Grading the new-look teams.
by Doobie Okon
It’s been a week since one of the noisier trade deadlines in recent memory and some squads have definitely improved for a title run this season while other franchises’ fates will be decided this summer. Let’s take a look at ten teams who were major players around February 18:
1) Dallas Mavericks
Acquired: Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, DeShawn Stevenson
Sent packin’: Josh Howard, Drew Gooden, James Singleton, Quinton Ross
The Mavs have been leading the Southwest almost the entire season, but nobody was really mentioning Dallas as a team that could legitimately challenge the Lakers for a Finals run. Ye be warned now, West — this trade has propelled the Mavs to ‘extremely dangerous’ status.
First of all, Dallas was able to unload Josh Howard, the quintessential talented and injury-prone troublemaker, as well as three other nice players who weren’t going to help Dallas really achieve anything significant. DeShawn Stevenson is an intense defender, someone the Mavs needed more of next to Shawn Marion, and the two were fantastic against Kobe on Wednesday night in Dallas’ huge 101-96 victory over L.A.
But the real pieces to the puzzle are the additions of Butler and Haywood. Butler, a two-time all-star, hasn’t even really practiced with the team yet due to the short stint and a negative reaction to medication and thus is yet to hit his stride. But when he is on, the former Huskie can put up 20 a night if he wants to and provides the Mavs with another offensive weapon on a team already loaded with scorers.
But the most impressive part of the trade to me is Haywood. Dallas was a tad soft defensively before the trade, especially in the front-court with Erick Dampier’s recent injury problems. But Haywood is an experienced 7-footer who can man the middle and rebound with the best of them as he already logged 20 boards against the Pacers on Monday. Haywood never got his due on the Wizards, but now he has the opportunity to be an integral part of a championship run in the coming postseason.
The most important part of any trade isn’t so much the new batch of players coming in, but how the psyche of the team responds. Dallas isn’t getting any younger, yet they all seem to be playing with a surge of energy since the trade, going 5-1 after beating the Lakers which also includes double-digit victories at Orlando and over the red-hot Suns. Little things like the Mavs’ players chewing on straws while warming up, which is Caron Butler’s stamp, is just a small sign of a new life in a team that looked like it was destined to fall by the way-side in the playoffs. You can be sure the rest of the West has taken notice of the new-look Mavs.
2) Cleveland Cavaliers
Acquired: Antawn Jamison, Sebastian Telfair
Sent packin’: Zydrunas Ilgauskas, rights to Emir Preldzic, 2010 first-round draft pick
Kudos to the Cavs for realizing that Amar’e was a no-go and getting the next best thing in Antawn Jamison. Oh ya, and they practically got him for free. Big Z just reached an agreement with Washington on a contract buy-out, and all signs point to Ilgauskas returning to Cleveland after the 30 days pass. Sure, Cleveland also gave up their first round pick, but in all likelihood this will be the number 29 or 30 pick, something the Cavs can certainly live with.
What the Lakers, Celtics, Magic and other contenders did not want to see: the first two minutes of the second half in the Cleveland-Orlando game on Sunday. Prior to this, Jamison looked pretty horrible, only scoring six points in his first six quarters with the Cavs, including an 0-12 night in his debut against Charlotte. Yet, he came out of halftime in the Magic game and went 4-4 in those two minutes and looked like a new player. The Cavaliers did end up losing that game, but had to feel good that their new acquisition finally came to life. And in his first start, Jamison scored 18 to help the Cavs snap their three game skid against the Hornets on Tuesday.
Cleveland’s has sported the best record in the NBA all season, yet the trade proves that they are hungry for the title as well as putting all efforts into retaining LeBron’s services this summer. We’ll see how that plays out in a few months, but for now the Cavs should be excited about their chance for a championship.
3) Portland Trail Blazers
Acquired: Marcus Camby
Sent packin’: Travis Outlaw, Steve Blake, cash
Many predicted the Blazers to finish right behind the Lakers this year, as they possess a young and talented core and added a reliable veteran point guard in Andre Miller before the season. But at the center of this core was supposed to be Greg Oden, whose season ended back on December 5th. Portland really has to start worrying about their injury-plagued center, and there’s no guarantee that he’ll get over his health issues and be as effective in the future as Portland hoped.
So, in need of front-court help, the Blazers pulled the trigger and acquired Camby who is an excellent rebounder and should help Portland to secure a playoff spot. But this comes with a serious price, as Camby is 35 years old and no stranger to injuries himself. He’s only played in 70+ games three times in his career and already has missed two games with the Blazers, but Portland was able to win both of those against the Nets and Raptors.
Portland sent away their efficient back-up point guard in Steve Blake, hoping that second-year man Jerryd Bayless can fill that hole. Travis Outlaw, another important cog in the Blazers’ future, was also traded, but the Blazers should have enough talent to compensate. Portland’s season definitely isn’t unfolding the way they hoped it would, but the move needed to be made since the West’s best is loaded with big men. Nobody expected that the Blazers might actually miss out on the postseason this year, so the jury is still out on this one. Keep your eye on this team — their future is quite uncertain.
4) Charlotte Bobcats
Acquired: Tyrus Thomas, Theo Ratliff
Sent packin’: Flip Murray, Acie Law, future first-round pick, 2016 second-round pick
Obviously the Bobcats are a long ways away from being a legitimate contender, but the first step for any new franchise is making the postseason. Charlotte has tinkered on the line all year, currently 27-29 and sitting a game behind Miami and Milwaukee for the 8th seed. A mere month ago, it looked like the Bobcats were destined for a playoff spot after a scintillating start to 2010, but they have struggled recently, only winning six out of their last 16 games.
Trading Emeka Okafor for Tyson Chandler was a bust, as Chandler has only played in three games since December 22nd, and hasn’t been effective when he’s been in the lineup anyway. Ratliff brings an old body but a defensive presence inside, and has played for Larry Brown before. Tyrus Thomas put up 20 against the Jazz on Wednesday and can score on choice nights. He provides another big body for Charlotte and is only 23 years old.
So while the moves aren’t extremely significant, it certainly should help Charlotte in their stretch run to try and make the playoffs. Just the first step…
5) New York Knicks
Acquired: Tracy McGrady, Eddie House, JR Giddens, Bill Walker, Sergio Rodriguez, Brian Cardinal
Sent packin’: Nate Robinson, Darko Milicic, Jordan Hill, Jared Jeffries, Larry Hughes, Marcus Landry
Let’s keep this short and sweet. The Knicks cleared up 30 million dollars in cap space for the impending summer free agency bowl, so they did what they had to do and what everyone expected them to do. Donnie Walsh is taking a serious risk by throwing all of his cards in, as they aren’t guaranteed to get LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Amar’e, or even Joe Johnson. They now have enough space for two max contracts, and while they might end up with a Bosh-Johnson/Bosh-Wade/Amar’e-Wade combo, everyone knows their eyes are on King James.
T-Mac’s future is unwritten. Nobody expected him to really help the Knicks as they are in the gutter and have lost eight straight. His 23 million dollar contract (still blows my mind) will be coming off the books and nobody knows where he’ll end up after this year. I feel bad for the guy, I do. He’s had no luck with his injuries and isn’t getting any younger, but hopefully he can play out his New York days with pride and get a fresh start on a new team next year.
But as for the Knicks, the cards are now all on the table. Let’s see how good Walsh really is, because if he doesn’t come through with at least two mega-stars (or one in LeBron)…heads will be rolling in the Big Apple.
6) Chicago Bulls
Acquired: Hakim Warrick, Joe Alexander, Flip Murray, Acie Law, future first-pick from Charlotte
Sent packin’: Tyrus Thomas, John Salmons, 2011 & 2012 second round picks
See above. The Bulls have officially entered their names into the summer fun, as these trades now result in Chicago having almost $40 million come off the books after this season is done. Salmons was having a nice season for Chicago, but he won’t be missed since the Bulls’ young core of Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Kirk Hinrich is still intact.
In essence, the deadline deals were a win-win for Chicago. Hakim Warrick has played well in a Chicago uni so far and will be a spark off the bench now that Noah is back. So, the Bulls still have enough talent to challenge for the 5th seed in the East and possibly steal a series which they almost did last year against Boston, as well as clearing a ton of money to possibly sign a marquee free agent this summer. New York City is New York City, but the Bulls team itself is looking much more attractive than the Knicks currently do for one of the stars.
7) Houston Rockets
Acquired: Kevin Martin, Hilton Armstrong, Jordan Hill, Jared Jeffries
Sent packin’: Carl Landry, Joey Dorsey, Tracy McGrady
Hmm, this one surprised me a bit. Carl Landry was guaranteed a top two finish in the Sixth Man of the Year voting next to Jamal Crawford and is one of the best fourth quarter players in the NBA this season. But, after early season promises, Houston was starting to self-destruct and it looks like they’ll be on the outside looking in come playoff time.
Hard luck has certainly hit the Rockets, who on paper appeared to be a serious challenger for a title. But the injuries to McGrady and Yao have taken its toll, and the Rockets squad, albeit still pretty talented, just doesn’t match up with the conference’s best. So I can see why they were quick to trade away Landry.
Houston got some great value in return as Kevin Martin is one of the most underrated players in the game and Jordan Hill’s future is definitely bright. Houston’s blueprint from a year ago is completely different and now they pretty much are starting from scratch. But the Rockets did fill their shooting guard hole and Martin will be there for at least a three more years. Look for Houston to make some more moves in the offseason since Yao’s future is in serious doubt, and if not, they have almost $50 million coming off the books after 2011.
8) Washington Wizards
Acquired: Al Thornton, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Josh Howard, Drew Gooden, James Singleton, Quinton Ross, rights to Emir Preldzic, 2010 first-round pick from Cavs, protected 2010 second-round pick from Kings
Sent packin’: Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, DeShawn Stevenson, Antawn Jamison, Dominic McGuire
Wow, that’s a lot of names. The Wizards pulled off ‘Operation Implode’ after their season took a turn for the worse when Gilbert Arenas was suspended following his gunplay antics. I love the acquisition of Thornton, but that’s pretty much it. Josh Howard is a nuisance who is already injured and will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL. The Wiz have a $11.8 million option on Howard’s contract for next season, and I can’t imagine that Washington will hold onto him.
It is now certain that Ilgauskas will not suit up in a Wizard’s uniform, and thus all these trades are doing for Washington is freeing up over $40 million in cap space after this year. That’s the definition of blowing up a team, except Washington can’t be too attractive to any of the big names this coming offseason, even though Arenas will be back next year.
This has been the season from hell for Washington, so it’s no surprise that they traded away all of their big names, but it’s too early to tell where the Wiz will go from here. Check back in about 4-5 months, but I think they’re in trouble for the next couple of years.
9) Sacramento Kings
Acquired: Carl Landry, Joey Dorsey, Larry Hughes, Dominic McGuire
Sent packin’: Kevin Martin, HIlton Armstrong, Sergio Rodriguez
It makes sense. Kevin Martin has been the face of the Kings for the past three years, but it seems that Tyreke Evans has began to take the reigns in Sacramento. Martin had a huge contract and the Kings are thinking future instead of present, so his contract coming off the books is definitely a plus.
The Kings do have a nice young core in Evans, Omri Casspi, Spencer Hawes, Jason Thompson, Beno Udrih and Andres Nocioni — and adding such a solid player in Carl Landry for only $3 million a year is quite a bargain. They have a ton of money coming off the books next year while still keeping these young cogs, so the fans in Sacramento certainly have reason to be hopeful for a bright future. It wasn’t long ago that Sacramento was a huge player in the West with Webber, Bibby and Peja, so props to them for trying to rebuild the right way and get back to relevance.
10) Philadelphia 76ers
Acquired: Jodie Meeks, Francisco Elson
Sent packin’: Primoz Brezec, Royal Ivey, 2010 second-round pick
One word for my beloved 76ers: Booooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo.
So, let me get this straight. Houston actually offered to take the contracts of Andre Iguodala and Samuel Dalembert, two horrible contracts might I add, off the Sixers’ hands and in return Philly would have gotten Tracy McGrady and his $23 million expiring contract.
And GM Ed Stefanski rejected this? Am I dreaming? When did this organization become an absolute joke?
The only reason that I can fathom as to why Stefanski said no was that he somehow thinks the Sixers are talented enough to actually make a second half run towards the playoffs, which might save him and Eddie Jordan their jobs. Well, let’s be real here. The Sixers are sitting at 22-35, 6.5 games behind the eighth seeded Heat. Andre Iguodala is not a franchise player. Samuel Dalembert is having another subpar year for someone with his size and athleticism. They got blown out by the Heat and Bulls last week by 27 and 32 points, respectively. The next four games the Sixers play are against the Lakers, Magic, Hawks and Celtics.
Are you getting the picture? There is no chance that the Sixers are making the playoffs this year.
Now here’s my question: Wouldn’t this trade with Houston have given the Sixers a better chance at the postseason this year, anyway? Sure, McGrady is injury-prone, but the Sixers got to the playoffs all decade under one superstar in Allen Iverson. McGrady is not the player he once was, but he might have been able to fulfill Stefanski’s need to make the playoffs, and then we still would have had $23 million coming off the books next year. It would’ve been a win-win. Now, instead, it’s a complete lose-lose. The Sixers have $40 million tied up in Iggy, Sammy and Elton Brand. There is no shot at the playoffs this year. There is an extremely minimal chance that the Sixers get a top-five, or even a top ten pick.
The Sixers are in no-man’s land. The future is not bright. This was a way out, and Stefanski rejected it. Just hilarious.
And to make matters worse, he pulls off this minor deal to get Jodie Meeks and Francisco Elson as if it’s something significant. And even then — a second round pick was too much for Meeks.
I’ve had enough. Stefanski and Jordan need to go.