Wizards’ nightmare scenario for 2023 NBA trade deadline

Wizards’ nightmare scenario for 2023 NBA trade deadline

It’s been an interesting past week or so for the Washington Wizards. Despite being pilloried by fans and pundits for their confusing NBA trade deadline strategy, the Wizards have won six straight games — four since trading away the ninth overall pick of the 2019 NBA Draft in Rui Hachimura.

Over that stretch, the Wizards’ supporting cast around supermax star Bradley Beal has strengthened. Kyle Kuzma, a popular subject of trade rumors, has been instrumental during their winning streak, bolstering Washington’s offense amid Beal’s struggles with inconsistencies. Meanwhile, another ninth overall pick in Deni Avdija has seen his stock rise with one strong performance after another.

Additionally, Kristaps Porzingis has missed the Wizards’ past three games, yet Washington’s winning streak continues to roll, thanks to Daniel Gafford’s impressive play in his place. The Wizards may not be the most talented team in the association, but there’s no denying that their next-man-up mentality has been a big part of this surprising turnaround.

As a result, the Wizards are now the ninth (what’s up with Washington and being ninth?) seed in the Eastern Conference, making it even more unlikely that they will sell some of their pieces that have contributed to their strong winning streak of late.

Alas, their solid stretch shouldn’t drastically change their trade deadline strategy — if at all. The Wizards buyers need to check themselves for delusions of grandeur, lest they short-sightedly pawn off some of their draft assets to shore up a team that may not be too much more than a playoff squad.

Wizards’ nightmare scenario: Instead of being sellers, they become buyers at the trade deadline

The Wizards have a golden opportunity to move up the standings with their team slowly inching closer to full strength. Additionally, their next month’s games consist mostly of games against teams they are competing with for the final play-in spots: the Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors, Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks. To make things better for them, they also have scheduled tilts against two of the worst teams in the league in the Detroit Pistons and Charlotte Hornets over that stretch.

However, that doesn’t mean the Wizards of all teams should pursue a short-term upgrade at the expense of their prized draft assets and/or young prospects.

There is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the status of the Wizards’ future first-round picks, as it is unclear when their 2023 first-round pick, traded away in the 2020 Russell Westbrook trade, will transfer to the New York Knicks. If their strong play continues, that first rounder will transfer as early as possible since that pick is lottery protected.

Even then, the pieces appear to be in place for a Wizards play-in team, with or without a trade. After a rough stretch in December where they lost 10 straight games, they went 13-6, including quality wins against strong teams like the Philadelphia 76ers, Sacramento Kings and Dallas Mavericks.

In particular, Deni Avdija looks like a goalkeeper, who moves up after the departure of Rui Hachimura. Avdija is starting to live up to the promise he showed that made him the ninth overall pick in 2020. His latest effort, an efficient 25-point outing against the San Antonio Spurs, is the latest evidence that he looks poised for a breakout campaign given minutes.

At the end of the day, if the Wizards were to make any moves, they shouldn’t be anything groundbreaking. Executing a solid, buy-low trade that won’t cost them any future assets should be their target. They trade for Daniel Gafford in 2021 – a simple trade for Troy Brown Jr. and Moe Wagner, two players who found themselves on the fallout in DC at the time – emerge as an example of what the Wizards should be aiming for.

Right now, the Wizards seem justified in their decision to hold on to their best trade assets in Kyle Kuzma and Bradley Beal. After all, the Wizards seem content to possibly make the postseason. And maybe they can make some noise in the playoffs by then. With the sheer unpredictability in the league these days, there’s no telling how much magic these wizards can conjure up.

Sure, they could lose Kyle Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingis in a few months during free agency. They also may not have the safest future prospects, due to a lack of a true blue-collar young prospect and the considerable uncertainty they face in July. But for the sake of the Wizards, they must not do anything that further jeopardizes their already shaky future.

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