Let’s just change the name of the NBA to the “No Balls Association.” In a league in which nearly every team is flawed in some way, in which the East is wide-open enough that Isiah Thomas and Eddy Curry muttered the word “playoffs” this week, in which every elite team (Phoenix, Dallas and San Antonio) had spare assets to swing a deal and separate themselves from its competitors, in which every 2007 first-rounder possesses more value than it would in a normal season … nobody had the testicular fortitude to swing a major deal before Thursday’s trade deadline.
This was like watching 30 blackjack players stay on 16 against a 10 at the same time. It was crazy. It was unfathomable. Really, everyone felt that good about their team? Nobody felt a pressing need to add one past piece or shake things up? Normally I’d be fine with this, but unfortunately, I paid for the NBA League Pass and suffered through far too many crappy games over the last four months — from a quality standpoint, it’s been one of the most disjointed seasons since the ABA merger. I can’t remember another season when this many teams needed to make a move in one direction or another. Incredibly, none of them did.
Ric Bucher believes that every potential contender remembers how the Heat won a title by slapping together two good months, giving them false hope that they could emulate Miami’s success this spring by just being patient. Hogwash, I say. There are so many quality reporters, columnists and bloggers covering the league at this point — all of us educated to the degree that you could ask, “What’s Jamaal Magliore’s cap figure?” and we’d say right back, “8.3 million, expires this summer” — that these GMs know we’d jump down their throats for any dumb move. Hell, we sit around WAITING for them to screw up. Now they’re scared. I really believe that. Ten years ago, Rod Thorn probably would have dealt J-Kidd for that pu-pu platter that the Lakers offered him. Now? He knows he’d get slaughtered for not getting a blue-chipper back. So he stalled and stalled and hoped to get Andrew Bynum from the Lakers, or Atlanta’s No. 1 from the Suns … and then the deadline passed and now he’s stuck with Kidd’s monstrous contract and monstrosity of a divorce trial until the summer. Hey, at least he was smart enough to deal Vince Carter before Vince fled for free agency. Oh, wait, he didn’t do that, either.
Anyway, I couldn’t resist handing out a deadline report card to commemorate what amounted to be a collective chemical castration Thursday. In reverse order, according to the standings:
Just for the hell of it, the six worst Celtics trades ever:
1. Three No. 1’s for Bob McAdoo.
There. I feel better. Actually, no I don’t.
I’m relieved they didn’t do anything — especially a Pau Gasol-Al Jefferson deal, which would have been an enormous mistake when you consider the age difference (five years), the salaries (Gasol makes six times as much), the stats (Jefferson’s a better rebounder, and they’re equally mediocre defenders, so they would have been picking up an extra 4-5 points a game and that’s it) and the fact that Gasol could have inadvertently knocked them out of the Greg Oden/Kevin Durant Sweepstakes.
Still, I’m giving them a retroactive “F” for the hideous Sebastian Telfair trade, in which they passed on Brandon Roy or Randy Foye to acquire a shoot-first point guard who can’t shoot. I know they saved $20-25 million in the deal (a big consolation for my dad, who’s paying something like $360 a game for his seats) and acquired Theo Ratliff’s eight-figure contract as a potential trade chip … but Danny Ainge hasn’t swung a deal in four-plus years that could be considered a home run, much less a triple or double (I’ll give him a single on the first Ricky Davis trade), but he managed to hit into two triple plays (the Telfair deal and the Raef LaFrentz/Antoine Walker deal). Will Danny be able to parlay Ratliff’s contract into something substantial? I’m dubious.
Smart move not giving Gasol away. What was the point? You’re going to give him away for 65 cents on the dollar to Chicago for no real reason? Now they can build around Gasol, Rudy Gay, Hakim Warrick and Mike Miller and a top-five pick and move to Vegas in three years. By the way, I would have given them an “A” here, but there’s a decent chance they didn’t make a trade because Jerry West is sitting home watching “Matlock” re-runs, eating tapioca with a fork and saying things like, “Do you think I should get a cell phone? Everyone seems to have a cell phone these days … how do I get one?”
(Random Memphis question: And keeping Chucky Atkins made sense … how?)
As everyone predicted, the Allen Iverson-Andre Miller trade made them just competitive enough that they’re probably dropping out of the bottom-five and killing their chances in the Oden/Durant Sweepstakes. Their logical move would have been moving Miller (who can only be traded by himself) for a first rounder/young player and a contract that expires within the next two years (like White Chocolate, Dorrell Wright and Miami’s 2007 No. 1, or Sergio Rodriguez, Jamaal Magloire and a future first-rounder) so they could create cap space AND weaken this season’s team. But with Billy King pulling the strings, that wasn’t happening. I am more convinced than ever that I would be one of the top-seven best GMs in the league. No, seriously.
|What would you have done?|
|Now you can be the GM who has the guts to make a deal. See what deals you would have made in ESPN.com’s Trade Machine.|
Should have used Mo Williams (a free-agent-to-be who will get overpaid by someone else this summer) to dump Bobby Simmons’ contract (which runs for another $30 million and three years after this one) and gotten an expiring deal and a pick back (Dallas or the Lakers wouldn’t have bit on that one?). Plus, it would have weakened them for Oden-Durant purposes — with no point guard and Terry Stotts (the white Doc Rivers) at the helm, they would have been unstoppable. Anyway, I asked “someone in the know” why the Bucks wouldn’t have pursued a deal like that and here’s what he told me: “Well, Larry [Harris] signed Simmons to that deal, so if he used Mo to get rid of that contract, he would have been admitting that Bobby was a dumb signing.” That makes sense, I guess. He overpaid Bobby by 25 percent and Bobby’s been injured the past two years … we wouldn’t want anyone to think that signing didn’t work out.
The only team with enough cap space to facilitate a three-team deal (where they’d absorb a big contract and pick up a No. 1 for its troubles) … and naturally, it didn’t do anything. For instance, let’s say the Knicks wanted to get Vince from the Nets for Jamal Crawford and Channing Frye, only the Nets didn’t want to take Malik Rose’s contract back. Charlotte comes in and says, “We’ll take Rose ($7.2m per, expires 2008) if you take Othella Harrington back ($2.2m per, expires 2008) if you gave us $3 million and Chicago’s 2007 No. 1 pick.” So the Nets get 80 cents on the dollar for Vince (Frye and Crawford, an underrated player with a reasonable deal); the Knicks make a huge splash with Vince; and the Bobcats pick up a No. 1 in a loaded draft. Everyone wins! Again, probably too logical of a scenario for this league.
Already earmarked for an “F” before giving away its high No. 2 pick (an asset in a loaded draft) for Anthony Johnson, who’s bounced around the league more than Karrine Steffans and only knocks them further away from Oden/Durant. Hey, do you realize the Hawks passed on Chris Paul and Randy Foye in the past two drafts, they’re paying $13 million combined for Ty Lue, Speedy Claxton and Anthony Johnson, and there’s a decent chance they won’t own a single pick in the 2007 draft? It’s true. I might have to hold the “Atrocious GM Summit II” just to pay homage to Billy Knight’s anti-brilliance.
Mired in a “we’re drafting between eighth and 13th every summer” rut and desperately in need of a splashy move to get better (using expiring contracts to pick up a blue-chipper) or worse (trading Ray Allen or Rashard Lewis for a package of picks and players). Naturally, the Sonics didn’t do anything.
Apparently its front office signed off on a Mike Bibby deal with the Lakers for picks and expiring contracts, only the Maloof Brothers nixed it because they couldn’t stomach the thought of Bibby playing for their archrivals. This is funny for four reasons. First, there IS no Lakers-Kings rivalry anymore — it died about three years ago and wasn’t even that heated to begin with. Second, the Kings have no chance of being relevant again for the rest of the decade — not with some of the contracts they’re carrying. Third, it’s never a good idea for owners to place personal feelings ahead of the best interests of their team (just look at the Celtics, who should have traded Pierce last summer but didn’t). And fourth, Bibby’s just about washed up — he couldn’t guard Tommy Heinsohn at this point. Anytime an agent has a chance to opt out of a deal for free agency and decides, “You know what? We’ll keep this contract, it’s fine,” they’re basically telling you, “My guy is overpaid and on the verge of being washed up.” So congrats to the Maloofs for screwing their fans over. As their penalty, they should be forced to hop in a time machine, travel back to last weekend in Vegas, then walk the Strip for two straight nights wearing $30,000 Rolexes and three-piece suits covered in cash.
Could the Blazers have used Magliore’s contract and pursued the likes of Andre Miller, Gerald Wallace, Rashard Lewis, Mike Miller, a Brent Barry/Beno Udrih/No. 1 package or whatever else was out there? Yeah, absolutely. But let’s cut them some slack because they’re headed in the right direction — just think where they’d be if Paul Allen hadn’t squashed the “Darius Miles/Theo Ratliff for Penny Hardaway’s expiring contract and David Lee” deal last winter. Every columnist who praises Isiah this season — because anyone who lords over a 24-31 team with a $129 million payroll and no lottery pick clearly deserves praise, right? — should be obligated to mention that Paul Allen’s veto saved Isiah from getting assassinated by an irate Knicks fan after Lee’s first 25-rebound game for the Blazers this season.
NEW YORK: F-minus-minus-minus-minus
When everything’s said and done, Isiah’s decision to buy out Jalen Rose (to save $500K) over keeping him, sending him home and hoping his contract could land a blue-chipper in February will go down as his dumbest decision of the past four years. And that’s saying something. Jalen’s cap figure (along with Frye, Nate Robinson and Chicago’s No. 1) easily could have landed them someone in the Vince-Allen-Pierce-Iverson-Kidd group. How can a team with a $129 million payroll sabotage their trade hopes for $500K? My head hurts.
NEW JERSEY: F-infinity-minus
“Let’s see … our season was screwed after the Nenad Krstic injury … we’re losing Vince to free agency … we’re on the hook with Kidd for $60 million through 2009 … our only move is to blow this thing up and build around the 2007 draft and the future. … Hey, you know what? Let’s just stand pat.”
(I mean … I’m speechless.)
It’s all been said. Well, except one thing: If G-State was pushing Jason Richardson around the league like everyone claims, why wouldn’t the T-Wolves have stepped in there? G-State was dumping him because Richardson is struggling to return from knee surgery and they’re already playing the “we’re paying a lot of money for an injury risk guy” game with Baron Davis. … If you’re the Wolves, and you can’t land one more blue-chipper because you’re roster is loaded with bad contracts, don’t you owe it to KG to roll the dice with someone who COULD be a blue-chipper if he’s healthy? You’re telling me G-State wouldn’t have jumped at an offer of Ricky Davis and Eddie Griffin’s expiring contract to dump Richardson when they have to pay Monta Ellis next season? Plus, Ricky, Eddie and Stephen Jackson could have joined forces on a team that plays 15 minutes from downtown Oakland. … That could have led to the most horrific late-night NBA incident in the history of horrific late-night NBA incidents. I feel cheated.
Clips get: Paul Pierce, Jason Kidd, Mikki Moore.
Celtics get: Corey Maggette, Shaun Livingston, Aaron Williams ($1.7m per, expires 2008), Scot Pollard and Eddie House (expiring), plus Minny’s 2007 No. 1 (currently owned by the Clips) AND the Clippers’ 2008 No. 1.
(Important note: The only way the Celts would ever part with Pierce is if someone overwhelmed them and overpaid for him. Well, that’s overpaying for him. Also, you could easily replace the Celtics in this scenario with Seattle, Ray Allen and their expiring deals — the important thing is that the Clips would end up with Pierce or Allen and finally have a crunch-time guy.)
Cavs get: Sam Cassell, Yaroslav Korolev (expiring) and two minimum-salary deals (Leon Powe and Allan Ray).
Nets get: Chris Kaman, Sebastian Telfair, three expiring deals (Rebraca, Pavlovic, Newble) and the Clips’ No. 1 pick in 2007.
The 2007 Clippers after those two moves: Brand, Pierce, Kidd, Quinton Ross, Tim Thomas (starters), Cuttino Mobley, the wildly underrated Paul Davis, Mikki Moore, James Singleton, Daniel Ewing (bench). Could you go to war every night with Brand, Pierce, Kidd and good role players even though you’re a little undersized? I say yes. At least they’d have a better chance than they do now.
LA CLIPPERS: G
That’s right, I’m giving them a “G.” An “F-infinity-minus” would have been too high for them. You really have to attend their games and see how unhappy the players are, how toxic the chemistry is, how blatantly they’ve quit on Mike Dunleavy (against the Suns on Tuesday night, they did everything but tip over a Port-o-John at midcourt), how uncomfortably tenuous the Cassell-Livingston dynamic has become … this team is an absolute mess. And here’s the kicker: Since they’re the Clippers and they have the Dumb Gene in their collective DNA, they extended Dunleavy for another five years last December EVEN THOUGH THE TEAM WAS ALREADY QUITTING ON HIM. So what happens now? The players hate playing with one another, and the only thing they can agree on is that they all hate playing for their coach … so naturally, everyone stays? Are you kidding me?????? See the sidebar to the right for how I would have saved the Clips with the the greatest four-team trade of all-time.
GOLDEN STATE: D-minus
The Warriors already made their big move — trading their problems (Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy) to the Pacers for Indiana’s problems (Jackson and Al Harrington), which was a little like Britney Spears trading her drug/alcohol problem to the Olsen Twins for their eating disorder. Although I’m in disbelief that they were so desperate to move Jason Richardson, one of the legitimately good 2-guards and someone who averaged 23 points last season. If Chris Mullin didn’t pick Monta Ellis two drafts ago, he’d be in the running for “Worst GM In The League Not Named Kevin McHale.”
NEW ORLEANS/OKLAHOMA CITY: F
The Hornets easily could have thrown themselves into the Vince Sweepstakes with two expiring contracts (Desmond Mason, Marc Jackson), an appealing No. 1 pick and other goodies (either the No. 2 picks they got from Chicago or Cedric Simmons). Why not? What the hell? Worst-case scenario, you rent him for two months, make a belated playoff push, get your fans excited and sell some tickets. Likely scenario, you end up sign-and-trading him somewhere this summer and replacing all the assets you gave up. Best-case scenario, he loves playing with Chris Paul (and who wouldn’t?) and decides he wants to stay. Why not roll the dice? What do you have to lose?
Wade’s shoulder injury probably made the Heat afraid to deal … although it’s also possible that Pat Riley couldn’t dial the phone because it was still covered in Stan Van Gundy’s dried blood.
The Nuggets already made their big move (Iverson) and two underrated smaller ones (getting Steve Blake for ball-hog Earl Boykins and getting J.R. Smith for chump’s change last summer). I’d devote a whole paragraph to touting Denver’s praises if the Nuggets hadn’t overpaid Nene by twice as much as he was worth last summer. Instead, let’s give them an appreciative nod.
I like Otis Smith’s philosophy here: We don’t own a 2007 No. 1 pick, our team is sinking like a stone, we have Grant Hill’s expiring deal ($16.9 million) to move for an asset and save our season, we desperately need scoring … screw it, let’s stand pat. Hey, that’s one way to keep your job — just don’t do anything. How can the Magic fire you if you don’t do anything? I’d like to see how long Otis could keep this strategy going — Orlando’s owners probably won’t catch on for another 2-3 years.
Now here’s a guy who knows what he’s doing: Bryan Colangelo. And yes, I’m quietly rooting for the Raps, who have the most rabid fans of anyone in the league. I get at least five angry e-mails every day from Toronto about (A) the fact that I dismissed their playoff chances two months ago (you’re right, it was a mistake), (B) the fact that I killed them for taking Andrea Bargnani over Adam Morrison (you’re right, big mistake, Bargnani is good with a nasty streak), and (C) the fact that I killed them for the T.J. Ford-Charlie Villanueva trade (the jury’s still out on that one). You can stop e-mailing me. I like your team. I was wrong. OK? I was wrong! LEAVE ME ALONE, YOU BRYAN ADAMS-LOVING FREAKS!!!!
Even if their deal with the Warriors had all the makings of an “our fans have soured on our mostly black team, let’s bring in a couple of good-natured white guys and maybe they’ll shut up for awhile” trade, you can’t argue with the results: the Pacers HAVE been playing better lately, although it’s exceedingly possible that they could have traded Jackson for Tony Potts and Frankie Muniz and still been better off. Still, I don’t like any multiplayer deal in which you’re giving up the two best guys in the deal AND taking on an extra $30 million in payroll over the course of the deal. Call me old-fashioned. If they needed to dump Jackson that badly, they should have just waived him. In business, they call it a “sunk cost.” That’s what he was.
We all appreciated the arrogance of the Lakers “trying” to obtain Jason Kidd by refusing to offer anything beyond Kwame Brown, expiring contracts and a late-round No. 1 pick. I know I did. What???? Our horribly crappy offer isn’t enough for one of the 10 greatest point guards ever? You’re kidding!!!! On the other hand, Kidd would have been a shaky fit for that team, and not just because of the triangle. Kobe Bryant needs the ball all the time, and so does Lamar Odom, so in that offense, the point guard just stands around waiting to shoot open jumpers. That would have been a complete waste of a great player and I, for one, would have been outraged. We’ve already seen Kidd in the triangle once. It was a tragedy and an affront to everyone who cared about basketball.
But here’s my question: Why weren’t the Lakers actively trying to find someone other than Kidd or Bibby? For instance, let’s say they made Milwaukee the following offer: Kwame Brown, Jordan Farmar, a 2007 No. 1 pick and two expiring contracts (Chris Mihm and Shammond Williams) for Mo Williams, Bobby Simmons’ aforementioned terrible contract and Dan Gadzuric’s equally awful contract (five years remaining, $30 million). Why wouldn’t the Bucks jump at that one? And wouldn’t the upgrade from Smush Parker to Mo make the Lakers a bona fide contender? These are the things I don’t get.
When the media guide for the No Balls Association is released, I demand that John Paxson appears on the cover. At some point, you have to roll the dice, right? Not landing Gasol was inexcusable; the Bulls could have made the Finals with him (and if it meant sacrificing Luol Deng, Ty Thomas and the Knicks’ pick, so be it). Instead, they did nothing … which means they overpaid Ben Wallace when they already had a younger version of him for two-thirds the money (Tyson Chandler), gave away Chandler AND J.R. Smith for an expiring contract (P.J. Brown) because they wanted a trading piece for the deadline, then never ended up making a freaking trade.
I mean …
Where does that rank among the most bizarre/inexplicable/head-scratching game plans in recent NBA history? Near the top, right? And if that’s not bad enough, Paxson should have sold high on the Knicks’ pick in December — once the Celtics, Bucks, Hawks and Nets started getting crushed by injuries and the Iverson/Philly situation fell apart, everyone and their brother could see a 35-win season for the Knicks coming. What was the purpose of holding on to that pick? Are we even sure Paxson is alive? Has anyone seen him in the past three months? If he’s missing or dead, I apologize for the last three paragraphs.
The Wizards have an MVP candidate and a likable team in a crappy conference, but with a catch: their two centers (Etan Thomas and Brendan Haywood) despise one another and fought three times in the past two seasons. Most teams would proactively try to move one of them — for instance, they could have offered Haywood, Jarvis Hayes’ expiring deal and their No. 1 for Jamaal Magliore and Portland’s No. 2 — but since this is the NBA, and nothing makes sense, the Wiz chose to stand pat. I asked my buddy House (a Wizards fan) about this and we had the following exchange:
House: “They like Thomas and Haywood together because they play 42 minutes a game combined and give them a 12-11 every night. … They didn’t want to mess that up.”
Me: “Wait, they were worried that their production would drop from a position that was giving them a 12-11 every night?”
House (after a pause): “Whaddya want from me? I didn’t say it made sense.”
That’s the lowest grade we can give a team, right? The Cavs haven’t made a good move in two years and it’s legitimately inconceivable that Danny Ferry watched the first 50 games of this Cavs season, then decided, “You know what? We’re good.” Part of me doesn’t blame the Global Icon for putting a 39-cent stamp on the season.
Good move landing C-Webb for nothing. I didn’t think that one would work out, mainly because he was limping around in Philly like he had a club foot. Whatever. Still, the Pistons needed one more move to lock up the East and had the expiring contracts and picks (their No. 1 and Orlando’s No. 1) to pull it off. Gerald Wallace couldn’t have helped this team? Josh Childress? Corey Maggette? Desmond Mason? Earl Watson? Cuttino Mobley? It’s like Joe Dumars has been biding his time and waiting for the right moment to spring, only the biding has been going on for four straight years and there’s been no springing.
Carry-over grade from the superb Shane Battier deal. The Rockets couldn’t swing a deadline trade because they didn’t have anything to trade; even their plan to land Chucky Atkins by sending old footage of Juwan Howard from the ’96 season to Jerry West and pretend it was a 2007 tape didn’t work. Too bad. They were one more quality guard away from being legitimately interesting in May and June. And while we’re here, nobody is allowed to mention another “Coach of the Year” candidate in 2007. The award goes to Jeff Van Gundy. Done and done. Let’s agree not to bring this up again.
Tough to kill the Jazz for not moving Andrei Kirilenko (a complete mess playing out of position all season) because they wouldn’t have gotten 50 cents on the dollar for him, but why not pick up another guard who can play defense? Every 2-guard in the league lights this team up because they’re being “defended” by the likes of Derek Fisher, Gordan Giricek and Matt Harpring. Even if they bit the bullet on a semi-bad contract like Cuttino Mobley or Marquis Daniels, or an expiring guy like James Posey, wouldn’t they have been better off this spring? Or am I breaking the news to the entire Jazz front office that every 2-guard in the league has Utah marked on their calendars with a giant circle?
SAN ANTONIO: (INC)
If the Spurs honestly believe this particular roster of guys can beat Phoenix or Dallas this spring, they’re crazy. On the other hand, I’m not sure what they could have done. They need another big man to help out Tim Duncan defensively (he’s slipping noticeably on that end), as well as a big-time perimeter stopper (Manu Ginobili’s slipping and Bruce Bowen already slipped) … but they had no trading chips other than their No. 1 pick, Luis Scola’s rights and a couple of smaller expiring contracts. (Note: I spent 25 solid minutes trying to figure out a way they could have landed Joel Przybilla or Gerald Wallace for a reasonable price and couldn’t make it work.) So what can you do? They’re getting old and there’s no real way to stop it.
PHOENIX & DALLAS: A-minus
The Suns could have used Atlanta’s No. 1 and Kurt Thomas’ expiring deal to land a blue-chipper like Rashard Lewis or Mike Miller. The Mavs could have used the expiring Austin Croshere/Jerry Stackhouse contracts and maybe even Devin Harris to land a max contract guy like Jason Kidd. But you know what? Dallas is 45-5 in their past 50 games and the Suns have the highest ceiling of any team in 20 years. I can’t kill them for not messing things up. It would have been like a jockey going to the whip down the stretch with a 20-length lead.
After all, it’s the No Balls Association — it’s not like anyone else was going to make a major move.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His book “Now I Can Die In Peace” is available in paperback.