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Celts, Knicks taking big risks in Allen, Randolph deals
By John Hollinger
Updated: June 29, 2007
It's that classic moment in the shelf life of an NBA executive: the desperation trade. That's the trade GMs make when they feel like they have one final shot at keeping their job, so to heck with the future. The thought process is to just take on any veteran stars the guy can get and worry about the cap later -- if the trade doesn't work it will be somebody else's problem anyway, because he's guaranteed to be fired.
Last night, we got that times two. Both Boston's Danny Ainge and New York's Isiah Thomas decided to roll the dice on expensive veterans and, in doing so, helped Seattle and Portland along in their rapid rebuilding projects -- as if they needed the help. While in the short term these moves bring two star players to a dilapidated Eastern Conference, in the long-term it may only ensure the continued dominance of the West.
Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE via Getty Images
Time is up for Zach Randolph and Ray Allen in the Northwest. Next stop, Northeast.
It continues a tried and true formula in the NBA -- find the biggest sucker at the table, and take all their chips. Getting Isiah on the phone has been a key part of the rebuilding process for the Suns, Bulls, Raptors and Magic, and it appears the Blazers are the latest to take the plunge.
Of course, the Blazers first plundered Ainge a year ago in the Brandon Roy deal, and now it appears the Sonics have done the same. Ainge's deal for Ray Allen represents a full-circle move by the Celtics. When he took over, Ainge decided to blow up Boston's nucleus because he had an old team that had peaked in the mid-40s in wins and wasn't going to be getting any better.
Five years later, he's dealt himself an old team that will peak in the mid-40s in wins and isn't going to get any better.
One of the keys to the deal is how much Allen has left in the tank. At first glance, it seems quite a bit. Though he'll be 32 when he dons Celtic green, his numbers have been virtually identical each of the past several seasons. Additionally, wings who can shoot tend to age much better than those who can't, and Allen is among the best shooters of all time. That's why players like Reggie Miller, Jeff Hornacek, Walter Davis and Steve Kerr were able to play at levels near their peak effectiveness until their mid-30s.
However, the NBA is a grueling life, and those players are the exceptions. Many more players similar skill-sets began to decline in their early 30s, usually because the injuries simply caught up with them. Great shooters like Allan Houston, Mitch Richmond, Rolando Blackman, Glen Rice and Dale Ellis all hit the wall at 31 or 32 (though Ellis succeeded at a lower level for several more years). So did a shooting guard by the name of Danny Ainge, which makes you wonder why he signed off on this deal.
Plus, there's another factor here. Allen has long had a sore knee, and he also underwent surgery on both ankles this offseason. Maybe it's nothing and he comes back fresh as a daisy, but it's hardly a positive sign.
That's why Seattle made the right move cashing in its Ray Allen stock immediately and building the team around Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and (perhaps) Rashard Lewis. Additionally, Wally Szczerbiak and Chris Wilcox both come off the books in 2009, giving new Sonics GM Sam Presti either a $20 million war chest in expiring contracts to trade for another star, or a huge chunk of cap space with which to pursue free agents.
Meanwhile, Ainge's only option now is to double down on the bet he just made. The Pierce-Allen-Al Jefferson triumvirate should be an effective one, but unless it's surrounded by more quality it won't amount to much more than a first-round playoff defeat -- especially without quality defenders to compliment them.
To make this work, Ainge must also use the combo of Gerald Green and Theo Ratliff's expiring contract to try to pry away a quality big man to pair with Jefferson, and he has to use his midlevel exception to bring in a decent point guard. (Alternatively, he should call his buddy Chris Wallace in Memphis and ask what it would take to get the suddenly disposable Kyle Lowry).
That's where we come up with the second key to the deal -- Boston's pockets. I sure hope Ainge got the owners to sign off on paying luxury tax the next three years before he pushed this trade through, because otherwise I'm not sure it makes sense.
The Celtics are close to the luxury tax line already and would be way over next year if they extend Al Jefferson (and, perhaps, Tony Allen) and get a player in return for Ratliff. Ainge's only hope, it seems, is to pursue Isiah's strategy of using his young players and expiring deals to take on contracts nobody else wants. We've all seen how that worked out.
In the meantime, he has three stars -- but no point guard, no center and no defense. It will be one of the more entertaining 44-win teams in recent years, and who knows, maybe in the East that will be enough to provide the illusion of success by getting them to the second round of the playoffs. But unless the C's are ready to go all-in and pay through the nose, it's hard to see what the point was, because in three years they'll be a lot worse off for it.
Speaking of Isiah, the other big deal on Thursday was the Knicks' trade of Channing Frye and Steve Francis to Portland for Zach Randolph, Dan Dickau and Fred Jones. On the surface, this seems like a home run -- the Knicks got a 20-10 guy in return for two guys they'll hardly use.
Honestly, I'd like this trade a lot more for New York if they'd turn around and trade Randolph some place else. He's an important chip that came at a surprisingly low cost, but he really doesn't fit New York's personnel well.
The combo of Randolph and Eddy Curry will be the worst defensive frontcourt in basketball, and meanwhile only one of them can post up at any given time. Yes, Randolph has a nice touch from outside, but that's not where the focus of his game should be. And the two of them both are poor passers from the low block, which means teammates won't benefit much from the double-teams they draw.
I don't fault Isiah for making this deal, because on talent alone it was probably too good to pass up, but I'm really interested to see whether he's going to keep Randolph. On the surface, it seems Randolph and Curry will diminish each other's production (not to mention the minutes of super-sub David Lee), and the gain will be far less than it appears on paper.
Alternatively, one really has to appreciate the approach Kevin Pritchard is taking to building the Blazers. In Frye he adds a second power forward who can shoot -- joining LaMarcus Aldridge -- and that should give Oden plenty of room to operate on the low block. Room that Randolph was going to take away, mind you, which was one incentive for making the deal.
Additionally, he's positioned himself to have oodles of cap space in 2009 when Francis and Raef LaFrentz come off the books -- right before he has to extend the deals of Aldridge, Roy and Sergio Rodriguez. By that point, one would expect Portland to be a coveted free-agent destination, and so the Blazers could do a lot of damage in the market that summer …if Seattle doesn't beat them to the punch.
So the two Northwest teams just made their foundations a whole lot stronger, while two more Eastern teams rolled the dice on big contracts that are questionable fits with their current rosters. Just another day in the NBA, it seems, where the chips keep piling up at the Western side of the table after two more Eastern GMs went all-in with weak hands.