The Washington Wizards on Wednesday acquired center Emeka Okafor and forward Trevor Ariza from the New Orleans Hornets for forward Rashard Lewis and the 46th pick in next week’s draft.
Trades usually aren’t made during the playoffs as teams are inclined to wait until the draft and free agency to start making moves in advance of next season. As far as postseason trades go, this is a pretty big one, rivaling the Chris Webber deal in May 1998.
The Wizards were fleeced in that trade but may have done a bit better here. They received two rotation players for Lewis, who is the second highest-paid player in the NBA behind Kobe Bryant and has been in steep decline over the last couple of years due to knee woes.
Lewis likely will never play for the Hornets, who made the move to shed payroll and expand their rebuilding project. He is due $23.8 million next season, the final year of a six-year, $118 million contract he signed as a free agent with Orlando after the 2006-07 campaign.
In December 2010, the Magic dealt Lewis to the Wizards in the ill-fated Gilbert Arenas deal. Despite carrying a contract many consider immovable, Lewis has been traded twice in less than two years.
ESPN is citing unidentified sources that say the Hornets will waive Lewis before July 1, which reduces their 2012-13 commitment to him by $10 million. The Hornets cannot use the amnesty provision on Lewis because he was not on their roster when the one-time provision was offered.
The Wizards continued their strategy of taking on long-term contracts of established players in an effort to rebuild around point guard John Wall. At the March trading deadline, they traded young center JaVale McGee to the Denver Nuggets for veteran center Nene, who has four years and $52 million left on his deal.
Okafor has two years and $28 million remaining and Ariza has two years and $15 million remaining, including a $7.7 million player option for the 2013-14 season.
“Emeka’s defensive presence and rebounding ability will combine with Trevor’s versatility to add new dimensions to our frontcourt, and both players fit in very well with the type of team-first culture that we have been working to establish,” Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld said.
Okafor was the No. 2 pick of the 2004 draft behind Dwight Howard and was traded from Charlotte to New Orleans for Tyson Chandler after the 2008-09 season. He averaged double-doubles his first five years in the league and has career norms of 12.7 points, 10.0 rebounds and 1.8 blocks.
But Okafor was limited by a knee injury to 27 games last season and posted career lows of 9.9 points, 7.9 boards and 1.0 blocks.
Ariza, 26, joins his sixth team. He was the starting small forward on the 2009 champion Los Angeles Lakers but entered free agency and signed a five-year mid-level deal with the Houston Rockets.
After one season in Houston in which he averaged a career-high 14.9 points, Ariza was traded to New Orleans and scored in double figures in two seasons with the Hornets.
Washington’s rotation appears to be Okafor, Ariza, Nene, Wall and Jordan Crawford, with young forwards Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton and Kevin Seraphin off the bench. They are in need of backcourt depth and could take Florida shooting guard Bradley Beal with the third overall pick.
By trading Lewis, the Wizards also can use their amnesty provision on troublesome forward Andray Blatche, who has three years and over $23 million remaining on his deal. It is possible Blatche could be used as a trade asset.
By moving Okafor and Ariza, the Hornets are stripping down to the raw wood in their huge rebuilding project which includes the first and 10th overall picks in the draft and massive salary cap room.
“We are rebuilding our team and this is one step in our new direction,” Hornets GM Dell Demps said. “This trade will provide an opportunity for our young players to develop and create flexibility to add to our core group moving forward.”
Okafor’s departure clears an immediate position and minutes for Kentucky center Anthony Davis, who will be the first pick in the draft. With the 10th pick, the Hornets could pluck a shooting guard such as Kentucky’s Jeremy Lamb, Syracuse’s Dion Waiters or Duke’s Austin Rivers.
Ariza’s departure leaves the Hornets with as much as $30 million in cap room if they renounce all their cap holds. Among them are Chris Kaman ($14 million), Carl Landry ($9 million) and Marco Belinelli ($3.3 million).
New Orleans will use some of its space to sign restricted free agent guard Eric Gordon to a multi-year extension – likely at the maximum salary – which won’t kick in until the 2013-14 season.
In free agency, the Hornets may have enough money to add two rotation players such as forwards Ersan Ilyasova or Kris Humphries and guards Lou Williams or Jamal Crawford.
New Orleans now has the first, 10th and 46th picks in the draft. Washington has the third and 32nd picks.