Marcin Gortat and Emeka Okafor are trading uniforms. (Doug Pensinger and Fernando Medina/Getty Images)
The Wizards have agreed to a preseason move to address Emeka Okafor's indefinite absence, per a report from ESPN.com. As confirmed by Yahoo! Sports, Washington plans to send Okafor and a top-12-protected 2014 first-round pick to Phoenix for Marcin Gortat, Shannon Brown, Malcolm Lee and Kendall Marshall.
The interests in play here are obvious. The rebooted Suns had little use for a 29-year-old center on an expiring contract, and thus flipped Gortat to a team with different interests in exchange for a useful draft pick. Even if the Wizards' pick isn't conveyed this season, the choice is a solid asset to score considering the fairly dry market for expiring contracts.
“We are excited to add another first-round pick in what is shaping up to be the best draft in a decade,” Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said in a statement. “We now have a chance to make four first-round selections in 2014. Emeka Okafor is a solid veteran center who will help solidify our front line when and if he is able to return from injury.”
In total, that brings Phoenix's stockpile of acquired picks to three, after McDonough landed two lottery-protected first-rounders -- one from Indiana as part of the Luis Scola deal and another by acting as a facilitator in a three-way trade -- in other summer transactions. At worst, they've dealt one expiring contract for another while picking up a first-round pick in the process. At best, they've traded in one immediate trade chip for a delayed one, as there might well be a market for Okafor's services once he's able to recover from a neck injury.
Okafor was diagnosed with a herniated disk in mid-September -- a nasty, lingering injury that was set to sideline the 30-year-old center indefinitely. That uncertain timeline didn't bode well for the Wizards, a team of playoff hopefuls light on rotation-caliber big men. Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker or Jan Vesely would otherwise have been stretched to fill more minutes than they deserve, leaving an overmatched Nene -- who is himself a bit dinged up -- to anchor the front line alone. Swapping out Okafor for Gortat alleviates that strain, nudging all of Washington's bigs into more comfortable roles.
Gortat is a solid get for Washington, and worthy of this kind of exchange considering the Wizards' immediate goals. That they gave up a future first-round pick to acquire a good, starting-caliber center speaks volumes. Washington is unequivocally gunning for its first playoff berth since 2008, and though Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld hedged his bet with the pick's top-12 protection, he's clearly willing to forfeit a moderate future asset in order to position his team to compete in the present. Gortat certainly helps in that regard, as his flexible pick-and-roll work and functional post-ups will help flesh out Washington's clunky offense. It's a move made with Gortat's all-around stability as a player in mind, and an upgrade in simplest terms.
But that's where the Wizards' interests in this deal end, according to Michael Lee of the Washington Post. Brown, Lee and Marshall were included to help balance out the finances of the trade to make it legal (though Lee, with a salary of just $884,293, was an optional piece), but the newspaper notes that none of the three are "expected to stick around in D.C." With that, the Wizards could forward any of the three to another franchise, either in exchange for other talent or possible financial savings. Washington isn't necessarily in a position where it needs to cut salary, but a deal to shed either Brown or Marshall could give the Wiz more room to operate under the luxury-tax threshold.