Ernie Grunfeld and the Case for Nothing

Wizards' all-star point guard John Wall will be out 6-8 weeks after having surgery on his ailing left knee. Losing D.C.'s primary playmaker may prompt general manager Ernie Grunfeld to make big moves at the trade deadline. After a 4-0 start without Wall, however, doing nothing may be the best option for the Wizards now and for their future.

The NBA trade deadline is quickly approaching and teams from both conferences are looking for ways to get better. From the Blake Griffin (Pistons) and Nikola Mirotic (Pelicans) trades to rumors surrounding Tyreke Evans and Rodney Hood, excitement reigns supreme until 3:00 p.m. on February 8. The Wizards may have received their invitation to trade deadline activity when all-star point guard John Wall decided to treat his ailing knee, sidelining himself for six to eight weeks. Maybe DeAndre Jordan to fill a frontcourt weakness? Or Lou Williams to bolster the backcourt? Rumors are swirling, prognosticators are shouting, and general manager Ernie Grunfeld is surely scheming.

While speculation will be heavy through the deadline, Grunfeld needs to let the “new” Wizards, sans Wall, rally and play desperate basketball without a trade deadline savior. If victories over Oklahoma City and Toronto this past week are any indication, Wall’s extended absence may have been the necessary catalyst, or wake-up call, to spark evolution of the 2017-2018 Wizards. Grunfeld should do nothing. This task, or lack thereof, is easier said than done. The pressure to win in the tight, winnable Eastern Conference is great.

Frontcourt: DeAndre Jordan?

Marcin Gortat is rapidly regressing with age and the evolving style of the current game (8.9 PPG and 8.0 RPG, his fewest since he became a full-time starter for Phoenix in 2011-2012); Ian Mahinmi is a mess (7.5 fouls per 36 minutes); and Jason Smith is invisible (28 DNP: Coach’s Decision). Grunfeld carries these three traditional big men, who all have glaring weaknesses in the modern NBA: they cannot stretch the floor with outside shooting, run with wings, or handle the basketball. Gortat currently resembles an overmatched center of the 1990s, while a traditional big man in 2018 is supposed to be the great disruptor and bully others. Mahinmi struggles to catch the ball, dribble the ball, or shoot the ball. Smith doesn’t play.

These deficiencies leave the Wizards with a thin, frustrating frontcourt. Yet, Markieff Morris has shown recent glimpses of productivity (.444 3P%, 6.0 RPG, 18.4 PPG in his last five games),  and Otto Porter, Jr. is fully capable of playing the four on both ends (37% of his minutes are at the power forward position). Where does this leave the Wizards at the trade deadline? Grunfeld is certainly eyeing the Clippers’ top-shelf asset, Jordan.

Unlike the current stable of bigs, Jordan could run with the Wizards’ young talent (126 ORtg), play above the rim (41.5% of field goals are dunks), and set a defensive tone (led the league in defensive win shares a few seasons ago) that none of the current Wizards are capable of establishing.

Given this, Jordan would most likely be a rental -- one that would command a big contract in the summer. With three max deals already on the books, the Wizards would find it nearly impossible to create “Lob District” without breaking up their younger max-deal talent.

Furthermore, executing a Jordan trade would surely sap even more draft picks (most likely multiple picks). The Wizards already didn’t participate in the previous two drafts. Instead, Grunfeld has used the Wizards’ picks as chips to acquire veteran players, such as Trey Burke and Bojan Bogdanovic, who haven't left marks on the franchise. Grunfeld’s first-round picks of Wall (first selection 2010), Bradley Beal (third selection 2012), and Porter (third selection in 2013) have clearly stabilized the franchise and developed a culture of winning within the organization. Acquiring Jordan for a stretch-run and then seeing him bail in the summer may not be the best deal. The Wizards would likely lose one of their “big three” and be “off the clock” in June, too, setting the franchise back a few years.

Backcourt: Lou Williams?

Wall, a five-time all-star, is certainly an elite playmaker who will be missed. He has the ability to take over any game at any moment, and he brings the competitive edge that the Wizards will need to compete against the top teams in the Eastern Conference come playoff time. However, Wall has been inefficiently scoring his 19.4 points per game this year, shooting at a rate (41.7%) he hasn’t posted since his rookie season. Jordan’s fellow teammate, Williams, could bolster the guard position (thankfully leaving Tim Frazier out of the rotational equation) and provide the consistently elite scoring that Wall has not done regularly this season.

While Williams would certainly score the basketball, Tomas Satoransky’s development may be the stop-gap revelation needed to survive a few months without Wall. Satoransky’s size, athleticism, and ability to move the ball (125 ORtg compared with Wall's 105) without turning it over (2.0 TOV per 100 possessions, compared with Wall’s 5.4) may prove adequate. Defensively, Satoransky’s performance on Russell Westbrook this past Tuesday night was arguably one of the best performances by a Wizard this season. Satoransky has proven he can play at a satisfactory NBA level (current PER of 15.0), a nice discovery for a team always hurting for depth and effectiveness at the point guard position.

Williams would most likely be another rental, who would cost too much in the summer and deplete Grunfeld of his draft pick(s). He would also require the ball to be effective (30.2% USG rate), which could squeeze Porter out of playmaking opportunities and stunt his growth. Since Wall is out, it’s the perfect time for Porter to further develop and shine.

The Draft: The Case for Nothing

The Wizards need draft picks. Grunfeld has been dealing them far too often. Veteran rentals can help get quick wins, but they’re gone before the team store can even print jerseys to sell. Draft picks have the chance to stick around and build a culture, initially on the cheap. Wall, Beal, and Porter have all grown into major players and assets in this league. Kelly Oubre, Jr. (first round, 15th selection in 2015) is elevating himself to a similar status, too. Satoransky (second round, 32nd selection) is getting an extended run and playing himself into the Wizards’ future. The Wizards have relied upon these five players, all of whom they drafted, more than their acquired talent. Grunfeld needs to recognize this trend, keep his picks, and enjoy working in June.

Wall’s injury may entice Grunfeld to do something drastic. He doesn’t need to.

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