Transactions 7/7-8/22 (Part 1)

Atlanta Hawks

7/10       Signed Paul Millsap

7/15       Signed Elton Brand

7/29       Signed Gustavo Ayon

8/3         Waived DeShawn Stevenson and DeMarre Carroll

In all, the Hawks have stocked up quite well after losing Josh Smith.  Millsap can’t do quite as much as Smith but at the price difference (2 years and $19 million for Millsap versus four years and $56 million for Smith) the choice makes sense.  Millsap and Smith are the same age and Millsap actually had a higher PER last year.  The one area of concern is that Millsap and Al Horford may not blend well offensively since they are both more low post players.   At this cheap contract, though, Atlanta should be able to figure it out.

Brand, on a one-year deal, should also be an improvement over Zaza Pachulia.  Brand isn’t thought of as a center but he blocks shots and boards much better than Zaza.  At 34, there is some risk that Brand might fall off the cliff at some point but he hasn’t had injury issues in a few years and should be pretty good for at least one more season.

Boston Celtics

7/12       Traded Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, Kevin Garnett, and DJ White to Brooklyn for MarShon Brooks, Keith Bogans, Gerald Wallace, Kris Joseph, Kris Humphries, and first-round picks in 2014, 2016, 2018 and the right to swap first-rounders in 2017

8/15       Traded Fab Melo and cash to Memphis for Donte Greene

It may hurt the Celtic fans but keeping KG and Pierce for their golden years makes little sense.  Boston would be, at best, mediocre with them.  For those who remember fondly that prior legends were 100% Celtic, the reality was that Boston probably should have traded some of the legends while they still had value.  I’m not suggesting that Boston should have just given up in the early 1990s but once the title contention run was over there were options.  In the case of the Pierce-KG Celts, there is no guarantee that the extra picks will get even one star but you have to like the chance that  they will get at least two good young players arise from this deal.

In fact, let’s play the hypothetical game…what if the Celts traded Kevin McHale, Larry Bird, and Robert Parish for assets in the early 1990s?  When would such a trade have happened?  Well, let’s look at the first moment when a reasonable person could’ve concluded the Bird Celtics were done.  In 1987-88, the Celtics lost a tough Conference Finals to the Pistons and appeared still pretty viable.  Bird missed almost all of 1988-89 with foot injuries and the tea, fell to 42-40 and a first round exit.  Given that the team was still good before the injury, it would have made sense to at least give it one more shot.  Bird returned for 1989-90.  He was pretty good (21.9 PER) and the Celts won 52 games but lost to a younger Knick team in the first round, blowing a 2-0 lead and losing the decisive Game 5 in the Boston Garden.   Dennis Johnson retired after that game, Danny Ainge had already been traded, and the front line was old: Bird was 33, McHale was 32 and Parish was 36.  The only young player of note was 24-year old Reggie Lewis.

Boston was still a good team but it was clear that they were not a serious contender.  In real life, the Celts chose to stay the course with the old core.  They were pretty good, winning over 50 games the next two seasons but losing in the second round of the playoffs both times.  Bird and McHale retired as a result of age and injuries in 1992 and 1993 respectively (Parish lasted until 1997).  After that, the Celts suffered eight seasons where they did not exceed 36 wins.   Granted, the rebuild would not have been so bad if they hadn’t chosen to rebuild with GMs like M.L. Carr and then Rick Pitino, who both made some terrible decisions but, still, Boston probably would’ve done better if they had, like the current Celts, dumped their stars for draft picks when the title run was over.

In the case of the old Celts, it is clear the run was probably over after 1989-90.  Suppose Boston had decided to make a trade like the KG/Pierce trade and sent all its older stars to a rival that was good but not great and had desire contend to a team with some talent and willing to dump draft picks.  The most similar team to the 2012-13 Nets in that respect was the 1989-90 76ers.  Both are/were pretty good teams with a young talent (they had Charles Barkley and Hersey Hawkins) and a desperate need to become a title contender (though they did not have a free spending owner like the Nets do now).  Bird, McHale, and Parish would’ve have been huge upgrades over incumbents Ron Anderson (13.7 PER), Rick Mahorn (13.9 PER) and Mike Gminski (15.7 PER).  A trade would have given the 1990-91 76ers with the following lineup:

PG:  Rickey Green (13.6 PER)(incumbent Johnny Dakwins blew out his knee and Green was replacement level fodder)

SG:  Hersey Hawkins (19.4 PER)

SF:  Larry Bird (19.7 PER)

PF:  Charles Barkley (28.9 PER)

C:  Kevin McHale (21.2 PER)/Robert Parish (20.6 PER)

That is quite a good team, probably good enough to win close to 60 games.  Like the current Nets with the Miami, this hypothetical 76ers team is likely not a team that could’ve beaten the actual titlist Bulls of Jordan/Pippen vintage.  Moreover, the 1991-92 hypothetical 76ers would’ve taken a tumble because Bird was barely ambulatory (he played 45 games) and McHale wasn’t much better (56 games).  Philly would’ve have been a playoff team but in the 45-50 win range.  By 1992-93, these hypothetical 76ers would’ve been Barkley, Hawkins, Parish, and the last gasp of McHale’s career and filler (sort of like the actual Sixers of the early 1990s).  That would’ve been enough to win 45-50 games again probably.  By 1993-94, this Sixers team would’ve fallen to a low seeded playoff team or maybe even out of the playoffs (unless they were able to find some way to replace Bird/McHale) and the franchise would probably bottomed out for the next few years.

What about Boston?  Suppose they would’ve gotten reams of picks from Philly like they did from Brooklyn (corresponding picks to what the Nets have given would have been in picks in 1991, 1993, and 1995, as well as the right to switch picks in 1994). How would those have turned out?  Let’s take our best guesses:

– The 1991 pick would be after Philly won a number of games and would’ve been pretty much worthless (in 1991, the best late first round pick was Rick Fox and most options were busts).

-The 1993 pick would likely have been a mid-first rounder.  The mid-1993 draft is not inspiring (Terry Dehere, Rex Walters, Acie Earl, Scottie Burrell).

-In 1994, Boston could’ve switched picks with Philly.  Assuming Boston had improved in this time, Philly’s pick would probably be, at best, mid-lottery.  This would’ve given Boston a shot at Brian Grant or Eddie Jones (though there were plenty of busts in that area too like Sharone Wright, Eric Montross, and Carlos Rogers).

-The 1995 pick could have been quite high.  It’s not clear if Philly would’ve been bad or really bad but a high pick was likely.  If Philly was terrible, Boston would have had a shot at Antonio McDyess, Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace, or KG (Joe Smith was actually the top pick that year).

So for the honor of losing the franchise cornerstones, Boston’s probable return was a couple of mediocre players, a shot at an above-average starter in 1994, and a shot at a serious star in 1995.  Not a knockout return but certainly better than what Boston actually did in the 1990s and Philly would have had two fun years or relevance.  This hypothetical scenario rests on so many assumptions that we freely acknowledge that we could be wrong at any point in analysis.  Nevertheless, this does appear to have been a possible scenario.

None of this means, the Boston will get similar possible return on its picks.  For one, we have no idea what the talent pools for the NBA Draft will be in those four year coming up or that Boston will pick the right player when given the chance.  In addition, Brooklyn has the capital and the desire to avoid bottoming out and could always spend copiously to avoid crashing like most teams do when their stars age.

Brooklyn Nets

7/11       Signed Shaun Livingston

7/12       Traded MarShon Brooks, Keith Bogans, Gerald Wallace, Kris Joseph, Kris Humphries, and first-round picks in 2014, 2016, 2018 and the right to swap first-rounders in 2017 with Boston for Jason Terry, Kevin Garnett, and DJ White

7/12       Signed Andrei Kirilenko

7/30       Signed Alan Anderson

Well this should be fun.  Losing the picks hurts but this is the cost of getting Pierce and Garnett and dumping Wallace.  Now, the Nets have huge amounts of depth and no real weaknesses if everyone stays healthy.  The concern will be how much Pierce and KG have in the tank.  Garnett is already 37 but has lost little to age and has been essentially the same player the last four years.  In addition, as a tall athletic player, Garnett is the ideal candidate to age gracefully.  On the other hand, Garnett is so unique that he doesn’t have many similar players to compare with.

For fun, here is a list (via of the best 37-year old forwards and how much longer they lasted (ranked by PER):

1. Karl Malone, 2000-01, 24.7 (lasted as a very good player through 2003-04 and probably could’ve kept going a few more years if he really wanted to)

2. Dominique Wilkins, 1996-97, 19.6 (Nique filled it up for a bad Spur team.  He went back to Europe for 1997-98 before returning as bench fodder at age-39 in Orlando)

3. Marcus Camby, 2011-12, 16.2 (Camby came back the next season for the Knicks, where he was effective in short spurts when he wasn’t injured.  He just signed with the Rockets)

4. Terry Cummings, 1998-99, 16.2 (A solid 20 mpg bench player, he played one more season and was about as effective off the bench)

5. Elvin Hayes, 1982-83, 14.7 (Hayes played a lot the following season but his PER tanked to 10.3 and he retired)

If you consider centers, you can add Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of 1984-85 (22.9 PER) and Robert Parish of 1990-91 (20.6) to the list (they both lasted several more seasons).

Based upon this list, there is reason to believe Garnett will be able to keep it going in Brooklyn for at least two more years.  Garnett is a unique forward.  He was the second best 36-year old forward by PER ever (behind Malone who put up a ridiculous 27.1).   Both KG and Malone were/are freak specimens and have so much talent that the normal aging patterns appear to get pushed back a little bit.

Pierce gets similar treatment kind treatment as a unique star player.  He was the sixth best 35-year old forward ever (behind Malone, Barkley, Bird, Elgin Baylor, and KG).  You have to think that two more years of productivity is probable.  So, the Brooklyn bet on these two seems quite reasonable.

Charlotte Bobcats

7/10       Signed Al Jefferson and waived Tyrus Thomas

8/20       Signed Anthony Tolliver

The Bobcats can’t follow through with any plan.  Forget the vacillating on coaches, as a matter of strategy, the team either wants to be a middling playoff seed or they need to crash and look for high draft picks.  When the Bobcats were okay a few years ago, they decided to dump Tyson Chandler to save cash and tank for high picks.  They suffered through some shallow drafts had little to show for the tanking so far (D.J. Augustin, Gerald Henderson, Kemba Walker, Cody Zeller, and Bismack Biyombo).   Now, when Andrew Wiggins and many other highly touted prospects are popping up for 2014, the Cats decide to try to contend?  Jefferson’s price was reasonable but the best he can do is get the Bobcats back to the 30-40 win treadmill.   This abrupt shift makes you think Charlotte doesn’t know what is doing.  On the bright side, even with Jefferson, there is a chance Charlotte could suck enough to get a high lottery pick anyway.  If that were to happen, however, it would be in spite of the Bobcats’ poor planning and not because of it.

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