Wizards

If Zion were to request a trade, what could Wizards offer?

Wizards

Before we begin this exercise in futility, let’s be clear that it’s exactly that. 

The chances of the Pelicans trading Zion Williamson anytime soon, especially while he’s still on a rookie contract, are probably really low. And as far as we know, Williamson has not requested a trade.

But when a report surfaces like the one Thursday by The Athletic, that some members of Williamson’s family are unhappy with the Pelicans and want to see him moved to another team, why not explore what it would take for the Wizards to get such a special talent?

What makes the proposition of a Williamson trade so intriguing is that he's only two years into his NBA career. Typically when star players are moved, they're well into an established career and have a massive contract attached to them, making the task of matching salary tricky. But Williamson still has to play another year before he’s even eligible for the rookie supermax extension. He’s due to make just over $10.7 million next season, according to Spotrac.

 

Washington's need for a third star on a cap-strapped roster has been much discussed over the years, so salary-wise, this would be the easiest way for the Wizards to finally get one. Without getting into the weeds of three-team scenarios that would improve the chances of the Pelicans landing a star in return, below are the likeliest ways a Wizards deal for Williamson gets done, and these maybe still don't get the job done.

Star for a star

In addition to salary issues, a deal including either of the Wizards two stars, Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal, would be difficult to near-impossible to pull off, because the Pelicans will, and should, place a higher value on Williamson than they would either of the two.

After an injury-riddled rookie season in which he still averaged over 22 points, Williamson upped that number this year to 27.0 points on 61% shooting and was named an all-star for the first time. Not even 21 years old, he’s likely a long way from entering his prime.

Westbrook, on the other hand, remains one of the very best to play the point guard position but is on the backend of his career, as he turns 33 next season. Beal, 28, is in the middle of his prime, coming off back-to-back seasons of averaging 30 points per game, but obviously has a shorter window than Williamson to capitalize on it. 

In a deal for either, New Orleans would have to add any of several combinations of other players just to make the money work, and would probably want Washington to take that salary back in exchange for cheaper players with more value, and picks, before they'd even consider it. And even then, the Pelicans likely balk at making the deal, though if their hands were forced, they'd want to center it around Beal before Westbrook. For instance, they may want to attach the salaries of Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe to Williamson in order to get Beal and Rui Hachimura.

But in that case, there would likely be hesitancy on the Wizards' end. Knowing how much the Wizards have expressed a desire to build a winner around Beal, the reason for considering a Williamson trade would be to add to a team they’d hope could contend with both. Washington would only part with Beal in that scenario if he too wanted out of his situation.

Who’s left?

With Westbrook and Beal off the table, that leaves the Wizards’ two most recent lottery picks as the players with the most value in a trade. And Washington most certainly would have to part with both, Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija, in a deal for Williamson, in addition to some picks. 

 

Hachimura and Avdija’s base salaries combined are equal to just under what Williamson makes, so the money works, and the Wizards could also fit Daniel Gafford in to sweeten the pot. This likely isn’t enough to entice the Pelicans, but it’s probably the best the Wizards could do without sending a star back.

Hachimura plays the same position as Williamson, and while he’d be a downgrade with a different style of play, he took great strides this year as a scorer and defender and showed the potential to be an even greater contributor in the future. Avdija remains a project player with incredible upside as a playmaker and defender with great size. Finally, Gafford was as instrumental as anyone in saving the Wizards’ playoff hopes, bringing shot-blocking and Williamson-like above-the-rim play to Washington in a trade deadline deal. Gafford's stock is high after the way he finished the season in D.C., but the Wizards shouldn't have a problem sacrificing his lob-catching ability when they would be getting someone just as explosive in return.

Of course, no deal is done in a vacuum, so even if Williamson did request a trade, and the Wizards had interest, they would have to compete with other interested parties. That would include the Knicks, who maybe have a leg-up on everyone because of Williamson's noted love of playing at Madison Square Garden. But the market would ultimately dictate the young forward's value, and if the Wizards wanted in on the sweepstakes, they would have to be willing to give up much in return.