Cleanup Starts By Throwing Out The Leftovers

By Mike Wise
Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Seeing how the trade is, oh, three minutes old and not yet consummated, let's take stock of what Ernie "Small Ball" Grunfeld hath wrought anyway:

Washington's pro basketball team gets two scoring swingmen who like to have the ball in their hands, and gives up a onetime starting center, a banging veteran forward, a young 7-footer and the fifth pick in tomorrow's NBA draft.

Hey, at least Brendan Haywood will never have to worry about his minutes in the pivot being cut again.

In an apparent ongoing attempt to run, gun and mirror the pre-Shaq Suns, Grunfeld, the Wizards' president, dealt away that depressing No. 5 selection and three contracts to Minnesota for Mike Miller, Mr. Outside, and Randy Foye, Another Mr. Outside, last night.

Which, given that Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, DeShawn Stevenson and Nick Young also want and need shots outside the key, looks a little odd on paper.

The Wizards now have 83 perimeter players vying for playing time. They will hoist more three-point attempts in one regular season game than J.J. Redick chucked up at Duke in four years. It's great that Flip Saunders can coach offense so well, because his new team will prosper and perish by a barrage of shots from beyond the arc.

It's easy to knock this deal. But on second glance, really, how can you?

Etan Thomas was owed big dollars. As much as his activism should be applauded, he was spending more time on the Huffington Post than huffing it down the floor and posting up.

Darius Songaila will be missed, but he was never the same after back surgery curtailed the hellion part of him who didn't care about whom he elbowed inside.

Had that young 7-footer, Oleksiy Pecherov, been drafted higher than 18th in 2006, he would have gone down as Darko Milicic II -- a young, skilled, gangly European who never developed his talent. "Pesh," his teammates called him, and his childlike demeanor always made him more of a team mascot than a bona fide player.

Who's to say what the No. 5 pick will bring the Timberwolves, but neither James Harden nor Jordan Hill was going to help lift the Wizards to at least the second round of the playoffs next season, which is shaping up as a bellwether year for Grunfeld's $111 million gamble to re-sign Arenas last summer.

Washington has to win now with capable veterans, and Miller at 29 years old -- though he is coming off his worst year statistically -- and Foye at 25 are considered two of those veterans.

Grunfeld may not be done, either, as draft-day deals shake out. But if nothing else, he has already rid the Wizards of burdensome contracts. He also created two open roster spots by bringing in two players and trading the equivalent of four.

If you're a fan of this maddening team that hadn't been able to scale Mount LeBron three straight Mays and went through real pain the past year -- season-killing injuries to Arenas and Haywood that resulted in 19 wins, three coaches in seven months and a general malaise that hadn't been seen since Abe Pollin fired Michael Jordan and started over -- you wanted last night's deal to be the start of things, a prelude to another deal that could bring a capable big man to town.

Besides scoring, Foye goes to the glass for tough rebounds. He would be viewed as more of an improving young player if he hadn't been traded for Brandon Roy, who became one of the game's best young players in Portland.

Miller, who two seasons ago made nine three-pointers in one game, can also move the ball when he wants. He's not done physically yet, and this could be the perfect fit in the stop-and-pop, church league game the Wizards will be playing.

If the Wizards return to playoff form, there is a real question as to who will be responsible for getting Dwight Howard in foul trouble should they emerge as a contender.

But those worries -- and concerns about whether there are enough basketballs to go around on a shoot-first-pass-later team -- are for another day.

Grunfeld got rid of some dead weight on his roster last night, jettisoning the draft pick that he never wanted anyway, No. 5, the worst possible lottery selection for a team that finished tied for the league's second-worst record.

No sense in keeping the memory of not even getting close to Blake Griffin around. Better to move forward, grab a couple of veterans and keep working the phones until an affordable banger becomes available.

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