Transactions 5/17-7/9

Atlanta Hawks 

5/28    Name Rick Sund general manager

6/17    Sign coach Mike Woodson to contract extension 

Atlanta has been a weird a dysfunctional organization for a while now.  How does Mike Woodson survive but GM Billy Knight get the axe?  One would think that Knight and Woodson, having been together for so long, were tied to the same train.  Actually, Knight apparently made several appeals to ownership to can Woodson during the season.  Knight was ignored and Woodson led the Hawks to their best season since 1998-99.  Viola! Woodson wins the power struggle and Knight is outta town. 

Power struggles won by coaches over GMs generally seem pyrrhic.  Remember Jeff Van Gundy’s win over Ernie Grunfeld in 1999 only bought Van Gundy a year or so of pressure.  Indeed, the cycle is familiar.  A new GM comes in and he inevitably will want his own coach rather than be stuck with a guy he didn’t choose.  In this case, the choice of Sund should actually be a bit comforting for Woodson.  Sund is a veteran front office guy who came up and held Norm Sonju build the Maverick expansion team in the 1980s (though Sund also presided over the collapse in the early 1990s), the semi-resurgence of the Pistons in the mid to late 1990s, as well as some solid years with the Sonics from 2001-07.  For his part, Sund was a steady hand for those teams, though you won’t see too many great moves after the early years in Dallas.  At the very least, Sund’s steady hand should provide some stability after the tumult between Knight and Woodson. 

Chicago Bulls 

6/11    Name Vinny Del Negro head coach 

Assessing first time coaches is nearly an impossible task.  We know that Del Negro was a pretty smart player who got succeeded more on brains than athleticism and that could theoretically translate to coaching.  It’ll be interesting to see if Del Negro is more focused on offense than defense.  Certainly, he was more of a shooter than defender as a player.  His formative years were spent with Bob Hill in San Antonio, who really isn’t known as a defensive coach.  More recently, Del Negro was a broadcaster and then executive in Phoenix, which is a superficial indicator that Del Negro may ramp up the offense a bit.  But this is all theory and we’ll have to wait and see because playing ability does not translate to coaching. 

Detroit Pistons 

6/3    Announce coach Flip Saunders will not return

6/10  Name Michael Curry head coach 

While Curry also has never been a coach, there perhaps has been no more defensive oriented player in recent years.  While, again, it is all theory, I think it’s safer to assume that Curry will emphasize defense to a greater extent than Flip Saunders but it’s not clear that Detroit can be much better defensively than they’ve been these last few years.  Doubtless, the Pistons will hope that Curry’s personal fire might reduce those lethargic moments that Detroit has been prone to at key moments in the Conference Finals the last threes season (against the Heat in 2005-06, against the Cavs in 2006-07, and against the Celts in 2007-08).  I frankly don’t think any coach, particularly a rookie, can inspire vets.  The only fixes will come from trades, which may be coming in any event. 

As for Saunders, I can’t help but think, from afar, it seems like he got a raw deal.  The Pistons won 64, 53 and 59 games in his three seasons.  The playoff losses hurt but the first two losses, to the Heat and Cavs, were aided by some unstoppable performances by Dwyane Wade and LeBron James and they really weren’t better than the Celts this year anyway.  I would agree, however, that Joe Dumars has been solid in his decisions and that he gets some benefit of the doubt and there are things we don’t see as outsiders (there have been hints that Rasheed Wallace doesn’t like Saunders).  Still, I saw no burning need to change coaches at this time. 

Miami Heat 

6/23    Waive Alexander Johnson 

Johnson didn’t build on his nice rookie season and the result is that he is cast aside.  I still think Johnson can play as a back up power forward and he is definitely worth a flyer on a team thin in the front court. 

Milwaukee Bucks 

6/26    Acquire Richard Jefferson from New Jersey for Bobby Simmons and Yi Jianlian 

Well that was easy.  The Bucks get to clear off a big mistake in Simmons and the new administration was not interested in finding out if Yi can play.  In return, they got RJ, who has developed into a nice slasher, though he has not become the great all purpose player that some thought he might become.  Still, Jefferson is so far and away the best player in the deal and improves the team at small forward significantly.  I don’t think that Jefferson will turn the Bucks into a contender but they should be in the 40-45 win range this year if they take care of business and that’s better than last year. 

New Jersey Nets 

6/26    Acquire Bobby Simmons and Yi Jianlian from Milwaukee for Richard Jefferson 

My keen observational skills tell me that the Nets might not be looking to contend next year.  Trading Jefferson was pretty pure as a salary dump.  Simmons value is close to nil, other than the fact that his contract will expire a year earlier than RJ’s.  As for Yi, he’s the only piece coming back with theoretical upside.  He’s young and has potential cache as a Chinese star but it’s highly unlikely he’ll ever be as good as Jefferson.  Yi’s initial numbers show a player who can score a little but not much else (per 36 minutes, he put up 8.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 0.8 bpg and shot 42%).  How much promise the numbers offer depends on how honest you think Yi’s birth certificate is.  He’s was supposedly 20 last season but there are plenty of rumors that he is three years older than that. In either case, the numbers hint at a nice shooter and perhaps a nice overall scorer.  That certainly has some value but it’s clear that the Nets are shooting to accrue cap room for 2009-10 when LeBron James is available and perhaps get a couple of nice draft picks in the interim two years.  It’s not exciting for fans to wait but this is probably the right move because the current Nets team was going nowhere slow.  

Whether the Nets had to trade RJ now is a different question.  If the Nets were truly willing to dump RJ for nothing, you’d think they could have just as easily done so next year and enjoyed another year of mediocrity.  But the Nets have clearly decided that: (1) they don’t want to risk RJ getting injured and becoming untradeable, (2) that bottoming out as a team is better from a draft perspective, and (3) that RJ wasn’t happy in Jersey at this time.  Certainly a defensible position, particularly if LeBron is actually on the horizon.  But it still hurts for Nets fans to watch one of their better draft picks in franchise history develop and be exiled to start over again. 

Orlando Magic 

6/2    Sign General Manager Otis Smith to multi-year contract extension 

Orlando is still a work in progress but the team obviously showed enough progress to keep Smith around for a while.  Going forward, the challenges are there.  The point guard slot is questionable and they need either a center of power forward (depending upon what you think Dwight Howard is).  It won’t be easy and Smith hasn’t been perfect (remember Fran Vasquez?) but he has earned the shot at trying to move this team to the next level. 

Phoenix Suns 

6/9    Name Terry Porter head coach 

I thought Porter got a raw deal in Milwaukee so I’m happy to see him get another shot in Phoenix.  It should be noted, however, that he may not be the defensive coach that Steve Kerr was looking for.  Porter’s two years in Milwaukee he had nice scoring teams with terrible defensive numbers.  It’s possible that Porter was eaten up by the terrible defense that enveloped the franchise before his arrival and continues to the present day.  Still, a good defensive coach generally has a noticeable impact on any team he comes to.  This means it’s possible that Phoenix will stay the course as a offense first team, despite Kerr’s protestations.  This is not a sure thing but rather an issue that bears watching for next season. 

Portland Trailblazers 

7/1    Sign Rudy Fernandez 

Fernandez has been touted as having the potential to be a good NBA player and projected well under John Hollinger’s Euro translations.  More recently, he won the MVP of the ULEB Cup and looks like a capable scorer.  For Portland, he likely won’t start but if he can play the team is close to having some ridiculous depth. 

San Antonio Spurs 

7/3    Sign Gerald Green 

Undisciplined young players and the Spurs do not usually mix well.  The one notable exception in recent years occurred when Gregg Popovich rehabilitated Stephen Jackson into a good player, though Pop was sick of him by the end of the 2002-03 season.  Most other projects in San Antonio really didn’t work.  Green has been such a weird pro that I don’t see this working but if he can play at all, he’ll give them some desperately needed athleticism off the bench. 

Toronto Raptors 

6/18    Release Jorge Garbajosa

7/8      Sign Hassan Adams to a two-year contract 

In Toronto history, Garbajosa will be remembered as a nice blip on the radar.  A power forward who came over and helped make the surprise 2006-07 team competitive.  Garbajosa was really stretched as an NBA player (not a great rebounder or shot blocker) but he filled space well that season.  The longer NBA season seemed to take a toll on Garbajosa and he never recovered from a broken leg suffered near the end of 2006-07 but played in the European Olympic Qualifiers last summer anyway.  He then was injured upon his return to Toronto last year (he played only seven games in 2007-08).  Now he’s been bought out an allowed to return to Europe.  The buyout also settled some litigation between Toronto and the Spanish Basketball Federation as to whether Garbajosa’s injuries were related to the European excursion and, as a result, whether Spain owed Toronto money to cover his salary.  It’s not clear how the issue was settled but I’d guess that the Raps got some money back for 2007-08 (his salary was about $4 million) and Garbajosa forewent his guaranteed 2008-09 salary.  Now Toronto’s books are clearer and Garbajosa can go back to Europe and play in the upcoming Olympics. 

Washington Wizards 

6/30    Re-sign Antawn Jamison 

Jamison got four years and $50 million for ages 32-35.  That’s a little scary of an investment for an aging player on a team that isn’t all that good to begin with.  On the bright side, Jamison was as good in 2007-08 as ever in his career and he’s as good a best as any forward to retain his value through his 30s.  Still, he’s not quite good enough (and the team is not quite good enough) for me to offer such a contract but it certainly was a defensible move.

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