While the NBA offseason has had its share of questionable free agent signings and trades, there have been plenty of quality moves made around the league as well--and not just because it was a team on the receiving end of a David Kahn trade either. Whether it was signing someone to a below-market rate or acquiring a player that our exclusive SCHOENE projection system anticipates rebounding in production, there are some nifty moves worth exploring that didn't get a lot of play thanks to the Summer of LeBron.
Chris Duhon was a replacement-level player last season with the New York Knicks, but there is reason to believe he can improve on that. He will be the backup point guard behind Jameer Nelson in Orlando, and is projected to see improvements to both his Offensive Rating (from 106.3 to 107.2) and his Defensive Rating (down to 106.8 from 107.2). Duhon is projected for 3.3 WARP—using Tom Haberstroh's reference point of $2M per win in this offseason's market, Duhon is making about half as much money as he could be worth this season (a note here: Haberstroh's most recent data is from July 15, so the number has probably slid from $2M, but even without the premium rate of 2010's market over 2009's, Duhon is projected to provide surplus value on the first year of this contract).
SCHOENE sees increased usage in Orlando and shooting that more closely resembles Duhon's 2008-09 than his previous campaign—it's easy to see why he will improve. The roster around him is significantly different than what he was playing with in New York thanks to Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, and Vince Carter, three scorers whom Duhon can feed. There will be less pressure on Duhon from the opposing team's defense because of the presence of this trio, and having someone who can stretch the defense like J.J. Redick on the second unit also bodes well for his game. Context is important when projecting performance, and moving from a team that didn't win 30 games to one that reached the conference finals is a significant contextual leap.
I said that not every one of these transactions involved David Kahn, but that doesn't mean we'll go Kahn-less. The Wolves, however, will go Sessions-less, as Ramon Sessions was dealt to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for Sebastian Telfair and the since-released Delonte West. Sessions is making $4.3M this year on a guaranteed contract, and thanks to his age and an expected increase in minutes should produce surplus value in 2010-11. SCHOENE has Sessions down for 3.3 WARP, which is largely based on the progress he made in 2008-09 (a season that was worth 5.6 WARP) and a bump of his usage from last year's .200 mark to .229. His Offensive Rating was uncharacteristically low in his lone year with the Wolves thanks to a dip in his assist rate and the lack of a long-range game, and while the Cavs lack a dependable scorer Sessions can continue to develop his own offensive game. A lot of this projection depends on whether or not he can bounce back from a poor season, but it's a good move for the Cavs to make given their need for someone to help run the offense in addition Mo Williams.
Acquiring Anthony Randolph in the David Lee sign-and-trade was somewhat of a coup by the Knicks, as Lee was on the way out anyways and Randolph, at age 21, has more value to the rebuilding club than Lee did. Randolph can play defense and is still young enough to improve on the other side of the ball, and put up 2.7 and 2.5 WARP seasons before he was old enough to legally drink. SCHOENE doesn't see any offensive progress this year, with an Offensive Rating that's just 0.2 points per 100 possessions higher than last season's below-average 105.4 mark, but it does project that his Defensive Rating will hold up—with a slight boost on both offense and defense and the same usage as last year, SCHOENE is expecting 6.3 WARP from Randolph, which coincidently isn't that much less than what is projected for Lee, now a Golden State Warrior.
When you consider Amar'e Stoudemire was signed to replace Lee as the starting center, and that the Knicks also picked up two other players in the Lee sign-and-trade, you have to give them credit for using a chip wisely and improving themselves in both the present day and future.
For whatever reason, the Memphis Grizzlies couldn't be bothered with holding on to Ronnie Brewer, a player they had just acquired in February in exchange for a future first round pick. Granted, Brewer was worth just 0.1 WARP in 2009-10, but he is heading into his age-26 season and put up 5.2 and 3.8 WARP seasons before the replacement-level one. If the Grizzlies thought enough of the player on February 18 to acquire him for a future first-rounder, then they should think highly enough of him to keep him around after watching him in their uniform for a grand total of five games. The Grizzlies' perplexing loss was the Chicago Bulls gain', as Brewer signed a three-year deal for $12.5 million (with the third year not being guaranteed).
In the least shocking news ever for those who understand small samples, Brewer is projected to outperform his disappointing 2009-10 campaign. SCHOENE has him bouncing back to 3.0 WARP with the Bulls, thanks to a True Shooting Percentage more in line with what we're accustomed to from the guard. There's reason to believe he could outperform that as well, as projections are built off of weighting previous seasons, meaning his most recent campaign (and the worst of the three) has the most weight—if it truly was a blip, he should look even more like he did with the Utah Jazz prior to last season.
In a summer with a lot of head-scratching moves, these are a few of the ones that may pay dividends for the teams taking the risks. We'll take a look at the other side of the spectrum in another article.
Marc Normandin is a writer for Baseball Prospectus who will be helping out on the basketball site this summer. You can contact Marc by clicking here.