Transactions: 2/2-2/19

Atlanta Hawks 

2/16    Acquire Mike Bibby from Sacramento in exchange for Shelden Williams, Lorenzen Wright, Anthony Johnson, Tyronn Lue and a 2008 second round draft pick

2/18    Sign Jeremy Richardson to a 10-day contract 

A surprisingly inspired acquisition from a front office that has been in perpetual litigation for several years that has paralyzed it from making many moves.  Bibby is a bit overrated and overpriced but Atlanta is weak at the point guard slot and Bibby is certain to be an improvement and the cost in players is virtually nothing.  AJ and Lue were sharing the point and have been below average (if not as bad at the point situation for the Hawks than they were in 2006-07).  Wright is ostensibly out of the NBA at this point.  The only possible value given up in the deal is Shelden Williams, who was taken with the fourth overall pick in 2006.  He’s not been very good as a pro but might have an Alan Henderson career path.  Of this group, only Williams has a contract after the season (Williams’ rookie deal has $3.4 million next year, and a few team options that will probably be declined). 

Bibby, for his part, is not a bed or roses either.  Bibby is set to make $14.5 million in 2008-09, which is way too much to pay Bibby but is only a one year commitment going forward.  After peaking from 2003-2006, Bibby was down in 2006-07 (17.1 ppg, .404 FG%, 4.7 apg in 34 mpg).  Bibby has been out most of the year with a broken wrist and hasn’t been sharp since his return (15.5 ppg, .406 FG%, 5.7 apg).  Bibby is also more of a scorer than a passer, which is not what the Hawks need.  In truth, Andre Miller would’ve been a much better fit with scorers and leapers in the Hawks lineup but the Sixers don’t seem motivated to move him unless they get a real prospect. 

Still, Bibby is better than what the Hawks had and they needed to do something to pull the team out of the nosedive they’ve been in since late December (Atlanta is 7-16 in that span).  I’m not one to put too much stock into the moral victories earned by making playoff runs that are destined to be brief or token appearances.   But the Hawks are one of those teams that really needs some goodwill and excitement.  In that sense, trading virtually nothing for Bibby makes sense. 

Chicago Bulls 

2/7    Waive Viktor Khryapa 

Unlike some Euros, Khryapa had some opportunities to play and still couldn’t quite make it.  Khryapa played a bit for the Blazers in 2005-06 but was put in deep freeze by the Bulls the last two years (42 games and 436 minutes).  Unfortunately, he doesn’t do anything well enough to carve out a niche in the NBA.  I’m not sure we’ll see him in the NBA again but he played enough that he could probably could snag a big deal in Europe. 

Dallas Mavericks

2/19    Sign Keith Van Horn and trade Van Horn, Devin Harris, Trenton Hassell, Maurice Ager, DeSagana Diop, first-round draft choices in 2008 and 2010, and cash considerations to New Jersey for Jason Kidd, Malik Allen and Antoine Wright; waives Nick Fazekas 

In the end, both teams bent.  The Mavs agreed to take the luxury tax hit for Van Horn’s $4.3 million contract and the Nets agreed to take on Hassell’s $8.6 million deal.  For the Mavs, there really was no going back after all the publicity.  In truth, the revise deal is no worse or better than the first deal.  Yes, Jerry Stackhouse isn’t involved but he was never really being traded to begin with because he was going to be re-signed.  So, instead, we’re back to the core of the deal.  The Mavs lose their backup center (not a terrible thing) and Harris and some picks for Kidd and his big contract.  

Kidd is supposed to give the Mavs a one or two year window to make a run at a title.  I don’t think that he accomplishes that for Mavs.  I’m not the only one to say this but look at Kidd straight up with Harris this year and you’ll the stats are very close: 

Kidd:    37.2 mpg, 11.3 ppg, .366 FG%, .356 3FG%. 8.1 rpg, 10.4 apg, 1.5 spg, 3.6 TOPG, 16.0 PER

Harris: 30.4 mpg, 14.4 ppg, .483 FG%, .357 3FG%, 2.3 rpg, 5.3 apg, 1.4 spg, 2.4 TOPG, 18.7 PER 

It can be argued that Harris is legitimately having the better season.  Of course, Kidd is a better rebounder, a better passer, and a real playoff veteran and when you throw in those points, the scales can tipped in Kidd’s favor for now.  But by how much? And will Kidd make a difference?  The Mavs are a highly efficient offensive team (sixth in the NBA in points per possession) and a slow-paced team (26th in pace).  In fact, the Mavs have been slow-paced, defensive unit for a long time.  Check the Mavs pace rating (possessions per game) and defensive ranking (points allowed per possession) from 2000-01 to the present:

Year        Pace    Defensive Ranking

2000-01      4th        13th

2001-02      4th        25th

2002-03      7th          9th

2003-04      2nd        26th

2004-05      9th          9th

2005-06    26th        11th

2006-07    28th         5th

2007-08    26th        14th 

Just to note some possible causes of the changes in the Mavs’ style of play, Steve Nash left the team after the 2003-04 season and Don Nelson stopped coaching in late 2004-05 and was replaced Johnson.  The change since then has been quite dramatic.  Can Kidd fit in on this slow team?  Sure.  The Nets were actually pretty slow-paced with Kidd.  In Kidd’s first two seasons in Jersey, the team paced about ninth and tenth.  Since then, Lawrence Frank slowed things down to a pace ranging form 16-20th in the NBA.  But AJ’s Mavs are even slower.  You would hope that the Mavs might speed it up a little with Kidd but it’ll be hard to change styles so late in the season.  In addition, Kidd might make the team a bit more pass happy.  The Mavs are below average in assists and above average in turnovers–sort of the exact opposite of Kidd at this point.  So, it’ll be interesting to see how Kidd affects the Mavs. 

Finally, the Mavs defense is down a bit from last year and it could be argued that Kidd, who has traditionally been tough in that area, would improve that aspect of the team.  But Harris is a very good and fast defender and Kidd, cannot guard quick points like Harris.  Kidd could be better on the rough and tumble point guards like Baron Davis or Deron Williams.  So, it’s far from a sure thing that Kidd transforms the Mavs into a title contender.  Rather, the team probably isn’t any worse this year and could make a playoff run if they get the right match ups in the playoffs.  The playoff situation out West is very fluid at this point, with only five games separating the top eight or nine teams, I would not have changed around my team just for the potential of a marginal advantage in a limited set of circumstances.  

This is particularly true because Kidd will be getting big money next year ($21 million) at age 35 and is rumored to be getting a big money extension for ages 36 and 37.  Indeed, the number of star point guards who were still star at age-35 or later is minute.  Magic Johnson might’ve done it but for other circumstances and John Stockton was very close to his peak through the very end (though his minutes were reduced to about 28-30 mpg, he kept about the same rate stats).  Almost every other star point, however, was either done or transitioning to role player by age-35.  This trend is the precise reason the Mavs let Steve Nash walk in 2004 and now they are back in that same gamble investing in an older point guard.  Only now, they missed Nash’s peak and they now have an older and more expensive Kidd.  Yes, Kidd is a bigger point, and they generally age better than the quick points, and yes, it is possible that his numbers are down this year partially due to a lack of happiness/focus on the Nets.  But all the trend lines indicate that the Mavs’ short-term upgrade is marginal and the long-term cost and downside is significant, particularly when the 24-year old Harris could be peaking. 

Los Angeles Lakers 

2/11    Sign D.J. Mbenga for remainder of season 

Mbenga has played with enough life to earn a full season deal.  He hasn’t been great overall but his rebounding and shot blocking have been impressive and he has shot well enough to justify playing.  Mbenga’s signing is also insurance in case Andrew Bynum’s knee isn’t totally ready come playoff time.  At the very least, Phil Jackson loves collecting big bodies with six fouls to throw at star forwards and centers come playoff time. 

Memphis Grizzlies 

2/4    Acquire Jason Collins and cash considerations from New Jersey for Stromile Swift 

Talk about your punitive trades.  The Grizz have decided to pare payroll but Swift and Collins have the exact same contract specs (each are due $6.2 million next year).  Collins, while a good soldier, has absolutely zero upside.  Swift’s upside has always been theoretical but he is a great athlete.  His numbers are okay but there hasn’t been a single coach in his career who hasn’t been under whelmed by the finished product.  From the Grizz’s perspective, the only gain is whatever cash the Nets kicked in to get the deal done.  I can’t find that information anywhere but I imagine the losing had frustrated management enough that they figure any sort of cash back is a return on a sunk cost (I think the max money that can be put in a deal is $3 million and I would guess the money exchanged here is probably about $1 million or so).  Even with all the frustration in Memphis, this isn’t a good deal on any level unless they secretly want to use Collins to bludgeon Darko Milicic in practice.

Miami Heat 

2/6    Acquire Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks from Phoenix; Waive Luke Jackson 

Right after Pat Riley faxed his resignation to the Knicks back in 1995, he complained to the press that the Knicks front office was too tentative and was scared to make big moves.  While Riley’s complaints at the time were somewhat cynical given the context, he has since proven that he is bold and really pushes for deals in a way that few GMs do and this trade is yet another example.  Moving Shaquille O’Neal with $40 million left on his deal the next two seasons seemed, to me, a very difficult task.  Not only did they trade a guy who looked pretty done but Miami also got back some serious value in Marion.  A Heat playoff run this year is not likely but this does place the team in a position to be a playoff contender next season with a full year of Marion. 

Moreover, the Heat will have some expiring contract the next two seasons and will be able to add a third star to Dwyane Wade and Marion.  The rumor is that the Heat will chase after Elton Brand (whom they signed as a restricted free agent back in 2003).  The rub here is that Marion is a free agent after 2007-08 and will want a big deal too.  He’ll make $17.1 million next year (he has an option that he’ll likely exercise) and if he is re-signed, it’ll essentially be for a contract similar to what they were on the hook for with Shaq ($20 million per year).  This also means committing to Marion from age 31 through 36 or 37.  Riley will have a year or so to contemplate whether this deal is prudent but it’ll loom on the franchise in the meantime.  Knowing Riley, he’ll back up the truck and pay Marion because Riley is a very “now” type of GM but it’s still an open question if this deal is prudent for the franchise long term.  Marion has declined slightly the last two years and we’ll see how going from the running Suns to the Heat changes his value. 

New Jersey Nets 

2/4    Acquire Stromile Swift from Memphis for Jason Collins and cash considerations

2/19  Acquire Keith Van Horn Devin Harris, Trenton Hassell, Maurice Ager, DeSagana Diop, first-round draft choices in 2008 and 2010, and cash considerations from Dallas for Jason Kidd, Malik Allen, and Antoine Wright 

For the Nets, this is obviously a nice move.  Kidd was great but the time had come to rebuild and getting a nice young prospect like Harris and two draft picks is a great return for a star who basically forced the team’s hand.  Now the Nets have a stable of nice young players: Harris, Josh Boone, Sean Williams, and, maybe, Nenad Krstic, to build with.  Having said all that, there are a couple of questions: 

Can the Nets still make the playoffs?   

Sure.  The East stinks and Harris, if he is healthy, shouldn’t be too much of a downgrade.  Assuming the Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter are healthy and not traded and the big men continue to develop, the Nets are not really much worse than the Sixers, Hawks, or the hobbled Wizards over a two-month span.  It’s not a certainty but the Nets could make a run if that is their focus. 

But do the Nets really want to make the playoffs?

I’m not really sure.  With the team in rebuilding mode, a lottery pick could be fun.  We’ll know the answer to this question based upon whether the Nets move Carter before the deadline.  Making the playoffs would be a nice story for frustrated fans who are watching the team’s best years dissolve before their eyes, but I don’t see Rod Thorn as sentimental.  I think he wants to trade VC and be ready to have a core of Harris, the forwards, a stable of draft picks, and Jefferson. 

How should Nets fans feel about Kidd’s end in Jersey? 

Well, I really can’t tell you how to feel but certainly it was a weird end.  While Carter got all the press for passive play this year, Kidd was playing worse versus his established level of play.  In addition, Kidd seemed somewhat babyish when he demanded a trade or an extension.  I know Kidd wanted a deal similar to what Carter got in the off-season but that’s really not a fair comparison.  The Nets made the younger Carter play out his option before paying him and the deal was less than the max.  By contrast, Kidd wouldn’t negotiate with the Nets when they tried to pay him back in 2002 and 2003 (when he was close to VC’s current age).  Now, Kidd is older and has another year left on his deal at $21 million for age-35.   Why would Thorn extend a deal at this time unless Kidd was willing to take a price that reflects something closer to the ability of an older point guard?  Even when you factor in his franchise status, Kidd wasn’t really worth a huge extension, especially if the team wasn’t winning.  Maybe a two-year $24 million extension would’ve been a nice victory lap but I don’t think Kidd wanted that (he reportedly may be in line for $20 million per year extension from the Mavs).  

Then, Kidd has an alleged fake headache, a few public tantrums, and finally goes public with his trade demand, which could’ve totally killed Thorn’s leverage with other teams to get a deal done.  Of course, you can point to obnoxious moments from almost any other superstar.  I won’t tell you how to feel about Kidd other than to say that he gave the Nets some great years and he made it very easy for them to cut the cord and they got a nice return to boot.  So, Kidd rid the team of Stephon Marbury, gave them a renaissance, and even provided assets upon departure.  What more could you ask for?

Van Horn?  Really? 

I’m really curious to see if he actually suits up for the Nets. 

Phoenix Suns 

2/6    Acquire Shaquille O’Neal from Miami for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks 

Boy…I don’t really like this move.  Marion’s numbers were down and he was quite publicly angry with the Phoenix situation (no matter how silly his reasons) but I’m not sure this is the return you want.  Can Shaq stay healthy and mesh with the fast-paced Suns offense?  Shaq is still decently valuable when he plays but he has just not been healthy and seems deathly slow and has real trouble creating shots like he used to.  He might be useful in limited minutes against Tim Duncan but the decline is clear.  

Shaq says the Suns trainers have isolated his hip problems already and will fix them.  I hope that’s the case but I think the problem is that Shaq is 350 pounds and 35-years old.  He’s not fat  but it just seems that the pounding of the NBA season is just too much for him now.  I’m no doctor and I hope I’m wrong but I doubt that we’ve seen the last of injury problems for Shaq.  When you throw in that the deal adds another $14 million to the 2009-10 cap, I just don’t believe this move makes sense. 

It is true that most centers age well.  Notably, Ewing, Robinson, Olajuwon, and Parish lasted forever.  Still, when these guys lost it, the end came really fast.  There was only a year or two of semi-useful playing and then they morphed into giants who looked like they were running in quicksand.  Shaq is already at that point of quasi-usefulness and you have to think that 2008-09 or 2009-10 won’t be pretty and that he doesn’t necessarily improve the team in 2007-08. 

Having said all this, I understand Steve Kerr’s logic.  Marion is peeved and slightly declining and the Suns have tons of good small forwards to replace him (Grant Hill and Boris Diaw), so the drop off won’t be much and they have a shot at Shaq improving the center position, if he can change his health and performance trend lines.  But, as we noted above, the chances of Shaq doing this are questionable at best now and he’ll be a millstone in the future.  Marion is a pretty highly coveted asset and I have to think the Suns could’ve done a little better. 

Sacramento Kings 

2/16    Acquire Shelden Williams, Lorenzen Wright, Anthony Johnson, Tyronn Lue and a 2008 second round draft pick from Atlanta for Mike Bibby; waive Justin Williams and Dahntay Jones 

For the Kings, this is just a salary dump.  The team was playing no worse with the younger, cheaper Beno Udrih and Bibby had bothered management with his fighting with Ron Artest. It’s an open question how many of the ex-Hawks will actually even play with the Kings.  Wright is sure to be cut and either Lue or AJ will turn into the third guard.  AJ has a history with Sacramento, as he made it in the NBA in 1997-98 with the Kings (he started 62 games but was not very good).  Only Williams has a future and he’ll have to really improve to get a new deal in Sacramento. 

San Antonio Spurs 

2/3    Sign Damon Stoudamire 

The Spurs clearly needed another point guard, especially if Tony Parker is still hobbled come playoff time.  The problem is that Stoudamire seems like the Nick Van Exel gambit redux, an aging shoot-first point guard paired in the San Antonio’s structured offense.  Both were 34 at the time they came to Texas and both were losing the ability to penetrate.  The Spurs are a bit too slow and aging already to add yet another slowdown older player isn’t that helpful.  Stoudamire might be an asset in some limited situations but he’s not an ideal fit.

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