Essay: Evaluating The Trade Deadline
To me, all trade deadlines that contain at least some movement are interesting, which is to say they’re all awesome. Superstars are cool and everything, but as we saw most recently with Deron Williams and Carmelo Anthony, no single player is more important than good chemistry or a working system already in place. Just because a high-profile All-Star gets dealt, nothing is guaranteed in terms of wins and losses.
On Thursday we saw a little bit of everything. Fringe contenders who wisely chose not to gamble on their future were tentative to shake too much up, power house favorites stood pat, draft picks were bought and sold at a premium charge, and one organization basically chose to hold a fire sale. Despite names like Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo, and the aforementioned Deron Williams staying put, the fortunes of several teams will be forever altered with the moves that did and did not go down yesterday. Watching the contrasting variance of panache in general managers like Daryl Morey, Sam Presti, Danny Ainge, and Mitch Kupchak was fun, with some choosing to be aggressive while others decided patience really is the best virtue. Contrary to popular belief, the NBA is about so much more than the superstar; it’s in the deeper layers of a team where championships are built and won.
An interesting deadline this was indeed, now let’s break it down.
In: Gerald Wallace
Out: Mehmet Okur, Shawne Williams, and a 1st round draft pick (top-three protected)
When Dwight Howard waived the Early Termination Option on his contract, the aftermath was similar to bludgeoning the first domino with a hammer. The unofficial favorite to land Orlando’s center—either by trade or free agency—was the New Jersey Nets. Now that the dream pairing of All-Star center and All-Star point guard (Deron Williams) has disintegrated with Dwight’s decision to wear a Magic jersey for at least one more season, the Nets have immediately turned their attention to keeping Williams, convincing him that they’re serious about being mediocre. About one hour after Howard made his return to Orlando official, New Jersey sent two unusable players and a first round draft pick to Portland for the a big ball of energy, Gerald Wallace. (The supposed logic behind the Nets giving up a top-three protected first-round pick was their strict obsession with just three players in the upcoming draft: Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Thomas Robinson. That doesn’t make a lot of sense, but whatever. New Jersey is a desperate team thats main priority is competing in the immediate future, and to them, the price of receiving a guaranteed pro was well worth risking the future.
Looking at it from an optimistic angle, the Nets have the option of either resigning Kris Humphries or going after someone like Kevin Garnett or Ryan Anderson in free agency this offseason. Serving as a couple of capable stretch fours, the latter two might be enticing enough to keep Williams around. When you add that to Lopez, Wallace, and super sophomore MarShon Brooks, all of a sudden your core is arguably more impressive than the New York Knicks. But who’s kidding? The Nets did themselves no favors at this deadline, and after Deron Williams departs to Dallas (or Orlando?) this will be the worst team in the league, in the worst shape to better itself in the years ahead.
In: Marcus Camby, Derek Fisher, Dallas Mavericks 2012 1st round pick (top-20 protected)
Out: Jordan Hill, Jonny Flynn, Hasheem Thabeet, a second round draft pick
They got older—A LOT older—but in a good way. I wrote on Friday morning that if Daryl Morey was able to turn the likes of Hasheem Thabeet and Jonny Flynn into someone who could contribute it’d be a minor miracle. Not only did he grab a productive player, he grabbed a productive player with a skill set that turns Houston’s greatest weakness into a strength without hurting the team’s cap flexibility moving forward. Truly an amazing job on his part.
As if it weren’t enough, Morey then flipped Jordan Hill—an inconsistent big man with microscopic offensive ability—to the Lakers for Derek Fisher and a first round draft pick. Almost immediately they bought out Fisher’s contract, which, once you subtract the money owed Jordan Hill, translates into them paying about $4 million dollars for a top-20 protected pick. Time will tell where that leads things, but right now it’s certainly worth it.
The bottom line here is that the Rockets made themselves a better basketball team without moving any core pieces or disrupting their sublime chemistry. They also improved their future likelihood of finding success by adding a first round draft pick to their own (New York’s top-five protected from the Tracy McGrady deal), and not taking on any money to mess up their hard-earned cap space. There’s no reason to think they couldn’t upset Oklahoma City or San Antonio in the first round of the playoffs.
In: Mehmet Okur, Shawne Williams, Jonny Flynn, Hasheem Thabeet, a top-three protected 1st round draft pick
Out: Chris Johnson, Greg Oden, Gerald Wallace, Marcus Camby
In the hours leading up to the trade deadline, the Portland Trail Blazers gave us a fantastic impression of what an abandoned car does when parked in a rough neighborhood. Actually, let me rephrase that. Their impression more resembled what would happen if the car’s owner stood by and helped scavengers rip off the tires. The team was gutted. They replaced half of their frontline, fired a top-10 coach, and appear to be tanking this season on purpose.
But all was done with the future in mind; now, for once, the future looks bright. Their inability to move Jamal Crawford in a deal probably means he’s indicated an interest in opting out after this season, and they can always buy out Shawne Williams’ contract, as he’s one of the league’s worst players. Combine this with Ray Felton’s contract coming off the books, and the team has roughly $32 million in cap space to resign Nicolas Batum and work with the two lottery picks they’re almost guaranteed to have. That’s good news.
The first round pick they received from New Jersey could be the catalyst that shoots this franchise forth in the right direction, but before any of that takes place, they should probably announce who’s going to coach the team, and more importantly, serve as its general manager. For the rest of this season, there’s a good chance we’ll get to see more examples of how terrible Hasheem Thabeet is at fouling guys in the act of shooting. Combining his minutes with Jonny Flynn should have unmitigated disaster written all over it, but that’s exactly what Portland’s going for. The more games they lose, the higher chance they have of turning their own draft pick into some impressive gravy. The good thing about this rebuilding process is that the Trail Blazers have two things on their side that most teams need at the foundation of success: A home-grown franchise player and a superb fan base. LaMarcus Aldridge is still around, and still improving. Portland has the fortune of already knowing the player’s skillset in which they’ll be re-structuring their roster around. So I guess that’s even more good news.
Los Angeles Lakers:
In: Ramon Sessions, Christian Eyenga, Jordan Hill
Out: Derek Fisher, Luke Walton, Jason Kapono, Dallas’ 1st round draft pick (top-20 protected), their own 1st round draft pick
The Lakers basically turned two late first round draft picks into a slightly below average big man to spell Bynum/Gasol, an upgrade at point guard, and a crazy athletic wing player who more than likely will spend his tenure replacing Kapono on the Laker bench. Oh, and they also got rid of Luke Walton’s embarrassing contract. Not bad. The chances of either draft pick blossoming into a heavy contributor is slim, but possible. So there’s risk on that front. But what Los Angeles did here was important for their chances at winning a title in the twilight of Kobe’s career, and beyond that appears to be an Andrew Bynum built bridge that they’ll cross when they get there.
They filled the point guard role, but what they didn’t do was upgrade the bench in any significant way, and for a team that’s clearly gone all in on winning now, that could come back to bite them.
In: JaVale McGee, Ronny Turiaf
Out: Nene Hilario
We know they made out like bandits financially, but for a team that’s headed to the postseason this year, how George Karl deals with the mental lapses of JaVale McGee is the big question on everybody’s mind. He’s played 0 playoff games in his four-year career. Should we expect change at all in the zany antics and incomprehensible brain farts just because the stakes are raised, and the games are of more importance? I like that Denver recognized their mistake with Nene’s deal and corrected it before they could find any takers. That contract merged with the $30 million they owe Arron Afflalo, and the money that’s due to Ty Lawson in a couple years, was preventing them from locking up Wilson Chandler, a player they covet. The Nuggets probably took a strong look at what they had athletically in their front line and realized that as good an offensive player Nene is, he simply wasn’t worth the price when weighed beside the production.
Los Angeles Clippers:
In: Nick Young
Out: Brian Cook and a 2nd round draft pick
Here’s the thing: Instead of going all out and grabbing a player like Ray Allen or Kevin Martin to fill the void left by Chauncey Billups’ injury, they settled on renting Nick Young. Financially there’s no real risk, as Young’s a free agent in the offseason and all the Clippers gave up in the deal was a player who didn’t play and a draft pick that probably wouldn’t materialize into anything anyway. He’s a trigger happy shooting guard who averages more turnovers than assists per game. About 65% of his attempts are from 16 feet and out, which is fine if you aren’t making four of every 10. But it isn’t even about the percentages with Young. He’s the king of taking shots that make coaches cringe and casual fans change the channel. The bottom line with this deal? Can Chris Paul succeed in influencing Young to be more of a team oriented player where John Wall failed? If he can somehow infect the 6‘6” dynamo to pick and choose when it’s time to shoot, the Clippers could have a temporary steal on their hands. Much like former teammate JaVal McGee, Young has never participated in the playoffs. When teams are loaded up to shut down the Clippers’ predictable high pick and roll, and defenses are forcing variance, Young becomes the ever-importance player who can create his own shot. With a possible large payday on the line, it’d be in his best interest to shine when the spotlight’s shining elsewhere. The risk in acquiring Young is small, but the stakes with this team have never been higher
In: Nene Hilario, 2015 draft pick
Out: Nick Young, JaVale McGee, Ronny Turiaf
Um, brilliant. Bringing back a pricey contract for an oft-injured center due to make $13 million when he’s 33-years-old isn’t always seen as the brightest logic, but when the net result is compared to you NOT having to throw that money towards JaVale McGee’s empty head and Nick Young’s toxic style of play, the situation looks rosier.
It’s a bit of an obvious statement at this point, but the main problem in Washington has been the narcissistic personnel they’ve placed around their franchise’s largest pillar, John Wall. Guys like Young, McGee, and Andray Blatche enjoyed spending their time on and off the court directing negative attention on them as individuals, instead of making personal sacrifices to build the Wizards into a productive “team.”
By bringing in a dependable offensive veteran, who just so happens to play a position that compliments Wall’s game, the Wizards are finally taking a step in the right direction. They’re still far, far away from the playoffs, but the ideology behind the deal pushes them closer. In a way, dealing for Nene was a much better move than if they were to clear cap space for him last summer and signed him as a free agent. This way, they were able to remove Young and McGee from the picture. As I said at the beginning, Nene’s contract isn’t great, but the Wizards just grabbed one of the game’s three best offensive centers and are paying for a change in culture, not just the player.
In: Andrew Bogut, Richard Jefferson, conditional 1st round pick from San Antonio
Out: Monta Ellis, Ekpe Udoh, Kwame Brown
From what I’ve read across the internet, I’m a little higher on the Bogut/Ellis deal as being a positive move for Golden State than most. My reasoning? If Andrew Bogut can manage to stay on the floor for much of next season, his impact on defense drastically improves the ability of everyone on the team, especially David Lee and Steph Curry. By this theory, not only are you getting a top-five center, but improvement on almost all of your other players. Where Monta Ellis doesn’t necessarily make anybody better—and can certainly make a few guys worse—with this skill set, Bogut can help bring out the best in guys with his rebounding, paint presence, and ability to slow the game down.
The addition of Richard Jefferson is interesting, especially because you swapped out Stephen Jackson’s $10.06 million contract next year for $21.2 million over the next two. Questionable maneuver. The Warriors have basically made Jefferson (at one point an other-worldly athlete who’s now been relegated to a spot-up jump shooter) a big part of their team’s salary structure for the next two years. It may have been smarter to buy out Jackson, then re-sign Brandon Rush, who’s an unrestricted free agent after this year and would surely come at a cheaper price. The Warriors also received a first round draft pick, but it’s from the Spurs, so good chance it won’t be high.
In: Monta Ellis, Ekpe Udoh, Kwame Brown
Out: Andrew Bogut, Stephen Jackson
I mean, what’s to say here. Monta Ellis went from Steph Curry to Brandon Jennings, which might be a downgrade in compatibility, but an upgrade in excitement. If the Bucks are in belief that Udoh+Friends can replicate Bogut’s impact, they might be sorely mistaken. This deal feels like a desperate move by a team in perpetual quick sand. Trade talk surrounding Brandon Jennings should be on full volume starting this offseason, and in regards to Scott Skiles’ tenure, it’ll be interesting to see which one goes first. The Ellis/Jennings experiment probably won’t work out, but at the very least it should make for one of the 10 most disturbingly entertaining backcourts in league history. If nothing comes of this trade deadline but that, I’ll be satisfied.