Picking Splinters: Can the Wizards Be a Contender?

The Wizards made their bed. Now they’re going to lie in it. And Randy Foye and Mike Miller are going to lie in it with them.

I don’t like the trade. There, I said it. Not because this was a particularly lopsided deal, I don’t like it because it actually makes sense.

To put that in context, I loathed the deals they gave to Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison before last season. Arenas has never shown the ability to stay healthy and was coming off a major knee injury. Surprise, surprise, he misses almost all of last season and the Wizards won just 19 games. Jamison is a good complementary player, but he has never been able to win games by himself. Absent Arenas, Jamison and Butler had little success, particularly since their supporting cast offered all the support of a wet noodle.

That’s why this trade makes sense. With Miller and Foye, the Wizards now have a much stronger supporting cast. But I still don’t think it’s enough to make a serious run at the NBA Title in the next year or two.

This deal makes the Wizards a lot better – pending a healthy Arenas. Even then, do you see this roster getting by Boston? Cleveland? Orlando? Me neither. At best they become the fourth best team in the East and even that might be a stretch.

I’m a big fan of new age stats like the kind John Hollinger compiles for ESPN Insider. Essentially they’re a far better indicator of a player’s actual value rather than points, rebounds and assists. This season, Hollinger combined all of his advanced stats to create a new one called “Estimated Wins Added (EWA).” EWA is the estimated number of wins a player provides his team compared to a replacement player.

Last season, Mike Miller posted an EWA of 3.9, while Foye put up a mark of 3.7. Figure in that they lost Darius Songaila in the trade (EWA 2.1), add in some extra playing time for JaVale McGee (EWA 3.7) and subtract playing time from DeShawn Stevenson (EWA -1.6) and you come up with roughly (very roughly) 10 added wins. Seems like a lot, doesn’t it? Well, 10 more wins last season would have taken the Wizards from last place to, let’s see … hmmm … carry the one … and, yup … here it is … last place. If these figures hold, Washington will improve its win total to a whopping 29. That’s worth paying the luxury tax isn’t it?

I should point out that Hollinger likes this trade a lot and believes that adding Foye and Miller could have Washington leading the league in offensive efficiency with a healthy Arenas. That adds up too. Add 10 wins to the Wizards’ total from 2006-07 – the last time Arenas played more than 70 games – and it takes the Wiz from 41 wins to 51, which would have made them the second-best team in the East that season. Obviously that takes the stats slightly out of context, but it does give you an idea that 10 wins means a heck of a lot more with Arenas in the lineup.

But I still don’t like it. One comparison likens this deal to the one Boston pulled at the 2007 Draft to revamp its roster with Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, which ultimately led to the title. That’s not even remotely close in my mind. Last season, when Garnett missed 25 games he still put up an EWA of 8.7. Ray Allen put up 9.8. That’s more than twice the impact of the Wizards’ new players.

Then there’s the cost of the No. 5 pick. Yes, this is a weak draft, but at No. 5 either Ricky Rubio, Hasheem Thabeet, Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry, James Harden or Jonny Flynn will be available. None of those guys may pan out as stars, but ESPN Insider’s D.R.A.F.T. Initiative shows that No. 5 picks historically contribute an EWA above 6, meaning better than Foye or Miller.

Is this the right trade for where the Wizards are now? Probably. But if it doesn’t bring Washington close to an NBA title, and I don’t think it will, then there will be many more years like last season before the Wizards become a contender. It’s a shame they didn’t start that rebuilding process when they had the chance.