Trade Deadline 2010 – Did Everybody Win?

Since I can remember paying attention to the NBA, I’m fairly certain there’s been at least one trade every season.  The trend lately has been that teams in contention for the title at the point in the season the trading deadline rolls around (mid-February) are under a lot of pressure to “fix” any lingering weaknesses perceived about their lineups, or else a weakness in their balance sheets (more on this in a later post).  The Lakers epitomized this last season with their mid-season move to acquire Pau Gasol, who turned out to be their “missing piece.” More after the jump …

With a labor dispute fast approaching, and the contracts of so many high-profile players set to expire after this season, the trade climate in 2010 had a sense of urgency to it, across the board, that we haven’t seen before.  The Cavs HAD to make a deal to maintain their position at #1, and hopefully convince LeBron to return to Cleveland in the offseason… the Rockets HAD to get rid of Tracy McGrady former star player who hasn’t even been asked to suit up for games lately even though he maintains he’s “all better,” but wanted to upgrade their overall talent in the process.  The Knicks HAD to pick up some expiring contracts to better position themselves to make a run at LeBron and the rest of the Free Agency 2010 class this summer.

Well, it seems pretty strange, but my own evaluation of the dealings that went down, it seemed like every team that actually did make a move is pretty satisfied with what went down.  Nobody made moves they didn’t strongly believe in, and (on paper at least) it seems that each team’s individual agendas were furthered by the trades.  The only real losers were the teams whose deals fell through.

The Cavs-Wizards trade: Nate’s already talked about this, but this is the most buzz-worthy move that went down.  The Cavaliers had been vocal all season about their desire to add a “Stretch-4,” that is, a power forward with the capability to hit the outside shot, a player archetype their management thinks would fit most fluidly with LeBron’s all-around game and Shaq’s dominating presence in the post.  Antawn (that’s always bothered me…. shouldn’t it be AntWAN?) Jamison is exactly that player, and is a definite upgrade for them over Anderson Varejao and J.J. Hickson.  In his college career, Jamison played the role of dominating post presence for UNC with gusto, grabbing board and swatting shots like he was the biggest and strongest player on the court.  Since he didn’t have elite “NBA size,” though, there were some questions about his game heading in to the NBA draft, causing him to be less-highly regarded than his Tar Heels teammate, Vince Carter.  Jamison was able to adjust to playing NBA small forward pretty effectively in the first few seasons of his career in Golden State, however, but a return to his more appropriate power forward position with Washington the past few seasons, while retaining the new perimeter elements of his game that he developed as a Warrior, has firmly entrenched him in the “good but not great” list of NBA players that every team would love to have.  Jamison doesn’t need the ball to be effective, but he knows what to do with it when he does get it.  Based on LeBron’s tendencies to take over a game individually or to get his teammates involved to the tune of double-digit assists depending on what the defense dictates, look for Jamison and LeBron’s new partnership to really thrive as the Cavs work towards the NBA title this season.  Expect a couple of BIG scoring outbursts from Jamison along the way, who at 33 is eager to prove he’s still got plenty left in the tank.  Don’t forget this is the same Jamison who dropped back-to-back 50-point games as a Golden State Warrior early in his career  — worth mentioning it because he was the first player to do it since MJ23 in the 1986-87 season.  He can definitely do it.  The biggest coup for the Cavaliers in this trade is that they didn’t give up much in the way of talent – Zydrunas Ilgauskas was an unfortunate loss as the big man has been creating great matchup problems for them off the bench in relief of Shaq this season, but all signs point to Big Z getting waived and being free to join the Cavs after the mandatory 30-day wait period, giving his feet some well-needed rest and shoring up the Cavs bench for a title run.  J.J. Hickson, the young power forward who’s shown a few flashes of promise this season, was an asset that Cleveland refused to consider giving up in any suggested trades, and they managed to get what they needed while hanging on to him. 

The Mavericks re-injected themselves in to the title contenders discussion by getting rid of unhappy / ineffective players in Drew Gooden (you never want your players known more for hair-do’s than skills) and Josh Howard (J-Ho is about the worst abbreviated nickname ever), and certainly upgraded their lineup at the 2 and 5 positions by adding Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood from the Wizards.  While Haywood’s never been and never will be a star player, he’s a wide body with a good defensive pedigree… and let’s be realistic – signing Subhodaya to play center would be an upgrade over Erick Dampier (unless of course Dampier’s playing for a new contract…. seriously, check the career stats.  ONE good season – his contract year).  You want your center to protect the basket as well as have some resiliency – Haywood will stay in the lineup, which is all the Mavs really require of their centers to qualify as a success.  Caron Butler is a great scorer and defender, and another player on that list of “good but not great” players that his former teammate Jamison is listed in as well (in my head).  He won’t have to be the #1 offensive option for the Mavs, which suits his skill set wonderfully.  That role will remain with Der Bomber, Dirk Nowitzki, and with Jason Kidd handling the ball, Caron is probably happier than a pig in you-know-what since he’s been stuck with Gilbert Arenas as his primary ball-handler the past few seasons.  Gilbert’s a great player, but we all know that creating looks for his teammates isn’t necessarily that high on Agent Zero’s priority list.  Everybody knows he’s a shooter first and a…. ok that was just bad and forced. Forgive me.  Anyway, having Caron Butler to play 2-guard frees up Jason Terry to back up Jason Kidd or Caron, and a bench backcourt of Terry and Roddy Beaubois should give every western conference playoff teams’ second units fits, a real plus come playoff time.

The Celtics seemed to make a lateral move, neither upgrading or downgrading their bench, by moving Eddie House and Bill Walker to the Knicks in order to acquire “Krypto-Nate” Robinson, the 5’9″ dynamic dunker capable of really filling it up on a streaky basis.  I like Nate, I really do, but I just don’t see how he’s an upgrade from Eddie House, aside from simply being a younger player.  They’re both streak-scorers who provide valuable offense off the bench, but if forced in to starting roles (as House was with the Heat previously in his career, and Nate has been with the Knicks), their teams are ineffective because of each player’s unavoidable limitations.  Eddie House doesn’t want to guard any powerful guards, and at 6’1″ I don’t necessarily blame him, while Nate simply can’t, at 5’9″.  He’ll provide some excitement for their fans with his dunks and energy, but I don’t really see how this move makes the C’s any more realistic title contenders than they already are. 

The Houston Rockets came out ahead after the deadline.  Behind the Jamison trade, I like the moves the Rockets made better than any other moves around the league.  Despite his undeniable talent, the Rockets had told Tracy McGrady and his bloated contract to not even worry about suiting up this season.  I like the confidence that shows in their less-heralded players and the message it sends to the league: we believe in our system, and even though Tracy’s a great player, he doesn’t fit in to what we’re doing right now, so we’re looking to move him.  The Rockets’ trademark this season has been relying on their ensemble cast as well as their system to maintain their competitiveness while lacking a true “star,” and they’ve managed to do that as well as anyone could expect.  In fact, I’ve said often this season that this year’s Rockets remind me of the 2002 Detroit Pistons, and picking up Kevin Martin from the Kings just reinforces the comparison in my mind.  Martin’s not a transcendent player, but he’s a very active player on offense and has a deadly (albeit broke) jumper coming off of screens.  I think pairing him in the backcourt with the deceptively quick Aaron Brooks (who unfortunately shares the same name as the New Orleans Saints’ QB embarassment prior to Drew Brees, immortalized in a Lil Wayne verse “I’m in the way, yall cant pass like Aaron Brooks) will make the Rockets dangerous playoff opponents for whoever they draw.  Tracy McGrady benefited from getting sent to NYC because he gets a two-month audition to show that he can still play for someone despite his microfracture surgery, and he gets to get paid like a star while working for that new contract anyway.  He’ll love New York and the lack of pressure on him to produce W’s at this point, and who knows, maybe we’ll see T-Mac take a cut-rate salary in order to contribute to a contender next season.  Doubt it, though.

Anyway, the only big losers I’d indicate at the trade deadline are the teams that really wanted to make something work, but somehow couldn’t compromise enough to pursue their objectives.  Amar’e staying in Phoenix comes to mind, as well as Miami’s lack of activity after strongly pursuing Carlos Boozer.  The Lakers had been making a ton of noise about potentially getting Chris Bosh as a rent-a-player for the remainder of this season, but I think that was as much a psychological gimmick of Phil Jackson to scare Bynum in to production more than anything.  Besides, everyone knows that Chris Bosh in Hollywood wouldn’t be a good match, not after his newfound fame after starring in Avatar this past year.

It seems like most of the teams aching to make a move got what they wanted.  Even the Trail Blazers, who’ve been decimated by injury like no other team this season, found frontcourt help in getting Marcus Camby for rent-a-player status while only giving up bit players.  Not a hugely-impactful move in my eyes – the Blazers are doomed to mediocrity until they swap Andre Miller for a PG with range on his jumpshot, and find a bench somewhere, but Camby is a great band-aid for a team lacking any frontcourt presence since Greg Oden’s P***s and Joel Pryzbilla, The Vanilla Gorilla went out with season-ending injuries.  I think the moves made by the Cavs and the Mavericks instantly raise their contender status, and the Rockets should enter the conversation as a serious dark horse… but we’ll see how it plays out!

BTW – I did catch the Nuggets-Cavs game last night.  Nobody should sleep on Denver – they’re 2-for-2 against the Cavs this season, and if the Cavaliers have shown us anything all year, it’s that beating them in the Q is difficult for any team.  LeBron was his traditional great self, but Carmelo is maybe only one rung on the ladder below him, if not right there with him, and the cohesiveness of Denver as a team really came through.  No idea how Cleveland let Kenyon Martin get 17 boards!

Until next time.

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