I just spent two solid weeks figuring out where Jeremy Lin should be ranked in the annual “Who has the highest NBA trade value?” column. I asked my friends, coworkers and bosses. I asked NBA employees. I asked Knicks fans. I asked my Asian American friends, people dating Asian Americans, and anyone I knew named Jeremy. Heck, I even asked Jeremy Lin himself. Here was Jeremy’s actual take.
“I’m hoping that I’m more valuable than the 467th best player in the league, and thankful if it happens because my trainer kept yelling ‘467!’ every time I got tired during workouts!”
See? Even Jeremy doesn’t really know. How can you assess the trade value of a rising star/walking sports movie/nine-figure cash cow/cultural icon? How can you ask, “What would it take for the Knicks to trade Jeremy Lin?” when the answer is, “Sorry, there’s no f-ing way the Knicks would trade Jeremy Lin.” And even then … would they ever in a million years trade Jeremy Lin? Would Jimmy Chitwood get traded? Would Rudy Ruettinger get traded? Would Roy Hobbs get traded? When you catch lightning in a bottle, you don’t shake the bottle, take the cap off and hope it happens again.
And so Jeremy Lin became the first player to defy the spirit of this column. I wrote it, anyway, only needing 12 viewings of John Tesh’s “Roundball Rock” (the official Trade Value anthem) to get my confidence back. You rattled me, Jeremy Lin, but you didn’t break me. As always, I spent three weeks crafting dozens of different lists, getting input from The Committee Who Shall Not Be Named, repeatedly getting into e-mail fights about things like, “You can’t tell me that the Lakers wouldn’t trade Andrew Bynum for Marc Gasol, you just can’t!!!!!!!!” and “I would rather marinate my testicles in sulfuric acid than put Tyreke Evans on this list.”
Here’s who got bumped from last year’s top 50 list: DeJuan Blair (no. 50 last year) had a spirited “who knows, maybe he can play 15 years with no ACLs!” campaign lose luster when Brandon Roy’s no-cartilege bid disintegrated … Danny Granger (44) is the captain of the “Guys Paid Like Franchise Players Who Aren’t Franchise Players” All-Stars … Kevin Martin (43) is like a bottle of scotch: It’s more fun to regift him than to keep him … there are 65 million reasons why Nene (42) didn’t make it … Luis Scola (41) hasn’t been the same post-Veto (couldn’t you say that about all of us?) … we might need to introduce Andrew Bogut (40) to Phoenix’s training staff soon … David West (33) lost an ACL and Chris Paul … Lamar Odom (31) proved he wasn’t kidding when he turned down Portland’s lucrative free agent offer in 2010 by saying, “You don’t understand, I need to live near the beach” … Carlos Boozer (29) spray-paints his own hairline … Kevin Garnett (28) looks like “The Ageless KG” some nights and “The Washed-Up KG” other nights … and Amar’e Stoudemire (20) is 27 months away from legally changing his name to “Amar’e’s Expiring Contract.”
One note before we get to this year’s toughest omissions:1 Once upon a time, I could barely scrape together 40 good players for this column, as we found out when the 2006 edition pegged Shawn Livingston at no. 27. This year? I easily could have slapped together a top 60. The league hasn’t been this loaded for 19 solid years. We’re in a good place. Here are my toughest omissions from “least tough” to “toughest”:
Taj Gibson: Making one-seventh as much as Boozer, only every time he comes in for Boozer, it’s like subbing an ISDN line for a dial-up. How would Gibson fare playing 35 minutes a night? It’s unclear. Stay tuned for “More Things That Will Be Answered When Chicago Amnesthizes Boozer This Summer” right after this.
Trevor Booker: Sorry, I have a weakness for him.
Kenneth Faried: My favorite sneaky-good rookie from a likably eclectic rookie class, narrowly edging Enes Kanter, Jan Vesely, Nik Vucevic and Isaiah “Jimmer This!” Thomas.2 Remember when Faried was advertised pre-draft as an energy rebounder/defender who gave you young legs off the bench, nothing more, nothing less? That’s EXACTLY what he is. He’s like Safe House — you saw the trailer, you knew what to expect, then you saw the movie and came out of it thinking, That’s exactly 100 percent what I expected!
Brook Lopez: His rebounds-per-game dwindled from 8.7 (2010) to 5.9 (last year) to 3.6 (this year). I wouldn’t care except for the part that, you know, he plays center. Dwight Howard averages more rebounds per quarter. Let’s all stop pretending those two names can exist in the same trade. Thanks.3
JaVale McGee: My wife rescued a sweet (and historically ugly) dog named Olivia who always slinks around our house like she did something wrong. If you say her name in a mean way, she’ll immediately collapse to the ground in a puddle. There’s just too much residual damage from her pre-rescue days. I feel like we’re getting close to that point with JaVale: He’s been stuck on a rudderless lottery team for years, with damaging results — a shame because the league isn’t exactly overflowing with big guys who protect the rim. JaVale could have easily been “The Rich Man’s DeAndre Jordan” on the right team. Instead, he’s destined to be “The Underappreciated Leaper With Raw Tools Who Can’t Help Doing Two Supernaturally Dumb Things Per Month and Has Been a Godsend for Sports Blogs.” Too bad.4
Nicolas Batum: The geek-friendly teams (San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, Oklahoma City, etc.) have circled him for years, fully expecting him to become Battier 2.0 on the right contender. He’s getting an offer sheet next July that will make you say, “Wait … WHAT?????” Be prepared.
Monta Ellis: He’s underqualified to be one of the best two guys on a contender and overqualified to become a more polished version of Jason Terry in Dallas (an Irrational Confidence Guy Deluxe). Where does that leave us for someone making $11 million a year? I don’t know.5
Tyreke Evans: When somebody makes a documentary about the 2011-12 Kings, it’s either going to be called The Sacramento Black Holes, Tyreke Takes It Himself or Wide Open: The Chuck Hayes Story. And the trailer is definitely going to have Paul Westphal or Keith Smart screaming Norman Dale-style, “What did I tell you guys? I want no passes before every shot! You hear me? NO PASSES!”
Al Jefferson: Can’t decide if Al’s recent revelation, “Hey, it’s taken me eight years to realize that if I pass the ball outside and guys hit open shots, it helps free me up, I guess better late than never” should move him higher or lower.
Andre Iguodala, Luol Deng, Rudy Gay: Quality starters getting paid like franchise guys. Deng was the toughest omission — not only is he playing splendidly, I can’t remember the last time a radical haircut transformed my opinion of someone this dramatically. You might have to go back to Demi Moore in Ghost.
Joakim Noah: The bad news: Making $60 million through 2016 … and we have no idea if the Bulls can survive offensively playing Noah in crunch time in June. The good news: He’s played better after a botched attempt to sabotage his own trade value in the Dwight Howard talks. The great news: It’s really fun to Photoshop his hair on other NBA players. As we’re going to prove in Part 2 of this column.
Ersan Ilyasova: We’re omitting this kooky DNA hybrid of Ivan Drago, James Franco, Josh Hartnett, Kevin McHale, Lurch and That Guy From Boardwalk Empire only because he’s an unrestricted free agent this summer, making him impossible to assess for trade value purposes (especially when he’s making just $2.541 million this year). Ilsh6 will have to settle for running away with 2012’s “Random Free Agent Pickup Who Single-handedly Swung Your Fantasy League’s Title,” “What the Hell Just Happened in This Box Score????” and “Seriously, WHAT THE $%#@ IS GOING ON HERE!!!!!!!!!” awards.
Tony Allen: The league’s best perimeter defender (it’s true) and contract bargain (two years, $6.3 million), as well as someone who improbably shed “Trick or Treat Tony” status (he’s just Tony now) and made Celtics fans say things like, “I wish we had Tony Allen” (also true). Why I love the conceit of this column — there’s no way Memphis would rather pay Iguodala or Deng $14 million a year than Tony Allen $3 million a year. None.
Nikola Pekovic: This year’s toughest omission. I didn’t want to go overboard about six legitimately inspired weeks … but jeez, when he’s giving us 17 points, 10 rebounds every night, thriving on high screens and banging bodies while carrying himself with the same nasty, Eastern Euro intensity of one of the bad guys in Taken, and he’s doing it for just $4.5 million this year and $4.8 million next year, what more do you need?7
On to the top 50 …
GROUP N: “I Wouldn’t Take This Call If I Knew He Was Definitely Sticking Around”
50. Ryan Anderson
Remember my December column about the Salary Cap Fantasy League? Would you enjoy paying $2.24 million this season for a guy who plays 31 minutes a game, averages 16.5 points and 7.5 rebounds, makes 43 percent of his 3s (and takes 6.7 per game!) and 86 percent of his free throws and plays with the effectiveness of an obscenely rich man’s Steve Novak? I thought so.8
49. Roy Hibbert
Like Anderson, a restricted free agent next summer. I love paying Roy Hibbert $2.59 million this year. I would not love paying Roy Hibbert $13 million next year.
48. Josh Smith
The original JWOWW needs a new team, new fans and a creative point guard who understands his fundamental need to slam home alley-oops with the sustained fury of a pregnant Jessica Simpson housing a box of doughnuts. Did you know the Hawks are paying $46 million to three guys next year (Smith, Al Horford and Joe Johnson)? See where I’m going with this? TRADE!!!!!!!!!
Only one problem: Josh Smith trades never seem to work. Who says no to Smith for Brook Lopez and Memo Okur’s Expiring Deal? (Answer: The Hawks.) Who says no to Pau Gasol for Josh Smith, Tracy McGrady and Kirk Hinrich? (Answer: The Lakers.) Who says no to Atlanta saving $20 million next season by dealing Smith and Marvin Williams to Cleveland for Antawn Jamison’s expiring contract? (Answer: The Hawks. But they definitely had a two-hour meeting about it.) What about the same Smith/Williams package for KG’s expiring deal? (Answer: Probably Boston … if only because Danny Ainge took a designer drug that makes him think he can sign Dwight Howard this summer.) Who says no to a “Derrick Williams and the Anthony Randolph/Anthony Tolliver expirings for Josh Smith” swap? (Answer: Minnesota. But you know who says yes? YouTube!!! Rubio teamed up with Josh Smith????) There’s never been a player thrown into more failed Trade Machine deals than Josh Smith.
GROUP M: “Sorry We’re Being Irrational, It’s Just That We Don’t Want Him to Come Back and Haunt Us”
47. Derrick Favors
46. Evan Turner
Let’s see … Philly needs to get bigger … Utah needs to get better on the perimeter … both teams have talented no. 2 overall picks who aren’t playing enough … both teams are a little too attached to those guys … the Trade Machine approves … (can’t we just call this one in????)
45. Eric Gordon
Would you trade Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic, Lamar Odom and New York’s 2012 no. 1 pick (probably 21st overall) for Gordon, Al Farouq Aminu and Minnesota’s 2012 no. 1 pick (probably 19th overall)? Sure … if you were intentionally trying to suck all kinds of suck. Stay classy, David Stern.9
GROUP L: “Unsung Heroes With Favorable Contracts”
44. Ty Lawson
43. Paul Millsap
Everyone pounded the “Lawson is underrated!!!!” angle so violently that he became slightly overrated for someone who gives a fringe playoff team a 16-7 with 47/32/81 shooting splits and a couple of look-how-freaking-fast-he-is highlights per game. Just don’t expect Millsap to give up that “So Underrated He’s Slightly Overrated” belt anytime soon — not when he’s averaging a 15-9 every game, making big shots for an overachieving team, and wielding a favorable contract ($16.4 million total through next season) and even more favorable PER ranking (this year: 16th overall). He’s called “The Underrated Paul Millsap” pretty much as a rule at this point. All of this worries me — once you become overrated for being underrated, bad things ensue. Just ask Ben Wallace (overpaid by Chicago, never the same) and David West (blew out his knee). Tread carefully, Paul Millsap.
42. Danilo Gallinari
Every Knicks fan just grunted out loud, stared sadly at the screen for a few seconds, then thought back fondly to the MSG announcer yelling “Danilo Gallinarrrrrrrrrri!” with his fake Italian accent after a Gallinari 3. They had a weakness for Gallo, the same way I have a weakness for any news stories about serial killers or point shaving scandals. If a serial killer ever shaved points, it would be all over — I wouldn’t be able to function. Wait, where were we?
41. Tyson Chandler10
40. Anderson Varejao
I’d rather have Chandler, but his contract (four years, $55.4 million) and facial hair (that goofy Fidel Castro look) isn’t nearly as favorable as Varejao’s contract (four years, $34.8 million) and haircut (the throwback Sideshow Bob look). Of course …
39. Marcin Gortat
Paying just $21.7 million through 2014 for a true center averaging a 16-11 with 56 percent shooting? Sign me up.11 This had a chance to become Otis Smith’s shrewdest signing ever, only he messed it up by flipping Gortat into $58.8 million of Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson. Otis Smith, everybody! He’s the Reverse Black Friday — instead of everything being 50 percent off, it’s 220 percent on.
38. Kyle Lowry
Killer value ($17.5 million total through 2014) for a quality point guard (16-7-5, 39 percent 3FG, elite defense). Let’s have a round of applause for Dork Elvis — he basically traded Carl Landry, Rafer Alston, Aaron Brooks, a washed-up Tracy McGrady and Vassilis Spanoulis12 for Lowry, Martin, Scola, Dragic, Jordan Hill, the no. 23 pick in 2011 and New York’s 2012 no. 1 pick. Also, did you know Houston is the only above-.500 team without a lottery pick in its nine-man rotation (much less starting for it)?
Bill lemme know what else you need or if this paragraph will suffice. Good seeing you in Boston. Thanks, Daryl.
(Whoops, I forgot to take that last part out. Sorry about that.)
GROUP K: “Sorry, It’s Been Crazy Around Here … Actually, Can I Call You Back?”
37. Zach Randolph
Let’s go inside the Grizzlies’ war room …
Chris Wallace: “Should we quietly shop Z-Bo when he comes back from his knee injury?”
Assistant GM no. 1 [nodding]: “We’re 22-12 without him.”
Wallace: “And we don’t want to pay Z-Bo, Gay, Conley and Gasol a combined $224.2 million through 2015 — “
Assistant GM no. 2: “Hold on, hold on … are you crazy? The five best players in last year’s playoffs were LeBron, Dirk, Wade, Durant and Z-Bo! If he’s even 80 percent back this spring, we can beat anyone in the West. We’re a matchup nightmare! NOBODY WANTS TO PLAY US!13
[Everyone falls silent.]
Wallace: “You’re right, let’s ride him this spring, make a run at the title and shop him this summer. Anything else?”
Assistant GM no. 2: “Yeah, the league office called — they said that, no matter what happens this season, you’re still ineligible to win ‘Executive of the Year’ because you picked Hasheem Thabeet over James Harden and Ricky Rubio.”
36. Steve Nash
I don’t blame the Suns anymore. I blame Nash. I think he’s afraid to get traded. I think he likes toiling away on mediocre teams, playing that martyr role and having everyone feel sorry for him. Poor Steve Nash! Look what the Suns did to him! We have to get Nash out of there! #freestevenash Maybe he doesn’t want the pressure of playing in the playoffs anymore. Maybe he’d rather bang out meaningless regular seasons, go traveling during the playoffs and save himself two months of wear and tear. Maybe he’s hiding behind this whole “leaders don’t sell out their teammates by asking for a trade” thing. Maybe he’s just being a coward.
(By the way, I don’t believe any of this — I just wanted to use a little reverse psychology to get Nash to ask for a trade because Phoenix is obviously too cowardly to accommodate him. I’m at wit’s end. Don’t you want him in the playoffs?)
35. Stephen Curry
Fell 15 spots from last year’s list purely for “All right, what’s really going on with Curry’s right ankle?” reasons. That’s one of the top-five conversation topics in NBA circles right now, along with “Why do the players hate Rondo so much?,” “What are you hearing about Dwight?,” “What are the Lakers going to do?” and “Did we ever figure out why Al Jefferson has a 38-year-old girlfriend????” So what’s the answer? Is this a potential Grant Hill situation? Do the Warriors have the worst trainer/medical situation on the planet? Is Nike slipping? Are Curry’s ankles made of papier-mâché? If there was a pay-per-view special of Curry getting an MRI on his right ankle, followed by Phoenix’s medical staff breaking down the results, I think I’d pay $49.99 to watch it.
The good news for Warriors fans: Their team made a $500 million mistake by choosing Charles Jenkins over Jeremy Lin on December 8 (it’s true, look it up), then wasted its amnesty on $4 million of Charlie Bell so they could overpay DeAndre Jordan with an offer sheet (didn’t work), leaving them stuck with Andris “Why Didn’t You Amnesthize and Put Me Out of My Own Misery????” Biedrins (owed $9 million each of the next two years) and little cap flexibility this summer. Oh, wait, that’s horrible news. Speaking of Linsanity …
GROUP J: “We’ll Consider It If You Throw in 500 Million Dollars”
34. Jeremy Lin
This feels about right. It’s certainly better than being ranked between Sean Marks and Zabian Dowdell.
GROUP I: “The Young Guns”
33. James Harden
Even if it’s about eight spots too high, I’m using this year’s “I Know This Is Weird, I Just Like Him” immunity idol on him.14 Just know that, as a Celtics fan, it’s hard to watch Harden without thinking of the days before the Perkins/Green trade, when Sam Presti sucked Danny Ainge in with the old, “I know we were talking about Harden for Perkins all week, and I know you were banking on the deal happening, and I know you already cleared the deal from your end with Doc and everyone else, but the more I’m thinking about it, I just can’t do it … what about Jeff Green?” move. A Boston buddy of mine described it perfectly: It was like Costco drawing you to the store with a “50 Percent Off All Televisions!” sign, then picking out a state-of-the-art TV and going to pay, only to have them tell you, “No, no, that deal only counts for last year’s models.” Only at that point, you’re already in the store and ready to buy something. Only bad things can happen after that.
(One silver lining: I pull this move on my wife all the time. Honey, I know we said we were getting dressed up and going to dinner on Sunday night, and I know you were banking on it, but I just can’t do it … what about going to the Clippers-Warriors instead?”)
32. Mystery Player A
Hold this thought until Part Two.
31. Derrick Williams
Remember when the Celtics panic-traded rookies Chauncey Billups and Joe Johnson for immediate help, then everyone collectively realized you shouldn’t trade lottery picks after slow starts? That mind-set wavered when struggling top-six picks like Darko Milicic, Jonny Flynn, Wesley Johnson and Thabeet weren’t traded in time and lost their value, causing some teams to simultaneously think last month, Maybe the Timberwolves will be dumb enough to give up on Derrick Williams! and KAHHHHHHHHHHHHHN!!!!!!! Nope. Not after this box score happened.15
30. Hasheem Thabeet
30. John Wall
As you know, I’m the longtime chairman of the “Is He a Point Guard or Not?” committee. (It’s kind of like how Tip O’Neill was the Speaker of the House for all those years — you never knew how it happened, just that it was.) My verdict on Wall: He’s a breathtaking athlete who has little to no idea how to run a team, lead his guys, make teammates better, ride hot hands, control the tempo of a game or do anything else that, say, Chris Paul does on a nightly basis. It’s also a terrible sign that, for two straight years, Wall hasn’t affected Washington’s win-loss record really at all.16 Then again, could there have been a worse situation for a young point guard than the post-Arenas Blatche/McGee/Saunders Wizards? I wouldn’t trade him … but I wouldn’t trade for him, either. To be continued.
Hold on, it’s time for a tangent: During Dorkapalooza 2012 in Boston last weekend, Seattle Sounders owner Drew Carey mentioned his favorite brainstorm, followed by me being practically paralyzed with idea envy. The idea? Carey wants to have Sounders fans vote for his team’s president every four years. You know, like a presidential election. Is that brilliant or what? If there hadn’t been 2,000 witnesses, I would have Zuckerberged the idea for myself. I just love it.
Anyway, we know the Wizards are hiring a new GM this summer; we know owner Ted Leonsis loves thinking outside the box; and we know the Wizards have no chance of being relevant in a “getting Kornheiser and Wilbon talking about them in the first five minutes of ‘PTI'” kind of way unless they have another gun incident or JaVale McGee enters a game without shorts (which might happen, don’t rule it out). Can you think of a better NBA team to say, “Screw it, let’s have our fans vote for our team’s GM every four years”? Why not? How would this NOT become one of the biggest sports stories of the year? And should I hire a campaign manager right now to be safe?
29. Paul George
28. Sergeballu LaMu Sayonga Loom Walahas Jonas Hugo Ibaka
The best stage for a rising young star: That “new car smell” phase when you haven’t been paid big money yet (but it’s coming), you go for too much in every fantasy auction, your rookie cards are worth twice as much as they should be, you’re measured by your potential (not the actual results), everyone remembers your good games/moments (and not your bad games/moments), you’re playing in the right situation for the right team, you’re undeniably overvalued … only nobody cares, because you’ll have these moments/sequences/games that make people say, “That dude is GOING places.”
27. Al Horford
[Cut to Al Horford nodding wistfully.]