Still, it is a deal that does have ripple effects moving forward for both teams — and signals how teams will negotiate free agency come 12:01 a.m. Sunday. Here’s a look at a few of them.
1. DeAndre Jordan is leaving Los Angeles
Jordan turns 30 next month and has spent the first 10 years of his NBA career with the Clippers. There were already plenty of rumblings before Tuesday’s trade took place that Jordan’s time in Los Angeles was over; this deal confirmed those to be true.
Gortat is a perfectly capable starting center for a team like the Clippers that is simply trying to compete for a playoff spot in 2018-19 — particularly because his contract doesn’t extend past next season, allowing the Clippers to remain a potential major player in free agency next July. As it stands, the Clippers will have enough salary cap space to offer two full max salaries to players next summer, in a year when close to 10 all-stars could be free agents depending on how the next few weeks play out.
But where will Jordan wind up? Dallas is one possibility. By trading up for Luka Doncic, the Mavericks showed they want to compete next season, and they have a hole at center. DeMarcus Cousins, who is coming off an Achilles’ tear, could be a possibility in Dallas, too. So if Jordan doesn’t land there, where?
Maybe Milwaukee, where Jordan was rumored to be headed at times last year. Perhaps something happens with Portland, where the man who drafted Jordan, Neil Olshey, is running the Trail Blazers. But wherever it is, expect Jordan — either via trade after opting into his deal or leaving as a free agent after opting out — to be playing elsewhere next season.
2. Rivers was the odd man out in Los Angeles
On a team with reigning NBA sixth man of the year Lou Williams, emerging young guard C.J. Williams and a pair of lottery picks — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson — drafted last week, there wasn’t going to be enough playing time to go around. So by moving on from Rivers, the Clippers were able to fill a need with the likely departure of Jordan in Gortat, and also alleviate a potential headache from having too many mouths to feed in the backcourt.
On another note: Any thought that Doc Rivers still had significant power within the organization has to have disappeared. It clearly is a new day in L.A.
3. Gortat simply had to go
No Wizards observer could be surprised by Gortat being traded. While still a good player, clearly some of the locker room issues that had built up over the years — and particularly this past year — meant a change of scenery was necessary for all parties involved.
Last week, it was rumored that the price to do that might require a first-round pick; the Wizards were steadfast in refusing to pay that cost and stuck to their guns. By waiting, they managed to move Gortat for a useful player in Rivers — and one who helps balance out Washington’s roster as well.
The Wizards had more than $34 million tied up in three centers — Gortat, Ian Mahinmi and Jason Smith. That simply didn’t make sense. By swapping Gortat’s $13.5 million for Rivers’s $12.6 million — both of which are expiring — Washington saved close to a million in payroll, more than a million in tax payments and better balanced its roster.
4. Finding cheap bigs is easier than cheap wings
Moving Gortat for Rivers, from Washington’s perspective, also highlights what is quickly becoming an NBA truism: the glut of big men around the league makes replacing them with a cheaper quality option far easier than doing the same for guards.
With Jodie Meeks suspended for the first 19 games of next season for violating terms of the NBA/NBPA anti-drug program, the Wizards were heading into the summer with only three guards — John Wall, Bradley Beal and Tomas Satoransky — under contract. Rivers rounds out that guard rotation with someone who can shoot (he hit 38 percent of his threes last year, though his finishing inside the arc leaves plenty to be desired) and defend, and can play next to either Wall or Beal.
That gives the Wizards a rotation that, as of now, looks like this: Wall and Beal as starting guards, with Satoransky and Rivers backing them up; Otto Porter Jr. and Markieff Morris as the starting forwards, with Kelly Oubre Jr. and rookie Troy Brown Jr. backing them up; and Mahinmi and Smith at center.
Throw in Meeks when he returns from suspension, and that leaves four open roster spots, which Washington can now use in whatever way it sees fit — including pursuing some of the many, many free agent bigs available to fill in playing time.
5. Washington still needs a starting center. Who will it be?
After an injury-hampered first season in Washington, Mahinmi was healthy and played decently for the Wizards last year. Expecting him to be the starter, however, is unlikely. Smith won’t play and could potentially be stretch-waived if Washington tries to save some tax money. Morris will get some time at center but isn’t going to be a full-time option there.
That gives the Wizards something a lot of teams don’t have to offer to the many big men about to hit the open market: a pathway to significant playing time. With no franchise having much money to offer, Washington should be able to find a couple of bigs to round out its rotation for a fraction of what Gortat would have cost.
Dwight Howard, who is going to be bought out by the Brooklyn Nets once he is officially traded by the Charlotte Hornets, is one option. Nerlens Noel, who will be an unrestricted free agent after taking his qualifying offer with Dallas last summer, is another. Both of them are likely to be minimum contract guys, which makes them appealing.
Maryland product Alex Len, a former No. 5 overall pick, could be a possible upside play. Georgetown product Greg Monroe could be a potential option as well. There are another dozen names that could all go here, too.
But that’s precisely why this trade made sense: finding a couple of bigs to cobble together a center rotation for cheap — along the lines of what the Golden State Warriors have done the past couple years — is more than doable these days.
More importantly, the Wizards can likely do this without using their mid-level exception — which could be then used to add some more shooting and athleticism to other parts of the roster (most notably finding another stretchy combo forward like Mike Scott, an unrestricted free agent — or possibly Scott himself) that will require more resources to be filled in.
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