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Paul to the Clippers, Too Much? Too Little? Too Soon?

December 16, 2011 Leave a comment

I think, maybe, just maybe, that Chris Paul has finally been traded. The news broke Wednesday, it hasn’t yet been rescinded, so perhpas we can assume it’s good. Although, you know, at this point I wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to wait until July 1st before making any firm proclamations.

Oddly enough, the hold up stopping this deal from going through earlier in the week was Eric Bledsoe… uhmmm… ok. Don’t get me wrong, I like Bledsoe, I think he’s got some real upside potential, but he’s a backup point guard. Still, I guess that was the breaking point for the Clips, so the league backed off forcing him to be in the deal and accepted a package of Eric Gordon, Chris “About to be Flipped Somewhere Else” Kaman, Al Farouq Aminu, and an unprotected Minnesota T-Wolves draft pick.

Now, first of all, I like this trade for the Hornets. I like it, I don’t love it. There are still a couple variables in play before I can give it the all important “blogger thousands of miles, that nobody’s ever heard of,” nod of approval. First, what’s Stu Jacks, er… I mean Dell Demps going to do with Kaman? The Cro-Magnon center is a free agent after this year, which means if they aren’t flipping him, then it’s really a two player plus pick deal. Second, where’s that Minnsota pick end up?  The last first round pick the Clippers traded away ended up being the first pick in the draft (more on this in a second), and of course the Wolves have a propensity for picking at the top end of the draft – from 1989 through last year the Wolves drafted in the top five nine times. Twenty-three drafts nine top five picks and, oh yeah, they lost three #1s at the start of the millennium because of Kevin McHale’s free agent subterfuge – so, that’s a pretty good chip in a loaded draft, except…

I’m not convinced the Wolves will be so horrible this year. Despite David Kahn’s desire to stock his team with 37 point guards, there’s actually a solid chance the Wolves are respectable. They fired the overmatched Kurt Rambis and replaced him with Rick Adleman, who is a seasoned, professional coach. They have the makings of a decent roster, and they have a slim-fit Kevin Love. Lets be clear, I’m not suggesting they’re a playoff team, but I wouldn’t be horribly shocked to see them finish .500 and provide the Hornets with a 11-14 pick, instead of a top five pick.

If the Hornets don’t flip Kaman for anything, then a year from now their package for Chris Paul could be the 13th pick in the draft, Aminu, and Eric Gordon (more on this too).  At that point, I’m not sure its a win for the Hornets. Of course, if they flip Kaman to Sacramento for a pick and Minnesota sucks, then it’s a different story.

I’m not sure I love it for the Clippers either. Well, no, that’s not true.  This is a major win for the Clippers. They’re bringing one of the top five players in the game to the Staples Center. They basically snatched him out of the Lakers finger tips, and he’s a player who will work perfectly with their current star Blake Griffin. So, it’s a big, BIG win, but… did they really have to give up Gordon?

Now, lets not make Gordon out to be the second coming of Pete Maravich. He’s good. He might even, as Bill Simmons keeps saying, be the best shooting guard  in the league under the age of 25, but that statement says more about the dearth of great young two guards than it does about Gordon. He’s a borderline all-star who’s never sniffed the playoffs. Great players take their team to the playoffs, even if they don’t go far after that (see Paul, Chris). Like I said, Gordon’s good and he’s young enough to get better, but his upside is more Joe Johnson than Kobe Bryant.

That said, I’m not sure that the Clippers had to give Gordon up for Paul – and if they don’t lose him in the deal, well… damn.  The Hornets had to deal Paul, and since the league had already sabotaged one good trade, there just weren’t a lot of other deals out there for the Hornets.  First of all, PG might be the deepest position right now. Second, most teams are afraid of putting themselves in the same position the Hornets were in.  So, you basically had the Clips deal, the Warriors offering pieces that weren’t Steph Curry, and…?!? I mean, if Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, and Lamar Odom wasn’t enough, then the Knicks weren’t getting Paul with Iman Shumpert, Landry Fields, and James Dolan’s band.

It seems like the Clippers could have told the NBA’s negotiating team that the deal was the T-Wolves pick, Aminu, Bledsoe, Kaman another Clippers 1st and take it or suck our left… That’s how it seemed the Clippers were going to play it earlier in the week when they balked at the league’s asking price and then put in a bid for Chauncey Billups.  Billups wasn’t going to be a long term replacement for Paul, but LA certainly could have gone into the season with a backcourt rotation of Chauncey, Eric Gordon, Mo Williams and waited for the Hornets’ panicked calls around the trade deadline.

And, speaking of Williams, doesn’t this deal make the Clippers’ trade for Williams last year even worse?  I know it was a long, long time ago, but LA gave up their first rounder to Cleveland in exchange for a league average PG.  That pick of course ended up beating the lottery odds to become the top ping pong ball.  It was a bad pick when they made it, a worse pick on lottery day, and an even worse pick now.  Don’t you think that the Clippers package for Paul could have used that #1 pick (Kyrie Irving)?

With Gordon going to the Hornets, the deal is still a win for the Clippers and it does set them up for a nice little run, but I think they could have waited and kept Gordon. A Clippers starting lineup of Paul, Gordon, Caron Butler, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan, with Billups a super sixth man, would have pushed the Clips to challenging for the Conference title.  Instead, I’d put them behind (in no particular order) the Mavs, Zombie Sonics, Grizzlies, and – for at least one more year – the Lakers and Spurs.  So, a win for LA, but in typical Clipper fashion, a bumbled victory.

David Stern, Chris Paul, and the Big Market-Small Market Conundrum…

December 13, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s easy to get caught up in the hysteria of this hyper compressed NBA offseason; after all, in less than a week we’ve had Chris Paul traded to the Lakers, Chris Paul not traded to the Lakers, Chris Paul possibly almost traded to the Lakers again, the Lakers trading Lamar Odom to Dallas and thus ensuring that Chris Paul will not be traded to the Lakers, Chris Paul about to be traded to the Clippers, Chris Paul not about to be traded to the Clippers, Chris Paul about to be traded to the Clippers is still possible, and, as of this morning, the Clippers no longer pursuing Chris Paul about to be traded to the Clippers.  It’s exhausting.  And, frankly, if you’re a fan of Chris Paul’s Hornets, it’s probably a little nauseating.  While it feels like something HAS to happen with the Chris Paul hysteria this second, in reality there are still several months for the Hornets brass to gather and sift through trade offers.

At least that would be the case if it were Hornet officials who were actually in charge of deciding the future of Chris Paul.  Instead that luxury seems to fall to David Stern.  Proving himself to be a hands-on owner in the mold of Michael Heisley, Stern has inserted himself front and center in the Paul circus.  Reports of possible trade scenarios no longer begin with, “New Orleans GM Dell Demps is asking for…” but rather begin with, “the NBA front Office is asking for…” And what should be frightening to fans of the Hornets, well besides the thought that former Grizzlies GM Stu Jackson is leading negotiations for Stern, is that the price being demanded by the league is so exorbitant, that nobody can meet it.  That might be fine if there were a chance the Hornets could resign Paul this summer, but there isn’t.  He’s gone.  So, the best thing the franchise can do, is make a good trade and get back some pieces in exchange for their departing superstar.

The first trade that Demps lined up would have been a good deal, it would have kept the team competitive and in contention for a playoff spot.  The league nixed it, ostensibly because it didn’t include enough young talent, but in reality becuase it involved sending a big star to a major market immediately after the end of a lockout theoretically about restricting the ability of the big market teams to poach all the big stars.  Now, the problem is that Stern was so widely lampooned for turning that deal down, he has to actually kill in whatever trade the Hornets accept.  So, instead of approving a realistic and good offer from the Clippers – one that probably had more upside than the Lakers deal, although a dimmer immediate future – the NBA just keeps asking for more and more and more…

I think they’ll find a deal, and I think they’ll find a deal this week, but the longer this stretches on, the uglier it potentially gets.  What I still don’t understand, is how sending Paul to the Clippers is not sending him to a large market, when last I checked they play in the same building – let alone market – as the team that Dan Gilbert went apocalyptic about acquiring Paul.

This underscores what I mentioned the other day, that the large market-small market thing is really just a red herring.  What this is actually about is protecting the incompentent organisations from losing the talent that came to them through the fluke of the draft.  Take the five most notorious examples from the past two years:

  • LeBron James
  • Chris Bosh (and yes, we can quibble over him, but the Raptors thought of him as a franchise guy)
  • Carmelo Anthony
  • Dwight Howard
  • Chris Paul

Now, the only thing that their organisations did to “deserve” them, was be shitty enough to earn a pick in the top 4 of the NBA draft.  That’s how they earned these guys, so lets not make it out like these desperate small market teams have scoured the earth, found these rare looking lumps of coal and sat on them for 90 years until they became top ten basketball players.  No, they were crappy organisations, who were lucky enough to get a top pick in a good year (versus say in a year when Kwame Brown or Andrea Bargnani is the top prospect).  This sense of entitlement that Gilbert and the “small market” owners have to these players is misplaced and slightly asinine.

Then there’s the whole defecting the small market for the large market problem, which of course wasn’t a problem until last year.  But can we look closer at this problem?  What do all five of those teams have in common?  With the possible exception of Denver, outside of their superstar, they suck.  Not like, oh we’re probably not winning a title this year, but outright we might not win 20 games suck.  The year Michael Jordan retired from the Bulls (the first time), they still won 55 games.  How could they do that when they lost thier superstar?  Well, they still had Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, Steve Kerr, Toni Kukoc, and Phil Jackson stalking the sideline.  In other words, they’d actually, you know, assmebled good players around their superstar.

Last year, after LeBron left the Cavs, they surged all the way to 19 wins.  The Raptors?  Well they just tore through the league, on their way to 22 wins.  Don’t tell me that the Cavs and Raps had put good players around their stars.  And then there’s Orlando.  Look at some of the moves made by Orlando GM Otis Smith over the last five years in an attempt to build a winner around his Superman.  You tell me which one you looked at, the day it was announced, and thought, “wow, that’s a great deal for the Magic.”

  • 2007 – Signed free agent Rashard Lewis to massive 118.2 million – 6 year contract.
  • 2007 – Signed restricted free agent Jameer Nelson to 35 million – 5 year contract.
  • 2007 – Traded Trever Ariza to the LA Lakers for Brian Cook and Maurice Evans.
  • 2009 – After making the NBA finals, allowed Hedo Turkoglu to leave via free agency and instead used that space to trade Courtney Lee, Rafer Alston, and Tony Battie to New Jersey for Vince Carter.
  • 2010 – Signed backup to your backups, backup Chris Duhon to a 15 million four year deal.
  • 2010 – Signed the ghost of Quentin Richardson for 7.5 million over three years.
  • 2010 – Traded Rashard Lewis’ bloated contract to the Washington Wizards for Gilbert “The Gun-toting Clown” Areans’ bloated contract.  This might have been a lateral move, except of course that Arenas has an extra year and 20 million on his deal (since amnestied).
  • 2010 – Tried to make up for the mistake of two years ago, by trading Marcin Gortat, Vince Carter, and Mkael Pietrus to Phoenix for Jason Richardson, Earl Clark, and the bloated, stubbed out cigarette remains of Hedo Turkoglu.

None, right?  And it’s not like I’m some master talent evaluator, I can barely find matching socks in the morning.  No, these were just blatantly bad deals from the get go.  What the Cavs and Magic did, was make it rain like Patrick Ewing at the Gold Club, assuming that giving large contracts to middling talent – or fading talent – was the same thing as building a championship squad around your star.  For all of their current cries of being “small markets,” each has had a payroll in excess of 90 million in the past five years.  That’s New York Knicks territory.

So, the problem arose, not because they weren’t able to spend, but because they weren’t able to spend intelligently.  Thus, their star wanted out.  It’s not like big markets don’t have the same problems.  At the start of the 2007 season Kobe Bryant famously demanded to be traded, and he was a phone call away from being shipped off to Chicago.  Instead the Lakers fleeced (sort of) the Grizzlies in a deal for Pau Gasol and well, you know the rest.  Did the Lakers keep Kobe because they’re a big market?  No, they kept Kobe because they made a smart move to surround him with a top fifteen talent.  And yes, it helps when you’re trying to stop your star from leaving if you can find Chris Wallace to trade with, but…

On the reverse side of the coin, you have three small market teams that managed to keep their stars: San Antonio, Portland, and Oklahoma City.  Tim Duncan’s obviously the poster boy of staying with a small market team and small market whiners say that he’s a special case, but why?  He was courted as a free agent and he chose to stay with the Spurs, because they’re a wicked smart organization that gave him the best chance to keep winning titles.  Pretty simple really; perhaps if they’d surrounded him with the likes of Mo Williams and Anthony Parker instead of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, maybe TD leaves for the big money deal offered to him by – gasp – the Orlando Magic.

Kevin Durant, well the press has made him out to be the anti-LeBron because he re-signed with the Zombie Sonics last year, but that’s unfair to both guys and, frankly, just a lazy narrative.  First, LeBron re-signed his first time up too, and second if Durant’s team wasn’t being run by Sam Presti, he might have made a different choice.  The point is that he’s on a team with Russel Westbrook, James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Eric Maynor, and Kendrick Perkins.  Plus, the Zombies haven’t destroyed their cap structure to assemble that talent.  So, Durant stays because there’s something worth staying for.

Finally, three years ago, before his knees when tits up, when Brandon Roy was a free agent, he didn’t flee Portland for a larger market, why?  Because they were young, they were talented and they were building something (and sure it’s since come crashing down, but despite that they to win 48 games last year with their best player a shell of his former self).  Now, you could counter that Roy wasn’t a superstar, and maybe he wasn’t in name recognition, but between 2007 and 2009 he was better than Carmelo or Bosh.  So, even if his name lacked the cache of those other guys, there were plenty of smart GMs who would’ve loved signing him.

To say that those five superstars left their teams because they’re small markets misses the point – especially as Miami is a mid-market franchise, albeit in a desirable location.  It wasn’t the size of the market, but rather stupid team management that led to the superstar wanting to leave. I’m sorry Minnesota, Sacramento, Washington, Cleveland, and whoever else is crying poor, but it’s true.  If you want to compete with the Lakers, you need to be smarter than them (given that mind boggling Lamar Odom trade this really shouldn’t be that hard)

Which brings us back to the Hornets, who were a second round playoff team last year.  Now, admitedly they just lost thier second best palyer as well, but if they lose Paul for nothing, how many games do you think they’d win next year?  15? 18? 22?  It’d be Charles Dickens bleak.  The Hornets Paul problem isn’t because they’re a small market, and it’s not because New Orleans isn’t a desirable place to live – it’s New Orleans for f***s sake – it’s because Paul watched the team sign a washed up Peja Stojakovic, trade away Tyson Chandler twice, and acquire freaking Willie Green.  They were poorly run and then bought by the league.  What’s the upside of hanging around for more?

All of which makes this Paul trade the most important deal in Hornets franchise history.  So, I can understand Stern holding out for a great deal, what I can’t understand is having Stu Jackson negotiate that deal.  That’s the sort of bush-league move that a small market team makes…

Russell Westbrook, Superstar or Stephon Marbury 2.0…?

May 26, 2011 5 comments

One of the most predominant – and bizarre – narratives of this year’s NBA playoffs, has been the devolution of Russell Tiberius Westbrook.  For reasons which strike me as a little odd, the mainstream media and the blogosphere have knocked Westbrook around like a pinata at a seven year old’s birthday.  Glancing – and somewhat feeble – blows from intrepid youngsters offering plenty of welts and bruises, but failing to spill the candy everywhere.

In the span of a month, Westbrook has gone from being viewed as one of the top young point guards in the NBA, a player selected to the all-NBA second team, and a franchise linchpin, to being the man largely responsible for prematurely ending Oklahoma’s season.  He has been criticized for not passing to Durant, for making poor decisions, for pounding the ball, and for being the second shooter on the grassy knoll.  He has been called selfish, a liability, and even – gasp – the second coming of Stephon Marbury.

Only John Hollinger – an ever present voice of reason  – has continued to articulate (Pay Site, sorry) that if Westbrook isn’t Derrek Rose’s equal, he’s closer than we all think.  And this is the point really, Westbrook, like Rose, is a 22 year old phenomenon.  He’s a physical marvel, he’s capable of getting to the rim at will, he’s a franchise player.  Yes, he still has pieces of his game that need work, but so does LeBron and he’s been in the league for 8 years.

It may be that Westbrook never learns to temper his scoring gene.  It may also be that he never matures into a better deicsion maker, but this offseason is far, far too early to write him off.  Yet, somehow, despite that, some pundits are making the case that OKC would be wise to pursue trades for Westbrook and look to turn the keys to the team over to Eric Maynor.  Obviously this has all the wisdom of electing Donald Trump president, but we wouldn’t be Sports on the Brain if we didn’t at least consider what the Zombie Sonics could get in return for their mercurial point guard.

Given his age and skill set, these are the players for whom the Zombies would consider trading Westbrook:

  1. LeBron James, 27.34 PER
  2. Derek Rose, 23.62
  3. Dwayne Wade, 25.65
  4. Dwight Howard, 26.13
  5. Blake Griffin, 21.93

That’s it, that’s the list.  The Zombies aren’t going to trade him for Kobe, because the Black Mamba’s a decade older, with about 2 million more miles on the odometer.  Likewise Manu, Tim Duncan, Amare Stoudemire, Pau Gasol and even Dirk are too expensive, too old, and too beaten down by the NBA.  Even if the Knicks wanted to part with their shinny new bauble, Oklahoma’s not jumping at a Westbrook – Carmelo Anthony deal, because in Kevin Durant they already have Anthony version 2.0.

What about the other star point guards in the league?  Well, Chris Paul would be tempting, because I think with Paul OKC might have beat Dallas this year, but Paul’s balky knee makes that one a non-starter.  There’s Deron Williams, but he’s four years older and has never had a season as good as Westbrook’s this year.  Why trade for the older, more expensive guy if he’s not demonstrably better?  Steve Nash?  Too old.  John Wall?  Too young.  Tony Parker?  Too French.  Rajon Rondo?  Well, that one’s interesting.  He’d certainly pass to Durant, and he’s a better defender, but  – and I cannot stress this enough – he shot 56% from the line this year.  How is it going to improve the Zombies late game execution, if their point guard shies away from the ball?  No, that wont do…

All of which brings us back to our original list:

  1. LeBron James, 27.34 PER
  2. Derek Rose, 23.62
  3. Dwayne Wade, 25.65
  4. Dwight Howard, 26.13
  5. Blake Griffin, 21.93

If those are the players who OKC would want in a trade for Westbrook, which of those guys would be available in return?  Not James obviously.  Nor Rose.  Those are probably the two least accessible guys in the league.  And if the Heat aren’t trading James, who has been in South Beach for about 23 seconds, they sure as heck aren’t trading Wade – not unless this “Big Three” experiment had been a complete disaster, and I think we’re a little past that point now.  And, you could argue that given how much positive publicity he brought the Clippers this year, that Blake Griffin is pretty unattainable, at least until he’s a little closer to free agency, all of which leaves us with one name:

Dwight Howard.

As we all know, Orlando’s all-star pivot is arguably available.  He would represent a massive upgrade at the center position and would form a fearsome front court with Durant and Serge Ibaka.  Would the Magic trade him for Westbrook?  Well, not straight up, but Russ and Kendrick Perkins might be enough.

Dwight Howard… that’s just about the only possible trade out there for Russell Westbrook.  So, unless Sam Presti sees Orlando’s area code on the call display, we can be pretty sure he’s going to ignore any and all calls for Russell Westbrook this offseason.

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