News and Notes From Around the NBA

February 25, 2009

With the season's dog days behind us the games once again have some meaning, as teams begin jockeying for playoff spots and home-court advantage. Here are some of the NBA's top storylines entering the league's second half:

Trade Tinkering

Last week's trade deadline produced a flurry of trades guaranteed to have little or no impact on this year's postseason. The reason? NBA executives were looking to cut costs, rather than focusing on improving performance on the court.

A typical example can be seen in the Lakers' Chris Mihm trade. In that deal, the Lakers sent the pine-sitting Mihm and his 2 million-plus salary to Memphis for a future second round pick that they will likely never see (Memphis must have one of the 5 best records for the Lakers to get the pick). In addition, the Lakers sent Memphis some cash in the deal to sweeten the pot. For the Lakers, the benefit was getting the useless Mihm out of their hair, and cutting future expenses.

However, the Lakers are blessed with more depth than most teams, and can afford to cut into their bench. Other teams with less talent surely could not give away their players and risk incurring more defeats merely to save cash, right? Wrong.

In a busy 24 hours before the deadline, multiple deals were made involving a host of complementary players, but no real superstars. From Drew Gooden to Larry Hughes to Chris Wilcox, a premium was placed on expiring contracts, so that teams could properly position themselves for the upcoming 2010 free agent bidding war.

In these economic times, not even the NBA is immune.

Actual Basketball Acquisitions

Only two teams made deadline deals that sincerely attempted to improve their squads this year -- Orlando and Chicago.

Orlando was involved in a three-way deal with Houston and Memphis, for Houston point guard Rafer Alston. In exchange for getting Alston, Orlando gave up Brian Cook and a first round pick. Memphis sent point guard Kyle Lowry to Houston.

The big winner from this deal is Orlando. In Alston, Orlando gets a decent starting point guard who can be fairly streaky from three-point land. He should fit in quite well with the Magic, where he can spot up for kick out passes from Dwight Howard.

By nabbing Alston and Tyronn Lue in two late season deals, Magic management at least gave the team some hope that it could go deep in the playoffs without injured floor general Jameer Nelson.

More importantly, Orlando gave up little in the deal. The first rounder does not figure to be high, given the Magic's recent improvements. And as for power forward Cook, he is journeyman material and no real loss. Cook's limited game can be summed up as follows: below average rebounder for his position, average defender, and a one-dimensional, streaky outside shooter on offense.

Meanwhile, Memphis has finally cleared out much of its point guard logjam by dishing Lowry. The job now is officially Mike Conley's to lose, as he will have the remaining 20-plus games to prove his worth. Should he fail to impress, look for GM Chris Wallace to get rid of him this offseason while he still has some trade value.

Moving Conley would allow Memphis to hand young star O.J. Mayo the point guard position, which would put the ball in the hands of one of their best players that much more often.

As for Houston, see below.

The other team that improved was the Chicago Bulls, as they acquired some solid veteran talent in Brad Miller, John Salmons, and Tim Thomas. The three vets arrived in separate deals with New York and Sacramento, and should help the Bulls' young kids in nabbing the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.

All three players bring impressive skill-sets which supplement, rather than duplicate, the raw athleticism of Chicago's youngsters.

In Miller, Chicago gets one of the best high-post passing bigs in the game. In Thomas, Chicago gets an outstanding three-point shooter and floor spacer at the 4, who will bring a change of pace off the bench from starter Tyrus Thomas.

Meanwhile, the underrated Salmons can put up 20 points any given night with his solid outside stroke and slashing drives to the rim. He has excellent height, and is capable of playing at the 1, 2, or 3. He also is one of the best bargains in the league, as he brings all of the above-mentioned production for only $5 million per year.

After years of blunders and terrible decisions from GM John Paxson, he finally has done something positive. These trades should get the Bulls back into the playoffs.

Changes Afoot in Houston?

Houston's championship expectations effectively crashed when Tracy McGrady announced, via the internet, that he was having season-ending knee surgery. At the time, T-Mac already had gotten under the skin of some of his teammates with his many trips into and out of the lineup. His latest self-diagnosis only served to exacerbate those tensions.

His announcement caused a chain reaction in Houston, as management already has started to look toward next year. Entering the season, Houston retained some hope that they could match firepower with the Lakers due to T-Mac's explosive scoring. With him now gone, they seemingly have waived the white flag, as they traded away veteran point guard Rafer Alston for Kyle Lowry.

Unquestionably, Alston was no star, but he at least brought some veteran smarts to the table. Now Houston will be splitting time with two kids -- Lowry and Aaron Brooks. Should the kids falter, old man Brent Barry could be forced into heavier minutes at the position.

Between the two youngsters, Brooks is the more talented, explosive scorer with the greater upside. Lowry is more of a pass-first point with a feisty streak on D, but he is an inferior shooter to Brooks.

In either case, Houston made this move with an eye toward next year. Essentially, management wants to give these kids a long look, and then build the roster accordingly should one of the two prove capable of earning the job.

As for T-Mac, expect his name to come up in trade talk this offseason.

Critical Times in Beantown

With Kevin Garnett expected to miss the next 2-3 weeks due to knee trouble, the next month figures to be tough on the Celtics. For Boston, every game now becomes crucial, as they will be battling Cleveland and Los Angeles for home court down the stretch.

GM Danny Ainge has reacted to the situation quickly by adding big man Mikki Moore from off of the waiver wire. In Moore, the Celtics have gained a legit 7-footer who brings defensive activity, hustle, and shotblocking to the floor. Although not much of a threat offensively, Moore nevertheless provides some relief to a short roster lacking in length.

Then there's Stephon Marbury.

After a wild offseason, and a year-long dispute with Knick management, Starbury's contract has finally been bought out by the team. Now a free man, he is strongly rumored to be Boston bound. If he is in fact signed, it will be fascinating to see exactly what impact he has on the squad.

Marbury would instantly be the most talented point guard on the roster, as he can get to the rim similar to Rajon Rondo, but has a far better jump shot. He is a powerful finisher in the paint, as he can absorb contact and still convert. Ideally, for the C's, Marbury could be their 2009 version of James Posey, by providing some bench scoring.

He also could be a cancer.

Marbury has had a pattern of discord at all his various NBA stops, including New York, where last year his teammates voted him off the team after he went AWOL for a game.

Moreover, he has failed to have any real postseason success. As a result, the "cancer" label has stuck.

For Marbury, this stop could very well determine his legacy. If he plays by the rules and improves the team, he will be viewed as another Randy Moss to the city -- a misunderstood talent who merely needed the right setting to flourish.

If he fails to deliver, or worse yet, becomes disruptive, then his reputation in hoop circles could permanently suffer. Should that scenario develop, expect a swift boot out the door from Boston management.

LeBron, Get Out While You Can

Last week LeBron James learned the true nature of his employer, and that discovery could cause him to flee Cleveland in 2010.

Multiple sources reported that prior to the trade deadline, Cleveland had discussions with Phoenix about a possible trade for Shaquille O'Neal. In exchange, Cleveland would have given the Suns Ben Wallace and one other throw-in player.

The Suns did not accept the deal because they wanted Wally Szczerbiak instead. The switch was possible since Wally and Wallace have similar salaries. But, because the Cavs would not give up Wally, Shaq still is a Sun.

Think of that for a minute. Wally Szczerbiak, a role player, was the deal breaker.

Had the deal been done, a Cavs big 3 of LeBron, Mo Williams, and Shaq would have sent shudders throughout the league. This year, Shaq has shown that he still has a lot left in the tank. He would have been a perfect fit offensively for the Cavs -- a half-court defensive team that desperately needs a low post scorer capable of commanding a double team.

So why did the talks dissolve? Is Wally that indispensible to team?

Certainly Wally is one of the league's best knockdown perimeter shooters. He can provide scoring off the bench, blends well with LeBron's game, and gave the team a lift when Delonte West was injured.

But spot-up jump shooters can always be acquired. 7-foot, 300-plus pound Hall of Famers are much more difficult to find.

The only reason why Cleveland covets Wally is that his contract expires this year. That means $13 million will come off their cap.

Had they dealt him, and instead kept Wallace, they would have been forced to pay $14 million to Wallace, and $20 million to Shaq next year. Those salaries would have put Cleveland into the luxury tax, significantly increasing their expenses.

So, what will the Cavs do with the money saved from the Wally deal? Probably nothing. Or at least nothing big.

If Wally leaves, the biggest expected '09 free agent will be Carlos Boozer. It is highly doubtful Cleveland will attempt to pursue him after he walked away from their handshake agreement years ago. Hence, any additions to the team will be minor, and will not involve any big names.

Make no mistake, Cleveland made a purely monetary decision.

This year, the Mo Williams deal put Cleveland among the league's elite. However, that guarantees nothing in today's NBA.

In two games this year, the Lakers have appeared to have Cleveland's number. Meanwhile, the East is filled with landmines in the form of Orlando and Boston.

So, with the team on the cusp of a title, but perhaps needing more, what did Cavs management do? Behave like the dull, small-market, expansion-esque franchise it has been historically.

Cleveland very well could win with their present cast. If so, then all this talk is moot, and LeBron will stay.

However, if they fail, he needs to wake up and see the writing on the wall: This is not the type of franchise that will go the extra mile to win a title.

To be great, sometimes one must take risk. And in the NBA, that might mean biting the bullet and paying the luxury tax.

LeBron now knows his organization's true colors. If he cannot get any rings in the next two years, he would be wise to leave.

By Mike Elliott
Staff Editor for

No comments:

Post a Comment

We encourage all intelligent, passionate comments. Please refrain from any ignorant, racist, or offensive rants.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...