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Sports Guy’s Vault: NBA Trade Value 2004

If only we still used telegrams. My editors would have sent me a good one this weekend:

“Code Red! Code Red! All hell breaking loose! Shaq, T-Mac AND Kobe possibly on the block! Code Red! Must break out annual “Trade Value Column” ASAP! Code Red!”

That’s right. There couldn’t be a better week to break out America’s favorite annual column gimmick, “Which NBA player has the highest trade value?” How often do you get a chance to break out a 4,000-word, two-part column that appeals to a limited audience? Gentleman, start your printers!

NBA Trade Value Rules

A. Salaries matter … would you rather pay Dwyane Wade $9.7 million for the next three years or Paul Pierce $58 million for the next four?

B. Age matters … would you rather have Chris Webber for the next five years or Andrei Kirilenko for the next 15?

C. Pretend the league passed the following rule: Any player can be traded straight up for any other player without cap ramifications. So if Team A tells Team B, “We’ll trade you Player X for Player Y straight-up,” does Team B make the deal or not?

D. Concentrate on degrees. For instance, I don’t think the Rockets or T-Wolves would trade KG for Yao. But the Rockets would at least say, “Wow, KG is available?” while the T-Wolves would say, “There’s no effing way we’re trading KG.” That counts in the big scheme of things.

E. Make the list in reverse order, Nos. 40 to 1. So if Paul Pierce comes in at No. 16, players 1 through 15 are all players about whom Boston would probably say, “We hate giving up The Truth, but there’s no way we can pass up that deal.” And they wouldn’t trade him for any player listed between Nos. 17 and 40.

A number of guys failed to make the cut from last year’s Top 40, for the following reasons: Gilbert Arenas (No. 40 last year) is one more 22-win season away from officially turning into a “Great stats on a bad team” guy … Antoine Walker (39) is Antoine Walker … Antawn Jamison (38) andMichael Finley (31) are a little too available … Jamal Mashburn (36) has become the NBA’s equivalent of Frankie from “The Real World” … Ray Allen (34) is heading into the “Mitch Richmond on the Wizards” stage of his career … as much as I like Caron Butler (33), he seems awfully expendable in Miami … and as far as tag-teams go, Eddy Curry (27) and Tyson Chandler (26) slipped faster than Shannon Tweed and Andrew Stevens.

The toughest omissions from this year’s list:

Rasheed Wallace (last year: 32) — He gets a championship ring and a multi-year contract … so now what happens? Does anyone else keep hearing the chorus to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy”? Remember, we’re still only eight months away from the infamous “CTC” speech. I don’t trust him at all.

Manu Ginobili — Turns 27 in July. Didn’t you think he would be further along by now?

Marquis Daniels — Only because he’s cracking the Top 40 next season. Mark my words. Since he went undrafted last year — which seems impossible in the same draft that gave us Reece Gaines at No. 15 — he’s actually a free agent this summer. Not that “The Benefactor” wouldn’t match any offer, but still.

(Speaking of dreadful-yet-absorbing ABC reality-TV shows, did you see that Jesse Palmer and his Bachelor pick broke up already? Do you realize the Bachelor is 0-for-5 now? That show is more contrived than one of Tom Tolbert’s suits. Is there a reason they haven’t tried to change their luck with “Black Bachelor” yet? Just reverse the process – a black bachelor, 23 black bachelorettes, and then two token white chicks that get voted off by Round 2. And instead of Palmer, they could have a real catch — someone making big bucks, like Lamar Odom or Michael Vick. Let the groupies fight it out. This would be unbelievable.)

Kwame Brown — I’m sticking with the same thing I wrote about him last year: “I have absolutely no idea where his career is headed over the next 10 years. None.”

Kirk Hinrich — Wow, an underrated white guy! You see this happen maybe once a decade. Maybe it’s hard to take him seriously when he looks like everyone in the cast of “Miracle.”

Chauncey Billups — The latest beneficiary of L.A.’s spring-time policy of turning opposing point guards into Hall of Famers. Bottom line: He’s a 40-percent shooter playing for the perfect team. Good defender, decent ballhander, clutch shooter if he’s open. But if you think they wouldn’t have won the same title with Mike Bibby in Billups’s place, you’re crazy.

Chris Webber (13) — On the books for $79 million through 2008. And he’s been limping like Ken Reeves for the past two years. And yet … he’s still C-Webb. And this is a league that gainfully employs Elgin Baylor, Isiah Thomas, Danny Ainge and the Paxson Brothers as GMs. So you never know.

Mike Dunleavy — A year away from making a splash and being the odds-on favorite as the Token White Guy on the 2006 World Championships team. With that said, somebody could pry him from the Warriors this summer. They’re that dumb.

Without further ado, here’s this year’s list of 40 players, in reverse order:

Wizards v PistonsAllen Einstein / Getty Images

Group I: “Either way, the phone ain’t ringing”

40. Darko Milicic — By trading him now, Joe Dumars would basically be admitting, “Yeah, we won the title, but I screwed up with that pick.” And that’s not happening.

Then again, out of the next 39 guys on this list, none of them would ever, ever, EVER be offered straight-up for Darko, who capped off a memorable playoff run by getting infected earlobes from a bizarre piercing accident, then breaking his hand in garbage time of the clinching game. In the Pantheon of Unfortunate Playoff Performances, this was right up there with Curtis Jackson getting shot in the liquor store before Carver High won the city title. So I don’t know. Let’s stick him here to be safe.

(And yes, that’s two “White Shadow” references in one column! Memo to ESPN Classic: Start running the old episodes again. I’m getting the shakes.)

Group H: “Available for the right price”

39. Steve Nash — Some idiot once wrote that Nash was one of the best 10 point guards of the past 25 years. Oh, wait, that was me. Defensively, he’s atrocious. He didn’t break a sweat in the Kings series until Game 5 … by then, it was too late. He’s also about to be wildly overpaid by someone — probably Dallas — for something like six years and $60 million. And he’s 31 next February. With a history of back problems to boot. I wouldn’t go near him for that amount of money. But that’s just me.

38. Carlos Boozer — Quality banger. Always plays hard. Owns the best chest hair in the league. Yet another shining example of “Guys Who Produced in College Who Were Inexplicably Screwed by the NBA Draft Process.” With that said, when I saw the headline “Boozer named to Olympic Hoops Team,” I thought Vin Baker was headed to Athens.

(Where’s my rimshot? I need a drummer for these columns. By the way, I didn’t come up with that joke — about 30 different readers e-mailed it to me. Maybe that should have been a sign. I feel like Jay Leno right now. Let’s just move on.)

37. Nene — Another young banger who displayed a sizable nasty streak in the playoffs, when he was shoving around KG and even throwing a few elbows. I liked that. Most of these young guys look like they’re just happy to get a paycheck every week.

(More importantly, he finally took my advice and went with the single-name gimmick. I know this is a Brazilian thing, but why couldn’t this catch on in the states? For instance, couldn’t Brian Cardinal do this? We could just call him “Cardinal.” Would anyone be against this? And how many times am I writing the phrase “Would anyone be against this?” in this column? The Vegas over-under has to be around 5.5.)

36. Joe Johnson — I will happily admit that I was wrong about him. A future All-Star. And if he blows it … well, then I’ll happily admit that I was right about him.

35. Tony Parker — Hey, he’d certainly be higher on the list of “NBA players who must get an insane amount of, um, female companionship.” The NBA thing mixed with the French thing? That reminds me, somebody needs to round up some groupies for a “One Night Stand Fantasy Draft” — I’d love to see who would go in the first round. Make it one of those $4.95 DirecTV pay-per-views. There’s not nearly enough done with NBA groupies on TV. They should at least have their own MTV reality show or something.

34. Zach Randolph — I just don’t trust him yet. Would you feel comfortable giving a seven-year, $80 million extension next summer to someone who may or may not be crazy?

(This reminds me of an old Adam Carolla idea, “Prove To Me You’re Not Crazy,” where he wanted to walk around Hollywood Boulevard with a cameraman and have the street people and tourists prove to him that they weren’t crazy. Great idea. Never ended up doing it on Jimmy’s show for whatever reason. Maybe we should have tried it with NBA players. “Zack Randolph, you have 25 seconds … prove to me you’re not crazy!” This could easily replace the “Budweiser Hot Seat” and “Hearsay,” couldn’t it?)

Group G: “You’ll have to bowl us over”

33. Chris Bosh — He’d be ranked even higher if he didn’t have those Keon Clark pegs.

32. Pau Gasol — If we learned anything from the 2004 NBA Playoffs, it was this: You can’t win an NBA title anymore with a defensive liability up front. You just can’t. Remember when the Lakers won back-to-back titles in the late-’80s with a decomposing Kareem? The league is just too fast now. Poor Pau needs to build a time machine and travel back to 1983. He could even bring Casey Jacobsen and Brian Scalabrine with him.

31. Peja Stojakovic — This can’t be emphasized strongly enough: He’s been dreadful in the playoffs. If you’re looking for someone to drop 38 on the Hawks in mid-February, he’s your guy. If you’re looking for someone to make big shots in May and June, keep looking. If the Kings were smart, they would trade him for …

30. Ron Artest — Think about that one. Indiana gets a shooter to replace Reggie Miller. Sacramento gets some much-needed toughness and swagger — at least for a couple of years, before Artest punches out a ballboy or trashes the old “Real World: Vegas” suite at The Palms. Who doesn’t make this trade?

29. Mike Bibby — I can’t imagine the Kings dealing him. He’s just come through for them too many times. Plus, it’s not every day you can have a point guard who looks like Mini-Me.

28. Shawn Marion — All right, I’ll ask: Why are his numbers slowly dropping across the board? Why did I like his game more three years ago? Why has his name popped up in every possible mega-deal over the past week? Have you ever noticed the disturbing parellels between his career and the declining critical acclaim for the three “Matrix” movies?

Richard Hamilton drivesAllen Einstein / Getty Images

Group F: “Building blocks”

27. Allen Iverson — Let’s stop comparing Iverson in ’04 with Barkley in ’92: Barkley didn’t have nearly this many miles on him, and his contract wasn’t nearly as daunting. (Iverson’s deal goes through 2010.) Two years ago, it would have taken Corey Maggette, Chris Wilcox, the No. 4 pick and a future No. 1 for the Clippers to make Philly seriously consider giving up Iverson. Now they couldn’t get him for Maggette, Wilcox and the No. 4 unless they agreed to throw in this year’s No. 7 pick. That’s a big difference.

And besides, would you rather have Iverson for five more years, at a whopping $67 million …

26. Michael Redd — … Or this guy for $6 million over the next two?

25. Elton Brand — Career record: 159-251. And no, that’s not his fault. But it’s not not his fault, either. If that makes sense.

24. Rip Hamilton — Three months ago, he wouldn’t have made the list. Now he’s the next Reggie Miller — not someone who can carry an offense by himself, but someone who makes big shots and wears out opponents. He lost the name “Richard” for the much-tougher sounding “Rip.” He’s even strange-looking like Reggie, one of the few guys who’s actually better off with the Broken Nose Mask. It’s been a breakout season all around.

(By the way, don’t we need to come up with a nickname for the Broken Nose Mask? What about the Septumator? Or the Schnozzaroo? More importantly, why are they such an afterthought? NBA players care so much about hair, tattoos, shoes … yet they happily slide on these ugly plastic masks for two straight months, no questions asked. Wouldn’t you think they would paint them like hockey goalie masks, or even go with the intimidating Hannibal Lecter-style mask for a big playoff game? We need to spruce up the Schnozzaroos.)

23. Richard Jefferson — Two years younger than Hamilton; same age as Redd. He gets bonus points for playing with Kidd in his formative years — that’s like an actor getting to make three straight years of movies with Scorcese in his prime, or a kid in high school having a three-year affair with the 35 year-old nanny down the block. You’re better just by osmosis.

Group E: “Borderline franchise guys”

No. 22. Lamar Odom — Wow.

(I just stared at the last paragraph for about 20 minutes.)

21. Steve Francis — Assuming he ends up in Orlando, that certainly fulfills his destiny of becoming a Franchise Guy on a 30-win team, doesn’t it? The entire Steve Borderline Franchise experience was on display in the playoffs, when he couldn’t quite take advantage of the fact that nobody on the Lakers could guard him. Story of his career. And yes, he turns 28 in February.

(Put it this way: If you were playing pickup hoops, would YOU want to play with him? You can only imagine how poor Yao felt. You can almost hear him complaining to his translator, “My diminutive teammate has been dribbling too much, like a stray dog who won’t stop digging for a hole.”

20. Stephon Marbury — If you want to get swept in the first round every year, here’s your guy. He’s on the books for $77 million over the next five years. Gulp.

(Speaking of gulps, what were the Vegas odds of an Olsen twin seeking treatment for anorexia 24 hours after the Clippers made an inexplicably horrendous trade that defied all boundaries of logic? Would you have even been able to get 2-to-1 from any casino? Probably not.)

19. Baron Davis — Two years younger than Marbury and Francis. Won major points for playing on a bum knee during the Miami series. And he held his own with Barkley and Kenny on a TNT cameo this spring, and finished a surprising third as well in the Chompers Challenge on MTV (behind Omarosa and Brooke Burns). We just need to figure out why his body keeps breaking down … you knew his knees were a problem when the Detroit Shock accidentally drafted him last spring.

18. Kenyon Martin — He was 15th on this list as recently as 10 minutes ago. With the exception of Game 4, he was pretty quiet in that Pistons series … and his numbers against Duncan and KG are always subpar. So I don’t know. Seems like he’s headed for a Rasheed-type career — extremely useful, unquestionably valuable, unable to dominate unless he’s playing an inferior team. Along with Heather Graham and The Strokes, I’ve cooled on him a little. Just a little.

17. Ben Wallace — This seems about right.

(By the way, has Big Ben let go of the championship trophy yet? He’s like a dog with a new bone — during the post-Game 5 ceremonies, I kept waiting for him to start growling at teammates that came up to him. Can’t you picture him standing in a nightclub with Rip and Tayshaun, clinging to the trophy with one hand as the guys keep asking him, “Come on, let us hold it for a little while.” And Wallace gruffly responds, “No.” We should have a webcam on him at all times.)

Group D: “Franchise guys”

16. Vince Carter — You can check out his career stats right here on the Worldwide Leader. Seriously, go ahead. I’ll be right here. Just click on the link. I’m not going anywhere. Look at the numbers in ’99-’00 and ’00-01, then look at the numbers in the last two seasons. See if you notice anything.

(Twiddling thumbs.)

(Yawning.)

OK, you’re back. So here’s my question: Did you notice anything that made it seem like Vince is as good as he was three years ago? I mean, anything? I’m beginning to think that Vince’s decision to attend his UNC graduation, followed by that last-second miss in Game 7 of the Philly series, was the defining day of his career. He just didn’t want it bad enough.

15. Paul Pierce — This is a tough one. I hated watching him last season. With the exception of maybe 10 games, I thought he mailed it in. Stuck a big fat stamp on the season. Then again, it wasn’t his fault that management destroyed a team that came within two wins of the 2002 Finals. He wasn’t the one who pushed Rogers and Strickland out the door, traded for Baker and LaFrentz and whiffed on the 10-11-21 picks in the 2001 Draft.

Put yourself in his shoes. You’re 26. You tasted playoff hoops … now it’s been taken away. You had the Fleet Center rocking … now the place is dead. You’ve been tripled-teamed for two straight years. You haven’t played with an above-average point guard your entire career. There isn’t a single guy on your team who can create an easy shot for you. There isn’t a single guy on your team who protects you when you get hammered on a drive. Your team just plain sucks. And worst of all, you have to play with me-first guys like Ricky Davis and Mark Blount, guys who are just looking out for themselves.

So here’s the question: Would your play suffer a little? Would you go into a little funk? Would you hate coming to work? Yes, yes and yes.

They better not trade him. That’s all I’m saying.

14. Jason Kidd — Between the bad knee and all those miles he’s carrying on the odometer … I mean, he could go GP on us at any time, couldn’t he?

(That reminds me … we should change the phrase “jump the shark” to “go GP on us.” For instance, when my mom’s using “jump the shark,” you know it’s gone GP on us. See? Works just fine. Somebody launch the Web site.)

Jazz v GrizzliesJoe Murphy / Getty Images

Group C: “Practically untouchable”

13. Andrei Kirilenko — He’s only 23 … made $955,000 last season … already the second-best defensive player alive (behind Ben Wallace, ahead of Ron Artest) … perfectly capable of creating his own offense, although he’s too unselfish to do it … put up roto lines of “19-5-7-8-5” and “10-12-6-6-5” in the span of eight days last December … grabbed a starting spot on the annual “Guys Who Would Just Be Plain Fun To Play With” team, along with Yao, Luke Walton, Brent Barry and 11-time MVP Jason Kidd … and he looks like a cross between Fred Roberts and Ivan Drago.

So what’s not to love? More importantly, how has Anna Kournikova not made a move on this guy yet?

12. Carmelo Anthony — Averaged 24.3 points per game after the All-Star break, carried his team to the playoffs and made nearly every big shot along the way. If you think ‘Melo isn’t getting significantly better over the next five years — and by significant, I’m talking about 30-plus a game, easy — you’re crazy. Compare his resume to Pierce, Carter, McGrady, even Kobe … he’s ahead of everyone. Only an inexplicable, Britney-like freefall could sidetrack what’s about to happen.

(Of course, if he ever hosts another show with Bill Walton on SpikeTV, I’m resigning as president of the ‘Melo Fan Club. But that’s another story.)

11. Amare Stoudemire — Remember, I’m a proud of owner of 10,000 shares in “This Guy Is The Logical Successor to Moses Malone and Roy Tarpley” stock. So why couldn’t he crack the Top 10? Check last year’s column for the section about Amare and “The Other Shoe Theory.” That still stands.

10. Dwyane Wade — That’s right. Dwyane Effing Wade. You heard me.

9. Jermaine O’Neal — A level below KG and Duncan. I don’t see that changing, either.

Which raises an intriguing question: Would you rather have someone who will never be more than the third-best guy at his position? Or would you rather have someone poised to become the best pure guard in the league, as well as one of the few guys in the last 25 years with a sense of The Moment, a budding assassin, the guy about whom Bob McAdoo said (and I’m paraphrasing), “I played with Magic and Kareem, I played against Bird, this kid has the same special qualities.”?

(Note: I’m going with the special guy. But that’s just me.)

8. Dirk Nowitzki — I’m tired of hearing everyone say that Dallas would trade everyone but Nowitzki for Shaq. Am I losing my mind here? Has anyone ever won the title with a big guy who couldn’t play defense or control the boards? Check out McAdoo’s stats some time; just as fun to watch as Nowitzki, his numbers were better and he never made the Finals until he was a reserve with the Lakers.

Forget about every other Shaq rumor — Dallas is the only team that makes sense. Nobody else can give back a top 10 guy and make the salaries match in a palatable way. Whether it’s a package of Nowitzki, Antoine Walker and Josh Howard, or just Nowitzki and Antawn Jamison, or whatever else it might take, the Mavs would be locking up the title for two years, at least. Who’s beating a motivated, ticked-off Shaq with a quality supporting cast? Absolutely no one.

It has to be Dallas. It has to be Dallas. That’s always been the team. Kobe gets the West. Shaq takes the South. LeBron has the Midwest. And … well, we’re working on the East. But this is a good start.

(One more thing: Who would love Dallas more than Shaq? He could become a bigger local hero than Emmitt Smith and J.R. Ewing combined. He could wear goofy cowboy hats and giant belt buckles, purchase some huge $50 million ranch, force his posse members to steer bulls, bust The Benefactor’s chops whenever possible, dunk on Shawn Bradley in practice every day … you’re telling me he wouldn’t be happy as hell out there? He might shoot 70 percent on that team. And having Kobe, Shaq, T-Mac, KG and Duncan on contenders next season — along with LeBron, Carmelo and Dwyane — could lead to the league’s most exciting season since 1993. I’m giddy.)

Group B: “Only because they asked”

7. Tracy McGrady — Yao and T-Mac together? Isn’t that like Christina Aguilera touring with three of the guys from Phish? Here’s Yao, the best passing big man in 25 years, someone who should have the offense running through him at all times … and he has to stand around and watch T-Mac play one-on-three for 25 possessions a game. A colossal waste of talent for everyone involved. If this deal goes through, I say McGrady is back on the block within 18 months. Either that, or Yao jumps in front of the Light Rail.

(Couldn’t they do everyone a favor and trade him to the Clippers for Maggette, Wilcox and the No. 4 pick? Or to Indiana for Artest, Harrington and Bender? Why haven’t the Wizards thrown their hats into the ring with Arenas, Hayes and the No. 5? Where are the Grizzlies with Miller, Battier and Swift? Or the Mavs with Jamison, Daniels and Howard for T-Mac and Hill? You can’t tell me that Francis, Mobley and Cato was the best they could do for the leading scorer in the league. Please. Tell me that’s not true.)

6. Mark Madsen — Just wanted to make sure you were still awake.

6. Shaq — This needs to be mentioned …

Next year will be Shaq’s 13th season. Just about every Hall of Fame center started declining between seasons 12 to 14 — Kareem, Wilt, Hakeem, Ewing, Robinson, Mokeski. Russell saw the writing on the wall and retired. Only Moses and Parish kept chugging along, but neither of them was nearly as good in his mid-30s. Even Shaq watched his scoring average drop six points last year. Nowadays, when Shaq submits monster games like that 36-20 in Game 4, you say things like, “Wow, Shaq really has his legs tonight,” and his coach says stuff like, “We wasted one of the all-time great efforts by Shaq tonight.” Back in his prime, a 36-20 wasn’t a cause for celebration. You expected him to repeat the performance 48 hours later.

He’s wearing down. Slowly. Subtly. That’s the real reason L.A. chose Kobe. But by dissing Shaq in the decision process, they opened the door for a Clemens-like revival over the next 3 to 4 years — something that never would have happened had he remained a Laker. Now he’s about to pull an Uma Thurman in “Kill Bill.” Again, why wouldn’t Dallas want to be involved?

Kevin Garnett ClassicDavid Sherman / Getty Images

Group A: “Untouchable”

5. Kobe Bryant — The parallels between this Kobe-Shaq thing and “Survivor All-Stars” are uncanny. There’s Kobe working feverishly behind the scenes, trying to form an alliance against Phil Jackson and Shaq. He was like Boston Rob. Mitch Kupchak was Amber. Karl Malone was like Rupert. Shaq was Big Tom. Phil Jackson was Lex. GP was Susan Hawk. Jerry Buss was Jeff Probst — trying to stay out of the way, always inadvertently starting trouble. And Shaq and Phil saw the plotting coming — from miles away, for God’s sake — but they couldn’t stop it from happening.

So here’s the question: When Kobe finally voted Shaq off, do you think he drew a smiley face in the “Q” on the voting card? Or did he just write “SHAQ” in capital letters? I think he went with just the capital letters. And stared straight ahead when Shaq was putting out his torch. But that’s just me.

(And yes, it feels weird seeing Kobe on the “Untouchable” list when, six months from now, there’s an outside chance he could be sharing a bunk-bed in Colorado with a guy named Rufus. I’m trying not to think about it.)

4. Yao Ming — Drops two notches from last year. How do you say “Step it up, big guy” in Chinese?

3. Kevin Garnett — Here’s the best argument of the column …

2. Tim Duncan — And we could argue this one for 10 paragraphs, or we could settle it with four words: “Two rings to zero.”

I’m going with the four words. If that’s OK. I almost went with the Kelly Taylor approach and said, “I choose me,” but that would have been weird. So we’ll go with Duncan and the rings.

(Ric Bucher made an interesting point here: Duncan played 18 more playoff games than KG in 2003 — six extra weeks of hoops at the most intense level possible, followed by a tour of duty representing the U.S. in last summer’s Olympic qualifying tournament. Of course, KG declined to play in that one. So KG basically rested for five straight months — unlike Duncan — then returned fresh for the season with a superior supporting cast. Well, guess who ended up getting injured? And guess who looked fresh all season and won the MVP award? Exactly.)

1. LeBron James — Come on … you were expecting someone else?