Transactions: 1/15-2/25 Part II

New Orleans Hornets

2/4      Signed Sasha Pavlovic to a 10-day contract

2/23    Traded Marcus Thornton and cash to Sacramento for Carl Landry

On a talent basis, Thornton for Landry was a pretty fair exchange.  The issue here was not talent but money.  Mark Cuban criticized the trade because the Hornets, which are owned by the NBA and capitalized collectively by the NBA owners, made a trade that added a bit to the Hornets’ payroll ($750,000) in the deal.  Cuban’s stated his beef thusly: “If New Orleans is taking back $2 million [pro-rated for the last few months of the season] and I own 1/29th of it, I’m going to go against the grain and say that’s just wrong.  There’s no way, with their payroll, having to dump salary before they were sold to us; now they can take on more salary while they’re losing money.  That’s just wrong every which way.”

Cuban raises an interesting point.  He wants the Hornets to be payroll neutral while he is kicking in cash to keep them afloat.  On the other hand, we are not privy to agreements that the owners made about New Orleans before they bought out George Shinn.  We do know that:

-The Hornets were losing money

-Shinn didn’t have the capital to keep them going

-Shinn was not easy to deal with and was a detriment enough to the NBA so much so that they were prepared to buy him out before finding an outside buyer

-The NBA wants to keep the Hornets attractive enough for another prospective buyer

Given what we know, it would make sense that a fairly competitive team should be willing to raise payroll a tiny bit to keep up appearances.  If the Hornets are treated purely like a holding company, it probably looks worse to its perceived value than having to pick up an extra $750,000.  I understand Cuban’s complaint in the abstract.  It is his money (he is kicking in about $27,000 for the salary) but it is in the NBA’s interest to make this team look good and to try to keep its primary asset (Chris Paul) happy in the short term.  Presumably, Cuban will also get a return on the investment when the team is actually sold.

If the Hornets turn into a neglected team or an expansion team, the NBA and Cuban lose value on the re-sale.  Moreover, Cuban’s complaints only serve to undermine the NBA’s claims that they can hold onto the Hornets until a suitable buyer is found and potentially hurts the NBA’s bargaining position with outside prospective buyers.  If Cuban has to pay less than he has in per diems to busts like Desagana Diop or Evan Eschmeyer, that is a small price to try to keep normalcy in New Orleans.  Still, it is hard to dispute that the NBA will have to make a sale soon.  The Hornets will have to make some difficult personnel decisions (on Paul and David West) in the near future and no matter what decision is made the NBA will face criticism unless it is made by a third-party owner that is concerned with the future success of the team.

New York Knicks

2/22    Traded Anthony Randolph, Eddy Curry and cash to Minnesota for Kosta Koufos, Corey Brewer and a second-round pick

2/22    Traded Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov, Kosta Koufos, a future second-round pick, the right to exchange 2016 first-round picks, a second-round pick (from Minnesota) and cash to Denver for Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Anthony Carter, Renaldo Balkman, and Shelden Williams

The primary criticism of the Knicks was that they gave up too much for Melo.  The Knicks had more power in this negotiation since Anthony wanted out and because the Knicks likely could’ve signed him in the off-season.  But I understood the Knicks trepidation.  If the new CBA had a provision restricting free agency, the Knicks were stuck.  I would not have given up so much for Anthony only because his strength (volume scoring) was not a Knicks’ weaknesses.  He is an upgrade for the Knicks but there might have been better options available (Deron Williams anyone?).   The Knicks were worried enough about the bird in the hand that they gave up and went all in with assets.  This was not textbook negotiations on the Knicks part but, really, the only aspect of the deal that hurt was giving up both  Chandler and Galinari (because Denver didn’t need both) and Felton (in case Billups was not healthy).  I can’t imagine Chandler AND Galinari AND Felton was a deal breaker for the Nuggets.  Had the Knicks held firm, they would have probably been able to get Anthony and keep some depth.

At the end of the day, the Knicks look better but not significantly so.  They are still a 5-7 seed in the East and not likely to win a series.  The challenge now will be finding depth in the draft or the low end of the free agent market to fill in the holes left by getting Anthony.  Knicks fans should be happy but they should be warily eyeing the future.  If Donnie Walsh or someone competent is filling these holes, they may build a good team.  But there is always a shot that James Dolan screws that issue up.

Oklahoma City Thunder

2/24    Traded Morris Peterson and DJ White to Charlotte for Nazr Mohammed

2/24    Traded Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic to Boston for Nate Robinson and Kendrick Perkins

OKC needed defense and rebounding and these moves do a good job addressing these needs.  Perkins, if he is healthy, can board and defend.  Mohammed also gives a presence in that same area.   While they got Mohammed for essentially nothing, the haul for Perkins was not insignificant.  Green is a good all-around player, though he has not been the potential star some thought he could be out of college.  Krstic is also an effective player and scores much better than Perkins.  The Thunder were apparently willing to do the deal because they had no desire to re-sign Green, who could argue for a quasi-big deal in the Travis Outlaw range based upon his youth and potential.

As a postscript to the above analysis, Perkins has apparently already signed an extension for four years and a reported $35 million.  This tells us that OKC thinks Perkins’ knee issues are resolved and that he is worth being paid like a starting forward/center.  Assuming Perkins is really healthy and returns to pre-2010-11 form, this is a very nice trade/contract extension and right in line with league average at center salary-wise.  Perkins is only 26 and the deal brings him through his prime.  Time will tell on the medical side.

Orlando Magic

1/26    Waived Jason Williams

Before the season, the Magic tried so hard to make sure back up point was covered.  They had Williams, who was pretty decent before this year, Chris Duhon, and then, later, Gilbert Arenas.  Unfortunately, they’ve all been awful.  Williams is not healthy and, at 35, this is pretty much the end of the road (Duhon has been as bad but his long term deal protected him from being the first cut).  As for Williams, Memphis is giving him one last run but it seems that we won’t be seeing White Chocolate after 2010-11.

Given my memories of Williams as a young, exciting player, it’s a little disconcerting to see him as nearly done in the NBA.  I first saw Williams in college at Florida.  He was flashy and controversial there.  First, Williams played high school ball with Randy Moss and then went to Marshall (like Moss) before transferring to Florida for the 1997-98 season.  Williams spent college being suspended with academic and marijuana issues but was a dynamic player when he did play.  He left college  after the 1997-98 season and was a seventh overall draft pick by the Kings.

As a rookie, Williams was immediately the talk of the league based upon his crazy and exciting passing and his penchant for pulling up for threes on fastbreaks.  But the young Williams was not very effective.  He shot poorly and turned the ball over too much.  In his first three years with Sacramento, Williams shot a ton of threes but couldn’t make more than .315% for a single season in that time.  Williams’ problems: the poor shooting, turnovers ( a career high 3.7 in 1999-00), and inability to get to the line made him essentially a below average starter.  Based upon his flashy reputation, however, the Kings were still able to flip him for the far superior Mike Bibby in a challenge trade after that 2000-01 season.

The Kings clearly won the deal because Bibby was an All-Star level player but Williams was no bust.  The legend is that Williams was helped by coach Hubie Brown, the old school meat-and-potatoes coach who took over the Grizz in early 2002-03.  The numbers bare this out.  Check Williams’ number his first in Memphis under Sidney Lowe in 2001-02 versus the next year with Brown:

2001-02: 34.4 mpg, 14.9 ppg, .382 FG%, .295 3FG%, 8.0 apg, 1.7 spg, 3.3 TOs

2002-03: 31.7 mpg, 12.1 ppg, .388 FG%, .354 3FG%, 8.3 apg, 1.2 spg, 2.2 TOs

Williams never was a great jump shooter but, somehow, after Brown Williams avoided the terrible one-on-three pull up threes or the crazy bounce passes.  After 2001-02, Williams never had a turnover rate of more than 2.5 per 36 minutes (whereas he exceed 3.4 twice in his first four seasons).  With the exception of 2010-11, Williams never shot worse from three than he did those first four seasons of his career.  While Brown is reflexively credited with educating Williams the relationship between Brown and Williams was strained by the end of Brown’s tenure.  Williams apparently got into a verbal altercation with Hubie Brown’s son, Brendan Brown, who was an assistant coach, during a game shortly before Hubie Brown quit.

Even without Hubie, Williams continued his solid play for Memphis and then Miami as a starter.   Williams was no star but he was a solid league average point guard, which is an asset and was enough for Miami to win a title with in 2005-06.  Interestingly, I couldn’t find any interviews of Williams giving Brown much credit for the improved play.  In a 2006 interview with while playing with Miami, Williams addressed Sacramento and Memphis situations as follows:

“Q. Do you think starting your career with the Kings was good or bad for your game?

JASON WILLIAMS: I think it was a little bit of both. It might have been the best and the worst thing that could’ve happened to me to get drafted by the Kings, because they didn’t really have a veteran point guard that I can learn from. They just had to play me. No matter what I did, they had to leave me on the court because they didn’t have any other points.

Q. Do you feel the Kings put too much pressure on you to be a star at such a young age?

JASON WILLIAMS: I don’t think I sensed it at the time, but now that I’m older and I’ve learned how everything works. If I did know back then, I would’ve loved it, but I didn’t.

Q. You had some highly publicized issues when you were with the Grizzlies. Do you regret that at all?

JASON WILLIAMS: I might regret the way I handled it a little bit, but if it happened again, I’m not sure I would’ve handled it a different way. I’m not saying it’s right, but that’s just the way I feel.”

So, we don’t see too much reflection on Williams’ part.  The interesting question is how much of his growth was based upon the natural improvement of a young player and how much was his exposure to Hubie Brown (and later the similarly controlling Mike Fratello).  The answer doesn’t really matter but I do wonder how much was nature and how much was nurture.  Either way, Williams deserves to be remembered as a good pro.

Phoenix Suns

1/27    Signe Zabian Dowdell to a second 10-day contract

2/24    Traded Goran Dragic and a protected first-round draft pick to Houston for Aaron Brooks

As bad as Brooks was this year in Houston, he is a better player than Dragic.  Based upon past history, it seems hard to believe that Brooks will continue to shoot 35% as he did for Houston.  With Steve Nash around, Brooks will not get the full minutes he wants but he does get the chance to reprise the Leandro Barbosa sixth man role.  If Brooks embraces that role, he should get enough shots and minutes to be happy.  A backcourt of Brooks and Nash will be abused defensively but will be very fun to watch on the other side.

Portland Trailblazers

2/24    Traded Dante Cunningham, Sean Marks, Joel Przybilla and two future first-round picks to Charlotte for Gerald Wallace

While there is some debate over how good Wallace is (merely good or very good), it is clear that the is an above average player at this point and represents an upgrade for the Blazers’ playoff run.  For Portland, Wallace will be one of many frontcourt players which will limit his minutes a bit.  On Charlotte, Wallace was a minutes sponge, he hasn’t averaged fewer than 36.7 mpg since 2005-06.  Wallace provides a ton of flexibility: he can pair with Nicolas Batum if the Blazers want to go quick, or he can add depth when Batum isn’t playing.  He should be the added piece to lock Portland into the playoffs this season and they have done so at little cost.

Sacramento Kings

2/23    Traded Carl Landry to New Orleans for Marcus Thornton and cash

2/24    Traded a 2017 second-round pick to Boston for Marquis Daniels and cash

Thornton is a legitimate scoring threat and a promising young player.  He doesn’t fully fit on the Kings, who already have a volume scorer in Tyreke Evans.  The trade does make sense because Landry will be a free agent after the season and was surely gone and the Kings saved money in salary too.  In the short term, Thornton has scored quite a bit with Evans out (20 ppg in nine games with Sacramento).    Thornton is also a free agent at the end of the year, so it’ll be interesting to see what this late scoring binge does to his value.

San Antonio Spurs

2/22    Signed Steve Novak to a second 10-day contract

Novak has serious limitations but he’s played fairly well in his minutes so far.  The Spurs will use him as a latter day Matt Bullard/Pete Chilcutt and hope that this hustle and shooting confers some bench help in a pinch.

Toronto Raptors

1/20    Waived Predrag Stojakovic

1/24    Traded the draft rights to Giorgos Printezis to Dallas for Alexis Ajinca, a future second-round draft pick

1/26    Signed Trey Johnson to a 10-day contract and waived Sundiata Gaines

2/7      Signed Trey Johnson to a 10-day contract

2/22    Traded a first-round pick to Chicago for James Johnson

Amongst all this noise, the only really interesting tidbit is the acquisition of James Johnson, a solid young player that could help the Raps build a core.  He’s athletic enough to be useful bench player but not much more.

Utah Jazz

2/10    Head Coach Jerry Sloan resigned; Named Tryone Corbin head coach

2/23    Traded Deron Williams to New Jersey for Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, two first-round picks and cash

The Jazz showed that they have little to no tolerance for the equivocation and star issues that the Cavs and Nuggets put up with when LeBron and Melo were thinking about trades/free agency.  Rather, Utah quietly took the first good offer out on the market.  Was this a better idea than Denver’s happily letting Carmelo play while his mind was elsewhere?  Denver was able to extract maximum value for Melo but at the price of a circus atmosphere around the team for several months.  It’s hard to say one method was better than the other because the real x-factor is the tolerance that management and fans have for the circus atmosphere.  I imagine the Jazz management did not want the media attention and once they saw a good deal, they jumped on it.

Indeed, Favors and Harris, plus picks (including the Nets’ certain lottery pick this year) is a very nice haul for a player they likely could not keep.  Harris is no Williams but should be a very good point guard.  Favor is so young it’s hard to tell exactly how good he might be.  The number do show him as a good rebounder and jumper, if not incredible.  He’s also been fouling a ton, which he’ll need to cut down in the future.  The range of possibilities is varied but Favors should be a solid starter at power forward and potentially more.

Washington Wizards

2/23    Traded Kirk Hinrich and Hilton Armstrong to Atlanta for Mike Bibby, Maurice Evans, Jordan Crawford, and a draft pick

Bibby was quickly bought out and the Wiz saved a ton on the deal (Bibby reportedly left $6 million in salary on the table).

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