There's little sexy about the small transaction pulled off by the Washington Wizards Friday night, one that ships out the always upbeat Jason Smith. That doesn't mean the Wizards didn't subtly help their cause.
The Wizards, as part of a three-team deal with the Milwaukee Bucks and Cleveland Cavaliers, dealt Smith, a 2022 second-round selection and cash considerations for former first-round pick Sam Dekker, the team announced Friday night.
It's natural to focus on the players involved. In this case, follow the money.
As a result of swapping Smith's $5.45 million salary for Dekker's $2.8 million, Washington's tax payment dropped by over $6 million, according to a league source.
The Wizards have the league's sixth highest tax bill at $9.8 million. While Washington continued its penchant for dealing away second-round picks -- it now has none thru 2022 -- general consensus indicates doing so for that amount of savings is a draft pick well spent in this case. Teams buying second-round picks at the draft typically pay around $1-1.5 million.
Washington also swapped an expiring contract for a player it can retain next season.
Dekker, 24, was the No. 18 overall selection in the 2015 NBA Draft. The University of Wisconsin product hasn't lived up to that status during stints with the Rockets, Clippers, and Cavaliers, but the athletic 6-foot-9 forward makes for a potentially nice fit with a Wizards team looking to play up-tempo.
He is also a restricted free agent this summer, meaning Washington may retain him by making a qualifying offer.
Smith and the cash considerations ended up with the Bucks in the trade, which sent George Hill to Milwaukee and Matthew Dellavedova back to Cleveland along with John Henson and future draft picks. Washington's second-round selection landed with Cleveland.
“This trade allows us to continue to work to improve our team and gives us a young, developing player in Sam whose versatility and athleticism at the forward position will allow him to earn an opportunity to contribute,” said Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld in a statement released by the team. “We wish Jason the best moving forward and appreciate the value he brought to our team as a great teammate and true professional.”
As for the specific player leaving Washington, Smith exits far more popular than a cursory look at his statistics over two-plus seasons would suggest.
The 7-footer arrived in 2016 as part of a free agent class that paid scant dividends to date for the Wizards. Smith, 32, signed a three-year, $15.7 million that summer as Washington sought to upgrade its frontcourt. Center Ian Mahinmi and forward Andrew Nicholson also joined the Wizards that offseason.
While Smith's signing was the least noteworthy of the three, he certainly helped the most initially. Thanks to his energy and surprising 3-point touch (47.4 percent), Smith turned into a key contributor off the bench as the Wizards won 49 regular season games and reached Game 7 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Celtics.
However, with his perimeter touch turned wonky (4 of 32 on 3-pointers, 12.5%), Mahinmi healthy and Mike Scott making 3-pointers, Smith largely fell out of the rotation last season. The 12-year veteran only played in 33 games. That trend continued early in the 2018-19 campaign. He averaged 3.7 points in 12 games this season.
Regardless of minutes, Smith played the role of cheerleader consistently and with genuine class throughout his time in Washington. The oldest player on the roster was often the first player off the bench greeting teammates as they walked toward the sideline following a timeout, and provided the locker room with positivity even during trying times.
As the Wizards sought options with Dwight Howard (back surgery) sidelined, Smith and Mahinmi lost their spot in the rotation to Thomas Bryant, an athletic 21-year-old capable of running the court and battling inside. Bryant’s solid work in the starting lineup likely made trading Smith easier. Head coach Scott Brooks is also using power forward Markieff Morris frequently in the "5" role.
Ironically, Smith spent part of Friday with NBC Sports Washington discussing how he remains positive despite a limited work.
"When you're losing, it's not as fun, let me tell you. But when we finally started to get on the same page, move the ball and the offense was clicking for us, when defensively we started getting stops, things changed," Smith said hours before the trade. "When you see good basketball out there, it's easy to be upbeat; it's easy to be upbeat for your teammates out there."
It's unclear what role the Wizards envision for Dekker, who sports a career average of 5.3 points in 162 career games. In nine games this season, he averaged 6.3 points for Cleveland. Dekker, out since suffering an ankle injury on Nov. 5, was expected to be available Saturday when the Cavaliers hosted the Wizards.
Dekker isn't a bruiser or a proven 3-point shooting threat (28.8 percent for his career, though a solid 5 of 13 this season) but offers athleticism from the forward position. It's worth noting Dekker underwent back surgery during his rookie season, limiting him to three games. He rebounded to play 77 and 73 the following two seasons. Last season, Dekker averaged 4.2 points, 2.1 rebounds and 12 minutes per game.
Dekker’s presence provides a minor hedge should Washington not retain restricted free agent Kelly Oubre Jr. Oubre, selected four picks ahead of Dekker in 2015, could fetch an eight-figure, multi-year contract next summer. Dekker’s qualifying offer is $3.916 million.
Washington previously dealt a 2019 second-round pick in the draft-day trade for Oubre, and its 2021 second for Trey Burke. Top 45 protections on their 2020 second-rounder, connected to trades with Milwaukee involving Jared Dudley and Jodie Meeks, were reportedly removed as part of Friday's trade.
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