When the Wizards traded Rashard Lewis and a second-round pick to the New Orleans Hornets for Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza, it wasn’t jut to rid themselves of Lewis’ $22 million salary.
After all, Okafor and Ariza are scheduled to make a combined $43 million through next season.
At the time of that June 20 trade, Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld said Okafor and Ariza filled two of his team’s needs: a solid rebounder, and an athletic forward who could run the floor.
“These players fit in well with what we’re trying to do,” Grunfeld said at the time. “I think we’re going to be a better team with the addition of these players and the players we’ll add in the draft. But where we’ll be in the Eastern Conference, only time will tell.”
Time has not exactly been a friend to the Wizards, who are off to the worst start in franchise history at 0-9. The uneven play of Okafor and Ariza is at least part of the reason.
Okafor arrived in Washington with career averages of 12.7 points and 10.1 rebounds. Through nine games, all of which he started, the 30-year-old center is averaging 7.6 points and 6.3 rebounds.
Ariza, 27, entered this season averaging 9.0 points and 4.4 rebounds. He’s also started all nine games for the Wizards and is averaging 8.3 points and 4.8 rebounds.
Neither played in the fourth quarter of the Wizards’ 96-89 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Monday night.
“I don’t want to say those guys aren’t doing it on the floor,” said Wizards point guard A.J. Price, who also sat out that fourth quarter while Wizards coach Randy Wittman went with Shaun Livingston, Bradley Beal, Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker and Chris Singleton.
“Their job has been tough. They came in with a lot of expectations on their shoulders and that’s tough when you’re on a team that’s growing and trying to get better. Those guys come in and work hard every single day, so my hat’s off to them for that. And at some point they’ll turn it around and it will come collectively when we as a team turn it around.”
Ariza’s game-to-game performance this season has been erratic. He followed a 15-point night against Milwaukee with a four-point game against the Pacers; followed a 19-point effort against Charlotte with a four-point night in Dallas; then followed a 16-point game against the Jazz with a six-point night against Indiana.
Okafor has seen his production dip in recent weeks. After netting a season-high 17 point son Nov. 10, he managed three straight games with eight points and finished Monday night’s game with a season-low one point with one rebound in just 9:06 of action.
“I don’t know what to say anymore, to be honest,” Okafor said. “It’s frustrating. Being 0-9 is a frustrating position. I don’t know how to put it in words. We’re trying.”
Okafor refused to place blame on Wittman for sitting him on the bench and trying new combinations against the Pacers.
“He’s trying,” Okafor said. “He has a tough job. He’s doing what he can. He’s trying to find a way to find wins. He’s doing what he can, like we all are. It’s difficult all the way around. When you’re 0-9 you’re trying to find a way.”
The Wizards will try to avoid their 10th straight defeat when the visit the 5-4 Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night. The Wizards may learn on Tuesday if they will be without Trevor Booker, who appeared to injure his knee in the final minute of Monday night’s loss.
“We’re all a very upbeat group and we’re not going to let things get us down,” Okafor said. “We understand it’s a long season and it’s never over. That’s why I credit this group and this coaching staff. Everybody is very upbeat and still staying positive.”