JaVale McGee is one of the most athletically gifted big men in the NBA and Nick Young is one of its more capable one-on-one scorers, but the talented duo had never transcended those categorizations in their time with the Washington Wizards. They were also at the forefront of the franchise’s most recent run of misfortune and set to become free agents this summer.
Rather than reward either player with a lucrative contract after this season, the Wizards traded McGee and Young on Thursday in a three-team trade with Denver and the Los Angeles Clippers that signaled a significant shift in the culture and strategy of the team going forward.
In a deal that was agreed upon near the 3 p.m. trading deadline, the Wizards shipped McGee and veteran big man Ronny Turiaf to the Nuggets and Young to the Clippers. In return, they received rugged, veteran center Nene from Denver and forward Brian Cook and a future second-round pick from the Clippers.
“I think it’s a combination of things,” Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said, explaining the motivation for the deal. “We want to have guys that are competitive, that care about winning and losing. It has nothing to do personally with the two players. It has more to do with getting a player that does come from a winning situation and is competitive and is a good defender and a good passer and a good all-around player” in Nene.
McGee and Young were two of the longest-tenured players on the Wizards’ roster. McGee, a fourth-year center, will be a restricted free agent, meaning the Wizards would have been able to match any offer sheet. But the 7-foot-1 big man was expected to garner a huge salary on the open market. Though McGee was one of just five players in the NBA averaging at least 11.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and two blocked shots, the Wizards were unwilling to make a large financial commitment to a player who continued to make confounding plays on the court and who struggled with defensive concepts.
Instead, the Wizards acquired an established big man in Nene, a Brazilian who is averaging 13.4 points and 7.4 rebounds in his 10th season, all in Denver. Nene, 29, put up all-star worthy numbers last season and was one of the most coveted players in free agency. He signed a five-year, $67 million contract with the Nuggets last December and also is represented by Dan Fegan, the same agent for John Wall.
“Any time you go into free agency, it’s always a crap shoot,” Grunfeld said. “You don’t know what the offers will be and you don’t know how much it will cost. This way, you get cost certainty and we get a player that has produced consistently in this league for many, many years and who is only 29 years old.
“We’re still rebuilding,” he continued. “We have seven players on the roster, in the rotation, who are first- or second-year players. We felt like we needed someone who had more experience who could come in there and play, and someone who is under contract for the next few years and be with us.”
After leading the Wizards in scoring last season, Young sought a contract worth a $9 million annual salary in free agency, but after failing to find a favorable market, he settled for a qualifying offer worth $3.7 million. Young had the right to veto any deals because he would have to sacrifice his “Bird rights” — a clause that allows teams to go over the salary cap to re-sign players — to get traded.
The Wizards wanted to package Young with McGee to Denver, but Young’s representatives, according to sources, had informed the Wizards that he would only accept a trade to two places, including the Clippers, his hometown team. Young averaged 16.6 points and 2.4 rebounds in his fifth season with the Wizards.
Young was a member of the playoff team as a rookie, but in the past four seasons, he and McGee were on teams that combined to go 77-210. They’ve also been the primary starters at their respective positions for the past two seasons, but Young was recently benched in favor of Jordan Crawford and McGee was benched for the entire half of one game in Milwaukee and at the start of a game against Orlando.
Both players have moved on to teams that are in the playoff hunt, with the Clippers fourth and Denver sixth, respectively, in the Western Conference, entering Thursday’s games.
Turiaf played only three games for the Wizards after being acquired from the New York Knicks on the first day of training camp. He broke his left hand on Jan. 1 and didn’t dress again until Tuesday in Dallas.
The Wizards couldn’t find any takers for Andray Blatche, but will look to move him near the draft, according to a league source. And if the team is unable to deal Blatche this summer, the Wizards also have the amnesty provision at their disposal, which would allow them to waive him and have his salary removed from the cap.
Cook, a nine-year veteran, averaged 1.9 points and 1.4 rebounds in 16 games with the Clippers.
The second-round choice will be a 2015 pick that the Clippers acquired from New Orleans in the Chris Paul trade last December.
“If you are going to get something good, you have to give up something. They are both good people and we wish them the best,” Grunfeld said of Young and McGee. “You develop your young players so that you can get something that you like better. And we like Nene better. The situation became available to us and we discussed it and we felt it was something that would improve our team going forward.”