Transactions 4/23-6/29

Atlanta Hawks

6/25    Traded Acie Law and Speedy Claxton to Golden State for Jamal Crawford

For the Hawks, this is a clear win trade.  Crawford is a gunner but can be useful, while Law never developed and Claxton appears to be done with his knee issues.  The question now is what role Crawford will fill with the Hawks.  He’s not really a point guard but the Hawks didn’t really have Mike Bibby dominate the ball anyway.  Still, Crawford is a volume shooter and not quite as good a ball handler as Bibby, so he’s not an ideal replacement.  The perfect solution would be to bring in Crawford as the designated scorer off the bench and bring back Bibby, provided that Bibby’s contract demands are sane (i.e. two or three year deal at $8 million per).  If Bibby won’t take a decent contract, then they can slot Crawford into the point guard and hope that he adjusts to the role better than he did as a young player in Chicago and a solid backup point would become a must.  In short, this is a nice little free talent grab but the Hawks still have a little work to do to make the pieces fit.

Cleveland Cavaliers

6/25    Traded Aleksandr Pavlovic, Ben Wallace, a future conditional second-round pick, and cash to Phoenix for Shaquille O’Neal

Shaq’s name is obviously bigger than his talent at this point but the guy can still play and will be an asset, especially compared to do the flotsam and jetsam that they sent to Phoenix.  O’Neal’s acquisition raises a number of questions:

Can Shaq still play?

Sure.  Shaq had a surprisingly good year, leading the NBA in field goal percentage, playing his most games (75) since 1999-00, and his most minutes since 2004-05.  Moreover, his per-minute stats are in line with his Miami years.  So, Shaq, as he is currently constituted is a top-10 center and better than Zydrunas Ilgauskas.  

How does Shaq help the Cavs?

It’s pretty clear that this move was made with the idea of stopping Dwight Howard, who was too big for Anderson Varejao and too big and too fast for Ilgauskas.  Shaq is one of the few people stronger than Howard but he clearly is no where near as quick.  How has Shaq done against Howard?  In 2008-09, the Shaq and Howard met once and here’s how they matched up:

-March 3, 2009: Shaq had 19 points on 9-13 shooting, 11 boards, and two blocks while Howard had 21 points on 7-14 shooting, eight boards, and a block.

They also met once in 2007-08.  In that game, Orlando won by 30, though Shaq (20 points, 6 boards) and Howard (17 points, 13 boards) match up wasn’t notable.  At this point, Howard doesn’t have much of a post game so to the extent that his game involves trying to back down weaker foes, Shaq should give him some issues.

Could Shaq fall off the cliff?

This is the real question.  Shaq is 37 (and will be 38 in March) and at or near an age where even the greatest centers can just lose it.  On the other hand, many of the great big men age quite well but it is also true that the end comes quickly too.  So, let’s take a look at some of the great centers at age-37 and see what they did:



















P. Ewing 1998-99

















P. Ewing 1999-00

















H. Olajuwon 1998-99

















H. Olajuwon 1999-00

















M. Malone 1991-92

















M. Malone 1992-93

















D. Robinson 2001-02

















D. Robinson 2002-03

















K. Abdul-Jabbar 1983-84

















K. Abdul-Jabbar 1984-85

















Just in case you’re curious, Bill Russell retired at age-35 and Wilt retired at 36, so they’re off the list, as are the players from the next tier down (Dave Cowens and Bob Lanier).  Of the more recent vintage of Hall of Famers, we see weird things.  Ewing and Robinson had typical slow declines before Ewing became below average at age-38 in Seattle while D-Rob retired after the 2002-03 season.  Moses and Hakeem suffered injuries and were never really great again.  Kareem, however, actually improved at age-37 and played well for several more seasons.  So where does Shaq fall on this spectrum?  We don’t know for sure but the one bright spot for Cavs fans is that Shaq’s age-36 season was better than Kareem’s and on par with Hakeem’s.  We can’t predict injury issues but to the extent that the aging process saps the talent reserve, O’Neal’s got more left in the tank than most of these guys and we can assume that he should have one good year left, particularly if he’s not asked to carry the load.

-So does this mean a title for Cleveland?

It’s a little premature at this point to say that Shaq = title for the Cavs.  At this point, he’s only the cherry on the sundae.  This team is LeBron James first and was title worthy last year.  Knowing Shaq’s luck, Cleveland will breakthrough in 2009-10 and he’ll get a large share of credit, when this team is really 99% LeBron.

Speaking of Shaq, has any inner circle Hall of Famer been moved more than he has?  Shaq is now on his fifth team.  Granted, it’s not like no one wants the guy and times have changed since the early years but of the players we know on a first name basis (top 20 players ever), only a few have been on more than two teams (Wilt is the only one).  Moving back to the top 40, we have a few players who bounced around (Moses Malone, Dominique Wilkins, Jason Kidd, Elvin Hayes, Charles Barkley).  Also, Shaq has a knack of getting on teams with other stars (Penny Hardaway, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire, and now LeBron).  O’Neal has had a unique and interesting career and it’s about to get a little more interesting too.

Detroit Pistons

6/23    Traded Amir Johnson to Milwaukee for Fabricio Oberto

Johnson won’t be a star but an able-bodied young forward isn’t something teams generally give away.  In this case, the Pistons didn’t want to have to give him extension or even pay him for 2009-10, so they took Oberto, who can (and will) be bought out.  The announced savings for the Pistons is $1.7 million.  We should also take a moment to give a nod to Oberto, whose NBA career is likely over given his age and health issues.  He wasn’t a great pro but a usable role player for a few years and we should recognize that a player with his skill set might’ve crapped out on the wrong team but on the Spurs, he had uses as a big body.  While foreign-trained players are held in higher esteem than they were a while back, there is still cheap talent to be had to fill out a roster if the team understands what they are looking for and what they are getting.

Golden State Warriors

5/11    Named Larry Riley general manager

6/25    Traded Jamal Crawford to Atlanta for Acie Law and Speedy Claxton

The year long death march of Chris Mullin ended with a whimper.  I’m not quite sure why the Warriors put us all through the charade of letting him come to work when his power was clearly co-opted.  Did Mullin deserve to be kicked to the curb?  His tenure was very mixed but Robert Rowell and management and Don Nelson definitely undermined him enough to obscure the issue and prevent anyone from being able to make an objective decision on the issue.  Given the environment, the answer to the Mullin question doesn’t matter, as the Warriors just need an actual general manager going forward.  Riley fits the bill as an NBA veteran and a friend of Nelson’s.  I expect that Riley will not necessarily have the final say on personnel and that he is probably below Nelson on any organizational chart.  We’ll see if coherent decisions will be made on the personnel issues going forward.

Memphis Grizzlies

6/25    Traded Darko Milicic to New York for Quentin Richardson and cash

For Memphis, they trade a potentially talented young player who doesn’t seem to care for a Q-Rich, who tries very hard but has a back issue and an uninsurable contract.  This deal says more about the Grizz’s frustrations with Darko than anything else, as Richardson does not help a rebuilding team in any way.  Milicic is still only 24 and is not terribly overpriced for a mediocre starting center but sometimes a player’s bad vibes trumps his statistical value and this is just such a case.  The Grizz needed to purge Darko’s vacant stare from the team’s memory banks.  I might’ve tried to see if Darko had an epiphany in a contract year but I understand Memphis’ impulse.  As for Richardson, I haven’t seen this written anywhere but I imagine a buyout might make sense.  He might be able to help a good team off the bench and a slight discount off of his salary is found money at this point.

Milwaukee Bucks

6/23    Traded Richard Jefferson to San Antonio for Bruce Bowen, Kurt Thomas, and Fabricio Oberto

6/23    Traded Fabricio Oberto to Detroit for Amir Johnson

This is a straight salary dump for Milwaukee, which is expected to cut the filler it  acquired from the Spurs.  Nor does trading Jefferson mean that they will be investing in Charlie Villanueva (already confirmed that the Bucks have set him loose) or Ramon Sessions (they reportedly want him but that likely can’t be done with both Brandon Jennings and Luke Ridnour on the payroll).  RJ obviously would help this team but the Bucks are in fiscal responsibility mode and they aren’t going to pay RJ $36 million or so to win 35 games.  It’s not fun for the fans but it’s the prudent move.  The only silver lining is that they’ve poached Johnson from Detroit for nothing.  Johnson is no star but should be a rotation player on the less than rough and tumble Bucks.

Minnesota Timberwolves

6/24    Traded Randy Foye and Mike Miller to Washington for Etan Thomas, Darius Songaila, Oleksiy Pecherov and the 5th overall pick in the 2009 Draft (Ricky Rubio)

No matter what you think of it, the Wolves have had the most interesting draft.  Most people are panning David Kahn for taking back-to-back point guards in Rubio and Jonny Flynn at 5 and 6 in the draft because it’s not clear Rubio will sign and it’s not clear what the Wolves are doing with two points if Rubio does sign.  I think the issues are a little more fine than that.  Kahn claims that he fully intends to play Rubio and Flynn together.  This makes no sense.  Neither player is a two guard and the starting them together isn’t a real idea.  If you think Kahn is posturing, that means he has taken Rubio with the following options: (1) sign him because he’s a potential star, (2) hold onto him and sign him later when the buyout for Rubio’s European team is no longer an issue, or (3) auction off Rubio to the highest bidder.

Most people think that Rubio is a potential star and the best player in the draft outside of Blake Griffin so drafting Rubio, even with the intention of waiting a year or two isn’t crazy.  Still, you have to wonder why Minnesota made no overtures to Rubio before the draft if they really wanted him.  Now, they have Rubio and little leverage to bring him over because Rubio is in no rush to come to the NBA unless he’s in a good situation.  Trading Rubio also seems kind of a bad idea because without a pre-arranged deal, he’s just sitting on the shelf and teams won’t feel pressure to make a good deal to get him because they know that Minnesota needs to trade him.  So, I also am a bit perplexed by this turn of events in Minnesota.  Drafting Rubio isn’t a horrific idea and this may workout in the end but it’s more likely to blow up on Kahn than be a good thing.

New Jersey Nets

6/25    Traded Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson to Orlando for Rafer Alston, Courtney Lee, and Tony Battie

What can you say?  You knew the Nets were paring payroll when they traded Jefferson for Yi last year and they flirted with trading VC all last season.  Had they kept Carter and spent a little, they could be a marginal playoff team but given the economic climate and the team’s week attendance, you can’t blame Rod Thorn for trading Carter to save money and a decent young player in Lee in hopes that a core of Devin Harris, Brook Lopez, Lee, a good draft pick or two, and cap space will equal a good team in Brooklyn some time early next decade.  Killing time until Brooklyn, however, won’t be fun.

New York Knicks

6/25    Traded Quentin Richardson and cash to Memphis and Darko Milicic

As noted above, Darko may be frustrating but Q-Rich has been a pretty big bust in New York in his own right.  Since Richardson serves no purpose and Milicic could be theoretically useful as a shot blocker for a team that had only one player with more than 33 block.  Darko is no star but he’ll plug in decently in the front court and New York is the clear but modest winner on this exchange.

Orlando Magic

6/25    Traded Rafer Alston, Courtney Lee, and Tony Battie to New Jersey for Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson

What can you say but nice haul?  Despite his rough years in Toronto, Carter has been remarkably healthy as a Net.  It is true that he’s declined a little off his peak.  VC’s free throw rate, while still good, were as low as they’ve been since his injury-marred 2002-03 season with the Raptors and he doesn’t creates shots as well either, as his shots per minute were also at his lowest rate since his rookie season.  Still, Carter is very dangerous and should be even more so when slotted with the rest of the Magic’s weapons.

Carter’s acquisition does makes us wonder if Orlando will let Hedo Turkoglu walk.  Orlando has reportedly made a decent offer to Turkoglu (under $10 million per given the current economic climate).  This offer makes clear that Orlando will not overpay now and Hedo will probably walk unless the market for his services disappears (which is certainly possible).  As much as I like Turkoglu, we should not forget that Carter is clearly the superior player now and possibly even going forward the next two or three years.  While PER is not the be all way to assess a player, keep in mind that Vince’s career low in that category (18.8 in 2007-08), is better than Turkoglu’s best  (17.8 also in 2007-08).   Another point to remember is that Turkoglu is not particularly young.  He’s already 30 and it is highly unlikely he’ll ever be any better than he’s been in the last few years.  So, I wouldn’t be shy about losing Turkoglu if the price is too high.

Does Carter put the Magic over the top?  Sans Turkoglu, the Magic are still improved but I think it remains to be seen if they should be considered a favorite in the East.  I suspect no matter what happens in Orlando, Cleveland may be really good next year.  On paper, however, the Magic look like they are at least equals of the Cavs.

Philadelphia 76ers

5/11    Named Tony DiLeo senior vice president and assistant general manager

6/1      Named Eddie Jordan head coach

6/9      Traded Reggie Evans to Toronto for Jason Kapono

When we look back at the raw data from a particular season, sometimes the decisions made by a team seemingly make no sense.  If you dig a little deeper, there are explanations for these decisions.  Such is the case here where DiLeo clearly helped rally the troops from disaster to a nice little season.  Even so, he was pushed back into the front office with some murmurs from the players that they didn’t particularly like dealing with him.  It’s not clear that DiLeo really wanted to stay on as coach but it did seem a little odd that the coach who helped save the season was so happily discarded.

Jordan comes in with a decent reputation and a past relationship with Ed Stefanski in New Jersey.  Clearly, Jordan can coach.  Less clear is whether he’s a perfect fit for these Sixers.  Philly lineup is geared to a slow paced, defensive team.  Jordan has helped coach such teams as an assistant with the Nets.  As a head coach, however, his one year in Sacramento (1997-98) and his time in Washington (2003-2008), he’s mostly had fast-paced but weak defensive teams:

Year        Off. Rating    Def. Rating    Pace

1997-98        26th               22nd            6th

2003-04        27th               20th             7th

2004-05        10th               19th             5th

2005-06         6th                22nd            7th

2006-07         3rd                28th             5th

2007-08       12th                24th            27th

While Jordan’s bad defensive teams were certainly a function of personnel (Arenas, Jamison, the 1997-98 Kings), it’s not crazy to question whether he can keep the Sixers as the tough defensively as they’ve been.  In that sense, Jordan does not seem like an ideal fit.  It’ll definitely be an interesting to see how Jordan’s past history as a coach meshes with the current Sixer roster.

Phoenix Suns

6/25    Traded Shaquille O’Neal to Cleveland for Aleksandr Pavlovic, Ben Wallace, a future conditional second-round pick, and cash

For the Suns, the Shaq Era will never be remembered as a happy time.  He played about as well as could be expected but, fundamentally, management didn’t understand where its strength lied.  With Marion’s steep decline, the trade doesn’t look as bad as it seemed to us at the time.  Still, the title contention in Phoenix is over for the short term and dumping Shaq’s contract is a good start.  The Suns still have some talent and some really big decisions to make on Amare Stoudemire and Steve Nash.  No matter what they decide to do, Shaq wasn’t going to help them going forward so emptying his salary was the right start.

Portland Trailblazers

6/25    Traded Sergio Rodriguez, the draft rights to Jon Brockman, and cash to Sacramento for the draft rights to Jeff Pendergraph

For the Blazers, there was no room for Rodriguez and he was good enough to justify his unhappiness.  It’s possible that they might’ve gotten more for Rodriguez last year but now it was just about freeing roster spots.  The fact that Rodriguez was sent to a team where he might actually play is a nice side benefit for all sides.

Sacramento Kings

6/12    Named Paul Westphal head coach

6/25    Traded the draft rights to Jeff Pendergraph to Portland for Sergio Rodriguez, the draft rights to Jon Brockman, and cash

Like Eddie Jordan, Westphal comes to the table with some questions about his ability to defend.  Westphal also has some issues with discipline.  He’s always been like and a players coach but when the team struggled near the end in Phoenix, he was blamed for not controlling Charles Barkley.  He also had problems with Gary Payton in Seattle, though plenty of other people have had issues with Payton before.  I’m not sure I buy that Westphal can’t handle stars but that’s not really an issue in Sacramento at this point anyway.  The notion that Westphal isn’t a great defensive coach has more traction.  His teams in Phoenix and Seattle were rarely even close to league average (only the loaded 1992-93 Suns were above average defensively for Westphal).  The Kings were a horrifically bad defensive team last year (worst in the NBA) and I don’t see Westphal fixing that problem.

The tendency that should help the Kings with Westphal is the fact that he has not been afraid to play young players.  He played a number of rookies in Phoenix without any reservation and even gave plenty of minutes to a teenage rookie Rashard Lewis and young Ruben Patterson in Seattle.  Developing young players should be the order of business with the Kings too.  I think there were better coaches out there but hopefully Westphal can do some good things next year for the franchise, even if it isn’t reflected in the won-loss record.

San Antonio Spurs

6/23    Traded Bruce Bowen, Kurt Thomas, and Fabricio Oberto to Milwaukee for Richard Jefferson

Another no-brainer deal where a contender takes on salary.  For San Antonio, Jefferson is a desperately needed scorer and athlete.  RJ hasn’t turned to be quite as good as I thought he’d be but he brings some much needed scoring to the Spurs.  He’s a huge upgrade over Bruce Bowen offensively.  The Spurs had fallen to average offensively the lat two years (13th in 2008-09 and 15th in 2007-08) and this has coincided with their decline.  I’m not quite sure this move, by itself, puts the Spurs back on level with the Lakers.  In fact, the Spurs defense, while still very good, has been declining for years as well (San Antonio had its lowest defensive raking since before Tim Duncan was on the team).  If Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan stay healthy and they nab another defensive big man, the Spurs would look a lot better.  Acquiring Jefferson is a good first start but I think a little more work need to be done.

Toronto Raptors

5/11    Signed head coach Jay Triano to a contract extension

6/9      Traded Jason Kapono to Philadelphia for Reggie Evans

Granted he was walking into a buzz saw from the start but Triano didn’t exactly light the world on fire in Toronto.  The Raptors went an uninspired 25-40 in Triano’s stint and he’s returning while Tony DiLeo was booted upstairs in Philly.  Go figure.  As noted, Triano was in a tough spot so it’s nice to see him get a shot to coach with a full training camp.

Washington Wizards

4/23    Named Flip Saunders head coach

6/24    Traded Etan Thomas, Darius Songaila, Oleksiy Pecherov, and the 5th overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft (Ricky Rubio) to Minnesota for Randy Foye and Mike Miller

In trading the fifth pick for vets, the implicit assumption that the Wiz were making is that they are a “now” team and are looking to contend in 2009-10.  I don’t quite see it that way.  The Wiz of the last few years were basically a .500ish team with some good scorers and not much defense (see the Eddie Jordan chart above).  The fact they fell off the table last year looked like the end of this modest run but the Wiz see it differently.  In their defense (sort of), the Wiz have invested so much cash in Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison that they understandably feel the need to go for it.  So, without questioning the wisdom of the decision to sign Arenas and Jamison for big bucks to begin with, I can understand why the Wiz would “go for it” and trade the draft pick.

Having said all that, is getting Foye and Miller really “going for it”?  Foye is a decent shooting guard and Miller is a declining small forward on a team with two better small forwards already.  Even in a weak draft, you’re better off seeing what’s available than taking such low value for the pick.  At the end of the day, the Wiz are still a fringe playoff team.  In a perfect world, they could approach 47-50 wins and would still be, at best, a four-seed in the East on par with Philly, Miami, and Atlanta and well short of Cleveland, Orlando, and Boston.  In short, the Wiz haven’t made great decisions prior to this off-season, are mistaken in thinking that they are a contender, and, to the extent they are seeking to contend, took a crappy package in hopes of contending in any event.

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