- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza have been brought into Washington to provide two things for the struggling Wizards: durability and versatility.

Team president Ernie Grunfeld expects both to contribute on both counts after acquiring them Wednesday from the New Orleans Hornets for high-priced forward Rashard Lewis — who is due to make nearly $24 million next season — and the 46th overall pick in this year’s draft.

“Okafor, the three previous seasons, he played 82 games, 73 games, 72 games,” Grunfeld said. “So he’s been a very durable player in his career.”

Last season, Chris Singleton led all Washington forwards with 51 starts out of 66 games. Trevor Booker was second with 32.

“[Ariza is] a very versatile player who runs the floor very well, a very good defender, and is a hard-nosed competitor who can guard multiple positions,” Grunfeld said.

Guards John Wall and Jordan Crawford combined for 396 turnovers, compared with 154 steals. The defensive backcourt should improve with Ariza’s versatility.

With the addition of the two forwards, and and big man Nene already on the roster, the team’s last position to solidify appears to be shooting guard.

When asked if this trade affected the Wizards’ draft plans, Grunfeld responded, “No. Not at all.”

Perhaps the Wizards have been planning to draft former Florida guard Bradley Beal or North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes with the third overall pick in next Thursday’s draft.

The 6-foot-3 Beal, who spent just one year with the Gators, averaged 14.6 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists. Barnes, a sophomore, averaged 17.4 points and 5.2 rebounds for the Tar Heels.

Whoever the Wizards draft, it will add yet another young player to the roster, another reason why the team chose to go with veteran leadership as opposed to young talent.

“Bringing in a couple of solid veterans is only going to help our young core,” said Grunfeld. “We haven’t touched our core at all. We just added some more veteran players to try to provide some leadership for these young players so they can continue to grow and continue to learn.”

By bringing in Okafor and Ariza, the team will have to set aside a hefty sum to keep the two on the roster. Both have deals running through 2014, with Okafor’s worth $28 million and Ariza’s $15 million.

Washington used the trade to avoid the free agency market, which Grunfeld said was “not one of the strongest in recent memory.”

The Hornets likely will buy out Lewis’ contract, which would only cost the team $13.8 million, a move the Wizards avoided.

With more than $40 million invested in the two veterans, the Wizards expect big production down low. Okafor (6-foot-10), who was the NBA Rookie of the Year in 2005, averages 12.7 points and 7.9 rebounds over his career, spending five seasons with the Charlotte Bobcats and the past three with the Hornets. Ariza (6-foot-8) spent a year with the Houston Rockets, followed by two years with the Hornets after winning the NBA championship with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009. The small forward averaged 10.8 points and 5.2 rebounds in 2011-12.

Lewis’ parting with the Wizards comes at the lowest point in his 15-year career. He finished this season averaging 7.8 points, less than half of his career average of 16.7. It’s his worst season of scoring since his rookie year in 1998-99, when he averaged 2.4 points in 20 games. According to Forbes, Lewis was the second-highest paid player for the 2011-12 season at more than $21 million, falling only behind Kobe Bryant of the Lakers. The two-time All Star originally was acquired in 2010 from the Magic in the trade that sent Gilbert Arenas to Orlando.

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