This summerís vaunted free-agent class has kept us entertained all summer, but even though that market has pretty much settled, teams are still hustling to set up their rosters for the rapidly-coming season. The Rockets, Pacers, Nets and Hornets pulled off a four-team, five-player trade on Wednesday that made a lot of sense for each franchise. That said, the maneuvering made more sense for some teams than others.
Acquired guard Darren Collison and forward James Posey from New Orleans in exchange for forward Troy Murphy as part of a four-team trade. [8/11]
A couple of years ago, it was a struggle to make sense of Larry Bird's plan. Last year, in Pro Basketball Prospectus 2009-10, I wrote that Indiana had collected enough young talent that a direction seemed to be emerging. With Wednesday's acquisition of Darren Collison, the Pacers now seem primed for a return to the relevant. There is still plenty of work to do, but Indy has quietly had a terrific offseason. Point guard was a glaring need for Bird, as last season cemented the fact that T.J. Ford cannot be counted upon to lead an NBA team. In Collison, Bird got one of the league's most promising young lead guards only one year into his rookie-scale contract. Collison isn't a sure bet--his top comp in SCHOENE is Ford--and while he put up excellent superficial numbers when filling in for Chris Paul in New Orleans last season, the Hornets didn't exactly excel with him running the show. His unsightly turnover rate could become a big problem playing in Jim O'Brien's high-risk, high-reward system. Nevertheless, Bird was able to get a lottery-caliber player for Murphy, who had no future in Indianapolis. It's hard to imagine that Bird would have gotten a better return for Murphy's expiring deal down the line had he waited to move the blue-collar veteran.
The price of landing Collison was taking on the two years and $13.4 million still due Posey. The James Posey of two years ago was a player that might have been flippable. The Posey that toiled in New Orleans that last two seasons will be tough to move, especially with those dollars on the books. A buyout may be in the offing at some point. Still, the Pacers' future cap situation is excellent, with Murphy gone and Mike Dunleavy, Jamaal Tinsley, Ford and Jeff Foster all coming off the payroll after this season, if they're not traded before. Even better, Bird has a young player with good upside at every position on the court, plus last year's rookie A.J. Price and this year's draftees Paul George and Lance Stephenson in reserve. If it all goes swimmingly, we could see a hyper-young lineup of Collison, Brandon Rush, Roy Hibbert, Tyler Hansbrough and Danny Granger at some point this season.
O'Brien can play the young guys, see who fits and who doesn't, while Bird positions the team to augment the emergent core with an impact talent via a possible trade a couple of years down the line. That may or may not be necessary depending on how the talent on hand works out, but at least he'll have the flexibility to absorb a sizable contract. That's essential for Bird, because the Pacers aren't likely to draw a top-flight free agent. It may or may not all work out, but the possibilities in Indianapolis no longer seem limited to the mediocrity of the past few seasons. And if it all comes off as planned, Bird will have accomplished the team's retooling without having ever completely torn down his roster.
As for Ford, there were reports that he turned down a $5 million buyout of the final season of his contract, for which he is due to make $8.5 million. Ford would certainly find work elsewhere and the veteran minimum for a player with his service time is around $1.1 million. Well, the difference of $2.4 million is hardly chump change, but thatís basically what Ford is clinging to in exchange for hanging with a team that doesnít want him and wonít have minutes for him barring a spate of injuries.
Acquired guard Courtney Lee from New Jersey in exchange for forward Trevor Ariza as part of a four-team trade. [8/11]
The Rockets were well into luxury-tax territory after re-signing Luis Scola and Kyle Lowry this summer while adding free-agent center Brad Miller. Swapping Ariza for Lee lightens that load for this season and beyond, though Houston is still over the tax threshold for the coming campaign. However, if things go bad, GM Daryl Morey can still get under the tax line with another swap down the line. If things go well, Morey can use the $6.5 million trade exception he picked up in the deal to add a piece for a postseason run.
With Ariza leaving town, Shane Battier will re-ascend to his unchallenged throne as the Rockets' top perimeter stopper. Promising second-year forward Chase Budinger will see his minutes go up. His presence is largely what made Ariza expendable. Meanwhile, Lee will give the Rockets top-notch depth and another quality defender at three positions. He's a superior spot-up shooter to Ariza, which will make him better-suited as a supporting player to Houston's offensive core of Aaron Brooks, Yao Ming and Kevin Martin. So Houston saved money with no likely dropoff in the quality of its projected rotation for the coming season. What's not to like?
NEW JERSEY NETS
Acquired forward Troy Murphy from Indiana in exchange for guard Courtney Lee as part of a four-team trade. [8/11]
The acquisition of Murphy accomplishes a couple of things for the Nets. First, he'll give new coach Avery Johnson a floor-spacing big man to deploy alongside center Brook Lopez, a role Yi Jianlian was unable to hold down last season. Murphy's presence also means that Johnson won't have to rush raw rookie Derrick Favors into a role that he's not ready for. Lee has ability, but he didn't really fit in Jersey last season, and his spot can be ably filled by a combination of second-year wing Terrence Williams and free-agent signee Anthony Morrow. Williams can function as either a two or a three, and Travis Outlaw, another offseason acquisition, can play either forward position. With veteran Quinton Ross and rookie Damion James also on hand, Johnson will have plenty of options at the wing positions. In addition, don't be surprised to see starting point guard Devin Harris play more two this season, alongside Jordan Farmar. There is a lot of versatility in this rotation. After the season, the Nets can sweep Murphy off the books, turn the four position over to Favors, and make a run a Carmelo Anthony. How does a future lineup of Lopez, Harris, Williams, Anthony and Favors grab you? Not bad, Brooklyn fans.
NEW ORLEANS HORNETS
Acquired foward Trevor Ariza from Houston in exchange for guard Darren Collison and forward James Posey as part of a four-team trade. Acquired guard Marco Belinelli from Toronto in exchange for forward Julian Wright. [8/11]
New Hornets GM Dell Demps is trying to juggle a lot of balls right now. He's charged with building a cost-efficient roster for money-hemorrhaging owner George Shinn, who wants to sell off his stake in the franchise, while building a team competitive enough to appease unhappy franchise player Chris Paul and keeping the Hornets viable in what may or may not be an NBA-caliber market in New Orleans. He had one of the league's most-coveted assets in Collison, both because of his on-court upside and rookie-scale contract. By bringing back Ariza and getting the Pacers to take the rest of Posey's contract, Dells did reasonably well for himself.
Ariza's inconsistent spot-up game raises a couple of concerns. His perimeter defense will be a significant upgrade for New Orleans, which has given the majority of minutes at the three position to defensive statue Peja Stojakovic the past few seasons. Ariza would also be an ideal running mate for Paul in an up-tempo attack. On the other hand, when Stojakovic could still function, he was deadly as the perimeter option working off the Paul-David West pick-and-rolls in Byron Scott's base sets. New coach Monty Williams is a disciple of defense-first coaches like Gregg Popovich and Doc Rivers and while he's stated that he'll prefer the Hornets run an up-tempo attack, that remains to be seen. Seriously, don't all new coaches say that? In San Antonio, as we saw with Richard Jefferson last season, the three position mostly requires a player to stand in the corner on the offensive end of the floor. It wasn't a good fit for Jefferson (who nonetheless signed on for another season of the same) and it wouldn't be a good fit for Ariza. Ariza has four years and $28 million left on the deal he signed with Houston last offseason, so his addition actually increased New Orleans' long-term salary commitments. He had better fit.
In a second deal on Wednesday, Demps sent disappointing forward Julian Wright to Toronto for Marco Belinelli. Both players can become restricted free agents after this season, but the underrated Belinelli gives New Orleans an off-the-bench shooter to slot behind second-year shooting guard Marcus Thornton.
Acquired forward Julian Wright from Toronto in exchange for guard Marco Belinelli.
The Raptors are in the early stages of what could be an ugly transition away from the Chris Bosh era and Wright gives them another good raw athlete to add to their collection. A change of scenery couldn't hurt Wright, who never could find consistent minutes during his time in New Orleans. In Belinelli, the Raptors lose some shooting, but his minutes were largely to be usurped by off-season addition Leandro Barbosa. As mentioned in the Hornets' write-up, the dollars in this deal are basically a wash.
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Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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