Transactions: 2/3-2/26 Part 1

Boston Celtics 

2/19    Traded Eddie House, J.R. Giddens, Bill Walker, and a future conditional second-round pick to New York for Nate Robinson and Marcus Landry 

As Boston tries to hold onto contender status, getting Nate for Eddie House is a clear upgrade.  Robinson is a better player in nearly every facet of the game and is even shooting threes about as well as House is this year. The net gain is not huge and doesn’t change Boston’s larger age/injury issues that seem to be conspiring to end their title contender status.  Still, Robinson can score in many ways and Boston’s offense needs points pretty badly (currently 13th in offensive efficiency).  

On a completely side note, Robinson’s trade probably hurts his value going into free agency.  Despite all of Robinson’s fights with Mike D’Antoni, the Knicks were offering Robinson plenty of shots and minutes.  Instead, Robinson’s final two months will make him look like a 20-minute per game role player on a slow paced grind offense (barring injury to Ray Allen).  I’m sure Robinson would rather experience the playoffs than chuck away on a bad Knicks team but this drawback does remind us that self-interested decisions by NBA players aren’t always crazy because this trade may have a monetary cost for Robinson.

Chicago Bulls 

2/5    Signed Chris Richard to a 10-day contract

2/15  Signed Chris Richard to a second 10-day contract 

2/18  Traded John Salmons and 2011 and 2012 second-round picks to Milwaukee for Hakim Warrick and Joe Alexander

2/19  Traded Tyrus Thomas to Charlotte for Ronald Murray, Acie Law, and a future first-round pick; waived Chris Richard 

For the Bulls, these trades are mostly about clearing cap room.  Salmons is a competent bench player who could help the Bulls down the stretch but he is on the books for another year at about $5.8 million, while Warrick and Alexander are free agents at the end of the year.  With the Bulls looking to be players in free agency, the marginal benefit of a bench player guard/small forward isn’t worth another year of Salmons at too high a salary.  Moreover, I happen to like Warrick’s ability to replace Thomas’ athletic forward role.  

Turning to Thomas, this trade jettisoned a potentially good player that Chicago had no intention of re-signing.  Now the Bulls get a first-rounder and avoid the headache of deciding whether to tender a decent player when the cap money could be used elsewhere.  While Chicago might have some trepidation that Thomas does develop into the star his rate stats hint he might become, the chances are not high enough to forget his complaining and the looming free agents who can be signed with his salary slot.  

Charlotte Bobcats 

2/19    Traded Ronald Murray, Acie Law, and a future first-round pick for Chicago for Tyrus Thomas

2/19    Traded a protected 2016 second-round pick to San Antonio for Theo Ratliff 

On Charlotte’s side, Thomas is an interesting pick up.  He is a good player and still very young.  The problems in Chicago seemed to center around his perceived inability to mesh into a coherent system and having his athleticism translate into a good player.  Thomas will fit in short term as a the shot blocker and runner in place of the injured Tyson Chandler and help Charlotte with the playoff push.  

The move is not without downside.  Thomas is a restricted free agent and the Cats must commit $6.2 million to bring him back.  Currently, Charlotte’s 2010-11 cap number would be about $60 million with Thomas.  Unless they can clear some room, the team would be maxed out cap wise with a decent core.  But the slotsare filled with some questionable and not very fungible contracts (Boris Diaw, Stephen Jackson, DeSagana Diop).  Further the Bobcats surrendered a first-rounder in the deal.  We don’t have the exact details of the pick but Bulls GM Gar Forman said the pick could be exercised in any one of the next five years and that the protection decreases with each season.  Getting Thomas would be worth a mid to late first-rounder but the Bobcats are precisely the type of team that could crater some time in the next few years and end up giving up a high pick.  Given how eager the Bulls were to dump Thomas, you have to wonder why Charlotte had to offer a first-rounder to lock this deal up.  Hopefully for Bobcat fans, this doesn’t come back to bite Charlotte in the ass a la the Knicks with Stephon Marbury.

Cleveland Cavaliers 

2/18  In a three-team trade, the L.A. Clippers traded Sebastian Telfair to Cleveland and Al Thornton to Washington for Drew Gooden

2/18  Traded Zydrunas Ilgauskas, the draft rights to Emir Preldzic, and a first-round pick to Washington for Antawn Jamison 

The Cavs would’ve been perfectly fine not making any moves but the opportunity to get a player for a title run for virtually nothing (Ilgauskas will be back after being waived) is not to be passed up.  In this case, the Cavs are desperate (rightly so) to keep LeBron happy with his pending free agency.  In reality, though, Jamison is only a cherry on the sundae here.  He’ll be the scorer off the bench and also allow the Cavs to go small ball at center if match ups dictate.  In addition, Jamison has thrived in the sixth man role before.  In fact, his most efficient scoring season came as a bench player for the Mavs in 2003-04, so he has shown an ability to adjust to whatever his teams have needed in the past. 

On the downside, Antawn isn’t having a great year by his standards and he is not young (33) and could be dead weight in 2010-11 and 2011-12 (when he is due an average of $14 million per year).  But if the Cavs win a title and LeBron is convinced to stay then who really cares?  The trade does harken back to the 1988-89 mid-season deal by the Pistons when they traded for Mark Aguirre, another smooth scoring small forward, who probably wasn’t needed but did help the team to a title.  Obviously, Jamison, who is known as a great teammate, doesn’t compare with sometimes surly Aguirre but they do seem similar in their niches as veteran scorers going to reduced roles on better teams.  What really surprises me is that Jamison is so much older than Aguirre was back in 1989.  At the time, it seemed that Aguirre was vet coming off of his peak but he was only 29 while Jamison is already approaching 34.  Maybe it reveals my own age but Aguirre always seemed old to me and Jamison will always seem young. 

Dallas Mavericks 

2/13    Traded Quinton Ross, Josh Howard, James Singleton, and Drew Gooden to Washington for DeShawn Stevenson, Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, and cash

2/24    Signed Von Wafer to a 10-day contract 

This is the ultimate Mark Cuban deal.  On paper, getting Butler for Howard and adding Haywood is a real improvement.  The improvement, however, is not enough to make this team a title contender. In such cases, almost any other owner in the NBA wouldn’t sign off on the extra salary because it likely won’t materially affect the team’s success (the Mavs could end up making the Conference Finals or losing in the first round depending upon draws and luck).  The Mavs have acquired Juwan Howard, Raef LaFrentz, Antoine Walker, Antawn Jamison, and Jason Kidd at various times for short term boosts.  Being a Nets fan, I can definitely appreciate an owner willing to spend to win, even if the relative cost (particularly when you figure the luxury tax assessment) is probably not commensurate with the benefit.  

Golden State Warriors

2/6    Signed Anthony Tolliver for the remainder of the season and waived Speedy Claxton

Tolliver is perfectly competent and a decent find for the Warriors.  He is not a great player but is doing a decent Channing Frye-lite routine for the Warriors.  If Tolliver could shoot a little better he would be perfect for a Don Nelson team.  Tolliver was a reluctant three-point shooter in college, Tolliver is now averaging over two a game from the center position but only hitting 29%. 

Houston Rockets 

2/8    Signed Garrett Temple to a 10-day contract

2/19  Traded Carl Landry and Joey Dorsey to Sacramento for Kevin Martin and Hilton Armstrong

2/19  Traded Tracy McGrady to New York for Jared Jeffries, Jordan Hill, a protected 2012 first-round pick, and the right to exchange first-round picks in 2011 

The Rockets have been lauded for their deadline maneuvering.  Common wisdom indicates that Darryl Morey bluffed/stared down the Knicks into giving up rookie Jordan Hill and a some first-rounders for salary cap relief when it seemed that the Rockets probably should’ve been willing to dump a big contract for savings without getting so much talent back.  Next, the Rockets nab Martin for a small price in terms of talent.  Certainly, getting the Knicks to cough up so much for T-Mac was a big win in the bluff game.  

I also do like Martin but I hate to give up Landry.  Landry was, by far, the Rockets best scorer this year and is a cheap low post scoring forward.  Houston theorized that between Luis Scola and the returning Yao Ming, Landry was a luxury and not a necessity while getting a real two-guard was important.  There is truth to this but Martin is not a sure thing.  After his breakthrough 2006-07, Martin missed 50 games the next two season and has missed about 30 games already this year.  Martin’s contract going forward is not unreasonable (three years and $45 million) but this deal probably could’ve waited until the off-season.  The Rockets are a fringe playoff teams this year.  Why not make the Kings bear the burden of showing that Martin is back 100% from injury?  Why not see what other assets were available in the summer?  I’m nitpicking perhaps a little but I see Martin as a less of a slam dunk than some.   

Los Angeles Clippers 

2/4    Announced that Mike Dunleavy has stepped down as head coach and named Kim Hughes as interim head coach

2/16  Traded Marcus Camby to Portland for Steve Blake, Travis Outlaw, and cash; Waived Ricky Davis

2/18  In a three-team trade, the L.A. Clippers traded Sebastian Telfair to Cleveland and Al Thornton to Washington for Drew Gooden 

A ho-hum mediocre Clipper season just ended a little earlier than usual.  The Clipps had some theoretical shot at a .500 season but none for a playoff birth so it is hard to fault them for punting a little earlier, trading Camby saves a few dollars (Blake and Outlaw will both be free agents).  In fact the only player in the deals with a contract for next year was Thornton.  The only question is whether Clipps fans are dismayed at dumping a younger player like Thornton for savings.  I don’t have too much of a problem since Thornton is a decent scorer but of limited upside.

The other news is that Dunleavy has bailed as head coach but is apparently keeping GM power.  Bill Simmons has been killing Dunleavy for years.  Not being a Clipps fan, I view Dunleavy with less antipathy but admit he hss been, at best, mediocre during his long run with the Clipps.  Simmons did note that Dunleavy’s overall career record as a coach is pretty bad (613-716 for a .461% winning percentage).    How did Dunleavy amass so many losses?  Let’s take a look at his career and remind ourselves how we got to this day.  Dunleavy’s career can be broken into segments: 

Los Angeles Lakers (1990-1992) 101-63, .616%:  Dunleavy took over the Showtime Lakers as a rookie head coach in 1990-91.  He did a nice job the first year, leading the Lakers to a 58-24 record and upsetting the Blazers in the Conference Finals.  They were promptly thrashed by the Michael Jordan Bulls but Dunleavy’s stock as a coach was quite high from beating a younger Blazer team.  In the “Jordan Rules”, Sam Smith noted that Dunleavy reduced the classic Magic Johnson fastbreak, “having seen how the aging Lakers were run out of the playoffs by Phoenix in 1990, had changed the team’s style.”  Indeed, the Lakers were 25th in the NBA in pace factor in 1990-91.  It should be noted, however, that the Lakers were not a real running team in Pat Riley’s last season, they were only 20th in the NBA in 1989-90 pace factor.  In addition, the Lakers were no better than ninth in pace factor in any season since 1983-84. 

As a totally unrelated side-note, reading the “Jordan Rules” reminded me of LeBron getting some flack for dancing during some blowouts, which teed off their opponents greatly this season.  James is not the first player to do this.  None other than MJ pulled the same trick during a blowout of the Lakers in Game 2 of the NBA Finals.  Smith wrote that “[t]he fans in [Chicago] Stadium were dancing, and so was Jordan, so much so that at one point Lakers assistant coach Randy Pfund had to restrain Dunleavy from going after Jordan. Jordan had started mocking opponents during the Detroit series, and the practice would carry over to the Los Angeles series as he began to taunt the Lakers’ bench after baskets.”  So the side lesson here is to not let the old-timers lecture you about how to conduct yourself on the court–or at least not let them lecture you that they were any better about the issue even when they are right from a common sense angle. 

Returning to Dunleavy, his job went from nursing a contender in Los Angeles to an also-ran when Magic Johnson was diagnosed as HIV positive at the beginning of the 1991-92 season.  The Lakers quickly fell to a .500 team (43-39 actually) and were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs as an eighth seed. It was a credible job under the circumstances (Sports Illustrated picked them as their coach of the year) 

-Milwaukee Bucks (1992-1996) 59-105, .360%:  Despite a nice run, Dunleavy surprised the Lakers by resigning after the 1991-92 to take an eight-year contract with the Bucks as Coach/GM.  The L.A. Times called the move “shocking” and the players all professed surprise.  Michael Cooper, then an assistant to GM Jerry West said that “I’m very surprised. I know it was a decision he had to make, and I know everyone’s kind of sad now. . . . I don’t know what to say. Usually I have a lot to say, but this caught everyone totally by surprise.”  Dunleavy had spent most of the 1980s playing in Milwaukee and he was getting total control of the franchise while the Lakers looked to be old and rebuilding.  Seems hard to believe someone would walk away from one of the marquee NBA franchises to coach the Bucks but it was a better deal at the time.  Jim Murray framed the decision this way: “Rejection by a coach is like rejection by a girl with buck teeth and glasses at the school hop. Makes you want to run to the mirror and see what’s wrong.” 

In Milwaukee, Dunleavy was also starting from square one.  Dunleavy attempted to rebuild a team with zero young talent (the best players were 36-year old Moses Malone, and 31-year old Dale Ellis) and played a painfully boring style.  His goal was to rebuild through the draft and the drafting results were not horrible but the team on the floor was.  Here is Dunleavy’s drafting record in Milwaukee: 

-1992:  The Bucks picked eighth and took Todd Day, who was a star in college.  The 76ers, picking ninth took Clarence Weatherspoon, a clearly better player but probably wouldn’t have changed the Bucks’ destiny.  The only very good player left in the draft was Latrell Sprewell (no, I don’t consider Robert Horry really good) but Dunleavy wasn’t going to find a game changer in this draft.  The draft was illustrative of terrible planning by the previous Bucks administration.  The 1991-92 Bucks were clearly going nowhere.  Signing Moses Malone to try to make the eight seed when every one knew that both Alonzo Mourning and Shaquille O’Neal were coming out of college is a classic example of misunderstanding when to tank and when to go for it.

1993: Milwaukee, again in the late lottery, hit well with Vin Baker at the eighth pick.  We tend to remember the out-of-shape post-lockout Baker but he was a very good player for the Bucks and as good a pick as they could’ve reasonably made under the circumstances (sleepers like Sam Cassell and Nick Van Exel went much later and only Allan Houston was any good of the picks immediately afterwards).

1994:  This was the draft that may have broken Dunleavy’s Bucks.  They had the first overall pick and their choice of Glenn Robinson, Jason Kidd, and Grant Hill.  I can’t recall if Robinson was the consensus number one at the time but I do remember that he was considered the next great prospect after Chris Webber.  Checking with Sports Illustrated at the time we find that there was not much debate: “Robinson is polite if not quite engaging, controlled, very much a professional in interviews. He seems inured to the moment. Maybe he is overwhelmed, although there was never a doubt he would be chosen first..” 

So, Dunleavy can’t be faulted from a conventional sense for drafting Big Dog.  Let’s take a look at the numbers of the Big Three and see if they tell a different story:

Glenn Robinson 21 34.3 10.8 22.4 0.483 2.3 6.1 0.380 6.3 7.9 0.796 10.1 1.9 1.6 0.9 4.1 30.3
Grant Hill 21 35.7 6.4 13.9 0.462 1.1 2.9 0.390 3.4 4.9 0.703 6.9 5.2 1.9 1.2 3.0 17.4
Jason Kidd 20 35.1 5.5 11.7 0.472 1.7 4.7 0.362 3.9 5.6 0.692 6.9 9.1 3.1 0.3 4.3 16.7

There are some question marks on Big Dog’s rate stats, particularly his lack of blocked shots and assists.  Both Hill and Kidd have robust secondary numbers that are indicators of athleticism and NBA stardom.  Kidd’s boards/assists/steals, in particular, were really impressive for a 20-year old college guard.  Still, taking Robinson was not a crazy decision stat-wise.  Robinson ended up being pretty good, just not nearly as good as Kidd or Hill (pre-injury) and the Bucks jumped up to 34-48 in 1994-95, not great but a big improvement.

1995: The Bucks drafted a shooting guard, Shawn Respert, to go with his bookend forwards. Dunleavy also went for it by matching Baker and Robinson with vets like Johnny Newman, Sherman Douglas (traded for Todd Day early in the season), and Benoit Benjamin.  Respert struggled mightily and the veterans were underwhelming.  The Bucks fell back to 25-57, suffered a 15-game losing streak, and Dunleavy was fired as coach but kept his GM title, but clearly was neutered of any real decision-making power.  Dunleavy stayed one more year (they did a nice job drafting Ray Allen in the 1996 Draft though it isn’t clear who made the call) before resigning as GM. 

How did Dunleavy’s leaving as coach compare to the same thing with the Clippers?  Here’s what Dunleavy said in 1996: “Needless to say, I’m disappointed about not being back as coach next year. It’s certainly a situation where I understand the move and I am going to go forward with this job like I do anything else, in a professional way.” 

This February, Dunleavy framed the decision as more as one of his own volition: “I’ve had several conversations with our owner [Donald Sterling] concerning what we think is best for the team overall. We have discussed the possibility of my concentrating only on basketball operations. That option has always been available to me.” 

Portland Trailblazers (1997-2001) 190-106, .642%:  Dunleavy’s stock after the Milwaukee experience was strong enough that he earned a five-year contract to coach the Blazers.  Portland had a talented team and were looking for a veteran NBA coach after their previous coach, college coach P.J. Carelsimo, struggled dealing with the personalities in the locker room (particularly Rod Strickland).  Carelsimo left Dunleavy with a pretty good team (49-33 in 1996-97) and ownership willing to sink tons of cash into the payroll (they gave big contracts to Kenny Anderson, Brian Grant, and later acquired Scottie Pippen).  Dunleavy did a nice job getting the Blazers to two Conference Finals (1998-99 and 1999-00), including the painful loss to the Lakers in Game 7 of the 1999-00 playoffs when Portland blew an 18-point lead.  In 2000-01, the Blazers went 50-32 but were swept out of the playoffs in the first round by the Lakers.  The first round loss was considered a disappointment and the team struggled with internal problems (Shawn Kemp had a drug problem, Bonzi Wells and Rasheed Wallace kept popping off in public, including an incident when he threw a towel in Arvydas Sabonis’ face in the huddle, and Damon Stoudamire also had a pot bust).  Despite his nice run, Dunleavy was fired for losing to the Lakers, which probably wasn’t a fair standard. 

Next stop was the Clippers, where Dunleavy struggled most of his tenure (with the notable exception of 2005-06).  So, that’s how a coach gets to hang around long enough to lose 700 games.  Coming off his second mostly ugly run as coach/GM, Dunleavy will probably have to go back to the assistant realm if he wants to stay in coaching but his name is in the pipeline so you never know when we’ll see him coaching again.  His body of work, however, suggest a coach/GM of very average ability.  Not as bad as Simmons suggests but certainly not great.

3 comments for “Transactions: 2/3-2/26 Part 1

  1. art
    March 12, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    Mike is a throwback to the 60’s of new york born/bred white irish hustlers. I think he even did a sign of the cross when younger. Overachieved as a player but played the media game with the NYC based NBA crowd. Was out to the league and married a rich NYC investment banker daughter and has a big house in nantucket with a full court which is bar none the base game in the country in the summer. Celebs, pro athletes- you never know who is invited. His son has leveraged this(dick v called him next grant hill)and he has made a fortune w/o appearing in a playoff game.Breenie drools over his every shot- he is like a CYO star. Weep not for senior or junior(who is always in the arm of some model)

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