Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Celtics' Good Trade

The Celtics traded Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West, and the 5th pick (Jeff Green from Georgetown) to the Sonics for Ray Allen. Reaction to the trade in the national press has been mixed (In general, ESPN's take seems to be that Seattle got the better end of the trade, as seen here, here, and here, while CNN's take seems to be more favorable towards the Celtics, as seen here, here, and here).

Count me in the camp that thinks this was a great trade for Boston, and a bizarre one for Seattle. Boston will run out a starting line-up of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Al Jefferson, Rajon Rondo, and Kendrick Perkins. Don't be surprised if Pierce, Allen, and Jefferson are all all-stars this coming season. The frontcourt lacks depth (I'm not a big Leon Powe or Ryan Gomes fan), but the depth at the swing positions (Gerald Green, Tony Allen) is impressive. And, quite frankly, the Celtics didn't give up that much--Wally has been hurt throughout his time in Boston, West has been okay but was going to continue to lose playing time to Rondo this year, and the fifth pick in the draft was going to be a complete crapshoot.

As for Seattle, I don't really understand what they're doing. They now have three players who play small forward (Durant, Green, and Wally), and they'll have four if they re-sign Rashard Lewis. I guess Durant or Lewis can play the "four" defensively (they're both 6'10", although a bit skinny), but I don't think anyone from that group can guard any of the shooting guards in the NBA. Sam Presti (the Sonics GM) has made some noise about wanting versatile players who can play multiple positions, so maybe he has some schemes that'll make this collection of players work. In any event, Durant's only 18 years old, so Seattle has some time to figure out what type of talent to put around him.

The Sixers select...Thaddeus Young

With the 12th pick, the Sixers selected Thaddeus Young from Georgia Tech. I don't really know much about him, but apparently the Sixers' brass thought he was the 10th best player in the draft so they're very happy. Based on the pre-draft coverage, his selection was definitely a bit of a surprise--so I guess Billy King should be congratulated for not tipping his hand. I'll be curious to watch Young play this year and see how he develops--he's only 19, having only played one year of college ball, so clearly the Sixers are expecting him to show dramatic improvement over the next couple of years. I'm also curious to see how playing time gets split among him, Rodney Carney, and Kyle Korver--three different types of players, but they all share the same position and are all (at least in theory) considered a part of the Sixers long-term plans.

With the 21st pick, the Sixers selected shooting guard Daequan Cook (Ohio State) before trading him (along with cash and a 2009 second round pick) to Miami for seven-footer Jason Smith (Colorado State), who Miami had selected with the 20th pick. I've heard mixed things about Smith, but he's another player the Sixers had ranked high on their board (apparently ranked as the 13th best prospect), so we'll see what happens. I guess the Sixers were destined to select a big man with this pick since they ended up breaking with ten years worth of tradition and not selecting one with the 12th pick in the draft. History tells us not to get too excited about players selected this late in the first round, but the Sixers definitely need to improve their frontcourt so I can't really argue with the Sixers attempting to do so with this selection.

If I was a bigger college basketball fan, then maybe I'd have something insightful to say about these selections. Unfortunately, I'm really just an NBA fan so I'll hold my judgment until I actually see all the draftees play during the upcoming regular season.

Zach Randolph- Part II

The Sixers never made a move for him, but the New York Knicks did--and it seems like Portland wanted to do the deal for the reasons discussed in my previous Zach Randolph post. The trade was Steve Francis and Channing Frye for Randolph, Dan Dickau, and Fred Jones.

From Portland's perspective, the benefits are pretty straight-forward: more playing time for their young frontcourt tandem and future salary cap relief. According to sources cited by ESPN, Portland is planning to buy-out Francis' contract and make him a free agent this summer. Portland also gets Channing Frye who had a stellar rookie season, even if he did have a bit of a sophomore slump this past season. I'm not sure how he fits into Portland's future, but at the very least he gives them a nice bargaining chip for a future trade.

As for New York's end of the trade, I'm cautiously optimistic that it can work for them. As a Sixer's fan this makes me unhappy, but I guess they've been suffering for awhile. Best case scenario, the Knicks can run an offense similar to the old Spurs offense with Duncan and Robinson. Post the ball on one side of the floor, and then, if nothing is open, swing the ball and immediately post the other player on the opposite block. Having two legitimate post players is a huge boon to a team because it's really hard to double the second post man. To mix things up, the Knicks can also run foul-line pick-and-pops using Randolph (the way the Spurs used to run them with Robinson) since he has pretty good touch from out there (at least, that's my recollection--I haven't actually seen him play recently). However, the Spurs analogy only goes so far since Duncan and Robinson were also two of the best defenders and rebounders in the NBA. Randolph can certainly rebound, but I don't think either he or Curry have ever been confused with good defenders.

The one thing I'm not sure about from the Knicks end is where does this leave David Lee? He played great last year for them, but with Randolph and Curry taking the bulk of the minutes at the four and five positions, I'm not sure where he's going to find the playing time this season. I guess we'll need to wait and see.

I'm back!

Sorry about disappearing for the last two days. Not ideal to not post for two days on a basketball focused blog when those two days are the day of the NBA draft and the day after. I'll try to post my thoughts on the draft (and the related trades) this weekend to make up for lost time.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Zach Randolph

The assumption on the part of most Trailblazer fans seems to be that if they select Greg Oden (as expected), then Zach Randolph will become available. Moving out Randolph would both clear up playing time for LaMarcus Aldridge and prevent Randolph from "poisoning" the young players, or so the reasoning goes.

Whatever his flaws, Randolph can definitely fill up the stat sheet (per game averages of 23.6 points, 10.1 rebounds this past season), and the 76'ers could definitely use a low-post scoring threat. Any chance that the Sixers could get him without giving up any of their key players (Igoudala, Miller, Dalembert, Korver)? Unfortunately, it doesn't seem likely.

Playing around on the ESPN Trade Machine, you can put together a package that works (Randolph for a "starting line-up" of back-up players: Steven Hunter, Shavlik Randolph, Rodney Carney, Willie Green, and Kevin Ollie), but it seems unlikely that Portland would be interested in our spare parts. On the other hand, it all depends on how badly Portland wants to ship out Randolph. By trading Randolph, the Blazers would get some quicker salary relief, as only Willie Green's contract has as much time remaining (5 years) as Randolph's contract.

Another possibility would be for the Sixers to draft an NBA ready small forward (Jeff Green and Al Thornton are two players who fit the bill and whom the Sixers are supposedly interested in already), making Korver available as part of the package. With the Trailblazers likely to be centered on Gred Oden for the next decade, they might find real value in having a sharpshooter like Korver on their roster (plus, Oden would be able to cover for Korver's defensive deficiencies).

I have zero reason to believe that something like this is on anyone's radar screen. Nor, as I said, do I think it likely that Portland would be that interested. On the other hand, I can dream, can't I?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Al Thornton workout

Al Thornton worked out for the 76'ers yesterday. From the report in the Philly Inquirer, it doesn't sound like his workout really made much of an impact one way or the other:
After yesterday's pre-draft workout of Florida State forward Al Thornton, a potential choice of the 76ers with their No. 12 pick in Thursday's NBA draft, president and general manager Billy King continued to talk about moving up in the first round.

"There are a lot of teams like us who are trying to aggressively get up," King said after two separate pre-draft workouts. "There are some teams talking about getting big-name players, and I think those conversations will continue. I think there will be a lot of movement."


Thornton had postponed an earlier workout with the Sixers due to a sprained ankle and yesterday said he performed at about 75 percent efficiency. He added that his back also stiffened up.
So what do we know with the draft just two days away? The Sixers seem to like a bunch of different players, and they're considering trying to move up in the draft. An attempt to move up in the draft strongly suggests that there are a few players that the Sixers have a stronger interest in, and that they'll make a trade to move up if one of these players is still available at a spot where the team with the pick asks for a reasonable amount in return.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Lebron James' Cavs, Vince Carter's Raptors

In the immediate aftermath of the Spurs’ sweep of the Cavaliers in the finals, I read a number of columns about how the Cavs needed to improve the team and win a championship before Lebron becomes a free agent so that he doesn’t decide to sign elsewhere. On one level, the statement is innocuous enough—after all, the goal is to win championships, and the NBA Finals demonstrated that Cleveland still has a ways to go before it can be considered a top-tier championship contender. On another level, these columns really bothered me.

First things first—you don’t win championships to keep Lebron James around; you keep Lebron James around to win championships. Somehow, this basic point keeps getting lost in all the talk about improving the Cavaliers.

Second, and related—making personnel moves with the goal of keeping a player, as opposed to as part of the larger plan for creating a contender, can end up hurting a team in the long-run (and even not so long-run).

What do I mean? Well, just look at the Cavaliers. In the June 25, 2007 issue of Sports Illustrated, Jack McCallum mentions that the Cavaliers have several cumbersome contracts—those of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Larry Hughes, Donyell Marshall and Damon Jomes—that will be tough to unload. These contracts, seemingly by consensus, are the obstacles to bringing in the appropriate talent to surround Lebron so that he will choose to stay in Cleveland three years from now.

But wait a minute. All four of these players were signed in the summer of 2005 (Ilgauskas- 5 years, $50 million; Hughes- 5 years, $60 million; Marshall- 4 years, $22 million; Jones- 4 years, $16 million). And why were they signed? Well, the basketball reason was that the Cavaliers wanted to surround Lebron with scorers to prevent teams from collapsing on him, but the Cavaliers were also thinking about Lebron’s impending free agency in the summer of 2006. Making all of these moves was meant to keep Lebron from seriously exploring free agency. Now, only two years later, the contracts given to these four players are considered a major hindrance…to keeping Lebron from seriously exploring free agency.

In all fairness, I think these signings were better than the current conventional wisdom paints them. After all, they did convince Lebron to resign with the Cavaliers and three of these players (Ilgauskas, Hughes, Marshall) played an important role in getting the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals. However, without the desire (need?) to make a case to Lebron during the summer 0f 2005, there’s a decent chance the Cavaliers would have exhibited more patience and have put themselves in a better position to get the players they need to be top-tier championship contenders, not just top-tier Eastern Conference contenders.

If you want another example, look at Vince Carter’s Raptors. To convince Carter to resign in the summer of 2001, the Raptor’s signed Antonio Davis for $64 million over five years, Jerome Williams (seven years, $41 million), and Alvin Williams (seven years, $42 million), not to mention acquiring Hakeem Olajuwon ($17 million). And it worked…sort of. Carter signed an extension, theoretically keeping him in Toronto until 2008. Yet a few years later the Raptor’s were swooning as the age and health of these signings became a burden, Vince was dogging it, and eventually the Raptors were forced to trade him for 50 cents on the dollar (if that!) to the New Jersey Nets.

The moral of the story? Don’t panic if your superstar is approaching free agency. Sign the right players for your team; don’t just sign players that will convince your superstar to stick around in the short-run. Explain what you’re doing to your superstar, and count on him to understand. Otherwise, you’re mortgaging your chance to actually put together a team that can compete. And when the short-run fix becomes a long-run drain, the superstar can always find a way to force himself out of town, leaving the franchise to deal with the mess that’s been left behind.