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NBA BASKETBALL March 4, 2002
Deconstructing the Trades – the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Lets break down the trades that went down just before the deadline.

Boston Celtics

(Traded Joe Johnson, Milt Palacio, Randy Brown and a first-round pick to Phoenix for Tony Delk and Rodney Rogers)

As one of the most positive surprises of this NBA campaign, it seems somewhat puzzling that Boston would want to jeopardize their form by pulling off a mid-season trade. Heavily reliant on player-chemistry and clearly defined roles, the Celtics have thrived as a team that milks everything possible out of two needn’t be named All-Stars, essentially reducing whoever else is playing to a decoy. That’s why this trade has front office rather than coaching staff approval written all over it; while it raises the overall talent level (at least in the short term) of the team on paper, you have to wonder whether it comes at the expense of team-chemistry. Admittedly, Delk and Rogers are both talented, proven scorers but neither is likely to get more than ten shots per game on a regular basis in Boston. What’s even more baffling is that Joe Johnson was exactly the kind of all-around player that could contribute without needing a lot of shots, something that the two newcomers will struggle to do as effectively. Potentially, this trade could be looked back upon as a big mistake, especially as Rogers, a free-agent this summer, is likely to leave for a team promising a bigger role. However, if Coach O’Brien can find some shots for the newcomers and get them to do all the dirty, selfless work that defines being a Celtic not named Paul or ‘Toine these days, the team has given itself an even better chance of doing something more than just making the playoffs. It’s a huge gamble to give away a talent like Johnson just to improve in the short-term, but at least O’Brien, a former assistant at Kentucky, is getting a friendly face in return in Wildcat alumni Delk. Then again, you’d think Pitino would have taught them that doesn’t always count for much.

Verdict: C+

Chicago Bulls

(Traded Brad Miller, Ron Mercer, Ron Artest and Kevin Ollie to Indiana for Jalen Rose, Travis Best and Mark Richardson)

It takes guts to trade away the three top scorers from the league’s lowest scoring team, so its no surprise that Jerry Krause was involved. After all, he’s the one who had the guts to break up the Bulls dynasty prematurely, and he also happens to have one of the more impressive guts around. But to be fair this team wasn’t going places anyway, and at least Jalen Rose provides Chicago with their first really big name since MJ left town, something they’ve sorely lacked. Yet this move wasn’t just about acquiring Rose and Best, it was just as much about making sure their three promising rookies – Tyson Chandler, Eddy Curry and Trenton Hassell – get all the playing time they need to develop, as well as giving new coach Bill Cartwright a fresh plate. The rookies have started contributing nicely lately, so Cartwright and the management obviously feel comfortable playing out the season with them in the starting lineup, a baptism by fire so to speak. Travis Best is, well, the best point guard the Bulls have had in a long, long time, but still has to prove that he can run a team while minimizing the negative effects of his size (5-10). This could be the perfect audition for a player who needs to turn some heads around the league as he’s in a contract year, and likely won’t stick around if the team gets a high draft pick and goes for Jason Williams or Frank Williams. All in all, losing Miller and Artest (especially) hurts in the toughness department. But as the season had showed you don’t win just by being tough, you need quality and this trade has certainly helped in that department, which in turn makes the re-building job easier. Not entirely bad, Crumbs.

Verdict: B

Dallas Mavericks

(Traded Juwan Howard, Tim Hardaway, Donyell Harvey and a first-round pick to Denver for Nick Van Exel, Raef LaFrentz, Avery Johnson and Tariq Abdul-Wahad)

Thank heavens for Mark Cuban. Just as everyone had been resigned themselves to the fact that the luxury tax had pulled the plug on power trades like this, the Dairy Queen manager stepped in and restored our faith. (Of course the whole thing was probably Nellie’s idea, who else would have been crazy enough to think Denver would fall for it?). As has been the case quite often lately, the Mavs once again made out like bandits. LaFrentz was the big prize, as he immediately becomes Dallas’ center of the future. Coupling him with Nowitzki up front gives the team the NBA’s most devastating forward/center sharp-shooting tandem ever, opening up the lane even more for slashers like Mike Finley, Steve Nash et al. And in Van Exel they have the perfect playoff weapon, a fiery competitor who thrives in clutch situations – and a guy with absolutely no respect or fear for the Lakers. Losing Howard wasn’t really an issue, his talents as a scorer and leader were lost on this team anyway. Hardaway, on the other hand, must feel hard done by. He came to Dallas to end his career on a high together with the coach who got him started and old Chicago-buddy Finley, on top of which his family was settling in nicely in the area and he’d found his shot again. Let’s just hope Cuban has the decency to re-sign him in the summer after Denver no doubt buys out his contract, and AJ returns to the Spurs where he belongs. But aside from that, the question that begs to be asked is whether this team isn’t a little bit too good to be true? Even Cuban will find it difficult to stomach this payroll, and a Van Exel in his prime really has no business coming off the bench. So don’t be surprised if the arrangement doesn’t last beyond this season, but in the meantime enjoy it because it could be short, but oh-so-sweet…

Verdict: A-

Denver Nuggets

(Traded Nick Van Exel, Raef LaFrentz, Avery Johnson and Tariq Abdul-Wahad to Dallas for Juwan Howard, Tim Hardaway, Donell Harvey and a first-round pick)

Well something had to be done. The way Van Exel was bitching and moaning, giving him up was as classic a case of addition by subtraction as you’ll find, and it was just a matter of now or in the off-season. With the team already out of the playoff race and some lip smackin’ prospect on the horizon in the upcoming draft (Jason Williams, Yao Ming), it’s not exactly hard to see what Vandeweghe is up to. While Hardaway is clearly not in their plans after this season, Howard could be. Because he’s about to be paid $20 million next season he’s not going anywhere until his contract expires, which might actually be a good thing. Once McDyess returns, the two will form one of the better forward tandems in the league, and if they click then Howard can probably be kept on for about a third of what he makes now. LaFrentz, on the other hand, was as good as gone as a free-agent this summer. Add to that the fact that they picked up Dallas’ first-round pick and finally rid themselves of one of the most over-paid players in the league in Abdul-Wahad, and you’ve actually got a prettier picture than what first meets the eye. Make no mistake though, Denver is now in full rebuilding mode and it will probably be years before we see them in the playoffs again. Let’s just hope for their sake McDyess is a patient man.

Verdict: B

Golden State Warriors

(Traded Marc Jackson for Dean Garrett and a second-round pick)

Like Denver, Golden State had someone they needed to trade away. As it turned out, they ended up giving him away. For those who saw Marc Jackson blossom and become a legitimate ROY candidate before his injury last season, its been difficult to understand why the Warriors have kept him in the doghouse all season long, hardly ever letting him out for a sniff. OK, so its no secret that Jackson was legitimately unhappy about being with the team after they decided to match the Rockets’ off-season offer at the last second, especially since they only did it so they could trade him away later. But that only makes it all-the-more more puzzling why they never tried to showcase his skills, which undoubtedly would have raised his trade value. Stuck on the bench behind the Dampiers and Foyles of this world as he was, teams who initially had an interest must have started suspecting something was up and considerably lowered their offers. With other valued commodities like Bobby Sura and Mookie Blaylock also riding the bench, the team was in an envious position to pull off a trade that could have really helped them, but instead shot itself in the foot. And ended up giving Jackson away for, forgive me if I cringe, Dean Garrett. It’s not that Garrett isn’t a good guy, he was very popular among his teammates in Minnesota and never complains about riding the pine, but he offers Golden State zero help basketball wise. Nothing. Nada. There’s really only one way to see it – the Warriors blew it, big-time.

Verdict: D-

Indiana Pacers

(Traded Jalen Rose, Travis Best and Mark Richardson to Chicago for Brad Miller, Ron Mercer, Ron Artest and Kevin Ollie)

All the talk in the media about how Isiah Thomas is trying to re-create the old Bad Boys teams of Detroit in Indiana isn’t all that far off the mark. Brad Miller is the closest thing you’ll find to Bill Laimbeer in the NBA these days, a big guy who never gives an inch and isn’t afraid to rough it up and make opponents think twice about coming down the lane. Ron Artest is the quintessential small forward defender, and though he’s nowhere near the rebounder or nutcase that Rodman was, he’s got shades of it in him. How Isiah intends to employ Ron Mercer when he’s activated from the injured list will be interesting to see, but if he’s happy to come off the bench for a while (not likely) then he could be an effective sixth man à la Vinnie Johnson. With Brad Miller and Jermaine O’Neal – potentially the best 4/5 combo in the league – controlling the paint the balance of this team now shifts inside, with Reggie Miller serving as the designated double-team killer. That bodes well for the playoffs when the action grinds to a halt, and only the strong survive. That is, if the Pacers make the playoffs. They’ll need to find the right chemistry in a hurry and that’s never easy when you add four new players to the rotation in mid-season. No matter, their future looks pretty set and if they’re not happy with the chemistry, they have plenty of assets to make other good things happen in the off-season.

Verdict: B+

Minnesota Timberwolves

(Traded Dean Garrett and a second-round pick for Marc Jackson)

Maybe the Wolves were due for some luck after the Joe Smith contract fiasco. While Marc Jackson certainly isn’t a world-beater, he does give this kind of a team a big (6-10, 270) boost. With this kind of team I mean a team that is well-coached, knows how to play a zone and cover for each other defensively, and looks for the open man. In other words a team very unlike the Warriors. Jackson proved last season that he is one of the better-shooting big men in the league, and once he gets into playing-shape again he’ll open up a lot of space for KG and Smith to operate under the basket. He’s also lively and loves to bang, something the Wolves rarely get from their two other centers Rasho Nesterovic and Loren Woods. For a team that’s knocking on the door of the contenders club, this move could make all the difference.

Verdict: A-


(Traded Tony Delk and Rodney Rogers to Boston for Joe Johnson, Milt Palacio, Randy Brown and a first-round pick)

As a franchise that’s never been afraid to make a change when things aren’t going so well, it was hardly a surprise that the Suns got involved in the wheeling and dealing this year as well. The difference is that this time, a trade was made that nobody is expecting to pay any immediate dividends, except in terms of the salary-cap. Joe Johnson is a nice pickup for a team looking to get younger, but Delk and Rogers both played important roles on this team. And with Penny Hardaway (still) around, Johnson isn’t even needed to fill a hole. So why do it? Well, to dump salaries for one. To get younger. And most of all, just to make a change. While that might not seem like a very good reason to trade, that’s how the Suns seem to think these days – how else do you explain trading away Jason Kidd? Steph Marbury, Shawn Marion and Johnson now form the new core that this team is being built around, with everyone else up for grabs for the right price. Whether Johnson develops into a star, and that’s still a big if at this stage, will make or break this trade. Only time will tell.

Verdict: B-



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