Talking Trades

Darius Soriano —  February 15, 2010

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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:

Amare has a PER of 23.4 this season, with an opponent’s PER against of 20.2. According to 82games, the Suns score 1.4 points more when Stoudemire is off the floor, and they also give up 3.4 less points on defense. All in all, Amare has a net production of -4.8 (all per 100 possessions). The Suns all shoot about the same percentage (54.1% on versus 54.2% off) with and without Stoudemire, but allow their opponents to shoot 1.2% better when Stoudemire is in the game.

This is pretty important considering the Cavs are 2nd in offensive efficiency while 5th in defensive efficiency. Is adding Amare really going to make their offense that much more potent? And will it outweigh the points they give up due to Amare’s lack of D?

Right now, Anderson Varejao plays the bulk of the minutes at PF, averaging nearly 30 a game. Varejao is also 3rd in +/- this season, so if Stoudemire cuts Varejao’s minutes from 30 to 15, that takes away a huge element of the Cavs game.

And what about the Lakers?  As I said earlier, almost any trade that a contender makes has a matchup with the Lakers in mind.  But the Lakers are not without their own issues that they may think need upgrading when making their final push towards the playoffs.  Despite the strong showings in recent games, the Lakers do have a weakness at point guard and that is a position that if not addressed this season, will need to be looked at this off-season with both Fisher and Farmar being free agents (Fisher is a UFA and Farmar is a RFA) when this year concludes.  The persistent rumor is that the Lakers are after Kirk Hinrich of the Bulls.  Is Kirk really a good fit?  I have my doubts.  His shooting is down across the board this season and his PER is not much better than Fisher’s and is lower than Farmar’s.  Yes, his defense would be a big upgrade over any of our current PG’s but his contract would be a tough one to swallow just for a defensive stopper.  And, that contract is the real issue.  The Lakers already have the highest payroll in the NBA, and taking on more salary is not the most fiscally prudent plan for a team that already has a fantastic core of (well paid) players.  This would mean any trade that the Lakers make to improve at PG would have to jettison either Sasha and/or Luke and that will not be easy.  I mean, every trade rumor involving the Lakers has Sasha as a player the Lakers give up and in those same stories you hear “sources” saying that Sasha’s contract is one that teams don’t want to swallow.

In the end, I’m not sure what is going to happen with Cleveland or the Lakers as far as trades go.  These are the two best teams in the league and both could win the title just by standing pat.  Just because Dallas made a deal, does that mean that the Lakers or the Cavs have to?  I would think that we’d see a trade from the Spurs or the Celtics or the Hawks before we saw the Lakers make a trade.  Again, the Lakers are the hunted here.  Our team is the current champion – that not only serves as motivation for other teams to try and catch us, but it also serves as disincentive for other teams to help us improve.  And, as Kurt always said, understand that this is the time of year where rumors are put out there for reasons beyond just player acquisition.  There is always a motive from an agent, an opposing GM, or it’s just plain media speculation to create a story in the silly season.  Will a deal happen for any contender?  We’ll know by Thursday, but we might as well discuss what’s out there as we countdown.


Darius Soriano

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