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Here's the deal: They're better

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Cheers and Jeers,Craig Stouffer

Trading away Rashard Lewis, the 46th pick in next week's NBA Draft and financial flexibility for the next two seasons for Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza doesn't turn the Wizards into playoff contenders. It does make the Wizards better, and that's progress when all they've been for four seasons is terrible.

Washington wasn't going to be helped this season by paying Lewis $24 million to keep a locker at Verizon Center. Ariza gives the Wizards not only a living, breathing player but a starter who plays defense, shoots an occasional 3-pointer -- any would be more than they hit last year -- and forces Chris Singleton back to the bench.

With Okafor trading starts with Nene or starting alongside him, the bench is where the rest of Washington's young frontcourt -- Jan Vesely, Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin -- also will find itself. Those players showed well against tanking teams and reserves last spring. That's who they will face playing for the second unit.

The trade-off is a two-year commitment to both Okafor and Ariza, the same amount of time the Wizards have committed to coach Randy Wittman and president Ernie Grunfeld. There's also this: "I bet we have some more moves to make before next season," Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said on his blog.

It's easy to be enamored with salary cap space. It's more important to recognize that luring the right free agent to Washington is as difficult and unlikely as landing Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden in consecutive drafts.

So long live the Wizards' pursuit of becoming the next Oklahoma City Thunder. It wasn't a realistic approach anyway.

- Craig Stouffer

cstouffer@washingtonexaminer.com

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