5/14 Fired Mike Woodson
6/13 Named Larry Drew head coach
7/8 Re-signed Joe Johnson
From a decision-making perspective, Atlanta is one the weirder franchises in the NBA. First, Mike Woodson apparently wins a power struggle with GM Billy Knight right about the time when it was clear that the Hawks had built a pretty good team. Now, the team is looking pretty good and Woodson is shown the door too. Knight was apparently fired because he was unable to lead the team past the second-round (they were swept out of the second-round both years). If that is the main basis for firing Knight, it strikes me as a little obtuse. The Hawks have done nothing but improve with Woodson. Sure, it’s not fun to be swept but the teams that swept them (Cavs in 2008-09 and Magic in 2009-10) were much better. Woodson isn’t irreplaceable or the main reason the team improved so much over the last five years but usually it is better to err on the side of stability and keeping a competent coach over canning him because of unreasonable expectations.
Hopefully, Drew will show himself to be a good coach and take the team to the next level. Drew has been a well-regarded assistant for a long time and has paid enough dues to get this job. On paper, however, Atlanta looks like the same second-round team they were the last few years.
If you were looking for some sort of collateral indicating as to whether Atlanta’s coaching move made any sense, the signing of Johnson does not bode well. The Hawks needed and should’ve tried to keep JJ…but at $119 million? There may have been some risk that someone would have overbid for Johnson during the free agent frenzy but smart teams just do not invest max money on 29-year old shooting guards who are merely pretty good. This is not as egregious as the Knicks overpaying for Allan Houston back in 2000 because JJ is a better player than Houston was. Still, one would think that Johnson could’ve been had for much less. (I would have valued Johnson at about $70-80 million over six years). We all know that most non-superstar two guards tend to age quickly. Johnson is better than just good but he’s not quite good enough to assume that he can keep up his current production level for more than one or two years and his contract runs six years. Just for fun, here’s a list of the PERs for other two good-to-great guards from ages 28 to age 34:
|Player||Age 28||Age 29||Age 30||Age 31||Age 32||Age 33||Age 34|
Johnson’s PER in 2009-10 was a respectable 19.3. He falls square in middle of the above group. The stars stayed quite good but JJ’s peers, at best, stayed okay by age-32 (with the notable exception of Richmond, who had a nice second wind at ages 31 and 32). None of this proves that Johnson will be a huge albatross but the odds aren’t great for him being above-average after age 31. The overpay on Johnson won’t make the Hawks a title team in the next two years and may even hinder efforts to pay the more valuable Al Horford (or retain Horford and Josh Smith, both of whom are more valuable than JJ). The Hawks can work around this issue (their payroll isn’t huge) but why give away $40 million in salary cap flexibility when you probably didn’t have to?
7/10 Signed Jermaine O’Neal
7/13 Re-signed Ray Allen
The Celtics are all in for another veteran run for the title. These types of runs are fun but often can end abruptly when the stars become old or injured. The problems snowball when all the veteran role players surrounding them seem a bit worthless without stars to complement their particular skill sets (see, e.g., the Rockets of the late 1990s). Still, if a team is going to go this route (and the Celts may as well milk Kevin Garnett as long as possible), signing O’Neal and Allen aren’t bad ideas. Both deals are short term and relatively fair. O’Neal may not be the player he was in 2003 but he was effective for Miami. He can’t create his own shot like he used to but the defense is still there and he’s only 32 (even though it seems like he’s been in the NBA forever and moves like it too). At two years and $11 million, this is likely to be a favorable deal for Boston.
As for Allen, he reportedly took two years and $20 million from Boston when better deals were on the table. As noted above, shooting guards can age poorly and Allen is coming off his weakest year in a while. The scary thing for Boston fans is that Allen very likely will hit the brick wall and will no longer be a slightly above average two guard anymore. The question is whether it happens in 2010-11 or 2011-12. The difference of one year matters greatly to Boston. If Allen gives Boston one more good year, the deal works. Indeed, Allen, even if not playable in 2011-12, would be quite tradable to teams looking to clear cap space. Finally, I suppose this shouldn’t figure into the equation too much but to the extent that Allen has been a classy pro and a quasi-local player, this is the type of player franchises are well-served to pay a little extra to keep around.
7/10 Signed Dominic McGuire
7/12 Re-signed Tyrus Thomas
7/13 Traded Tyson Chandler and Alexis Ajinca to Dallas for Matt Carroll, Eduardo Najera, Erick Dampier, and cash
For the Bobcats, this was not a value-for-value deal. While Dampier and Chandler match up as salary slots (both make around $13 million 2010-11), Dampier’s deal is non-guaranteed. This means that the Cats can merely cut Dampier and save about $13 million or use him as a trade chip to acquire a good player that another will want to dump to save money. The move isn’t totally free, as the Bobcats must take back Carroll and Najera, who have two years left on their contracts. This is Carroll’s return engagement to Charlotte, where he was a competent role player. His playing style won’t mesh with Larry Brown but he could really work on teams needing shooters (Miami or Chicago?).
For Charlotte fans, this deal will be ultimately be judged by how the team utilizes Dampier. If this ends up being a straight salary dump, fans might feel a bit discouraged. Chandler has his issues but he is enough of an asset to keep around over an empty salary slot. I’m a bit skeptical that Michael Jordan wants to spend the cash right now but we shall see.
5/3 Fired Vinny Del Negro
6/23 Named Tom Thibodeau head coach
7/8 Signed Hakim Warrick and traded him to Phoenix for for a 2011 second-round pick
7/8 Traded Kirk Hinrich, the draft rights to Kevin Seraphin and cash to Washington for the draft rights to Vladimir Veremeenko
7/8 Traded a player exception to Utah for Carlos Boozer and a second-round pick
7/10 Signed Kyle Korver and signed JJ Reddick to an offer sheet
Under the radar, the Bulls have had a very nice off-season. They didn’t get too wrapped up in the LeBron Sweepstakes and then took the steps to address their weaknesses. First, the Bulls addressed the defensiuve issues by getting a proven defensive mastermind in Tom Tihbodeau. Next, they landed the best low post scorer on the market after Chris Bosh in Boozer. The Bulls now have the makings of a very formidable team next season.
But there are some things for the pessimists to latch on to here as well. First, the Bulls treated Del Negro horribly, he was the ultimate a lame duck, despite the fact that he actually seemed to improve as a coach (particularly defensively). Thibodeau has a nice background but he is not a guaranteed improvement since he has no head coaching experience as a pro. Also, Boozer, as good as he is, is not a slam dunk. He has had plenty of injury issues himself the last few years and may not age well. Assuming both Thidobdeau and Boozer both workout as planned, neither move addresses the Bulls terrible three-point shooting (28th in the NBA at .330%). Combine this with the fact that the Bulls have lost three of the four most prolific three-point shooters on the roster from last years already (Kirk Hinrich, John Salmons, and Brad Miller) and there are still holes to fill. [Ed. note: Korver and Reddick should be a nice star].
5/24 Fired Mike Brown
6/4 Fired Danny Ferry and named Chris Grant general manager
7/1 Named Byron Scott head coach
7/9 Signed LeBron James and traded him to Miami for first-round picks in 2013 and 2015, a 2012 second-round pick, a future second-round pick, and a trade exception
Yuck. In retrospect, it seems that the Cavs never had a shot to re-sign LeBron no matter what they did. He had made the decision to get out of town and play with his buddies. Had James won a title in Cleveland it might’ve changed things but even that is not guaranteed, since his need to have a global following wouldn’t have been sated by playing the balance of his career in a non-glitzy town. Cleveland also has a legitimate gripe with the way that James treated his departure like a sleazy daytime television show. LeBron was the philanderer who confronts his current unsuspecting spouse and tells him that he is leaving her on national television for someone else that he may already be shtooping, just to ensure that the break upo is as humiliating and degrading as possible.
Unfortunately, Dan Gilbert has also stuck to the script by acting the role of the shunned spouse on these shows by going ape-shit insane upon hearing the news. Gilbert’s invective letter posted on the Cavs’ website did not make him seem the most sane person. If LeBron is a prima donna and a quitter, why the hell did you want him back before anyway? The anger is justified but expressed in a silly form. Focus on the future. No player is bigger than a franchise and time will go on. If Cleveland plays well and gets a little lucky, they can contend again. If there is any consolation, Byron Scott has been a nice good luck charm for the Nets (they obtained Kenyon Martin, Jason Kidd, and Richard Jefferson early on his tenure) and the Hornets (they got Chris Paul).
In case you’re wondering, LeBron has the highest single season PER (31.10) of any player ever to change teams. Here’s the list of the highest PER players to switch teams during or after a season of a 25.0 PER or higher:
-LeBron James, Clev. 2009-10, PER 31.1: Signed with Miami Heat.
-Wilt Chamberlain, S.F. 1964-65, PER 28.3: Traded to Sixers during season. The Sixers made the conference finals and the Warriors missed the playoffs. Ultimately, the Sixers won a title with Wilt but the Warriors quickly rebuilt to a good but not great team with Rick Barry and Nate Thurmond.
-Moses Malone, Hou. 1981-82, PER 26.8: Signed as a free agent with the Sixers. Philly immediately won a title and the Rockets tanked. Long term the Sixers didn’t keep it up and the Rockets used their futility to draft Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon in successive years, which led to three Finals appearances and two titles.
-Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Mil. 1974-75, PER 26.4: Kareem forced a trade to the Lakers, also desiring a larger market to play in. The Lakers were decent for the rest of the 1970s and launched in the 1980s when he was paired with Magic Johnson. Milwaukee stayed around .500 for a few years before becoming formidable again in the early 1980s with Sidney Moncrief.
-Shaquille O’Neal, Orl. 1995-96, PER 26.4: Signed with Lakers. The Lakers, of course, won three titles. The Magic were a lower rung playoff team without Shaq.
-Tracy McGrady, Orl. 2003-04, PER 25.3: After the Magic struggled and T-Mac seemed indifferent, management traded him to Houston. The Magic were mediocre in 2004-05 but parlayed their struggles into Dwight Howard in the draft. The Rockets were better with McGrady and Yao Ming but never got out of the first round (until McGrady was injured).
-Chris Bosh, Tor. 2009-10, PER 25.0: Signed with the Heat.
7/9 Re-signed Brendan Haywood
7/13 Signed Ian Mahinmi
7/13 Traded Matt Carroll, Eduardo Najera, and cash to Charlotte for Tyson Chandler and Alexis Ajinca
For Dallas, a Haywood/Chandler center spot looks like a nice pairing. Sure, Chandler at $12.5 million is a bit pricey but Mark Cuban is willing to spend to contend. Assuming the stay healthy, this center platoon gives Dallas both size and speed defensively (neither player is too great offensively). In addition, if Chandler doesn’t perform, he has value as a trading chip with an expiring contract or can simply be jettisoned after the season. The Haywood contract is a bit rich in length (six years and $55 million) but for three years, $9 million is fair for a league averageish center. Again, Cuban can afford to pay him through age-36 but a little restraint might’ve helped here.
Golden State Warriors
6/22 Traded Corey Maggette and the 44th pick in the 2010 draft to Milwaukee for Charlie Bell and Dan Gadzuric
7/9 Traded Kelenna Azubuike, Anthony Randolph, Ronny Turiaf, and a 2010 second-round pick to New York for David Lee
7/13 Signed Dorell Wright; signed and traded Anthony Morrow to New Jersey for a conditional second-round pick in 2011 and a player exception
If you can figure out what’s going on here, the more power to you. First the Warriors trade one of their best players in Maggette for trinkets. The deal is more of a salary dump but Maggette is good enough to stick around on merit (three years and $30 million left on his deal). The savings are nice ($16 million in 2011-12 and 2012-13 combined) but this money and more was immediately invested in Lee, a no-defense power forward who isn’t particularly young and doesn’t fill a serious need. The net gain here? Some rebounds, Lee’ amiable personality, and not much else in terms of wins. I know Anthony Randolph is young and not exactly polished but he has the talent to do at least as well as Lee at a much cheaper price. On a rebuilding team, Randolph is precisely the type of player the Warriors are supposed to give a shot to. If the goal is to build around Stephen Curry, a collection of hard-nosed defensive forwards and centers were the proper target and not Lee. This is not to say Lee is a waste of money but he does not represent progress to the (presumed or hoped) Warriors goals of creating a contending team.