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July 14, 2010
Transaction Analysis
Two Trades

by Kevin Pelton

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Charlotte Bobcats

Acquired guard Matt Carroll, center Erick Dampier, forward Eduardo Najera and cash considerations from the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for centers Alexis Ajinca and Tyson Chandler. [7/13]

After making this trade Tuesday, the pressure is now on the Charlotte Bobcats to complete a second one. The implicit assumption here is that Dampier's contract, fully non-guaranteed for the 2010-11 season, is a more valuable trade chip than Chandler's expiring deal. Otherwise, there's no way Charlotte would agree to take on the contracts of Carroll and Najera, who qualify as dead weight at this point.

The two reserves, who will make a combined $7.3 million this season, $6.65 million in 2011-12 and $3.5 million for Carroll alone in 2012-13, have little value. Carroll, who initially signed his onerous six-year deal with the Bobcats three summers ago, played just 128 minutes last season and is in the decline phase of his career (he'll turn 30 later this summer). Najera at least has some chance to contribute as an energy big man; Larry Brown will like his style, but at the same time Najera has rated below replacement level the last two seasons.

Dampier's contract is immediately in play for Charlotte, which is looking for a starting point guard after Raymond Felton defected for New York as a free agent. Over the weekend, the Bobcats were reportedly close to dealing Chandler and Boris Diaw to Toronto in exchange for Jose Calderon, but the Raptors' point guard was a poor fit for the Bobcats' defensive-minded philosophy. Certainly, Dampier has value; the Timberwolves were apparently willing to offer Al Jefferson for the instant salary-cap relief (more on that in a minute). However, it's hard to see the difference between Dampier's contract and Chandler's contract being big enough to justify taking on so much salary in dead weight.

For now, I'm willing to give Charlotte an incomplete on this trade, but it's going to be hard to move that to a passing grade.

Dallas Mavericks

Acquired centers Alexis Ajinca and Tyson Chandler and cash considerations from the Charlotte Bobcats in exchange for guard Matt Carroll, center Erick Dampier, forward Eduardo Najera. [7/13]

This is it? The Mavericks--or at least their fans--have been talking up the value of Dampier's non-guaranteed contract since last summer, viewing it as key to their ability to get in on this summer's blockbuster free agency via a sign-and-trade deal. Ultimately, the marquee free agents weren't interested in talking to anyone without cap space, leaving Dallas to go to the trade market. According to ESPN.com's Marc Stein, the Mavericks' desire to shed the salaries of Carroll and Najera (and/or DeShawn Stevenson) scuttled a possible deal for Jefferson, and ultimately Dallas settled for cap relief plus Chandler, an underwhelming package.

That perspective could change if Chandler returns to the above-average center he was at times during his stint in New Orleans. It's hard to believe that Chandler is still just two seasons removed from posting better than seven WARP in 2007-08. Since then, Chandler has battled nagging injuries and been far less effective on the glass. Age isn't really an issue--Chandler will turn 28 during training camp--but SCHOENE is still pessimistic about Chandler's ability to bounce back, pegging him for 6.4 total WARP over the next three seasons. At this point, newly re-signed Brendan Haywood would have to be the favorite to start in the middle.

The upside for the Mavericks is that should Chandler struggle again, his expiring contract will still have value at the trade deadline. Dallas also gains some flexibility. Getting rid of two guaranteed contracts makes it slightly easier for the Mavericks to use their mid-level exception (they were in the running for Al Harrington before he decided to sign with Denver yesterday), and they created a pair of trade exceptions (one apiece for Carroll and Najera) that could come in handy later this season, possibly in conjunction with a Chandler trade.

All that makes this trade something like a solid double for Dallas. The problem is that they sold it as a possible home run.

(I swear I wrote the baseball analogy before reading John Hollinger's analysis of the deal (Insider), which remarkably used almost exactly the same terms. Honest but bizarre coincidence. I blame the All-Star Game.)

Minnesota Timberwolves

Acquired center Kosta Koufos and conditional future first round-picks (Memphis, Utah) from the Utah Jazz in exchange for center Al Jefferson. [7/13]

Look, there's plenty of moves over which David Kahn can be crucified this summer--including, I'd say, the other one the Timberwolves reportedly made Tuesday, agreeing on a four-year contract with Luke Ridnour, a solid player who makes zero sense for a rebuilding team that is, as the joke goes, already flush with point guards. I'm not entirely convinced that dealing Al Jefferson belongs in this group, however.

The redundancy between Jefferson and teammate Kevin Love is one that can't be blamed on Kahn. He inherited the two undersized and defensively challenged big men from Kevin McHale. Look, it was obvious that one of the two players had to go because they could not coexist, a problem that was only exacerbated when Minnesota quietly stole Michael Beasley from the Miami Heat last week.

I'm not sure Kahn had to make a move now, since the Timberwolves are so far away from being whatever it is they are ultimately going to become and Jefferson could see his value rise if he demonstrates he's fully recovered from the torn ACL he suffered in 2008-09. That said, there are explanations for the urgency, as Kahn pointed out in the press release announcing the move: It's a deal more easily made during the summer and this keeps Jefferson from blocking Love and Beasley from playing time next season.

The most interesting question here to me is just what kind of talent Jefferson really is. He was showing signs of putting things together between when McHale took over on the sidelines and when he tore his ACL. Always a capable post scorer and rebounder, Jefferson was polishing his game and improving at the defensive end. The injury set that process back. Especially early last season, Jefferson was noticeably slower, and he struggled to fit into Kurt Rambis' triangle offense. His per-minute win percentage dropped from .598 and .596 in his first two seasons with the Timberwolves to .517.

SCHOENE can't specifically account for Jefferson's injury, but its method of considering three seasons' worth of data while giving the most weight to the past year seems appropriate in this situation. In this case, the multi-year projection is surprisingly bullish. Players comparable to Jefferson averaged better than seven WARP a year over the subsequent three seasons.

If Jefferson is really that good, Minnesota gave him away far too cheaply. But I must confess I've never been entirely sold on Jefferson's game. Maybe that will change playing for a winning team instead of toiling away in mediocrity. I think Love's upside is better, and my fear was the Timberwolves would give up on the wrong big man. From that perspective, and from one that positions the deal as Minnesota using part of Jefferson's salary to take a chance on the potential of Beasley, I think this trade will ultimately be a positive one for the Timberwolves.

Utah Jazz

Acquired center Al Jefferson from the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for center Kosta Koufos and conditional future first round-picks (Memphis, Utah). [7/13]

One of my pet peeves is when a team chooses not to re-sign a free agent and it's said by fans or the media that they were let go "for nothing." Except in the case of the very richest teams, this is not true, because the unseen alternative cost is always what other player or contract would have been sacrificed or could be acquired.

Nowadays, this concept is being driven home by the fact that so many teams are wising up to the value of completing sign-and-trade deals to send players to their new homes. The new team gets a little more salary-cap space (because of larger year-to-year raises), while the old one gets the occasional draft pick as well as a useful trade exception. It's almost as if the old concept of compensation, which existed as a compromise in the early days of NBA free agency, has sprung back to life.

By trading for Jefferson, the Jazz became this summer's first big beneficiary of this trend, and they won't be the last. Utah signed-and-traded Carlos Boozer to Chicago when Boozer got more money from the Bulls. It took the Jazz less than a week to put the ensuing trade exception to work, adding in a pair of conditional first-round picks to pry Jefferson away from the Timberwolves.

It's easy to see more than superficial similarities between Boozer and Jefferson, both of whom are skilled scorers and rebounders but limited at the defensive end. To that extent, Utah didn't do much with this deal to solve its weaknesses in the frontcourt. But Jefferson is more legitimately a center and a far better shot blocker than Boozer, so a Jefferson-Paul Millsap starting frontcourt will work better for the Jazz.

Beyond that, Jefferson is three years younger than Boozer and now has the better contract (their salaries will be similar over the next three years, when Jefferson's contract will end while Boozer's still will have two seasons to run), so there's a lot to like about this pseudo-swap for Utah.

The biggest cost isn't so much the draft picks--the Jazz's own, per the Salt Lake Tribune, is protected at least through pick 10 next season and will probably be somewhere in the 20s, while the Grizzlies' pick (acquired in the spring Ronnie Brewer heist) is lottery-protected and probably wouldn't have been seen by Utah for at least another couple of years--as it is the Jazz edging into the luxury tax.

With eight players under guaranteed contract, another three (second-round pick Jeremy Evans and D-League call-ups Sundiata Gaines and Othyus Jeffers) non-guaranteed and restricted free agent Kyrylo Fesenko likely to return, Utah will probably be conservative in filling out its roster. That likely means the Jazz won't match Portland's lavish offer sheet to restricted free agent Wesley Matthews, and might keep Utah from trying to bring back Brewer depending on the salary he commands. But the issue is temporary, and the Jazz will probably swallow the tax bullet for a year knowing Andrei Kirilenko's contract comes off the books next summer.

Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kpelton.

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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2010 Free Agency (07/13)
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Transaction Analysis (06/24)
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Transaction Analysis (08/12)
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2010 Free Agency (07/15)

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