- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Sometimes the NBA trade deadline prompts the tinkering mindset of a toddler, the key question being, “What if?”

What if the Wizards acquired this All-Star? What if they only bolstered the bench? What if they did nothing? Trade possibilities can make people reach out to pull in parts indiscriminately.

Though the moved-up deadline — it’s Feb. 8 this season, in order to avoid another All-Star Game night trade of one of the league’s best players — is still a month away, the discussions about what is going to happen around the league have begun. For the Wizards, their need midway through the season is clear. At a minimum, they have to bolster the backup shooting guard spot. The sooner, the better.

Let’s start with what’s not going right there. Jodie Meeks was brought in during the offseason after playing 39 games total the last two seasons because of injuries. He has not shot well, just 31.3 percent from behind the 3-point line and 35.6 percent from the field. Both are well below his career averages (37.2 and 41.7, respectively). Both are subpar for a contending team.

Meeks‘ defense is also poor. In the past, his shooting ability would mitigate, if not make up for, his below-average defense. That’s not the case this season when he has far and away the lower net rating among Washington’s starters. So, replacing him is the starting point. It’s also important.



Here’s why: The sooner Washington can start reducing Bradley Beal’s workload, even by two minutes a game, the better it, and he, will be when the playoffs arrive. Beal is averaging 35.6 minutes per game. That leads the team. It is also 14th in the NBA. He has played the first 40 games of the season for the first time in his career. He is also being asked to do more in those minutes and games. The Wizards should avoid wearing him down, however possible.

Also, replacing Meeks with a better option will flip the largest net negative among the regular rotation players, providing the greatest overall gain. Arguing for a trade that would bring a large name, like New Orleans’ DeMarcus Cousins, is fun because of the name recognition involved. However, in order to do something like that, the Wizards would have to subtract a strength to add a strength, and would merely be renting a player to do so (more on those complications later).

So, moving a league average player, let alone an above average one, into Meeks‘ slot, should provide a significant swing and may be one of the few choices for the asset-deprived Wizards.

Three distinct options pop-up when looking for a solid backup shooting guard.

The first is Tyreke Evans of Memphis. He is having his best offensive season (115 offensive rating) as a part-time starter, part-time bench player for the Grizzlies. Evans remains a high-usage player, but that would not be an issue among the Wizards’ second group. Point guard Tomas Satoransky, small forward Kelly Oubre, power forward Mike Scott and center Ian Mahinmi are all moderate-usage players.

Evans would provide a breakdown attacker, another ball-handler, and someone who is shooting 3-pointers well this season (41.6 percent) despite historically not being a great shooter from deep. As an expiring contract, the Grizzlies would be looking to get at least a second-round draft pick plus matched expiring money coming back. The Wizards could serve those needs with a package of Tim Frazier, Chris McCullough and a second-round pick (two may be necessary). There is little to no chance of including Meeks in any trade since he has a player option for next season. Washington has also complicated its ability to move even second-round picks since it is already without its 2019 pick (part of the Oubre draft-day trade in 2015) and its 2021 pick (used to acquire Trey Burke last season).

Second is Atlanta’s Marco Belinelli. The crafty Italian is shooting 39.2 percent from behind the 3-point line, continuing his career-long effectiveness from that range. However, he is much more limited overall than Evans. Belinelli has also been a poor defender throughout his career. He is an expiring contract for rebuilding Atlanta, and the downgrade in talent cost as compared to Evans could make him more attractive. The trick is matching his money. He costs almost twice as much as Evans. Attaching someone like Jason Smith to the trade to make the money work (NBA salaries have to match when trades are conducted) will be difficult. Like Meeks, Smith has a player option for next season. Unlike Meeks, Smith’s option is for a whopping $5.45 million. No team wants that on the end of the bench.

Third is the long shot of Utah’s Rodney Hood. The Jazz has lost three in a row, is eight games under .500, and has no shot in the Western Conference for at least two years, probably longer. Even if it traded Hood, it could hop back into the competition to re-sign him in the summer when he is an restricted free agent. The Wizards likely could not afford to sign him to a new deal, but he would be potent off their bench as a 3-point shooter, though he offers little else. For three consecutive seasons, Hood’s offensive rating has declined, despite his 3-point percentage rising during the same time period.

Considering the Wizards’ current lack of salary cap flexibility, that they are already in line to pay the luxury tax after providing max contracts to three homegrown players, and that the major names (Cousins, DeAndre Jordan, Marc Gasol) are likely to be rentals, Washington’s most likely move will again be a moderate one. It at least knows its weakest point. There’s no reason to wait to fix it.

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