Friday, January 26, 2007

Trade Talk

The NBA's trade deadline is approaching and, if half the rumors being tossed about are accurate, we're in for one of the more action-packed trade seasons in recent memory, both in terms of number of trades, as well as the caliber of players moved. We've already seen a trade involving trades involving 2 former #1 overall picks, one of whom (Allen Iverson) is a perennial All-Star and first ballot Hall-of-Famer, as well as an 8-player deal involving 4 players averaging over 25 mintues per game (that number would be 5 if Ike Diogu had not been injured to start the season) and another, Sarunas Jasikevicius, who gets regular playing time, averaging almost 18 minutes a night. With the February 22 deadline less than 4 weeks away, the action is about to pick up. To this point, we've seen three noteworthy trades. A quick breakdown:
Allen Iverson to Denver Nuggets, Andre Miller, Joe Smith and 2 1st Round picks in to Philadelphia 76ers. A team trading a legitimate superstar in his prime is unlikely to receive full value in return since a) there is rarely another player of the same caliber available and b) if a team is actually looking to trade its superstar, other teams will begin to ask “what’s wrong with him?” which will, in turn, drive down his value. From Philadelphia’s perspective, those reasons, along with Allen Iverson’s desire to be traded and the need to acquire the equivalent amount in salaries from Denver (salary cap rules), made the Iverson trade one of the most difficult trades in recent memory to pull off. That said, the 76ers did a relatively good job in moving their unhappy star.
So, how’d they fare?
Denver- To see the Nuggets’ two studs, Carmelo Anthony as well as Iverson, playing together, is really a pleasure. There was some concern over: Melo and AI sharing the ball, Denver trading away its starting point guard and Iverson’s shoot-first mentality magnifying the departure of pass-first Andre Miller.
Not to worry. First of all, Anthony and Iverson, who in the two games they have played together, seem to be having a blast, are not the same type of player. Melo plays the post, fills the wing and has a great mid-range jump shot, while AI slashes to the basket, either scoring in the paint or getting to the line. Also, AI is a nightmare match-up that forces opposing teams to devote multiple defenders to keeping him out of the lane. This opens up the floor for ALL of his teammates, not just Melo (this happened in Philly too, problems arose when the other 76ers had to make open shots). As for replacing the loss of Andre Miller’s unselfish play, Nuggets’ GM Mark Warkentien solved that problem brilliantly by trading for Steve Blake (see below) AND saved some money in meantime.
From the Nuggets’ perspective, they did phenomenally well in trading for Allen Iverson. While his salary (about $20M/yr for the next 3 years) restricts the team’s cap flexibility a bit; Miller’s contract was smaller and Joe Smith’s $6.8M salary would have come off the Nuggets’ payroll after this season, the Nuggets have two players, one entering his prime and another in the later stages of his, capable of single-handedly winning a game against virtually any team in the NBA- and that wins series’ in the playoffs.
Philadelphia- The Philadelphia 76ers, this trade was made not for this season, but for the June 2007 Draft and the 2008-09 season. In addition to freshman superstars Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, the upcoming NBA Draft is being touted as the deepest in years. The 76ers struggles will undoubtedly have them selecting very high in the draft. As a result of the deal with the Nuggets, which netted the Sixers two additional first round selections, Philly holds 10% of the picks in the first round of this year’s draft. Whether Philly uses the picks to retool its roster with young talent or elects to trade the picks, they are extremely valuable commodities.
As far as the salary cap is concerned, by dealing Allen Iverson, and the $60M he is owed through 2008-09, for Joe Smith, whose expiring contract pays him $6.8M this season, and Andre Miller, the Sixers will see their payroll fall from over $90M this season to just under $64M next year (payroll will fall to $32M in 2008-09), significantly lowering payroll and making it possible to sign/trade for any player that may come on the market through the end of the decade. Also, in acquiring Andre Miller, Philly now has one key component of any young, rebuilding team: an experienced, poised pass-first point guard. Whether he’s the 76ers point guard in the long run or not, Miller will keep the team in a lot of games and help his younger teammates, like Andre Iguodala, develop and gain confidence by getting the ball to them in scoring position.
As they looked to make a trade, the Sixers found themselves in a Catch 22: get as much as possible for Iverson without scaring away potential suitors. Without a lot of leverage, and a rebuilding period looming, the 76ers have put themselves in a strong position to return to prominence sooner rather than later.

Earl Boykins, Julius Hodge and cash to Milwaukee Bucks, Steve Blake to Denver Nuggets. It is possible to have too many undersized, shot-happy shooting guards on one roster. Acquiring Allen Iverson, the best such player on Earth, from the 76ers, made Earl Boykins expendable to the Denver Nuggets. Meanwhile the Milwaukee Bucks, their backcourt ravaged by injuries, needed just what the Nuggets had too much of. The perfect, everybody wins deal, right? Not so fast.
So, how’d they fare?
Denver- Allen Iverson is not a point guard. He has all the skills to play the position and does so phenomenally well in spurts. The fact remains, however, that he is the best pure scorer of his generation and plays with a shoot-first attitude. Not selfish, just shoot-first. The recipe that got AI’s 76ers to the NBA Finals in 2001 was pairing him with Eric Snow, a pure point guard who deferred completely to Iverson and hit enough shots to force the defense to pay attention to him. Steve Blake is Eric Snow 2.0, same attitude- only with better range and what seems like instant rapport with AI. If that’s not enough, his salary ($1.1M), represents a savings of $3.1M over the $4.2M owed to Earl Boykins and Julius Hodge this season.
Milwaukee- The Bucks perimeter scoring has taken such a massive hit in the first half of this season with injuries to Michael Redd, Mo Williams and Charlie Villanueva that they felt the need to do something to hold them over until they get healthy. At a cost of PG Steve Blake and a mere $3.1M addition (about $1.5M when prorated) to their payroll, the Bucks added Allen Iverson Lite to their roster in the person of Earl Boykins.
For a variety of reasons, this trade does not make sense. Why, in anticipation of the return of three starters, would the Bucks acquire a shoot-ONLY guard as a stop-gap? Earl Boykins does not pass! EVER! What is Michael Redd going to return to? It’s not exactly like the Bucks are desperate for a shooting guard! It can be argued that Boykins, at $2.95M, is a very affordable scoring guard. This is true, except Boykins has a player option for next season for $2.98M (a 1% raise), which means that he can, and will, become a free agent. After averaging 20-something point for a couple of months, someone will offer him a $5-$7M/yr contract which the Bucks, who are paying Redd $47M over the next four seasons, will NOT match.
A potential wild card in this deal is Julius Hodge, the second year swingman out of NC State, where he was an All-ACC player. In college, playing in the perennially loaded ACC, Hodge showed that he's capable of holding his own against top competition, so he certainly has the potential to develop into a solid NBA player. However, he too, is a free agent at the end of the season, which means that the Bucks will have just half a season to assess Hodge’s potential and determine whether or not he worth resigning, likely for more than the $1.23M that he is making this season. If Milwaukee decides that he is not, they will have paid $1.5M for the privilege of giving away Steve Blake.
It’s true that Steve Blake is not a star, but to simply give away a serviceable point guard and $1.5M in exchange for half a season of shot-crazy Earl Boykins and unproven Julius Hodge seems irresponsible at best. Halfway through a season that is, for all intents and purposes, a lost cause, why would the Milwaukee Bucks not simply save as much money as possible and enter the Oden/Durant sweepstakes?

Al Harrington, Stephen Jackson, Sarunas Jasikevicius and Josh Powell to Golden State Warriors, Troy Murphy, Mike Dunleavy, Ike Diogu and Keith McLeod to Indiana Pacers. The Warriors and the Pacers each turned over a third of their respective rosters in an attempt to shake up their current situations. Activity does not necessarily signal achievement. On the surface, this trade appears to have been made simply for the purpose of making news, not for salary cap flexibility or to fill any holes on either roster. While the teams’ results on the floor are unlikely to change dramatically, the financial benefits of the trade seem to decidedly favor one side.
So, how’d they fare?
Golden State- By dealing Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy Jr. and their “What the hell were we thinking?” contracts, the Warriors not only succeeded in adding by subtraction, they actually got superior talent in return. In exchange for two average players and their albatross contracts, Ike Diogu, who is an intriguing player with a body and physical gifts similar to Charles Barkley, and a third string point guard, Chris Mullin brought in two legitimate NBA scorers and a better third string point guard. Through 38 team games, Al Harrington’s 68 offensive rebounds (think 68 additional possessions), bested the 67 that Murphy and Dunleavy had combined! Also, during the same period, the duo of Harrington and Jackson attempted 83 more free throws than Dunleavy and Murphy (238 to 155) and shot a slightly higher percentage (77.7% to 76.7%) from the line. The Warriors also acquired Sarunas Jasikevicius, a solid point guard (much better than solid when he’s your third stringer) who shoots over 90% from the free throw line, 37% from 3-point range and does not turn the ball over at a high rate (57 TO in 36 games; about 1.6/game).
Indiana- The Pacers’ motivation for making this trade is more of a mystery. Based on the numbers involved, it’s fair to assume that Indiana’s top priority was to move Jackson and Harrington at any cost. Donnie Walsh and Larry Bird obviously decided that Stephen Jackson, and his erratic behavior, had to be eliminated from their roster, much the same way that Ron Artest was purged last season. It seems that the market for Jackson had softened so much that the Pacers were placed in a “get whatever you can for him” situation.
This still doesn't explain the desire to deal Harrington who is an athletic forward with great range (46% 3-point %) and a knack for offensive rebounds, two very valuable qualities for player at his position. That is, unless Harrington’s trade value had slipped to a level similar to that of Jackson’s and the team decided to cut its losses on a pair of depreciating assets.
The most baffling aspect of this trade is the decision to deal 4 years and a combined $63.7M in guaranteed salary (Jackson-Harrington) for Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy, players of inferior talent and production, with 5 years and a combined $93M+ remaining on their respective deals. The Pacers had better hope that character, and not talent, production or salary cap flexibility, win games in the NBA, because Murphy and Dunleavy will NOT be movable until 2010, when their trade value will climb due to their expiring contracts.
Before writing this trade off as a loss for Indiana, Ike Diogu must be taken into consideration. As mentioned earlier, Diogu sports a like Charles Barkley in his prime. The guy looks like he was custom made for heavy minutes in the paint. When he's healthy, Diogu is a monster on the offensive glass and a good free throw shooter, which will come in handy, as he does not shy away from contact and will get to the line regularly. If Ike can develop a Barkley-like mean streak that will drive him to destroy anyone he faces, he'll single-handedly change the focus of this trade. If he grows into his 22 point, 12 rebound potential, he will be the key to the reemergence of the Indiana Pacers. Otherwise, the Pacers made a deal for two average players with catastrophic contracts.

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