Friday, February 23, 2007

Fuck Goliath

There are four teams in the NBA that are poised, poised I tell ya, to do big things in the future. Right now, they suck, just like young David did. But soon, if the right things happen, they will be equipped to take down the aging goliaths of the NBA. These teams are: The Philadelphia 76ers, the Milwaukee Bucks, The New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets, and the Charlotte Bobcats. Before everyone gets bent out of shape about how much each team sucks (and they do), keep in mind I'm talking about the future here, and these teams have all built themselves good foundations, sometimes unintentionally (in the case of the Sixers and Bucks) and sometimes by design (Bobcats, Hornets).

To fulfill their respective destinies as contenders, each team has to change in some fashion. As we all know, there are three ways teams can do this: Trade a player, sign/cut a player (fire a coach), or draft a player. I would like to look at what creates the potential for success in these teams and then, in the wake of the less-than-illustrious trade deadline, examine some potential deals that could have been made. I want to try to propose trades that were rationally possible which could have helped these teams quicken their ascension. I will ensure the viability of my moves with the help of the trade checker on RealGM (which ESPN took [with license, I hope] and now purports to be their own).

I'm gonna go from strongest to shakiest as I break down these teams. Therefore, the first team to look at is the Hornets. The Hornets have the misfortune of an owner (George Shinn) who is a complete asshole and doesn't give a fuck about his team or its fans. (He's on the verge of moving the Hornets again, having ruined the fan base in one of basketball's most successful markets [North Carolina] and now seeing an opportunity to screw over the most-screwed-over city in America.) Despite Shinn's lack of conscience, integrity, and male reproductive organs, the Hornets field a good team.

Their key ingredients are Chris Paul and David West, both of whom are signed through at least 2010. David West is signed to a rarely-used negative-gain contract, in which he gets big money up front and then sees his pay cut year by year. (This doesn't seem to make sense because people usually like to have their pay raised with time, but considering the massive amounts of money at stake, I wouldn't be surprised if Mr. West is helped quite a bit by the compound interest $10 million in the first year will support.) Chris Paul is signed to a fairly affordable contract that will pay him $3m, $3.5m, $4.5m and $6 million in the coming years.

The big money guys on the Hornets are Tyson Chandler and Predrag Stojakovic, and while I don't think they're worth as much as they're paid, they are both valuable contributors. Chandler is a rebound-and-defense machine who is young, and Stojakovic is an excellent shooter who can really score.

The starting lineup for the Hornets is:
PG: Chris Paul
SG: Desmond Mason (free agent this year)
SF: Predrag Stojakovic
PF: David West
C: Tyson Chandler

In my eyes, that lineup is one player away, and that player needs to be a shooting guard. The Hornets have an effective sixth man in Bobby Jackson, and a very good bench with Rasual Butler, Devin Brown, and Hilton Armstrong. I think they need a guy who doesn't need to take a lot of shots so that Predrag can see the ball a lot, and a guy who can play defense and rebound a little because, well, Predrag can't.

The trade they should have made? Hilton Armstrong, Marc Jackson, and a first round pick for Corey Maggette.

Here are some reasons this would have made sense:

1. The trade meets the provisions set forth in the collective bargaining agreement. (If a team is over the league's salary cap, the sum of the salaries of each group of players involved must be within 25% of each other.)

2. The Hornets are stuck in a tough spot because, due to injury and the conference they play in, they are a long-shot to make the playoffs, but also have a decent record. This means their pick will probably fall just outside the lottery, in a year where the draft is projected to have a strong top and and a marginal middle. The Hornets have plenty of young guys, and I don't think the right to take a chance in the draft is that valuable to them.

3. Corey Maggette and his coaches want him out. The Clippers already have a starting shooting guard who is capable (Cuttino Mobley) and whom they prefer to Maggette. Maggette doesn't like riding the bench, and his statistics are considerably worse when he is the sixth man (though they are among the best for sixth men).

4. This trade would allow the Hornets to forgo resigning Desmond Mason or allow them to requisition him to sixth man for (possibly) less money. I think Mason is a good player and a great athlete, but also not the kind of guy who starts on a championship team. I think Maggette (even though it's a bit of a stretch) could be that guy. Maggette is actually due to make less than Mason is making right now, and he is signed through 2010. People make him out to be a bad guy, but he's consistently shown himself to be a good shooter (career 45%), an okay defender, and a good rebounder, and he is probably the best player the NBA at getting to the free throw line, where he consistently shoots over 80%.

5. The trade would give the Hornets a good post player (West), a great point guard (Paul), a great slaher and mid-range guy (Maggette), a hustling, shot-blocking center (Chandler), and a three point gunner (Stojakovic). The team is well-built for running and the half-court offense, and could be skilled defensively if they were well-coached (I'm not sure they are).

6. It works out for the Clippers; They get a young big man (which they don't have), a pretty good first-rounder (which they could use, along with their own, to trade for a top pick), and a guy whose contract expires at the end of the year, which will save them cap room.

I really think that trade would have helped the Hornets immeasurably. Too bad it didn't happen; it would be nice to see Chris Paul in the Playoffs with some support...

The next most established team is probably Milwaukee, a team that is in a pretty interesting situation. Their players have been dropping like flies all year, and even though the team has strong personnel, their record is terrible (19-36).

Here is Milwaukee's lineup:

PG: Mo Williams (in your best Wayne Campell voice) excellent...
SG: Michael Redd excellent...
SF: Bobby Simmons
PF: Charlie Villanueva
C: Andrew Bogut

All in all, that's a good, young lineup (maybe the best backcourt in the NBA). Milwaukee has Redd locked up for the coming years for big dollars, as well as Simmons (which might not be such a good thing). They have Bogut on the cheap until 2011, and Villaneuva until 2010. The big issue for them in this coming off season will be re-signing Mo Williams. Another free agent-to be is Charlie Bell, who has proven himself to be a highly effective player.

Milwaukee has no chance to be good this year, and will probably get a high draft pick. Just the same, though, they have a chance to be really good next year, so I don't think it's smart for them to saddle themselves with a project player at a position they need production from.

Therefore, I think a trade that would have benefited Milwaukee would have been one that could get them a tough big man, because that's the one thing they lack. My solution? Bobby Simmons and Brian Skinner for Kenyon Martin.

This is an interesting prospect for both teams and admittedly hard to rationalize. I do, believe it or not, have a rationale. Here are the reasons this trade could make sense:

1. The money works out [see above].

2. Denver has a ton of athletic front court players. Kenyon Martin is saddled with a four-year, max deal, and I don't think Denver wants to have to worry about that, especially considering his fragility.

3. The only thing Denver really lacks is one of those guys who stands on the three point line and drills shots. Bobby Simmons could be that guy. He is a pretty good defender, and it seems like a lot of George Karl teams have had that guy. Maybe this is something he likes to have in his back pocket.

4. Brian Skinner (expires next year) would be a nice contract to take on for Denver, who is going to have salary cap nightmares now that they have the sixth highest paid player in the NBA, Allen Iverson (who, by the way, is making $2.5 million less than Allan Houston is this year).

If everybody felt comfortable with the rationality of the above points (a tough sell), and if Kenyon Martin got healthy (a big if), the Bucks would become a very interesting team next year (presumably including a high-profile rookie). They could trot out a lineup with Mo Williams at the point, Michael Redd at SG, Villanueva at SF, Martin at PF, and Bogut at center. This would give the Bucks a great point guard, a great shooter, a versatile small forward, a power forward who plays great defense and doesn't need the ball to create his shot, and an unselfish, fundamentally sound, versatile center who can shoot elbow jumpers and the like. It would be a good team. Charlie Bell and perhaps Ruben Patterson (if they re-sign him) can come off the bench, as well as little Earl Boykins, and there are a lot of interesting lineups available.

The next team, which is more under the radar than the above two, is the Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers are a funny team because they have been terribly managed. I mean, it is just embarrassing how boneheaded some of the moves they have made are. For instance: They are somehow on the hook for Chris Webber for $36.6 million over the next two years. (Yes, that is after the buy-out.) Samuel Dalembert is signed for over $50 million dollars through 2011. Jamal Mashburn will make $10 million this year. Aaron McKie makes $13 million in the next two years. Todd MacCulloch will make $6.8 million this year. What it all comes down to is that the Sixers have put themselves in a situation where out of their three highest-salaried players, only one actually plays for them. And he's their worst starter.

There are some good things that are happening thanks to the wonder of time (with no thanks to talent, which Sixers GM Billy Knight is devoid of). Jamal Mashburn's ten million comes off the books after this year, as does Todd MacCulloch's $6.5m, Joe Smith's $6.5m, and Greg Buckner's $3.5m.

The Sixers, since the Iverson deal, play a short lineup that looks like this:

PG: Andre Miller
SG: Andre Iguodala
SF: Rodney Carney/Kyle Korver
PF: Steven Hunter
C: Samuel Dalembert

The team has no depth, except for Korver/Carney, whomever isn't starting, and Willie Green. However, there are some good things about their starters. They have an athletic, defensive-minded center (who is terrible on offense). They have a skilled, traditional point guard. The two best players on the Sixers, Kyle Korver and Andre Iguodala, seem to have been developing pretty well since Iverson left. Korver is continuing to cement his reputation as one of the premier three-point shooters in the league, and Iguodala is showing a remarkably sudden proficiency with his passing game (he averaged 3.1 assists last year, and is averaging 5.7 this year, with 7.0 this month including a triple-double). I think Korver and Iguodala make a nice team, the guy who shoots and does nothing else, and the guy who does everything. Plus, Iguodala looks like a better scorer every day, shoots for a high percentage, and hits his free throws. He's also a good defender.

The problem with a team like Philly is that they have very little in the way of tradeable assets. The only player I think they can get rid of who has value is Rodney Carney, so they'd need to find a team in need of a young shooting guard.

The Utah Jazz are such a team. Here is my vision: Andrei Kirilenko, Rafael Araujo, CJ Miles, and Dee Brown for Rodney Carney, Willie Green, Kevin Ollie, and Joe Smith. Here's why this could work:

1. The money works.

2. Kirilenko's unpopularity and ineffectiveness is troubling. CJ Miles and Dee Brown are young, unorthodox players on a team coached by a man who hates young, unorthodox players. Araujo is a big contract that I'm sure the Jazz wouldn't mind getting rid of because he never plays and they have good big men.

3. Joe Smith would make a good backup to guys like Okur and Boozer. He is certainly an upgrade over Jarron Collins and is bigger than Paul Millsap. He's tough and unpretentious, and I think Jerry Sloan would covet that.

4. Rodney Carney could fit in very well as a shooting guard on the Jazz. He is very athletic but also efficient; he shoots 47% from the field and 37% from three-point range. Since Iverson left he has been getting minutes for the first time and this month he is averaging 8.6 ppg and shooting an impressive 56%. He is athletic and skilled and could probably learn to be a good defender from Jerry Sloan.

5. Kevin Ollie is already a good defensive player, which Derek Fisher, the current backup to Deron Williams, is not. I think Jerry Sloan would be interested in having a good defensive backup point guard.

6. Willie Green can also help out at shooting guard, and is more polished than Carney.

7. Kirilenko would be a great fit to play power forward on a running Sixers team. There's no reason Miller, Iguodala, Korver, Kirilenko and Dalembert couldn't run all over the court (Korver, of course, would be the trailer).

8. CJ Miles, Dee Brown, and Rafael Arauj would bolster the Sixers bench and actually get playing time, which each of them sorely need. Also, they each bring a playing style that the Sixers don't have; Dee Brown has pure speed; CJ Miles is an athletic finesse shooting guard, and Araujo is a fundamentals center.

By using the above lineup, the Sixers would be improved and could use this year to develop their young guys. Yes, they would take on a large salary by acquiring Kirilenko, but they will be shedding a ton of salary in the next two years, and it's worth it for a player of his caliber. When the Sixers finish the year, they'll probably be the third, fourth, or fifth worst team in the league, which puts them in a very good position to draft a really talented player and get him on the floor.

The Charlotte Bobcats are the final rising team. They have an incredibly low salary; their highest paid player is Gerald Wallace at $5.5 million (worth every dollar). They are on the hook for six years with Morrison, which I think is a bad move, but I'll give them a pass because they also managed to lock up Raymond Felton, Okafor, and May through 2009. (Felton and May go until 2010.)

Here is the Bobcats lineup:

PG: Raymond Felton
SG: Matt Carroll (free agent this year)
SF: Gerald Wallace
PF: Emeka Okafor
C: Primoz Brezec

Derek Anderson, Brevin Knight, and Adam Morrison fill out a pretty good bench.

The clear problem with this team, in my mind, is at center, and as I have opined before, I think improving the center position by trying to draft someone is a dumb idea unless they're a sure thing and you're guaranteed the number one pick. Charlotte does not have this luxury unless they get lucky, and I don't think they should assume that they will get it.

My proposal with this team would be to get a good center on their own by trading a guy who I think is at the peak of his value right now: Adam Morrison. Therefore, I think they should have moved Morrison, Eric Williams, and Othella Harrington to Memphis for Pau Gasol.

This would work for these reasons:

1. The money works.

2. Charlotte is in need of another big man, and having one who can score will make things much, much easier for Emeka Okafor.

3. Matt Carroll is as good, and arguably better than Adam Morrison. He is efficient, he's a great shooter, and he can score in bunches (sucks that the Knicks got rid of him).

4. The Grizzlies could use a gunner, and might be tricked into thinking Adam Morrison will be good because of the productive games he has had lately.

5. Adam Morrison would get to play more, which could be good for him.

6. Eric Williams and Othella both have expiring contracts that will help the Grizzlies rebuild.

Am I pushing it a little on this one? Probably. Maybe Charlotte would have to throw in a couple of second rounders or a 2009 first rounder. Some people seem to be gaga over Adam Morrison, though, and Pau Gasol has openly asked for a trade. I think Gasol would give Charlotte enough extra scoring to put them over the top, and they could use what will be a relatively high draft pick to get another scorer to accentuate Carrol.

I don't see Charlotte being a championship-level team even after this trade, but if they could retain this year's pick, they could pick up another scorer to accentuate Carroll and Wallace, and if that player turned out to be someone very good, then they could really be on to something.

That's all I've got. As always, e-mail me at


MattG21 said...

This is funny, it's a lot like your article, though his trade ideas are a bit more realistic than yours.

Jayinee said...

This is a great idea for a blog entry and you did it justice. Well researched, the clarity is great, the organization is great (which is something that had an incredible potential for being crappy), and the writing it tight.

The bill simmons article recommended above also boasts good organization and research but the similarities end there. The smarmy, too eager to be funny nature of the writing was unpalatable. I like your breakdown of the trades and why they would work better. I think simmons was excessively negative and I'm not just saying that because of his spurs blurb (which is semi-true, I'll admit)

I liked the hornets/corey maggette bit even though I thought it might be far-fetched. Your reasoning made sense though.

I enjoyed this entry a lot for its readability as well...if this was in a magazine, I'd have you in my bathroom

Kodijack said...

Denver would LOVE to get rid of Kenyon Martin. Let the rest of is unremarkable career leach out in Buck country, that would be awesome.

We did have one of those outside shooting cards, but we traded him (Earl).

But if we get any lazier its going to stop being "we" and its going to be "they". I know people who make $6/hour who aren't lazy.