim Thomas. While neither player is a starter, they both have very similar talent levels, as indicated by their nearly identical mid-level contracts.

Sometimes, the team will promote a rookie or a non-starter to the spot. The Sacramento Kings went this route in the offseason. They made little effort to re-sign starting shooting guard Bonzi Wells, electing instead to promote second-string shooting guard Kevin Martin to the starting job. Milwaukee also exercised this option, electing to promote Maurice Williams to the starting point guard job after trading T.J. Ford.

But the Wizards didn't go down any of those routes when replacing their key starters. Instead, realizing that no one player would be a good enough replacement, they engaged in a "two for one trade." Instead of signing only one player, the Wizards decided to acquire two cheaper players to collectively fill the void of the lost starter.

In 2005, signing Larry Hughes would have killed the Wizards payroll flexibility, so Ernie Grunfeld made the wise decision to let Hughes walk to the Cavaliers. However, losing Hughes was a significant blow to the Wizards. Hughes' mid-range and slashing scoring ability would be missed, and so would his defense and his ball-handling. No one player on the free agent market could have possibly replaced all that Hughes offered to the 2005 Wizards. Knowing this, Ernie Grunfeld decided to fill Hughes role with 2 players. He traded for Caron Butler, someone who could help replace Hughes slashing and scoring ability, and then signed Antonio Daniels, a player who could help replace Hughes' playmaking ability.

This offseason, the Wizards explored the same route. The Knicks swooped in quickly on restricted free agent Jared Jeffries, offering him their full mid-level exception. Instead of matching the offer, Grunfeld again went out to search for alternatives. The Wizards would miss Jeffries post defense and wing defense next season, but 30 million dollars was too much to pay for a poor offensive player. Instead, the Wizards signed Darius Songalia to replace Jeffries' post defense, and later signed DeShaun Stevenson to replace Jeffries perimeter defense.

The most logical question is, does this method work? Economically speaking, Grunfeld's bargain-basement scouring has ultimately proved to be very successful so far. Butler has emerged as a better scorer and defender than Hughes, and Daniels has found his stride as a key reserve. On the court, however, it took a while for the new pieces to gell. The Wizards started out very slowly last year. Butler's talents were being wasted on the bench, and Daniels was struggling to find his role. It was only in the second half of the season that Butler starting tearing it up and Daniels found his role. The end result was a team that, while at times better than in 2005, ultimately won 3 fewer games and failed to return to the second round of the playoffs.

What can we expect, then, from this offseason's two-for-one during the season? Like last year, it wouldn't shock me for the Wizards to struggle to find roles for all their players, in addition to just Songalia and Stevenson. Jarvis Hayes, hurt for much of last year, is back, and the Wizards also expect to move Andray Blache into the rotation. With all that uncertainty, it may take a while for Eddie Jordan to settle on a rotation.

That being said, the Wizards should not struggle nearly as much as they did last season. Last year, the Wizards spend half the year trying to replace Hughes' scoring. Butler didn't emerge as a key offensive option until late in the year. This season, the Wizards will have no trouble scoring, with Butler having emerged alongside Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler. Defense may be an issue, but Butler is already as good a perimeter defender as Jeffries, and Songalia is a perfect fit for the Wizards scheme. In the end, the two-for-one shouldn't hurt the Wizards too much. They should make the playoffs (not finish with 36 wins, End of the Bench!), and win around 50 games.

Do you think the 2 for 1 swap this offseason will work? Will the Wizards have trouble replacing Jeffries?

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Anonymous Chris Clarke said...

I really think you've got something good going here. It's a terrific team blog, so keep it up throughout the season.

But 50 wins? We'll see!

8:08 PM

Blogger Pradamaster said...

Thanks, Chris! I definetly dig End of the Bench and look up to it as one of the premier sites in the NBA Blogosphere (even if I ripped on your prediction). Keep up the good work!

7:03 PM

Blogger twins15 said...

I really like the method, at least in this case, for the Wiz. I think Jeffries was a little overrated (couldn't shoot a lick), and Deshawn Stevenson is a nice and improving player. Songaila isn't great, but again, he's a decent role-player at both ends.

12:16 AM


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