Wizards

What Wizards fans get wrong about missing Kelly Oubre Jr.

Wizards

On a wild day of NBA trades and free agent rumors, Wizards fans were sent into a frenzy on social media Monday as Kelly Oubre Jr. got traded from the Phoenix Suns to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Chris Paul deal. Then, later on, Trevor Ariza was dealt from the Blazers to the Rockets. As the Wizards enter an offseason searching for help at small forward, two of their former players at the position were traded on the same day.

Those two, of course, were traded for each other not long ago. In December of 2018, the Wizards packaged Oubre with guard Austin Rivers and shipped them to Phoenix for Ariza. Oubre was 10 years younger than Ariza. Ariza then played a few months for the Wizards and left in free agency while Oubre took his game to another level for the Suns.

It was an objectively bad deal and not just in hindsight. Then-team president Ernie Grunfeld was trying to get the Wizards to the playoffs in hopes of saving his job. That didn't happen, he got fired and the Wizards were left in the dust having essentially given up a promising player and recent first-round pick for a few months of Ariza.

All of that has made Oubre yet another example of a "one that got away," which is a concept Wizards fans are familiar with. You can't write the franchise's history without detailing the premature departures of talented young players, often traded for aging veterans. Watching players that were homegrown in Washington reach their potential elsewhere is a time-honored tradition.

 

But with Oubre there are a few misconceptions. One is that they shouldn't have traded him at all. They arguably should have because he was about to make a salary they couldn't justify and there was reason to believe his time had run its course here. He needed a fresh start, having run into a developmental wall in Washington. They just didn't get nearly enough for him.

Another misconception is that Oubre is the small forward they should have kept. If you recall, entering the 2017 offseason they had three players at that position: Oubre plus Otto Porter Jr. and Bojan Bogdanovic. They decided to give Porter a max contract and let Bogdanovic walk in free agency.

Signing Porter had a domino effect in the salary cap that made it tougher to afford Oubre down the road. But, most consequentially, it made them lose Bogdanovic. And Bogdanovic has since been quite clearly the best player of the three.

While Porter signed a max contract to stay, Bogdanovic left to join the Indiana Pacers at about 40 percent of the price annually. And he immediately blossomed into an elite shooter. In three years since leaving, Bogdanovic has averaged 17.3 points while holding a 56.3 effective field goal percentage and shooting 41.3 percent from three on 5.5 attempts per game.

The Wizards paid more money to keep Porter in large part because of his shooting, while Bogdanovic instantly became just as good as him in that area. And perhaps most impressive is how Bogdanovic played in Indiana while his team battled injuries to key players like Victor Oladipo. If only the Wizards had someone to step up like that these past three years with John Wall in and (mostly) out of the lineup.

The Wizards bungled a situation that could have made them look brilliant if they chose the right path. Before letting Bogdanovic leave, they had traded a first-round pick for him just months earlier, adding to the sting of his exit. But if they had instead moved on from Porter and re-signed Bogdanovic, they would have found a cheaper replacement at the perfect time.

That's what the best front offices in sports do. When they know a key player is aging out or about to get too expensive, they develop someone in time to take his place.

You don't even have to look outside of Washington to find examples. When the Nationals were set to lose Bryce Harper, they had Juan Soto ready to go. Before that, they had Trea Turner ready to replace Ian Desmond. The Capitals just let Vezina Trophy-winner Braden Holtby leave in free agency because they had a younger replacement in Ilya Samsonov ready and waiting.

The inverse is seen over and over with the Washington Football Team. For years they knew Kirk Cousins was likely to leave. Yet, they never made a real effort to draft and develop his replacement. That shortsightedness continues to cost them to this day.

 

Thinking ahead is going to be one of the best indicators of Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard's success. That will be one of the best ways he can prove his reign will be different from the previous regime.

Now Oubre is off to OKC where he will likely go on playoff runs, reminding Wizards fans what could have been.