The Washington Wizards have carried through a plan of drafting, developing and retaining their core players and, to a certain extent, it has worked. John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr., all first-round picks selected between 2010 and 2013, played their way to max deals and stuck around in D.C. for their second contracts.
The Wizards hoped Kelly Oubre Jr., their 2015 first round pick, would follow a similar path. Majority owner Ted Leonsis even said as much in August of last year, stating he would be "glad" to pay Oubre if it came down to it.
Over the weekend, those plans changed as the Wizards shipped Oubre along with Austin Rivers to the Phoenix Suns for Trevor Ariza. The Wizards attached a key rotation piece along with Oubre for a player 10 years his senior.
Oubre was set to be a restricted free agent, while Ariza can leave freely after this season, once his contract expires. They sacrificed what could still have been seen as a future asset for a short-term fix.
The decision raises questions about Oubre's tenure in Washington, how successful it was considering his draft position and how it ended. Most notably, did they get enough for him in return?
Even at 33, Ariza is a solid player and should help the Wizards with what they are lacking most. He can plug some holes in their three-point defense, rebound and maybe even add some leadership.
The Ariza acquisition in a vacuum is understandable, as the Wizards aim to salvage their season and make the playoffs. He can clearly help.
But Oubre was, at face value, one of their best trade assets. He is only 23 and making a reasonable $3.2 million this season. Ideally, you would receive some sort of piece to help beyond 2018-19 in return.
By shipping Oubre out, the Wizards signaled several things. For one, they are clearly committed to Porter at the small forward position. By drafting Troy Brown Jr. over the summer, and even by trading for Sam Dekker this month, the Wizards gave themselves a host of options at Porter's spot.
Technically, they could have waited out this season and then chosen from that group a combination of players to roll with long-term. A mix of Oubre and Brown, for instance, would have been a cheaper alternative to Porter.
Instead of waiting until the end of this season, the Wizards made that call early. They once again chose Porter over a less expensive replacement, much like they did in the summer of 2017 by letting Bojan Bogdanovic leave in free agency.
With the Wizards remaining high on Porter, they knew they couldn't also afford Oubre this upcoming summer. The two sides were never very close on an extension this past offseason, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.
Oubre is banking on himself to earn a contract worth double-digit millions annually and the Wizards did not see a way that could work in Washington. They already have over $92 million committed to Wall, Beal and Porter alone next season, plus Ian Mahinmi's $15.45 million in the final year of his deal.
There were many aspects of Oubre the Wizards liked during the three-plus years he developed in their system. Front office executives and coaches raved about his work ethic. They always knew he would put the necessary time in to improve.
But that improvement didn't reach a point where they could rationalize paying the money he is due to make. Oubre is still searching for a consistent jumpshot and has holes in his game that need to be rounded out.
For one, his lack of versatility and consistency on offense gave the Wizards pause. Also, he struggled with discipline on defense.
Oubre isn't a perfect player, he has flaws. But most guys his age do and the potential has always been enticing. He can run the floor, play above the rim and has a 7-foot-2 wingspan. He gets better every year at using that length to his advantage, this season ranking fifth in the NBA in deflections.
Front office executives never want to sell low on players and with Rivers it's hard to argue the Wizards didn't. He was putting up some of the worst numbers of his career.
With Oubre, it's more debatable. He was playing well when the Wizards dealt him, but they likely could have received more if they traded him, say, last season.
The Wizards' selection of Oubre in the 2015 draft was largely successful, in hindsight. There was no one taken right after him that has both become significantly better and at a position of need.
Oubre became a top-six rotation player for the Wizards, contributing significant minutes for two-plus seasons and happened to become a fan favorite along the way. He's likely to make a good deal of money in his second NBA contract, though for another team. For a mid-first round pick, he has produced a solid return.
Now, that move will be judged in part by what the Wizards get in Ariza. If he can help turn this season around and bring the Wizards back to respectability on defense, perhaps parting with Oubre can be justified. Even if the Wizards do not right the ship, Ariza could be a valuable trade piece at the deadline to dangle for title contenders.
But giving up Oubre, along with Rivers, was a fairly steep price. The decision carried some risk and it will naturally be revisited, and could be second-guessed, by fans and those who analyze the Wizards down the road.
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