Transactions 12/5-12/16

Charlotte Bobcats 

12/10    Trade Jason Richardson, Jared Dudley and a 2010 second-round pick to Phoenix for Raja Bell, Boris Diaw and Sean Singletary

12/12    Sign Juwan Howard 

Another fun Larry Brown trade!  If you give Brown control, he’ll do some whacky things.  On paper, trading Richardson for Bell and Diaw makes little sense.  Richardson is the best player and the money isn’t even necessarily better for Charlotte (Richardson has two years at $28 million after this year while Bell has one year and $5.3 million left and Diaw has three years and $27 million).  But Brown has his wants.  The most prominent example of this occurred when Brown went to the Pacers in 1993 and he famously traded Detlef Schrempf for Derrick McKey.  Though the team improved after the deal, I’m not sure if that was a good trade for the Pacers or that McKey actually “caused” the improvement.  Still, Brown’s system demanded defenders over scorers and it worked in Indiana.  Similarly in Philly in 1998, Brown amassed all sorts of tepid offensive player who could defend (Eric Snow, Aaron McKie, George Lynch) and he traded Jerry Stackhouse (who was a young star) for Theo Ratliff (who was then just a back up for the Pistons) and also improved.  So, Brown’s trades, no matter how whacky, usually ultimately work.  There is a big distinction here.  The Pacers had Rik Smits and Reggie Miller to score and the Sixers had Allen Iverson.  In this case, however, Bobcats don’t have even one bona fide scorer, let alone two, to lean on.  As such, I’m skeptical here until we see otherwise. 

Memphis Grizzlies 

12/10    Trade conditional second-round pick to New Orleans; Washington trades Antonio Daniels to New Orleans for Mike James and a conditional first-round pick to Memphis for Javaris Crittenton

12/13    Sign Darius Miles 

Memphis gets draft picks to help facilitate this swap of backup point guards.  Crittenton was very young (only 21) and capable but the Grizz have a glut of point guards anyway.  As for Miles, we already wrote the epitaph on his career last year.  Aside from ruining Portland’s cap flexibility, I just don’t know if he can make any impact after sitting out so long (three years).  

Minnesota Timberwolves 

12/9    Relieve head coach Randy Wittman and name Kevin McHale coach 

I understand the frustration of bad losses.  The Wolves didn’t seem to be competing and that is usually the time to make a change.  Big picture, however, the team wasn’t supposed to be good and most of the crappiness can be traced to McHale’s signings and draft picks.  But there seems to be a method to the madness here.  Apparently, ownership basically told McHale to feel the pain by coaching the long string and stripped him of GM power.  I’m not quite sure how ownership decided that now they finally had enough of McHale when his worst moves were all made from 2004-2007 but better late than never.  In the short term, McHale will gradually expand Kevin Love’s time to see if he can play with Al Jefferson and confirm what they have Rashad McCants, Randy Foye, and the other youngsters (I suspect not much but that’s a different story).  

New Orleans Hornets 

12/10   Trade conditional first round-pick to Memphis for Javaris Crittenton; Washington trades Antonio Daniels to New Orleans; Memphis sends conditional second-round pick to New Orleans 

Daniels was once one of the great third guard/backup points in the business.  Now, he’s really been declining for several years.  Already 33, Daniels’ scoring/shooting has been sporadic.  No matter Daniels’ limitations, he’s still a good defender and has his uses for a contending team.  Trading him for James is a no lose proposition for New Orleans.  James has been puke bad for a couple years now and the break out 2005-06 season in Toronto (19.7 ppg and 5.7 apg!) now feels either like a million years ago or like it never actually happened. 

New York Knicks 

12/11    Announce the retirement of Cuttino Mobley 

Mobley’s retirement is unfortunate for him personally but really won’t affect the Knicks too much, as Nate Robinson should pick up the slack and Mobley really wasn’t starting timber anymore anyway.  Hopefully, Mobley’s heart problems won’t affect his life but they have ended a pretty good career.  This seems like a fitting time to review that career.  Mobley had a solid four-year career in college at Rhode Island (17.2 ppg as a senior) but was only a second-round pick by the Rockets in 1998.  It wasn’t clear the Mobley was going to make the team, as the Rockets were trying to contend with a bunch of stars on their last legs.  Hakeem Olajuwon was 36, Charles Barkley was 35, and Scottie Pippen was 33.  The backcourt, however, was a mess.  Clyde Drexler had retired and Mario Elie had signed with San Antonio.  That left Matt Maloney, Brent Price, and Sam Mack, all of whom were good shooters but not much else.

In the 1998 draft, the Rockets tried to get more athletic by grabbing Michael Dickerson out of Arizona and Mobley in the second round.  Dickerson and Mobley both quickly beat out the incumbents and became the starters and, in fact, Mobley hit the game winning shot in his very first NBA game.  Mobley finished out the year as a solid player (9.9 ppg, .425 FG%, 2.5 apg) for the future.  The Rockets’ title hopes fell apart in 1999-00 when Barkley blew out his knee and Olaujown also got old and injured quickly too.  Still, Mobley continued to improve (15.8 ppg, .430 FG%, 2.6 apg) and seemed to play particularly well with Rookie of the Year Steve Francis (he was actually the co-ROY with Elton Brand).  Francis and Mobley became the focal point of the team the next few years, with both players averaging 19 ppg in 2000-01 and both hitting 21 ppg in 2001-02.  Mobley was down to 17.5 ppg in 2002-03 but was still the number two scoring option behind Francis and the future looked bright with Yao Ming on the scene as an emerging rookie.  

But as Yao developed, the backcourt heavy offense took a hit.  In 2003-04, Francis fell to 16.6 ppg and Mobley to 15.8 ppg.  Still, the offensive decline was for the best because Yao’s efficient offense (and shot blocking) helped the Rockets make the playoff for the first time since 1998-99.  The Rockets then took the opportunity to trade Francis and Mobley (and Kelvin Cato) to Orlando for Tracy McGrady, who was available because of his clashes with management and GM John Weisbrod felt the Magic “needed to start fresh and get guys who weren’t going to be bigger than the team.”  In the 2004-05 Sports Illustrated NBA Preview, an anonymous scout liked the deal from Orlando’s perspective: “One of the hardest things is to trade a scorer like Tracy McGrady and get scoring back, but they pulled it off in getting Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley. Both guys are capable of creating for themselves and penetrating to the basket, but they need to think about the quality of their shots instead of the quantity. The ugliest scenario is that the team underachieves and Francis and Mobley try to take over by jacking up shots.” 

But Francis and Mobley weren’t actually great scorers.  Mobley never scored more than 18.5 points per 36 minutes and was down to 14.0 points per 36 minutes by the time the Magic got a hold of him and Francis was never over 19 points per 36 minutes either at that point.  Rather, they were a testament to durability, as they both played over 40 mpg from 2001-02 to 2003-04 and were good enough to score a bit.  Even so, Mobley and Francis scored more for Orlando (per minute) for Orlando than they did for the Rockets but Weisbrod was disappointed.  23 games into his Magic career, Mobley was traded to Sacramento for an aging Doug Christie.  Weisbrod’s justifications for the trade were many, some of which made little sense: “[w]e were putting a lineup on the floor where four or five of the guys all considered themselves the focal point offensively…But we were also having trouble keeping the ball out of our basket and we felt we had to do something about that.”  

At the time, Christie was five years older and was clearly in precipitous decline (and really was not even as good a defender as Mobley).  Mobley was decent in his half season in Sacramento and then got a nice contract (five years and $42 million) from the Clippers in the off-season.  Mobley’s three years in Los Angeles were solid but not great.  The Clipps overpaid for, at best, league average production before the recent trade physical revealed that he should not be playing.  In the end, Mobley had  a nice career as a player with no large strengths but few weaknesses and an ability to soak up minutes.  For this, he will earn roughly $67 million for his career.  It didn’t end as he wanted but this is a very nice career for a second-rounder on the fringes. 

Orlando Magic

12/6    Waive Jeremy Richardson

12/12  Re-sign Jeremy Richardson

Richardson was cut just so that the team would not yet have to guarantee his contract for the whole season.  After clearing waivers, he’s back.  He hasn’t played much this year but Orlando remains hopeful that he’ll be able to develop into a scorer off the bench eventually. 

Philadelphia 76ers

12/13    Relieve head coach Maurice Cheeks and name Tony DiLeo interim coach

I didn’t see this one coming.  The Sixers hadn’t been playing well but unless the team wanted to dump Cheeks, I see this move as a little rash.  The team was 2-9 in Cheeks’ final 11 games but four of the losses came to the three best teams in the NBA, they also had a nice win in Detroit a few weeks ago, and the team was playing well defensively (7th in efficiency) but has been horrible offensively (27th this year versus 18th last year).  GM Ed Stefanski stated that he felt the players were just not developing this year.  Let’s check out and see how the players were doing this year versus last year: 

Andre Miller 07-08: 36.8 mpg, 17.0 ppg, .492 FG%, 3.9 rpg, 6.9 apg, 18.4 PER

                       08-89: 35.2 mpg, 15.2 ppg, .442 FG%, 3.8 rpg, 6.0 apg, 17.5 PER  

Andre Iguodala 07-08: 39.5 mpg, 19.9 ppg, .456 FG%, .329 3FG%, 5.4 rpg, 4.8 apg, 19.0 PER

                           08-09: 37.2 mpg, 14.8 ppg, .440 FG%, .242 3FG%, 6.7 rpg, 5.0 apg, 15.7 PER

Willie Green 07-08: 26.6 mpg, 12.4 ppg, .436 FG%, .285 3FG%, 2.5 rpg, 2.0 apg, 12.8 PER

                      08-09: 21.8 mpg, 8.3 ppg, .441 FG%, .360 3FG%, 1.8 rpg, 1.8 apg, 11.3 PER 

Louis Williams 07-08: 23.3 mpg, 11.5 ppg, .424 FG%, .359 3FG%, 2.1 rpg, 3.2 apg, 16.7 PER

                          08-09: 18.3 mpg, 10.3 ppg, .379 FG%, .226 3FG%, 1.5 rpg, 2.2 apg, 14.8 PER 

Sam Dalembert 07-08: 33.2 mpg, 10.5 ppg, .513 FG%, 10.4 rpg, 0.5 apg, 15.6 PER

                           08-09: 25.7 mpg, 5.8 ppg, .451 FG%, 8.3 rpg, 0.3 apg, 10.8 PER 

Thaddeus Young 07-08: 21.0 mpg, 8.2 ppg, .539 FG%, .316 3FG%, 4.2 rpg, 0.8 apg, 16.5 PER

                             08-09: 32.6 mpg, 13.1 ppg, .473 FG%, .318 3FG%, 5.0 rpg, 1.1 apg, 13.3 PER

While the defensive effort is obviously still there, offensively everyone has fallen off from last year.  Throw in the fact that Elton Brand, the big signing, is having the worst year of his career and the general poor shooting (FG% is down from .460% last year to .437% this year and threes down from a bad .317% to an abysmal .299% this year) and you have a bad team.  Why are they shooting so poorly?  Brand’s problems seem more related to his recovery from injury.  As for the rest of the crew, Miller is still good but it was predictable that he wouldn’t be able to hold his shooting percentage to the high levels of 2007-08 and I don’t think you can blame regression to the mean on Cheeks. 

Nor do I think that anything Cheeks has done has caused Iguodala to suddenly become an awful three point shooter.  As for Willie Green, he was never actually that good.  That leaves Dalembert and the two young players who are supposed to be the future of the team.  Dalembert has lost time because of Brand and the emergence of Mareese Speights.  Really, it’s Young and Williams that are the only visible basis for criticism of Cheeks.  Williams is an interesting case.  He is shooting horribly but his usage rate is through the roof.  If he could shoot like last year, Williams would be scoring a ton, though I don’t know who gets the blame for that.  As for Young, I just don’t think his style fits in with a slow down with another small forward in Iguodala and Brand.  Either Young or Iguodala should be traded at some point.  

Ultimately, we do not know what’s going on behind the scenes that might also be part of the decision factors.  Assuming we have most of the facts, however, it appears to me that Cheeks was fired mostly because management didn’t want him.  It’s not like they replaced Cheeks with a hot candidate.  Rather, they took DiLeo from management, which seemed more like a move to save money (they’ll be paying off Cheeks’ recently inked extension).  One would think that Cheeks’ nice finish to last year earned him some leeway, especially since poor play so far was the result of some atypically poor shooting and losses to really good teams, and Cheeks was canned right before a favorable schedule was coming up. Had Cheeks been wanted, he would’ve been given the chance to win against the poorer clubs.

It does bear remembering that the main reason Cheeks was hired by Billy King in 2005 was because Cheeks got along with Allen Iverson, which isn’t really an huge issue now.  So, Stefanski has every right to hire his guy in Philly and Cheeks wasn’t necessarily a great coach but the timing of this firing does not seem right.Phoenix Suns

12/10    Trade Raja Bell, Boris Diaw and Sean Singletary to Charlotte for Jason Richardson, Jared Dudley and a 2010 second-round pick

As we detailed above, this is a clear win for the Suns.  The Diaw contract was a very bad idea even when he was playing well but now is putrid since he has become a high priced reserve.  Richardson is also a big upgrade over Bell, whose offensive game had really atrophied.  Even so, I don’t think Richardson can return the Suns’ to title contention.  In fact, the Suns’ weaknesses are more defensive than anywhere else.  While the offensive efficiency is down to fifih in the NBA (from second last year), defense is way down (from 16th to 24th).  Richardson isn’t an upgrade over Bell in that respect but will help the scoring.  Really, the Suns aslo could use young aggressive defensive forwards at both slots, as Grant Hill is aging and Amare Stoudemire’s defense has never been great.  

Sacramento Kings

12/15    Relieve head coach Reggie Theus and name Kenny Natt interim coach

Even when you’re bad, management has standards.  In this case, losing at home to the Knicks by 40 is a problem.  Couple that loss with other recent blow outs and the painful loss against the Nets last month and patience was gone.  I can understand that thought process but, again, have to ask what the hell management expected.  This team is young and not very good.  Chris Webber and the crew are gone and the only real good player, Kevin Martin, has been injured most of the year.  So, I get it but this does feel like re-arranging the deck chairs here. 

Washington Wizards 

12/10    Waive Dee Brown

12/10    Trade Antonio Daniels to New Orleans for Mike James and a conditional first-round pick to Memphis for Javaris Crittenton; Memphis sends conditional second-round pick to New Orleans  

The Wiz go flat on salary exchange of James and Daniels, though Daniels is the far superior player.  The upside for the Wiz is Crittenton a competent, and perhaps good, young player, which is another admission that a competitive 2008-09 is not possible in Washington.  Hopefully, the Wiz use this opportunity to give Crittenton some playing time.

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