An immediate reaction after hearing JaVale McGee and Nick Young had been traded: “Great. Beautiful. Now no one from the Wizards will make ‘Sports Center’ at 11.” One Nene for essentially two knuckleheads is a bit harsh, especially considering neither player left over from the Gilbert Arenas years in Washington ever got into any real trouble off the court.
The truth: Whether McGee was inexplicably sprinting back on defense when his team was still on offense or Young was missing a layup by throwing the ball over the stanchion while impossibly missing the rim and the glass, they were almost blissfully unaware of how comically bad their misdeeds came across.
In Nick and JaVale’s alternate universe, they can’t believe they were shipped out of town for anything less than Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett in their primes.
That’s why the Washington Wizards are making a stab at a change in culture by acquiring Nene, Denver’s 29-year-old Brazilian center, for McGee in a three-team deal that also sent Young to the Clippers. It’s a culture change as much as it is a change in the pivot.
Plain and simple, a swap by two teams with equal concerns over the futures of their franchise centers brings Nene from the Nuggets to the Wizards. Washington soured so badly on McGee this season that it decided it would rather take on Nene’s $67 million contract signed less than three months ago than be forced to give their glacially developing big man anywhere close to the equivalent this summer.
For a team president whose contract is expiring this summer, Ernie Grunfeld sending McGee and Young packing at the NBA trade deadline is analogous to coming back from 18 points down in the final three minutes to keep the season alive. Unless you believe Ted Leonsis was going to make Grunfeld his general manager for life, this was maybe Grunfeld’s last shot to save his job.
In parting ways with a 7-foot kid (and McGee, at 24, is still a kid), the Wizards bid adieu to a player with just enough promise to break their heart. Grunfeld was so unsure of whether McGee would ever “get it,” he got rid of him for a player who brought instant buyer’s remorse in Denver, where Nene is averaging as many points (13) as millions he will make per year until 2016.
The Wizards were unsure McGee would stop goaltending when the ball was on an obvious downward arc. They were tired of waiting for him to routinely grab a meaningful defensive rebound instead of gloating over a meaningless triple-double. They were tired of his mother, Pamela McGee, berating their coaches from her seat behind the basket near the Wizards’ bench at Verizon Center. For all McGee’s shot-blocking prowess and catch-and-slam forays above the rim, the Wizards were really worried he might never eliminate the brain freezes that manifested themselves in some of the most no, he didn’t bloopers that played on national cable shows.
This is twisted, but I’m going to miss how sublimely clueless Nick and JaVale were to the end. They never understood how or why an off-the-backboard dunk in the middle of a loss or a jack-knifing, three-point prayer with 21 seconds left on the 24-second shot clock — often when the Wizards were leading in the final minute — pushed any of the game’s etiquette or dumb-shot barriers.
They actually were more oblivious to understanding how to play and win in the NBA than to the exasperated coaches who pleaded with them to learn.
There is no award for such things, but underdeveloped talents who challenge each other to a cinnamon-eating contest on YouTube (still my favorite Wizards’ highlight for both) deserves a parting acknowledgment.
Respect, fellas; it took an ungodly lack of concentration to tune out so many for so long.
Now it’s on to Nene, who, if he remains healthy and hungry into his 30s, can be another problem solved entering free agency. With between $15 million and $17 million under the NBA salary cap, the Wizards can say they’ve got the two most important positions on the floor — point guard and center — spoken for.
The good news for the Wizards: They don’t have to back up the truck and completely start over. The bad news: More of Grunfeld’s young talent ultimately did not pan out.
I always thought his job would hinge on what happened with Arenas’s $126 million contract, but Grunfeld somehow moved that for the slightly less-exorbitant contract of Rashard Lewis. Then I thought Grunfeld was toast because of signing Andray Blatche to an extension that will still pay one of the most maligned players in franchise history $21 million for the next three years.
But now Grunfeld remaining as architect of the Wizards comes down to this: Does the jettisoning of McGee and Young and the acquisition of Nene and what he does the remaining 26 games of another lost season count enough in Leonsis’s mind to justify that Grunfeld has, in fact, executed the owner’s plan?
I don’t know. I do know that now that McGee and the playful Young (I won’t miss his ability to drop 20 and give up 30, but I already miss his smile) are gone, Blatche is the last of a dying breed in Washington — the hugely disappointing youngster who never realized the aspirations of the franchise or the fan base.
He’s another player from the Gil era who is now too old to be called a youngster anymore — yet still too unaware and unaccomplished to be anything more than hugely disappointing.
Poor ’Dray; it feels like the comedy club is closing and his partners left him with the tab.
For Mike Wise’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/wise.