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December 12, 2008
Transaction Analysis
Wednesday's Deals

by Kevin Pelton

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Like animals to Noah's Ark, NBA trades have come in pairs this year. This time, unlike the Knicks' dual deals, the two swaps were completely unrelated and just happened to be made on the same day. Wednesday morning, Memphis, New Orleans and Washington signed off on a three-way trade. By that afternoon, word had broken that Charlotte and Phoenix had agreed on a more major deal involving both teams' starting shooting guards. Isn't it supposed to be the MLB's swap mart this week?

Basketball Prospectus breaks down both trades from all angles.

Memphis Grizzlies

Traded guard Javaris Crittenton to the Washington Wizards for the return of their conditional first-round pick; also traded a 2015 second-round pick or cash considerations to the New Orleans Hornets. [12/10]

For the Grizzlies' perspective on this deal, the place to start is Chris Herrington's blog. As a writer for the Memphis Flyer, Herrington has access to Memphis GM Chris Wallace and uses it well.

The first thing we need to know in evaluating this deal is the conditions on the pick the Grizzlies got back, one originally sent to Washington in the deal for Juan Carlos Navarro in the summer of 2007. The pick was top-19 protected a year ago, is protected through 16 picks this season, through 14 from 2010-12 and top-12 protected in 2013. Basically, the Wizards would have gotten Memphis' pick the next time the Grizzlies made the playoffs. There's a chance that might not happen in the stretch, in which case Washington would have gotten a second-round pick and cash (reported by Herrington as an even $1 million).

Wallace argued to Herrington that having that pick obligation out there would have hampered Memphis' ability to deal a future first-rounder. I'm not so sure about that. We've seen teams get creative in the past in dealing picks conditionally the opposite way. That is, someone could acquire the Grizzlies' pick if it is high enough as to not be conveyed to Washington.

So what, then, is the expected value of the pick? That's an interesting guessing game. Memphis isn't going to the playoffs this year, but in 2009-10? 2010-11? Beyond? At some point the future gets difficult to predict. You have to assume that the Grizzlies will be a playoff team at some point in the next five seasons. Odds are that their return to the playoffs would see them sneak in as a lower seed, so the average value is something like the 15th-18th pick in 2012 or so. Crittenton himself was the 19th pick in 2007, so that's not unreasonable.

Crittenton has been the odd man out in the Memphis backcourt virtually since he was acquired in January, so a trade was expected at some point. As those potential deals go, this one isn't particularly exciting, but it is reasonable from the Grizzlies' perspective. Herrington points out that the deal helps Memphis financially and may be the difference in keeping swingman Quinton Ross on the roster. Put it all together and you can see why Wallace made this deal.

New Orleans Hornets

Traded guard Mike James to the Washington Wizards for guard Antonio Daniels; received a second-round pick or cash considerations from the Memphis Grizzlies. [12/10]

Let there be no doubt: This deal is a slam dunk for the Hornets. Actually, when I first caught wind of the deal this morning, I assumed it was New Orleans that was sending out a first-round pick for the privilege of upgrading from James to Daniels as the backup to Chris Paul. For the Hornets instead to themselves be getting a pick (or cash) in the deal--albeit a pick so far out as to be relatively worthless at this point--that's hard to believe.

While it doesn't take fancy statistics to show that New Orleans had a gaping hole behind Paul, they help reveal the magnitude of the problem. So far this season, the Hornets have been outscored by 27.6 points per 100 possessions with Paul on the bench, according to 82games.com. In that span, New Orleans has posted an Offensive Rating of 85.5 points per 100 possessions. By comparison, the worst NBA offense of modern history was the 2002-03 Denver Nuggets, and they scored 88.3 points per 100 possessions. So yeah, things were bad with either a broken-down James or converted swingman Devin Brown at the point.

Daniels has one major issue that limits his value: his durability. His attacking style puts major stress on his body, and his knees have bothered him for years now. Daniels missed 11 games last year and had sat out six times in 19 games this season, primarily because of soreness in his right knee. At 33, Daniels won't be able to get to the basket and to the free-throw line forever, and his mobility figures to become a persistent issue at the defensive end.

Of course, take all of those comments and double them with regards to James, who has aged in dog years since his career 2005-06 season in Toronto. James has not been effective either of the last two years and had played just 74 minutes so far this season. Also, did I mention that instead of playing James at the point, the Hornets converted Brown--never considered an exceptionally good ballhandler for a wing--and played him there?

When healthy, Daniels has been an adequate starter and top-end reserve. Having him behind Paul, and presumably alongside him at times, will be a tremendous luxury for the Hornets and makes me take their role as a contender in the Western Conference a whole lot more seriously. Let's say that New Orleans can play within five points per 100 possessions of the opposition with Paul on the bench, a reasonable, even potentially conservative, goal (with Jannero Pargo seeing time at the point last year, the Hornets essentially played even without Paul). That's a difference of 3.3 points per game. That is an enormous number--about nine wins over the course of the season. I can't imagine this deal's magnitude is quite that large, in part because one way or another New Orleans was bound to eventually figure out a way to play without Paul. Still, we're talking a significant upgrade.

The only downside I see from the Hornets' perspective is that with Brown now shifting back to wing minutes, the team is very crowded there. Already, the addition of James Posey and solid play from Rasual Butler off the bench had squeezed the minutes of promising sophomore Julian Wright, and you'd hate to see him buried. Still, in the context of a deal that dramatically improves New Orleans' playoff chances, that's a minor quibble at worst.

Traded guard Antonio Daniels to the New Orleans Hornets for guard Mike James; returned a conditional future first-round pick to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for guard Javaris Crittenton. [12/10]

The Crittenton-for-pick portion of this analysis is essentially the Grizzlies section in reverse. Giving up on an uncertain future draft pick in order to have Crittenton developing on the roster now--and playing heavily at the point in the absence of Gilbert Arenas, his return still without a timetable--makes sense. Crittenton is the kind of combo guard with the ability to play either guard position who is an ideal fit alongside Arenas, and SCHOENE was reasonably positive before the season about Crittenton's chances of contributing.

The unfortunate aspect of the swap is that, for salary-cap purposes, the Wizards had to do another deal as an undercard and Daniels for James is a bad one. The two players have virtually identical contracts going forward, through 2010 (technically, James has a player option for next season, but only an Anthony Carter-style agent error will keep that one from being exercised). With Washington's hopes dimming this season, the loss in production isn't a big deal, especially since Crittenton figures to pick up a lot of minutes at the point stepping in for since-waived Dee Brown.

Ultimately, that Daniels has more value than James is an unavoidable conclusion, and one way or another it hurts the Wizards. Either they try to compete this year and/or next and miss Daniels' steady hand at the point (especially given the uncertainty around Arenas' availability) or they legitimately rebuild and could have moved Daniels for something useful. While this isn't a horrible deal for the Wizards, nor is it one I would have done.

Charlotte Bobcats

Traded guard Jason Richardson, forward Jared Dudley and a conditional second-round pick in 2010 to the Phoenix Suns for guards Raja Bell and Sean Singletary and forward Boris Diaw. [12/10]

The why for this deal, from the Bobcats' end, can probably be summed up in two words: Larry Brown. It's well established that when Brown takes over a team, he has historically wanted to make changes quickly. This has been no exception, and Brown hinted to the Charlotte Observer's Rick Bonnell that more could be in store; forward Gerald Wallace has been prominently featured in trade rumors since early in the season.

Bell is certainly a Brown guy, having started his NBA career under Brown in Philadelphia. Diaw is a more interesting case. Brown had most prominently been lobbying in the media for help at power forward, with Sean May out of shape and unable to contribute yet after microfracture knee surgery (if ever for Brown). Diaw is expected to step into that spot alongside Emeka Okafor in the frontcourt, but how long until Brown becomes frustrated with Diaw's notoriously passive style?

On pure talent, the Bobcats lose this deal. The difference between Richardson and Bell is larger than the upgrade from Dudley to Diaw at power forward. Charlotte also gets the older player in both swaps. In that sense, this deal is symptomatic of a larger issue for the Bobcats. They still don't know whether they're rebuilding/developing or competing or what the team's style will be. Individual moves, like drafting D.J. Augustin or dealing for Richardson in the first place, might make sense in and of themselves, but there is no larger picture, no vision. Maybe one is coming as the Brown era unfolds and the team continues to make moves. Right now I'm not seeing it.

The two things Charlotte does unequivocally get out of this deal are salary-cap flexibility and improvement at the defensive end of the floor. Bell's deal is up in the omnipresent summer of 2010, while Richardson's larger pact extends an additional season. The difference, as reported by Bonnell, is about $7.5 million. It would still take a deal that sent out a long-term contract (like Wallace's) to get a meaningful amount of cap space in 2010. The other potential value is that Bell's expiring contract will become a very valuable commodity next season because he is a player who can contribute to a contender before becoming a free agent.

If the Bobcats hold on to Wallace, the addition of Bell allows them to roll out one of the better defensive wing tandems in the league. Diaw's quickness can help him overcome his lack of size defending the post, and Charlotte has a shot-blocker in Emeka Okafor in the middle. A Bobcats defense that has been right around league average could move into the top ten with this group. Alas, Charlotte has also hampered an offense that was 28th in the league in Offensive Rating even with Richardson's shooting and scoring.

In the end, I certainly don't love this deal for the Bobcats and I don't even like it. Before I can really evaluate it, however, I have to see where this is all eventually going.

Phoenix Suns

Traded guards Raja Bell and Sean Singletary and forward Boris Diaw to the Charlotte Bobcats for guard Jason Richardson, forward Jared Dudley and a conditional second-round pick in 2010. [12/10]

Speaking of terms searching for a direction, here are the Phoenix Suns. It's hard not to like what this deal does for the Suns. They sacrifice Bell's defensive presence on the perimeter, which hurts, but get the kind of athletic shooter on the wing they have not had since Joe Johnson bolted for Atlanta three-plus years ago. Richardson can work in a half-court setting just fine, but it's a shame not to be able to watch him with the Suns under Mike D'Antoni, since he would have been so dangerous in that up-tempo style.

Don't sleep on Jared Dudley. Again, he's actually a better fit for the Suns of the not-so-distant past. There's a strong belief around the league that Dudley is really more of an undersized four than a three, but playing him at that position in a half-court setting tends to expose his lack of size. In a quicker, smaller game, Dudley would thrive as a so-called "Phoenix four" thanks to his ability to run the court and hit the occasional three. Squint real hard and you can see some Shawn Marion in Dudley.

Yet here we are in a present that features a frustrated group of Suns players wondering why what used to come so easily has become so difficult this season. Although an undermanned group (Phoenix had just nine players in uniform because of the deal and Shaquille O'Neal's absence to attend his grandmother's funeral) put together a good effort Wednesday night in L.A. against the Lakers, the result was the Suns' fifth loss in their last seven games.

For all the talk of a defensive improvement under new head coach Terry Porter, Phoenix ranks 25th in the league defensively, and now the Suns have given up their best defensive player. That hardly seems consistent with the notion of building a more balanced team in the post-D'Antoni era.

Making a deal may offer some kind of a psychological boost, if only because it's something else to talk about besides how the team is struggling. And again, Phoenix has added talent on net in this trade. Yet the real issues remain unresolved, and this deal does nothing to change that or offer an indication that the Suns will find answers any time soon.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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