Saturday, February 16, 2008

Western Conference Arms Race

Bill Simmons of fame once referred to the NBA as the No Balls Association. The reason for his criticism was that no team ever took a chance by making blockbuster trades at the deadline to try and make a push for a title. That all owners and GM’s were too afraid of losing their jobs by making the wrong move, so they made none. Well, those days are apparently gone.

Maybe it was that Allen Iverson trade last season that began to change everyone’s mind. Maybe it was Danny Ainge’s rebuilding of the Celtics via trade (and their subsequent hot start) that shifted the culture of the league. Whatever the reason is, there has been a flurry of action over the last week or two involving major stars that has dramatically altered the landscape of the Western Conference in the NBA.

Kyle Korver to Utah
There wasn’t much noise made about this trade when it first went down. That might have been because Korver hadn’t done much in Philly this year and most fans had no idea who Gordon Giricek (the guy Utah traded) was. However it turns out that Korver’s penchant for outside shooting was just the thing that the Jazz needed. Immediately upon his arrival, Utah reeled off 9 straight wins to go from fringe playoff team to division leader. The team and Kyle have both cooled off slightly since then, but their balance on offense is now complete thanks to the shaggy-haired bomber.

Pau Gasol to the Lakers
I’m still amazed that Mitch Kupchak is not rotting in jail after this trade. This was a straight jack move. Memphis got roughly 6 cents on the dollar in this deal.

Kwame Brown is a non-factor at this point (although pairing him and fellow first round bust Darko Milicic on the same team has all sorts of comedy potential), and unless Pau’s brother Marco decides to actually come play in the NBA and plays well, then Memphis got absolutely nothing for a perennial all star. Side note: did anyone outside of Memphis have any idea in the world how good Gasol was until this trade? The guy is a machine and a legit inside-out threat. Who knew? I wonder what other great players are in the league that people have no idea about…

On the other side of this trade, the Lakers are now serious contenders in the West. When healthy, they’ll trot out a starting five of Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Gasol, and Andrew Bynum. Add to that a bench consisting of guys such as Jordan Farmar, Luke Walton, Ronny Turiaf, and Sasha Vujacic. Sounds like a very talented and very deep team. Of course, all of this depends greatly on the health of Kobe and Bynum…

Suns trade Shawn Marion to the Heat for Shaq
Why this works for the Heat: they get rid of an aging player whose stats were rapidly declining and has three years left on a very expensive contract. In return, they get a younger player who is not only a great offensive player, but also very talented defensively. Beyond that, the reason this trade works out so well for Miami is that it allows them to change their style. Now they can run and gun a little more, open it up offensively, take more chances defensively, and begin to build an identity as a franchise. Plus, this new open style of offense is much better for their star, Dwayne Wade. He is much better in the open court and attacking the rim than he is trying to play a half court game with an immobile big man.

Why this works for the Suns: I’ll be honest, initially I was a bit confounded by the trade from the Suns side of it. I mean you’re getting rid of a guy that fits your style of play better than just about anyone in the league. I know he’s been a cancer at times and is very much a “me first” type of guy (remember the interview last summer when Marion said that he wasn’t sure if he’d rather play for a contender or score 30 on a lottery team? Yeah, that might have factored into this a bit), but Shaq just seems like the exact opposite type of player than your typical Phoenix guy. Then I read Bill Simmons’ article on why he liked the deal for the Suns. In short, it gives them at least an occasional defensive presence around the rim, brings some life to a team that looked like it had been running through the motions all season, and is the perfect situation for an aging center to rejuvenate his career; getting open shots and dunks being much easier than banging in the post.

Of course the Bulls are going to have to sign Marion to a long term deal soon and the Suns are going to have to keep their fingers crossed that Shaq can actually stay on the court for a major portion of the season. But for the time being, this seems like one of those rare instances where superstars were exchanged and, on the surface, it appears to have helped both squads. Only time will tell if this will actually be true.

Potential Deals
Jason Kidd—all seemed well for Jason a few days ago. He was going to get his wish and get moved out of New Jersey to a contender in this, the twilight of his career. The Nets also seemed to be getting what they needed: fair value for a star who publicly declared that he wanted out, in the form of young guard Devin Harris. Each team threw in some bit parts to make salaries match and Dallas even gave up a bunch of cash and a couple of draft picks just to ensure that the deal would get done. Everyone was ready with their columns on Cuban’s reaction move to LA and Phoenix bolstering their rosters and Kidd himself was having flashbacks.

Then a funny thing happened. One of those “bit parts”, Auggie Tech’s own Devean George decided to exercise his right to block the trade. My first reaction was confusion. How could George possibly have the ability to block the deal? And why would he? Turns out that he’s been starting in Dallas for the last few weeks and didn’t want to give up that gig to go to a floundering Eastern Conference squad. Um, Devean, what do you suppose the odds are that you continue to start (or even play for that matter) when you are the sole reason that this team isn’t getting one of the premier point guards in the league? Way to think that one through.

Ron Artest—Ok, so admittedly I don’t know much about this rumor other than what the human Ken doll, Ric Bucher, told me on ESPN the other night. Apparently the Nuggets are having discussions with the Kings about bringing in Ron Ron. I know that Sacramento wants Linus Kleiza and that Denver is trying to work out a different deal, but I have no idea of any other names that would be included. What I do know is that adding the clinically insane Artest to a team that already had model citizens Kenyon Martin, Carmelo Anthony, and Allen Iverson just doesn’t seem like the best response that the Nuggets could make to keep pace with their newly reloaded Western compatriots. It sounds like an older, more expensive version of the Jailblazers from a few years ago.

So let the war begin. With New Orleans, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Antonio, Dallas, Denver, Utah, and Houston currently making up the eight playoff teams in the West, we are heading towards the best (half) playoffs in a long, long time. Whoever can survive this gauntlet will then have the pleasure of destroying the winner of the Detroit-Boston Eastern Conference Finals and be crowned Kings of the Basketball World.


Anonymous said...

I think you guys should do a column explaining why NBA teams have to chip in all these bit parts to make these deals work. I've never gotten an explanation beyond the "to make salaries work" explanation you offered up. I don't get it.

Mr. Cue said...

Without getting too technical, the NBA has a rule that in order for any trade to go through that the salaries being traded from one team to another must be equal.

So if team A is trading a guy making $17 million a year, then team B must offer up a collection of players, cash, and/or draft picks that equal $17 million.

The rationale behind it is that you don't want a team that is out of it to get rid of a star and get nothing in return. It helps to try and keep some balance in the league and prevents collusion.