During the All-Star game coverage, Charles Barkley said something that I think bears repeating when he was talking about all of the trade rumors and (in the case of the Dallas/Washington swap) trades that have already happened. Chuck said that all of these trades that contenders are making are for one reason – to beat the Lakers. I mean, the Lakers are the defending champs and are the favorites to win the championship again this season. The Lakers may not currently have the best record in the league, but I’d argue that they have the best roster, the best coach, and have a level of confidence combined with experience that put them in position to repeat this season. Obviously, there is no guarantee that the Lakers win – there are other very strong contenders and if the Lakers are good enough to get out of a stacked Western Conference, they’d still end up facing either Cleveland (currently the team with the best record), Orlando (runner up in last years Finals), or Boston (’08 champion and a team with loads of experience and mental toughness). Essentially, repeating this season will be a tough task even if no other trades are made and no team improves. But, with the trade deadline looming, one mega-deal has already been made and there are countless other rumors flying around. Let’s take a look at what’s already gone down, what is rumored to be going down, and even touch on what the Lakers may do as we approach this Thursday.
As we’ve all read, Dallas has improved their team by acquiring Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, and Deshawn Stevenson. As I mentioned yesterday, I think this trade definitely improves Dallas by giving them a more consistent player on the wing (Butler) and also giving them one of the best defensive big men in the league in Haywood. To me, Haywood (as much as Butler) makes this trade a real upgrade for Dallas because the Mavs have consistently struggled with teams that have strong offensive post play with only Eric Dampier standing in the way of guys like Pau, Bynum, Duncan, Dwight Howard, Shaq, etc having big nights and compromising their team defensive schemes. Haywood is a player that can guard most of these guys one on one and enabling Dallas’ wings to stay at home on their own men. Haywood is also a better shot blocker and rebounder than Dampier and that will help Dallas contain explosive wing players as driving lanes will be better cut off and more shots will be contested and altered at the rim.
The only downside I see for Dallas with this trade is the disruption of roles for the players that have already been on their roster. It’s already been announced that Jason Terry will move back to the bench with Butler sliding into starting lineup at SG. Yes, this puts Terry back into a familiar role and one that he excelled in last season – winning the 6th man award as the leagues best bench player. But, Terry had not been performing as well in that role this season and had been playing much better of late as a starter. Does Terry stay in his groove now that he’s back to being the sixth man? And will Butler play as well as a SG as he has playing SF for the Wizzards? The stats seem to say that Butler is a lesser player when he plays SG as referenced by his lower PER (14.2) and his higher PER Against (16.2) as a SG rather than his slightly better numbers as a SF (14.6 PER, 14.4 PER Against). Will those numbers change with the Mavs? And if those numbers don’t change, what does this mean for the Mavs when games are tight at the end and their coaches must decide on what their best line up should be down the stretch of these games? Does Butler slide back to SF with Terry playing SG next to Kidd in the backcourt? What does this mean for Shawn Marion? Does he now sit at the end of games in favor of a Butler/Dirk/Haywood frontline? Does Haywood sit so Dirk can play Center and Marion can play PF (where Shawn has a much better PER but also has trouble defending PF’s)? As I’ve noted in the past, these aren’t huge problems for the Mavs and maybe everything will be worked out with the situation coming up roses. But, chemistry concerns are real in this league and the most talent on the floor doesn’t always mean the highest level of play. This is something the coaches for the Mavs will need to sort out by the time the playoffs start.
Speaking of chemistry, the Cavs are looking at disrupting theirs as they explore how they can potentially improve their roster. Already owners of the best record in the league, one would question if the Cavs even need to make a deal. Just one week ago, Danny Ferry was saying just that. But as players that could help Cleveland have become available via trade, the Cavs are looking to get better and have been identifying targets to acquire. The question is, what player do they want the most and which player will actually help the the most? The most recent player of high interest to the Cavs is Amare Stoudemire. Apparently, the Cavs are high on STAT and think that he could be a difference maker this season and also help in retaining Lebron when he’s a free agent next summer. But, Antawn Jamison is also a player the Cavs have looked to acquire in the past week. But, if both of those options fail, there’s always Troy Murphy. Based off this group of players, it’s obvious that the Cavs think their biggest issue is an offensive minded PF that could both space the floor as a shooter, play P&R with Lebron, and also rebound at a level where their team defense is not compromised. Based off an analysis of the numbers, Amare may be the best choice for the Cavs if any deal can be made. But, again, this conclusion does not take into account any chemistry issues and what a Lebron/Amare/Shaq frontcourt would actually play like when they shared the court. All three of those players have a usage rate over 25 and all perform best when they create shots for themselves (though Amare is also very good working off the ball in the P&R and as catch and shoot player in the mid-range). There’s also the question of defense. Zephid made a salient point in the comments when the Amare to the Cavs story was gaining steam over all-star weekend: