Transactions: 6/30-7/9

Boston Celtics

7/8    Signed Rasheed Wallace

Rasheed comes to Boston with the express goal of giving them another shot at the title in 2009-10.  At this point, Boston is playing a risky game.  Bringing Wallace to Boston gives the Celts another key player approaching his mid-30s.  Wallace will be 35 the coming season and coming off of his worst season since 1997-98.  He’s still pretty good but Wallace did decline slightly in nearly every category and his free throw rate, never a strength, was a career low by far.  That being said, Wallace can still play pretty well and, as a role player, should be quite valuable for 2009-10.  The price isn’t bad either (a reported three years and $18 million).  Wallace doesn’t put the Celtics back up with Cleveland and Orlando but if the older guys are healthy and can still play, Boston isn’t far off.

Cleveland Cavaliers

7/9    Re-signed Anderson Varejao

The reports are not quite clear on the value of this deal Patrick McManamon from the Akron Beacon Journal reported that the deal has a potential value of about six years and $50 million but, without incentives, is five years and $37 million.  Through his early 20s, Varejao hasn’t really improved but has held steady and should be able to do the same the next five years.  In short, the contract has his value pegged pretty perfectly.  

Dallas Mavericks

7/8    Signed Quinton Ross and signed Marcin Gortat to an offer sheet

7/9    In a three-way trade, Dallas trades Jerry Stackhouse and cash to Memphis for Greg Buckner and Memphis trades Antoine Wright and Devean George to Toronto for Shawn Marion, Kris Humphries, Nathan Jawai, and Cash; Orlando signs and trades Hidayet Turkoglu to Toronto for cash from Dallas and Toronto, who trades a 2016 second-round pick to Memphis

Marion comes to Dallas for a reported five-year, $39 million deal.  For Dallas, the deal is an attempt to squeeze contention out of a group that isn’t quite young, isn’t quite in contention but not quite old or non-factors.  While I understand the impulse to go for it and respect the fact that Mark Cuban’s impulse is always to go for it, is Marion really the guy to further that goal?  The deal isn’t ridiculously expensive but it is a little long for a player who has not aged well the last two years.  Offensively, the graph has gone straight down for Marion from his high mark in 2005-06 to the point where he was pretty average offensively in 2008-09. But the current Marion version will slot in as a huge upgrade over Antoine Wright.  On the other hand, Marion’s acquisition means that Brandon Bass is likely gone (unless he can’t find any bidders).  Bass isn’t likely to be worse than Marion going forward, which makes the move slightly less effective.

Next the question becomes what Dallas will do with Marion and Josh Howard, as nominal small/power tweeners. indicates that the Mavs best lineup last year was Kidd-Terry-Howard-Nowitzki-Bass.  It doesn’t take a genius to slot in Marion for Bass and see how that lineup works.  Another option is trading Howard, who has a team option for $11.8 million in 2010-11, for another more classic forward or a another shooting guard.  The situation is pretty fluid but the Mavs, as currently constituted, are marginally improved for 2009-10 and could be anywhere from first round fodder to a possible conference finalist if everything breaks right.  That’s not quite enough improvement, in my book, to pay Marion until the mid-2010s.  Since Cuban is happy to spend money even in this tight economy and with a lower cap, however, we’ll withhold judgment on this move until the 2009-10 roster is fully formed.

Detroit Pistons

6/30    Fired Michael Curry

7/1      Waived Fabricio Oberto

7/8      Signed Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva

7/9      Hired John Kuester

What’s going on here?  The Pistons haven’t exactly inspired confidence in their fans this last year.  While a rebuild might’ve been inevitable Joe Dumars’ moves have been kind of odd since the end of the 2007-08 season.  Let’s start with coaching.  Michael Curry was hired last year with the stated goal of adding leadership to the locker room and putting the team over the hump.  Dumars then trades Chauncey Billups for the last year of Allen Iverson’s contract and, at the same time, re-signs Rip Hamilton long term.  The team falls to lower rung playoff team and Curry then takes the fall, even though that was basically the talent level of the team post-Billups.

Since becoming the GM in 2000, Dumars has had five coaches, despite having some really good teams.  How does that compare with the rest of the NBA?  Let’s take a look at each team’s hiring record since 2000 (excluding any coach that coached less then 10 games):

-Atlanta: 3 (Kruger, Stotts, and Woodson)

-Boston: 4 (Pitino, O’Brien, Carroll, Rivers)

-Charlotte: 3 since inception in 2004-05 (Bickerstaff, Vincent, Brown)

-Chicago: 5 (Floyd, Cartwright, Skiles, Boylan, Del Negro)

-Cleveland: 5 (Wittman, Lucas, Smart, Silas, Brown)

-Dallas: 3 (Nelson, Johnson, Carlisle)

-Denver: 5 (Issel, Evans, Bzdelik, Cooper, Karl)

-Detroit: 5 (Irvine, Carlisle, Brown, Saunders, Curry)

-Golden State: 5 (Cowens, Winters, Musselman, Montgomery, Nelson)

-Houston: 3 (Tomjanovich, Van Gundy, Adelman)

-Indiana: 3 (Thomas, Carlisle, O’Brien)

-L.A. Clippers: 3 (Gentry, Johnson, Dunleavy)

-L.A. Lakers: 3 (Jackson, Tomjanovich, Hamblen)

-Vancouver/Memphis: 6 (Lowe, Brown, Fratello, Barone, Iavaroni, Hollins)

-Miami: 3 (Riley, Van Gundy, Spoelstra)

-Milwaukee: 5 (Karl, Porter, Stotts, Krystkowiak, Skiles)

-Minnesota: 4 (Saunders, McHale, Casey, Wittman)

-New Jersey: 2 (Scott, Frank)

-Charlotte/New Orleans: 3 (Silas, Floyd, Scott)

-New York: 7 (Van Gundy, Chaney, Wilkens, Williams, Brown, Thomas, D’Antoni)

-Seattle/Oklahoma City: 6 (Westphal, McMillan, Weiss, Hill, Carlesimo, Brooks)

-Orlando: 5 (Rivers, Davis, Jent, Hill, Van Gundy)

-Philadelphia: 6 (Brown, Ayers, Ford, O’Brien, Cheeks, DiLeo)

-Phoenix: 5 (Skiles, Johnson, D’Antoni, Porter, Gentry)

-Portland: 4 (Dunleavy, Cheeks, Pritchard, McMillan)

-Sacramento: 4 (Adelman, Musselman, Theus, Natt)

-San Antonio: 1 (Popovich)

-Toronto: 4 (Wilkens, O’Neill, Mitchell, Triano)

-Utah: 1 (Sloan)

-Washington: 4 (Hamilton, Collins, Jordan, Tapscott)

So, five changes in Detroit is definitely on the high side.  This is not to say that a GM should be afraid to fire coaches for cause, or even just on a hunch.  Conversely, there are plenty of crappy teams that were quite stable in the coaching department throughout the 2000s.  So, the devil is in the detail.  Looking at Dumars changes specifically, not all the changes were necessarily a result of an itchy trigger or lack of plan. George Irvine was inherited and was never thought to be a long term solution.  After that, things do get a little dicey.  Rick Carlisle did very well for Detroit but was fired because he apparently lacked people skills and wouldn’t play Tayshaun Prince.  Larry Brown was fired/quit pretty publicly, despite success, based upon his public flirtations with the Knicks and Cavs.  We can’t really blame Dumars too much for that one.  The Flip Saunders firing seemed silly to me, as he had done quite well with the team.  Curry’s canning is harder to characterize.  While Curry certainly didn’t do a great job, a one and done tenure has to reflect poorly on the GM who chose him, particularly when the search for a replacement seemed pretty haphazard.

As for the signings of Gordon and Villanueva, I’m a bit under whelmed.  Both Gordon and Villanueva are solid enough players but is this really what they gave up Billups for?  Gordon is a classic shooter/scorer  who doesn’t really pass, defend, or rebound very well.  His contract (five years and $55 million) is a little rich on a team with Hamilton being paid a bunch and Rodney Stuckey already a nominal future starter.  Villanueva works a little better as a scoring forward for $7 million per for five years, he’s a pretty good replacement for Rasheed Wallace offensively, if not defensively.  But this does not look like a team that’ll improve much over last year and they’ve blown a ton of cap room ($20 million per year) to have such a team.  If the goal was to rebuild, wouldn’t it have been smarter to wait until the summer of 2010 and see if they could land a true big ticket item rather than spend on the best players in a less than scintillating market?

Houston Rockets

7/8    Signed Trevor Ariza

Ostensibly, the Rockets and Lakers swapped small forwards Ariza and Artest.  Ariza nabbed the longer deal (five years and $34 million versus three years and $18 million deal for Artest) but the money is pretty similar.  The length of deal isn’t too big a deal, as Ariza is a good deal younger than Artest and doesn’t create shots/score near what Artest can.  Ariza is young and should be reasonably good for the life of the deal.  The issue will be whether he is the perfect fit for the Rockets.  Without Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, the Rockets particularly need Artest scoring/chucking and I’m not sure that Ariza can fill that role.  If you accept the fact that the Rockets aren’t contenders in 2009-10 but can be in 2010-11 if Yao is healthy and the core develops, however, Ariza is not a bad piece to have.

Los Angeles Lakers

7/8    Re-signed Shannon Brown and signed Ron Artest

Turning to the Lakers side, Artest should fit pretty well.  Artest as a third option on offense is pretty valuable and Phil Jackson usually does a great job of getting the more eccentric players to cooperate with the team concept.  He’ll shoot better than Ariza and can actually defend some of the bigger guys that Ariza isn’t strong enough to guard (see James, LeBron).  At age 30, Artest my have some decline coming offensively.  Last year, his three point rate spiked to a career high 5.6 threes per 36 minutes (up 1.5 from his previous career high) and his free throws were at a career low rate too.  Fortunately, Artest hit the threes quite well the last two years.  It is also possible that this shift from post player to chucker looked more extreme because Artest had to yield down low for Yao.  No matter the cause, for a three-year deal near the mid-level exception, Artest is a nice signing and will be a significant asset.

Memphis Grizzlies

7/9    In a three-way trade, Dallas trades Jerry Stackhouse and cash to Memphis for Greg Buckner and Memphis trades Antoine Wright and Devean George to Toronto for Shawn Marion, Kris Humphries, Nathan Jawai, and Cash; Orlando signs and trades Hidayet Turkoglu to Toronto for cash from Dallas and Toronto, who trades a 2016 second-round pick to Memphis

At this point, Memphis serves as the NBA’s Cayman Islands.  You can wash your money problems through its loose money system and make them disappear.  The Grizz aren’t loose with money I suppose but they have cap room and are used as hub for teams to send bad contracts around.  In return, the Grizz get a little cash.  It’s not an exciting existence but that’s reality for Memphis fans right now.

Toronto Raptors

7/8    Signed Andrea Bargnani to a contract extension

7/9    In a three-way trade, Dallas trades Jerry Stackhouse and cash to Memphis for Greg Buckner and Memphis trades Antoine Wright and Devean George to Toronto for Shawn Marion, Kris Humphries, Nathan Jawai, and Cash;  Orlando signs and trades Hidayet Turkoglu to Toronto for cash from Dallas and Toronto, who trades a 2016 second-round pick to Memphis

If you’re running the Raptors, the future is somewhat wide open.  Their best player, Chris Bosh, looks like he wants to blow town and they definitely want to keep him.  The problem is the team is teetering between relevance and the lottery.  There is some real talent in Bosh and Jose Calderon and all sorts of questions in the coaching staff and with some younger players (i.e. Bargnani).  Several years ago, the Raptors were faced with a similar situation with Vince Carter.  They chose to appease Carter and sign all sorts of vets (Hakeem Olajuwon, Antonio Davis, Charles Oakley, Mark Jackson) to show VC they were serious about winning and it worked.  Carter re-signed but the overpaid vets weren’t that good and Carter wasn’t so healthy and the whole thing fell apart.

The goal, for the Raps now, is to straddle the fence between trying to win and impress Bosh but, at the same time, not totally hamper the future.  Impressing Bosh by signing a decent vet is a short term victory but a long term problem.  Turkoglu is a good player but he’s 30 and, as we noted above, not really really good.  Paying for his ages 30-35 for large cash, when the move doesn’t really put you over the top, or doesn’t even guarantee a playoff spot is problematic.  Turkoglu will be tough to move and could be below average within a year or two.  On top of this, the Raptors have given a similar contract to Bargnani before he even is on the free agent market, providing a five-year $50 million deal that kicks in 2010-11.  This seems a tad premature for a player who has improved but has some limitations.  Now, if Bosh doesn’t re-sign, the Raps are locked into a core of Calderon, Turkoglu, and Bargnani for quite some time.  It’s easy for me to say as an outside observer, but patience seemed to have been the better plan.  Marginal short term improvement might’ve been available without having to take the risk of committing $100 million to Turkoglu and Bargnani.

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