Thursday, February 21, 2008

Breaking Down Deadline Trades

The trade deadline has finally passed and not without several big moves, though none at the level of the Gasol-Shaq-Kidd blockbusters. Here's a rundown of the deals that went down in the last two days, going from the most important to the least.

Cleveland acquires Ben Wallace and Wally Szczerbiak

In a three team, eleven player deal, the Cavaliers added Ben Wallace, Wally Szczerbiak, Joe Smith, Delonte West, and the Bulls 2009 2nd round pick, while giving up Drew Gooden, Larry Hughes, Donyell Marshall, Ira Newble, Cedric Simmons, and Shannon Brown. Gooden, Hughes, Simmons, and Brown went to Chicago, while Seattle got Marshall, Newble, and Adrian Griffin.

This is a major shake-up for the Cavaliers and has to be considered a win for GM Danny Ferry, though not an overwhelming one. Ironically, the biggest names in this deal are the least important. Wallace should still be an effective defender and shot-blocker, but it's hard to see him do much more than replace Gooden's production on the boards, while being far less effective on offense. However, his contract is terrible and this would be an awful acquisition without the unloading of Hughes' contract. Szczerbiak has put up solid numbers this year and should be a great fit alongside LeBron James, who should find him for plenty of open threes. Smith and West were nice pickups as well. Smith will provide a little low-post scoring and is a definite upgrade over Marshall, while West will knock down some threes and can play the 1 or the 2, giving the Cavs another shooter and more depth.

There are obvious downsides to this trade, the main one being that the Cavs gave up a ton of expiring contracts and had to take on 33 year old Wallace, who is having his worst season since 1999-2000 when he played for Orlando. Still, it's hard to fault Ferry when the only quality player he surrendered was Gooden. Hughes had played better of late, but it was clear that he was never going to live up to his contract in Cleveland, if at all. Wallace should also benefit from playing alongside LeBron, who should be able to feed him for some easy dunks and alley-oops.

The Cavs starting lineup should now include LeBron, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Daniel Gibson (or possibly West), Szczerbiak, and Wallace. That gives LeBron a low-post scorer, a shot-blocker, and two guards who can light it up from the outside. Swapping Gooden for Wallace also gives the Cavs the option of playing a more up-tempo style when Ilgauskas hits the bench. An effective small lineup could include Gibson, West, Szczerbiak, LeBron, and Wallace, or LeBron and Ilgauskas could play the 4 and 5, spacing the floor with shooters. This move should significantly improve the Cavs and vault them into the Eastern Conference's elite.

For the Bulls, this was simply a way to unload Wallace's contract and create more minutes for Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah. It will be interesting to see how much playing time Hughes and Gooden get, but it's hard to see them getting much action (Hughes in particular). Meanwhile the Sonics get expiring deals in Newble and Griffin, while saving a little money by dumping Szczerbiak. All in all this deal should improve the Cavs' chances in the playoffs significantly, while sparing the Bulls and Sonics of two bad contracts.

San Antonio acquires Kurt Thomas

Yesterday, shortly after the Jason Kidd trade went through, the Spurs sent Brent Barry, Francisco Elson, and a 2009 first round pick to Seattle for Kurt Thomas

This is a great move for the Spurs who dump the disappointing Elson and the expendable Barry, while getting Thomas, who should be a superb fit in San Antonio. Thomas is still a great post defender and his ability to knock down mid-range jumpers should play very well alongside Tim Duncan. While this does not make the Spurs any younger, they needed to make a move after the Gasol and Shaq trades to bolster their interior defense.

There has been talk (namely from Phil Jackson) that the Sonics did the Spurs a favor, considering their GM and coach are former Spurs' personnel, but ultimately the Sonics gain a late 1st round pick and lose a player whose main value (for a losing team) lay in his expiring contract. In Barry and Elson the Sonics get two players whose deals also expire at the end of the year, so as far as their long term prospects are concerned, they get a late first round pick for nothing. Hard to argue with that.

New Orleans acquires Bonzi Wells

The Hornets traded Bobby Jackson and Adam Haluska to the Rockets for Bonzi Wells and Mike James, while the Grizzlies acquire the rights to Marcus Vinicius, two other international prospects, and cash considerations.

This trade should help the Hornets by giving them some much-needed depth. Wells should be a far better fit in New Orleans than he was in Houston, where his poor shooting made him expendable. While Wells might be a lost cause, he can still rebound and provide a little inside scoring, plus he often seems to benefit from a change of scenery. James has struggled this season, but he might still be able to provide some offense off the bench, and he probably isn't a major downgrade from Jackson.

It's hard to see how this deal helps the Rockets, other than dumping the frustrating Wells. Bobby Jackson is a better shooter than James and should benefit from the open looks generated by Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, but other than that nothing is really gained, save a slightly higher second round draft pick (the Rockets will take the higher of the two teams' second round picks). This looks to be an attempt at addition by subtraction, as the departure of Wells will likely have a bigger impact than Jackson's arrival.

Houston acquires Gerald Green

The Rockets sent Kirk Snyder, a 2010 2nd round pick, and cash considerations to Minnesota for Gerald Green.

Both contracts expire at the end of the year, so the only real benefit for Minnesota is the 2nd round pick. As for the Rockets, they gain a 22 year old who is an explosive athlete and a capable three-point shooter. While he has a long way to go, he is still an intriguing prospect who was struggling to find playing time in Minnesota, especially with the return of Randy Foye. Unfortunately for Green, it's hard to see him having an extended stay in Houston. One has to think he'll get a few minutes, otherwise why make the trade at all, but playing time will be hard to come by.

Toronto acquires Primoz Brezec

The Raptors traded Juan Dixon to Detroit for Primoz Brezec.

Both players have expiring deals and probably won't see the floor often. The Raptors were a bit thin up front and Brezec at least gives them a measure of security should one of their big men go down. It's unlikely Dixon will get much playing time in Detroit, but he is shooting 43.6% from downtown, so he could see a few minutes here and there to spread the floor.

And finally, the most meaningless trade of the day...

Portland acquires Von Wafer

Yes, Von Wafer will be heading to Portland as the Blazers send Taurean Green to Denver.

The Nuggets did need another point guard, but I'm not sure Green was the one. He has only played in 8 games and registered 44 minutes this year, though maybe he'll spell Anthony Carter and Allen Iverson for a few minutes a game in Denver. Green is only a rookie and maybe there's some potential, but one has to wonder whether he'd be in the league at all had he not shared the court with Al Horford, Joakim Noah, and Corey Brewer in Florida. Meanwhile, Wafer heads to the bench in Portland. He is only 22 and has performed well in the D-League, but it's unlikely the Portland re-signs him at the end of the year. One has to ask why this trade took place at all except as an excuse for Denver and Portland to get in on the trade deadline fun.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Kidd Trade Reeks of Panic

Despite Devean George and Jerry Stackhouse's best efforts, the Jason Kidd trade is now official. Like the phoenix, the deal rose from the ashes (with a little help from semi-retired Keith Van Horn). Like the Phoenix Suns, the Dallas Mavericks hit the panic button in response to the Lakers' acquisition of Pau Gasol.

While it's hard to see this trade being as detrimental to Dallas as the Shaq trade could be to Phoenix, it is a lateral move in the short term and a step backward in the long term. The Mavs should get an immediate boost from adding Kidd to their starting five, as the team had sputtered a bit going into the All-Star break, but that is mainly because he'll be replacing Eddie Jones or the now-infamous Devean George. The team's struggles had much more to do with injuries to Devin Harris and Josh Howard than the team's talent and chemistry.

Kidd will help the Mavs get some easier baskets with his passing and perhaps he can bring back some of that run-and-gun style the Mavs had under Don Nelson, but is the shake-up really necessary? Dallas is currently fifth in the NBA in offensive efficiency (and they were even higher before Harris went down), despite placing 20th in assist ratio. This is because Dallas' offense relies mostly on isolation plays, for Dirk Nowitzki and Howard in particular, so the assists aren't really necessary. That's not to say that Kidd's passing won't be appreciated, but the team would have to significantly adjust its playing style to maximize Kidd's impact on the offense.

Defensively there is a little upside to adding Kidd in that his size allows the Mavs to match up better when they play Kidd and Jason Terry together. Harris struggled at times when assigned to bigger guards, so Kidd may be an improvement on that front. Okay, so maybe Kidd can contain Baron Davis, but who's going to slow down Tony Parker, Steve Nash, Allen Iverson, and Chris Paul? Not 35-year old Kidd, that's for sure.

And that brings up another crucial point. At 35, how many productive years does Kidd have left? It's hard to see him completely falling apart in the next year or two simply because he doesn't rely on athleticism to make plays, but he's certainly not getting any better. As it is, Harris has a better Player Efficiency Rating this year, and he is only 24. Common sense would say that he'll continue to improve, while Kidd will decline, thus making this a potentially disastrous deal for the Mavs in the long run.

And don't even talk to me about triple-doubles and Kidd's amazing rebounding ability. Kidd's rebounding is a product of the Nets' system and their incompetent big men. Think about it. The Nets have started Jason Collins, Nenad Krstic, Malik Allen, Josh Boone, and Sean Williams this season. Boone is the only one of these players to average more than six rebounds a game. Meanwhile, the Nets' wing players don't get a lot of defensive rebounds because their role is to start the fastbreak after a missed shot, rather than crash the boards. These factors leave tons of easy defensive rebounds for Kidd and that's why he has 8.1 RPG. While he is having his best defensive rebounding season ever, a better indicator of his rebounding ability is his work on the offensive glass. He is actually having his worst offensive rebounding season to date, pulling down only 1.1 offensive boards a game, and while he is the top total rebounder amongst NBA guards, he is 11th in offensive boards. That sounds pretty impressive until you consider that Kidd plays 37 minutes a game, making him far less efficient than the likes of Kelenna Azubuike (1.3 OREB, 21.7 MPG), Maurice Evans (1.3 OREB, 21.1 MPG), Adrian Griffin (0.9 OREB, 10.1 MPG), and even Devean George (0.8 OREB, 15.0 MPG). I admit this was a bit of a tangent, but rest assured that Jason Kidd will not significantly improve the Mavs' rebounding.

So far I've analyzed the trade as if it was a Kidd-Harris swap, but the Mavs also gave up DeSagana Diop in the deal. What's the logic in trading DeSagana Diop, arguably your best defensive big man, in response to the Lakers and Suns adding big men? Who comes off the bench when Erick Dampier inevitably fouls out or is simply ineffective? Brandon Bass? Malik Allen? Juwan Howard? Obviously Diop was included to make the salaries match up and to make the deal more appealing to the Nets, but in the short term the Mavs may miss Diop more than Harris.

The rest of the players in the deal are fairly insignificant. Trenton Hassell is semi-useful as a defensive specialist and useless when you already have defensive stoppers in Josh Howard and Eddie Jones. He might help the Nets a bit. Maurice Ager has the potential to be a decent player and might get a chance to develop in New Jersey. Keith Van Horn may not even play, let alone help the Nets in the playoff hunt. Meanwhile, the Mavs also receive Antoine Wright and the aforementioned Malik Allen. Wright is a young, athletic defensive specialist and he'll more than make up for the loss of Hassell and Allen gives the Mavs a little size, though he won't quite replace Diop's defense.

It's hard to see this trade paying great dividends for Dallas. Maybe a rejuvenated Kidd can lead the team to the promised land, but wasn't Nowitzki in the Finals just two years ago? Why is it that he's suddenly incapable of leading a playoff team? He doesn't deserve all the blame for the catastrophic Golden State upset. Sure, he struggled, but he wasn't the only one.

On New Jersey's end, this is a great deal. They unload Kidd and receive Harris and some cap room. Harris and Diop could improve the team and help them make the playoffs, but if not, it's no big loss as the team is going to rebuild anyway. Rod Thorn's next step will be trading Vince Carter, though he'll have a much harder time finding takers. Rumor has it the Knicks are interested (and really, who else would be?), so we'll see what Thorn has up his sleeve.

Regardless of how this impacts the standings, it will make for an exciting remainder of the season, and it will likely spark a few more trades as the Western Conference powers continue to bulk up for the stretch run.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Shaq Heads West

In what has to be the most confusing trade of the season, if not the decade, the Suns have acquired Shaquille O'Neal for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks. Shaq will give the Suns the most imposing frontcourt in the league, but there are many questions as to how what kind of fit Shaq will be in the Suns fast-paced offense. It's hard to picture him running up the court with Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire.

O'Neal should make the Suns far more dangerous in their halfcourt sets, though one has to wonder whether he'll get in the way of Stoudemire. A few years ago, Shaq would have been able to draw double-teams and space the floor for the Suns' shooters, but with the way he has struggled this season, posting career-lows in points and rebounds, no one is going to leave Nash or Leandro Barbosa alone on the perimeter to swarm Shaq.

This move could also be disastrous for the Suns defense, as the Suns may have provided the answer to the question "What defense could possibly be worse than one with Zach Randolph and Eddy Curry?" According to Ric Bucher, the Suns believe Shaq will help them out defensively, but what is the logic behind that? Sure, Shaq's size should help him keep opposing big men out of the paint, but who are these big men exactly that rely so strictly on size that Shaq is going to lock them down? Maybe he can slow down Andrew Bynum and Tyson Chandler, but it's hard to see him shutting down big men who have reliable mid-range games, such as Tim Duncan, Yao Ming, and Carlos Boozer. He'll also be a major liability in transition defense. Meanwhile, Amare Stoudemire was already a very poor defender. Maybe he'll benefit from defending power forwards, but it's hard to see the Suns having any sort of effective post defense with the two of them on the floor.

The biggest problem with this move is the loss of Marion. Marion was an ideal fit for the Suns. He was able to defend the power forward position (plus just about every other position, if needed) while creating mismatches on offense with his quickness, athleticism, and shooting ability. By all accounts Marion was struggling to get along with Stoudemire and chemistry issues forced this trade, but if Marion was such a troublemaker, it sure didn't show up in the standings. It should be noted that Banks will also be missed (to a far lesser degree) as he had provided Nash with a little much-needed rest and aside from Nash he was the only point guard on the team. Now Barbosa will have to take up point guard duties when Nash is on the bench, or in case of an injury. If such an injury occurs, it will be up to Barbosa, and then likely Grant Hill and Boris Diaw, to run the offense. That could spell trouble.

There is no question that Shaq will be very motivated to make this trade pay off for Phoenix. He'll do his best to prove his doubters wrong, especially when he's competing in the same division as Kobe Bryant. Maybe the Diesel has something left in the tank after all.

This should be a decent move for the Heat, who get out from under Shaq's massive contract. Whether Marion can make the Heat any better this year is a moot point. His contract expires after next season, which will make him an extremely valuable trading chip next year if Miami decides that he and Dwyane Wade aren't a suitable 1-2 punch.

Regardless of how it turns out for the Suns, David Stern has to be smiling about this trade. After the Lakers' acquisition of Pau Gasol, the Suns upped the ante by acquiring the self-proclaimed MDE (Most Dominant Ever), and rumors are swirling that Jason Kidd could be heading to the Mavs next. There is no doubt that a Suns-Lakers playoff series would draw huge ratings and rightly so (though the ratings for Sunday's Lakers-Heat game will suffer).

The stakes have all risen dramatically now that Shaq is heading back to the Western Conference. Now the pressure is on Mike D'Antoni to make it work. If he can keep the Suns playing at the same level with Shaq on board, he deserves Coach of the Year. If not, Steve Kerr could be looking for work at season's end.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Lakers Land Pau Gasol

The Chicago Bulls must be kicking themselves now. After failed bids to trade for Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant, the Bulls can only watch as the two team up after a trade that should propel the Lakers into the Western Conference's elite.

Clearly the Grizzlies were simply ready to move on, as they took considerably less talent than any of the Bulls' offers would have provided. All Memphis received was Kwame Brown, Aaron McKie, Javaris Crittenton, the rights to Pau's brother Marc, and two future first round picks. Brown appears to be a lost cause and his only value lies in his expiring contract. The same can be said for McKie, who is unofficially retired. Crittenton is an intriguing prospect and Marc Gasol could be a solid pro down the road, while the draft picks figure to be in the mid-to-high 20s.

On Memphis' side, the main benefit is the newly acquired cap space. They could well be the only team this off-season that can offer a max contract, so perhaps Elton Brand or Gilbert Arenas is in their future. Of course, it's hard to see why a superstar such as Brand would come to Memphis. There hardly seems to be enough talent there to make the Grizzlies winners, even with such an addition. The draft could impact that, however, as the Grizzlies could make another run for the league's worst record. It's hard to imagine Memphis making the playoffs with a core of Elton Brand, Rudy Gay, Mike Conley, Hakim Warrick, and Juan Carlos Navarro, but perhaps adding a Michael Beasley or Eric Gordon would be enough to make them dangerous, or at least to convince a high-profile free agent that they could be playoff-bound.

The Grizzlies will likely take a lot of heat for this move, but it was a good one. All that cap space should be put to good use this off-season, and while they might have been able to secure a better prospect in a deal with the Bulls last season (Tyrus Thomas, for example), the cap space would have gone to waste in a poor free agent class. Besides, it was clear that Gasol was not the answer for this team, as their 13-33 record indicates. It was one thing when the team played terribly when he was hurt, but for them to show no significant improvement with a healthy Gasol means it was a good idea to show him the door. The rest of the season will be a tough one to be a Grizzlies fan, save the comic relief of a frontcourt featuring Kwame Brown AND Darko Milicic.

For the Lakers, the expectations could not be higher. With this trade, they make the leap to the NBA's top tier. Gasol should be an excellent fit in the triangle offense, with his low-post skills and his passing. While he may struggle to shake the "soft" label, his contributions on the offensive end should easily make up for any defensive shortcomings. With Kobe, Lamar Odom, and Gasol, the Lakers will be very tough to defend and the return of Andrew Bynum could make them a devastating force. What's more, the Lakers have a number of three-point gunners to surround their scorers. Derek Fisher, Luke Walton, Sasha Vujacic, Vlad Radmanovic, heck, maybe even Coby Karl should be able to take advantage of the open looks provided by the Lakers new fearsome foursome.

What must have the rest of the league complaining to the league office is that the Lakers were able to acquire Gasol without giving up any key components to this year's team. Brown won't be missed and Crittenton was the odd-man out in a crowded backcourt anyway. The Lakers still have exceptional depth. Their bench will include Jordon Farmar, Trevor Ariza, Walton, Radmanovic, Vujacic, and Ronny Turiaf.

One of the biggest advantages to this move is the versatility the Lakers now possess. The starting lineup (upon Bynum's return) will feature three players 6-10 or taller and their depth will allow them to rotate in players to match up with any team in the league.

The only potential downside is the impact this move could have on defense and chemistry. It's unlikely that Gasol will create chemistry issues, as he had been clamoring for a trade to a winning team for some time now, but one does have to wonder if he'll be frustrated seeing the ball in Kobe's hands so much after being the #1 option for so long. Defense could be a bigger issue, however. According to, the Grizzlies allowed 3.7 more points per 100 possessions when Gasol was on the floor this season. The Lakers also allowed more points when Bynum was on the floor. Granted, that statistic is slightly flawed because opposing teams had their top players on the floor when Gasol and Bynum were in the game and it should be noted that both players more than made up for any defensive deficiencies with their offensive output. That said, both Gasol and Bynum were primarily defending the center position. Gasol might not have been a major liability when he was defending opposing centers, but can he stay with quicker power forwards? It's hard to imagine the Lakers struggling to defend the post like the Knicks with Zach Randolph and Eddy Curry in the paint, but nonetheless it could be an issue.

All in all, it was an outstanding trade for the Lakers and it will make the Western Conference that much more interesting. How long until Jason Kidd joins the fray?