By Colin Donohue
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather hear about major off-season trades during the NBA Draft. There’s something about the anticipation and anxiety that hits you when Commish David Stern walks to the podium and says, “I have a trade to announce.” Is it your team? Is it your hated rivals? Is it (INSERT SUPERSTAR HERE) being traded? I like that. It gives the draft some flavor. Sure, sure. The event should be about the kids who are being selected to join a professional basketball franchise. But it’s always more appealing to fans when they hear their team is getting a name, a proven commodity.
And this year, the draft was in desperate need of some league-altering trade announcements. The talent was thin in this crop, which doesn’t mean that the guys drafted in the lottery won’t be good basketball players. It just means there weren’t that many dynamic ballers available. After Blake Griffin it was all a toss up. So the draft as a whole, at least to me, was anticlimactic. It’s like the song “Hand It Down” from Jay-Z’s Hard Knock Life, Vol. 2. The title track, produced by DJ Premier, is probably the smoothest and most engaging beat on the whole damn album, and yet it’s relegated to the intro of the record and doesn’t even feature Jay-Z on the track. It’s essentially wasted on Memphis Bleek, who I don’t mind so much. But when you buy a Jay-Z album, you expect him on every cut. (And I say this being a guy who believes, quite frankly, Jay-Z is overrated as a lyricist.) But that was this year’s draft. You expect some great trades in the midst of the overall selection process, and when they all go down before hand, the draft as a whole loses its luster.
Instead, we saw some solid kids get drafted and heard about some boring trades (picks for picks, players for cash). Here’s my evaluation of the pre-draft trades.
Toronto Raptors G/F Jason Kapono to Philadelphia 76ers for PF Reggie Evans
In the grand scheme of things, this seems like a minor trade. The Raptors get a hard-nosed rebounder with limited offensive talent, and the 76ers get a sharp shooter from the outside who benefited from a couple of years of playing with Dwayne Wade. If Chris Bosh is solid underneath, then that could free up space for Kapono. Not sure, though, if this trade is that helpful to either team, overall. That said, in Eddie Jordan‘s Princeton-style offense, Philly is going to need guys who can hit the outside shot.
Advantage: Philadelphia 76ers
Milwaukee Bucks trade SF Richard Jefferson to the San Antonio Spurs for F Bruce Bowen, F/C Kurt Thomas and C Fabricio Oberto
Now this was a big-time move for the Spurs. They needed to get younger and more athletic at the wing. You can’t keep trotting Bowen, Brent Barry and Michael Finley out there and expect to be in contention every year. But now, with Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Jefferson and Tim Duncan, this team has retooled. Not to mention, the Spurs got to unload a couple of bad contracts and aging players in Bowen, a great defensive stopper, and Thomas. Oberto didn’t provide much anyway, as he averaged less than three points and three boards a game. The Spurs are relevent again. (And they may get Bowen back if the Bucks release him.)
Milwaukee Bucks trade Oberto to Detroit Pistons for F Amir Johnson
Who cares? The Bucks unload a guy who, as I mentioned, averaged less than three points and three rebounds a game last year for a guy who averaged less than four points and four rebounds a game last season. A swap of unproductive big men. We can move on.
Advantage: Is there really a winner in this kind of deal?
Washington Wizards trade C Etan Thomas, F Darius Songaila, F Oleksiy Pecherov and the fifth pick in the 2009 Draft to the Minnesota Timberwolves for G Randy Foye and G/F Mike Miller
This is a trade that worked out well for both teams. The Wizards unloaded an awful contract (Thomas), a sprightly 7-footer who was more interested in chucking up 3-pointers (Pecherov), a smart, strech forward (Songalia) and an unknown quantity in the fifth pick for two former top 10 selections, who are still relatively young players. The Wizards get two more guards (how many do they need?) who can shoot the ball and add to an already talented offensive team, when healthy. Miller is a 40-percent 3-point shooter for his career, and Foye can handle the point, which is obviously important on a team that features the balky-kneed Gilbert Arenas. The Wizards will be an offensively dynamic team as a result. The Timberwolves got a solid forward in Songaila and a guy who can eat up minutes at center in Thomas. They also landed the fifth pick, which gave them four in the first round. They used it on Ricky Rubio, who may not even play in the NBA for another two or three years.
Advantage: Wizards (The Wizards need guys who can play and compete now. Had they drafted Rubio, he wouldn’t have played in Washington to begin with because of his agent. But taking him would’ve admitted that a rebuild was coming. The Wizards can’t wait on any more projects or European players to develop.)
Orlando Magic trade G Rafer Alston, G/F Courtney Lee and F Tony Battie to the New Jersey Nets for G Vince Carter and F Ryan Anderson
This trade is a little odd to me. It seems like the Magic figured they weren’t going to be able to resign Hedo Turkoglu or simply didn’t want to. (Recently, the Magic GM said resigning him would be quite difficult. They don’t want to pay him $50 million over five years.) So they went out and got Vince Carter from the Nets in exchange. This trade has the kind of star power that sends ripples through the league. But I find Carter an odd fit for the Magic. Turkoglu was not only a good shooter and finisher, but he was also a facilitator, a play maker for this teammates. Carter, too, can shoot and finish at the basket, but he’s never been confused with a guy who makes his teammates better, so I’m not sold that this trade really improves the Magic. And in exchange, the Magic dumped a PG who helped lead them to the Finals. (Side note: The Magic were never going to beat the Lakers, but why they activated Jameer Nelson is beyond me. That was idiotic, simply put. Nelson ate up minutes and took time away from Alston, who had played brilliantly through the postseason. Sometimes GMs and coaches think too much.) Orlando also got rid of a first-year player (Lee) who started for them most of the season. That kid could have a bright future, and they essentially dumped him (and Alston and Turkoglu) for an aging Carter, who really won’t improve this team all that much.
Advantage: Magic, slightly (I know I said I’m sold on this thing, but Carter will add some kind of offensive dimension to the team. I give Orlando the advantage right now. Let’s talk again in December.)
Phoenix Suns trade C Shaquille O’Neal to the Cleveland Cavaliers for F/C Ben Wallace, F Sasha Pavlovic, the 46th pick in the 2009 draft and $500,000
Another ripple-causing transaction here. Two things come to mind immediately: First, the Suns gave this guy away. It smacks of the Pau Gasol trade last year. Phoenix must’ve known the Cavs were hard up for O’Neal, and all they could get was Wallace, who will probably retire, and Pavlovic, who won’t be anything in the league. I don’t get it. It’s certainly an admission that the Shaq in Phoenix experiment didn’t work. D’uh! Everyone but Suns GM Steve Kerr knew that. Still a boneheaded deal to this day. Second, how much does this improve Cleveland. The Cavs won 66 games last year. Is Shaq going to get them to 70? No. Will he help neutralize Dwight Howard in the playoffs? Possibly. While Shaq’s stats were good last year, every year since his championship in Miami, the teams he’s played on have been non-factors. That won’t happen this year because LeBron James makes Cleveland a factor. But still, as presently constructed, this doesn’t get the Cavs the trophy they desire. It’s a move of semi-desperation by Cavs GM Danny Ferry because he doesn’t want LeBron to bolt after the season.
Advantage: Cleveland (Phoenix got nothing in this deal)
So that’s about it. There were a couple of other trades on draft day, but I’m sticking with this list. And quickly, here are three snap reactions to the draft.
1. Stephen Curry is overhyped. I watched this kid play quite a bit, being that he played for Davidson out of the Southern Conference and I work for Elon out of the Southern Conference. He’s a great shooter, to be sure, but he’s undersized, not incredibly athletic and a bad decision maker on the floor. You don’t want any of those things in a point guard. He also doesn’t play defense that well. He could be a solid player in the league, but I’m not sold on the fact that he’s going to be some kind of huge impact guy in the NBA.
2. I like Tyreke Evans. He’s not the best shooter, but he’s a big, mobile, powerful PG, and that will translate well to the NBA. If he doesn’t straighten out his shot, then he could bust. But if he does, he’s going to be a factor. Remember that Derrick Rose was labeled a bad shooter coming out of college, and he did pretty well for himself this year. I expect Evans to start from the get-go in Sacramento, and he’ll be a good player.
3. The Spurs got a steal by grabbing DeJuan Blair in the second round. The Wizards had this guy for the taking at pick 32, and it’s exactly what they needed: a gritty, offensive rebounder. Washington passed, selected a UCF guard and traded him to Houston for cash. The Spurs got a steal, and I envision this guy sticking around and cleaning up the boards for years to come.