Earlier this week, rumors surfaced that the Wizards entered the Rudy Gay bidding battle, making what was reportedly a “good” offer to Memphis. Shortly thereafter, The Memphis Commercial Appeal published an article stating that Washington’s offer would have included Wizards rookie Bradley Beal.
Although the rumor of Beal being packaged was quickly extinguished by Beal’s agent, I couldn’t help being reminded of the Bullets and Wizards teams of the last couple decades that would have entered into such a poor deal.
Championship contenders notwithstanding, taking on aging players is usually a bad idea. Let’s take a look back at some of the franchise’s failures to retain its young stars:
1996 – Rasheed Wallace was traded was from Washington to Portland for Rod Strickland after Wallace’s rookie season. Wallace played well, spelling Chris Webber during a long injury stint. Wallace averaged 10.1 points per game in 65 total games played (51 starts). While the acquisition of Strickland would prove to be very valuable for Washington, the plan was not designed for long-term sustainment. Wallace would later emerge to stardom in Portland.
1998 – Chris Webber was traded from Washington to Sacramento in exchange for Mitch Richmond and Otis Thorpe. Webber, although plagued by injuries and minor off-the-court issues, was a special talent that many teams coveted. He also was only 25 years old at the time, arguably entering his prime. Bullets ownership was rumored to have dealt Webber in an effort to clean up the team’s image; however, in return they received two players with a combined 24 years of experience that were in no position to carry a team. After finishing 42-40 the previous season, the Bullets finished their first season without Webber 14 games under .500.
2002 - Richard Hamilton was traded to Detroit as the center of a six player deal, for which the Wizards would receive in return from the Pistons Jerry Stackhouse, Brian Cardinal, and Ratko Varda. Hamilton was preparing to enter his third year in the NBA and was the second leading scorer the preceding season, averaging 18.1 points per game. Stackhouse was entering his seventh season and was brought in to be a primary scorer alongside Michael Jordan. The major problem with this trade, however, was that the Wizards, at the time the trade was completed, were not constructed to compete for a championship. The team would go on to finish eight games under .500 and miss the playoffs.
Players in rookie contracts are the best value in the NBA. If a prospect plays to his potential, a team can receive franchise-altering performance for a fraction of a veteran’s price. In more extreme cases, second round draft picks (e.g. Gilbert Arenas, Carlos Boozer, Michael Redd, and others) provide excellent performance for an even cheaper price and fewer years of commitment.
Therefore, unless a team has an established core, it’s typically advisable to cultivate young talent rather than shipping it out. Young players are relatively healthier, more adaptable, and less ensconced in certain on-the-court and off-the-court tendencies.
A team that is perpetually rebuilding like the Wizards should make every effort to avoid getting older and more financially burdened.