NBA Trade Deadline: Winners and Losers

At 3:00 PM eastern time on February 21, the trade deadline for the 2012-13 NBA season halted all transactions between teams until the summer. Basketball fans were on the edge of their seats all day, just waiting for a “Woj Bomb” (a tweet by Yahoo basketball reporter Adrian Wojnarowski) that rocks the basketball world. Let’s dive into what the biggest winners and losers of the trade deadline were.

Winners: 

Houston Rockets: General manager Daryl Morey is at it again. One of the earliest trades of the deadline sent Patrick Patterson, Cole Aldrich, and Toney Douglas to the Sacramento Kings and sent young forward Marcus Morris to the Phoenix Suns. The good news? They were able to bring in Thomas Robinson, the strong and athletic rookie from Kansas University who was drafted fifth overall in the draft last summer. Robinson hasn’t earned the opportunity he deserves in Sacramento, and with Patterson and Morris moving out, he’ll have a great chance to shine in Houston. As a Kansas Jayhawk, Thomas Robinson averaged 18-12 on 51% shooting. Although he doesn’t have elite length, he’s able to succeed under the basket as an excellent rebounder due to his strength and fundamentally-correct rebounding techniques. In this trade, the Rockets also brought in Francisco Garcia, yet another player that specializes in three-pointers and defense that fits perfectly in the Rockets system. Also acquired by Houston in this deal is Jimmer Fredette’s bench buddy, Tyler Honeycutt. That’s pretty sad, I guess, but the rest of the trade was exciting from Houston’s perspective.

Los Angeles Lakers: As a Lakers fan, I actually approve of the lack of moves on their part. Dwight Howard is still only 27 years old. Despite being banged up with injuries this season, he’s put up numbers that for anyone else in the NBA, you’d go, “_______ is really having a productive season. He’s scoring efficiently and rebounding at a high rate.” Howard has higher expectations, but hasn’t really fallen too far short of them, except on the defensive end, where he’s improved in the last few games. I also feel like the Pau Gasol injury may have been a blessing in disguise for the Lakers, who would have contemplated dealing him had he remained healthy. If there had been a trade for Gasol, given his recent play this year, the Lakers wouldn’t have received a return package of the same value as Gasol. It’s almost never a good idea to seek a trade when a player’s stock is that low.

Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks were able to land the biggest name of the day in J.J. Redick without giving up any important assets. In a trade that sent Tobias Harris, Doron Lamb, and Beno Udrih to Orlando, the Bucks bring in Redick, the shooting guard out of Duke known for his shooting. This mostly helps to right the terrible balance of the Milwaukee offense that sees Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis shoot an insane amount of inefficient shots. Consider these three shot distribution markers:

monta jennings redick

You can click on the images to view them closer, but if you had to choose one, I’m sure that you would choose the one furthest to the right. The one furthest to the left is the shot distribution of Monta Ellis, who currently takes the MOST shots on the Milwaukee Bucks. The one in the middle is the shot distribution of Brandon Jennings. It doesn’t seem too bad at all, until you zoom up and see that he is shooting 43.5% from under the basket, good enough for last among qualified players from inside 9 feet. And the one on the right is the newcomer. JJ Redick. Do you see why it is so important that he takes shots away from these two ball-hogs? Assuming that it helps their team’s putrid balance, this is a great move for the Bucks.

Boston Celtics: The Celtics have been imitating the Portland Trail Blazers the last few weeks. Rajon Rondo and Leonardo Barbosa both were lost for the season with ACL tears. Their back-court was left in shambles. the Lakers on Wednesday, the Celtics were depleted at the guard position so badly that they were left with three guards on their line-up. Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, and Avery Bradley. So when the Celtics went out and were able to acquire Jordan Crawford for just the price of the injured Barbosa’s expiring contract and the little-used Jason Collins, it seemed like a no-brainer. Crawford is known for taking too many shots and is much criticized for his decision-making. Hopefully for Boston, the veteran leadership will be able to guide him to a wiser overall game. I believe he’s talented enough to make a major contribution to this team if he’s able to do these things.

Portland Trail Blazers: The Trail Blazers agreed to a deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder that brought in point guard Eric Maynor for a second-round draft pick. Maynor, a fourth-year player out of VCU had rarely been used in OKC this season after missing the entire previous season with a knee injury. In his first two seasons, Maynor showed tremendous promise. He was a solid three-point shooter and a tremendous passer. In his college days at Virginia Commonwealth, Maynor was a ball of excitement in the Colonial Conference. The last couple minutes of one of the VCU Rams games with George Mason may have been the greatest thing ever. For a Portland bench that scores 9.2 points fewer per game than any other team and are the only team since the 1997-98 season (the limits of my source) to score less than 17 points per game, this move makes a lot of sense. Maynor is able to create for himself a little bit, but specializes as a floor general and will be able to create for others when he is out there. The only concern with this move is that Maynor is coming off of an ACL tear, something that Blazer players have become almost synonymous with.

Losers:

Sacramento Kings: The Kings were sitting at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the lowest abyss in any ocean. So many bad situations have put this franchise into a situation where you wonder if they can go any lower. Suddenly, whilst sitting at the bottom of the lowest trench in the world, the ocean floor crumbled beneath them and they fell another 5,000 feet nowhere and unable to see any sign of daylight anywhere. While I’m not sure whether or not that metaphor came across or not, the point is this. The Sacramento Kings are a freaking disaster. Dysfunctional ownership has left the team in a scramble to harvest all possible cash to prevent the franchise from relocating to Seattle. At the trade deadline, the starve for money led to the team trading away their fifth overall pick and their future, Thomas Robinson. I understand that it saved them $3.1 million in a time where they need to accumulate cash, but still. In the long run, this will likely make them more bankrupt. Although they earn money in the trade, they lose money in advertising, ticket sales, and merchandise sales. What fan wants to stand by an organization that just admitted to throwing away their future? They hardly got any value at all in return. Toney Douglas is  basically a twelfth man. Cole Aldrich, too. Patrick Patterson is a rotational player and has probably already peaked. He’s far less valuable than Thomas Robinson’s immense amount of potential. The Maloof family should be embarrassed to own a franchise this way.

Utah Jazz: None of the other “losers” of the deadline can quite compare to the atrocity of the Sacramento Kings, but the Utah Jazz certainly did themselves a disservice. The Jazz needed to make a deal. They’re sitting at the seventh spot in the west, with the talent-filled Lakers occupying the ninth spot, eyeing their playoff spot. Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson are both on expiring contracts and both valuable. The Jazz have a notable weak spot at the point guard position and talent like Eric Bledsoe was on the market. Their front-office has a long history of making the right decision, but at this trade deadline, I feel like they made the wrong one. Salt Lake City isn’t always a desirable place to spend a winter and they had a golden opportunity to get talent in return for one of their big men before they may walk during the free agency period this summer.

Atlanta Hawks: THEY HAD TO TRADE JOSH SMITH. He may have a problem with heaving too many jumpers and sometimes he may not seem like he’s totally “in” the game, but he still is a very athletic tweener forward that has value on many teams. I think he will walk away this summer anyways. Take it from the Cavaliers. It isn’t fun when you watch a star player walk away with your team getting nothing in return. Don’t get me wrong–Josh Smith isn’t nearly the player Lebron James is–but the two situations are relatively similar. They could have sent Smith to San Antonio and received Dejuan Blair and Stephen Jackson in return. Maybe they could have also been able to pry Bledsoe away from the Clippers and fill the void left on the bench when Lou Williams went down. Maybe even the Lakers would have bitten if they tried hard enough to get Dwight Howard. The Hawks intend on making an effort to draw in Howard, who grew up near Atlanta, during the summer. It would have gone a long way towards completing that signing if they could have made him a Hawk now and familiarized him with his teammates and the organization.

You can follow Skyler Gilbert on twitter at @skylerjgilbert.

Rounding Up RFAs the Right Move

Credit: ESPN.com

The deadline for re-signing upcoming restricted free agents (RFAs) came and went at midnight Wednesday night (or Thursday morning, same thing) and many intriguing potential free agents declined that opportunity by committing to long-term deals with their teams. These players are James Harden (with his new team), Ty Lawson, Stephen Curry, Taj Gibson, Jrue Holiday, and DeMar DeRozan. That these teams wrapped up their free agents at market value or higher suggests that restricted free agency may no longer be a safety net for teams who have them.

Historically, RFAs have very little leverage in contract negotiations. Their teams have the right to match any contract offer, and since it would take a complete overpay from another team to force the rights-holding team from matching, usually little movement occurs. The most notable exception comes via the Poison Pill Provision (PPP) of the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, which was used by Houston to obtain Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik this summer and by Toronto when signing Landry Fields. However, the PPP couldn’t be used with any notable RFAs this coming summer, as all were first round draft picks who are not subjected to the PPP.

So why did teams decide to re-sign these free agents? Well, it’s difficult to narrow it down to just one reason. One notable factor is that a crapton of teams have significant cap space for next summer. According to John Hollinger (insider only), as many as 13 teams should have enough cap room to sign a player to a max contract just this summer. Some, such as Utah, Cleveland, Detroit, New Orleans, and now Houston, have a young core in place and would like to add some missing pieces who also happen to be young. Others, such as Charlotte and Orlando, just need as much talent as possible and might be willing to pay for it. Given that the unrestricted free agent market looks awfully barren (hello, bidding war for Josh Smith’s services!), you get an environment where even a below-average player like DeMar DeRozan gets a ton of money just because a team can spend it.

One ongoing example of the market going crazy is the Eric Gordon saga in New Orleans. Because of his injury history, they refused to give him a contract before the deadline last year. He played nine games at a decent level last season. But because they let him get to free agency, he received a max contract offer from Phoenix. The Hornets didn’t want to lose him without receiving compensation, so they were practically forced to match. Now, with knee injuries still nagging Gordon and his future in doubt,  the Hornets have little to work with and a lot of money to pay. The biggest peril of letting the market set the price is that the market for free agents might be inflated. Now that Gordon’s injured goods, the Hornets might regret not locking him up. While the Warriors did the same for Curry, they paid less than his on-court value because his health remains a question.

A second factor for the surge in signings could be a premium for youth. With the notable exception of an older but very valuable Taj Gibson (whose contract is, for my money, the best among all these), the newly signed players have yet to reach age 25. Stephen Curry and Ty Lawson are 24. James Harden and DeMar DeRozan are 23. Jrue Holiday is just 22. As rookie contracts have shortened under recent CBAs, and as most impact players now leave after just one year of college, youth hits the free agent market earlier than ever. Signing rookies to extensions prevents this happening, though at the cost of paying more for their services than their production warrants.

And third, another factor may be that all are considered key pieces of the future of their teams. The three point guards are expected to lead their team to the playoffs this year and down the road. Toronto expects DeRozan to be among the leaders of a rising contender, brimming with youth. Houston expects Harden to be the star the team builds around. And Chicago expects Taj Gibson to be the part of the backbone of one of the league’s stingiest defenses for years to come.

Upcoming free agents who haven’t re-signed mostly have questions about their places in the future of their franchises. For the re-signed players, the franchises gave indications that they wanted the players long-term. Tyreke Evans’s place in Sacramento’s future remains a mystery. They have no position for him now and look to have found someone else (DeMarcus Cousins) to build their team around. For someone like Brandon Jennings, who has a bit of an inflated sense of his self-worth, his team has no real direction, and despite having talent to build around they haven’t committed to any one plan. Jeff Teague’s Hawks just recently made several major personnel moves, and the team isn’t quite sure how it will look in the future.

Simply put: the teams that re-signed their players consider them part of the future and, even if some overpaid (mainly Philadelphia and especially Toronto), the market would have overpaid in place of the teams. And since they planned on retaining their players anyway, re-signing the players was the right move.