Acquired guard Kirk Hinrich and center Hilton Armstrong from the Washington Wizards in exchange for guards Mike Bibby and Jordan Crawford, forward Maurice Evans and their 2011 first-round pick. [2/23]
There are four real contenders in the Eastern Conference (and yes, I still include the Orlando Magic in that group despite last night's embarrassing home loss to Sacramento), while the New York Knicks just made their bid for relevance. That leaves Atlanta, which is currently just 1.5 games back of Orlando for home-court advantage in the opening round but is beginning a brutal stretch run that figured to expose the Hawks as pretenders.
Atlanta GM Rick Sund has reportedly made his move, and I'm dubious whether it's going to be enough. Hinrich is better than Bibby, let's be clear. The latter has a slight advantage on the offensive end, where he remains a superb three-point shooter (44.7 percent from beyond the arc this season to Hinrich's solid but less spectacular 38.4 percent) and the rest is pretty much a wash. Both Hinrich and Bibby are largely spot-up shooters and facilitators at this stage of their careers. Neither is doing much to set up teammates or get to the rim off the dribble.
At the defensive end, Hinrich more than evens up that difference. He is one of the league's better defenders at guard, and while Hinrich does not excel against quicker guards, point guards of all varieties torched Bibby at the defensive end. According to Basketball Prospectus' counterpart numbers, the Hawks have defended point guards as poorly as any team has defended any position. Hinrich's size and strength will also help Atlanta switch at the defensive end.
How much is that upgrade worth? I'd say maybe a game or two over a full season. Ordinarily, that's an enormous difference. But the gap between the Hawks and the East's best teams is so large that I'm not sure this move makes much of a dent. Atlanta still looks to me like first-round fodder for the Magic. That's when you have to start wondering about the Hawks' future.
This deal means giving up two years' worth of young contributors--Crawford and whoever would have been available in this year's first round. Backup point guard Jeff Teague is the only growing player of note on the Atlanta roster, and this deal along with rumors involving Teague seem to indicate the Hawks don't view him as a starter any time soon. Besides providing an avenue for improving a thin bench, the draft picks also offer cost-effective rookie deals that the Hawks badly need because they are capped out and have to try to re-sign Jamal Crawford this summer.
Basically, this is as good as Atlanta is going to get, and it's nowhere near good enough to compete in the East. That's a major problem.
Golden State Warriors
Acquired forward Troy Murphy and a 2012 second-round pick from the New Jersey Nets in exchange for forward Brandan Wright and center Dan Gadzuric. [2/23]
From Golden State's perspective, this deal mostly looks like a favor. Financially, it's nearly a total wash. Assuming Murphy agrees to give up the money he'll make the rest of the season after signing with another team for the minimum, the Warriors will owe him virtually the same amount they would have paid Gadzuric and Wright. What this does do is give Golden State a couple of roster spots to play with. The Warriors will in fact have to sign at least one player to get to 13. Nobody has been better with the D-League, so maybe Golden State can find someone there. The 2012 second-round pick is worth … something.
New Jersey Nets
Acquired guard Deron Williams from the Utah Jazz in exchange for guard Devin Harris, forward Derrick Favors, their 2011 first-round pick and Golden State's 2012 first-round pick. [2/23]
Acquired forward Brandan Wright and center Dan Gadzuric from the Golden State Warriors in exchange for forward Troy Murphy and a 2012 second-round pick. [2/23]
Timing is a funny thing. After six months of involvement in the Carmelo Anthony negotiations, it took a day for the Nets to trade for a better player using slightly less capital. We'll never know for sure how much of New Jersey's interest in Anthony was legitimate as opposed to merely trying to drive a tougher bargain for the rival Knicks, but it worked out in the end.
This is a risky deal for the Nets, and we would be foolish to minimize that fact. Williams is a year-plus from being able to walk away as an unrestricted free agent and leave New Jersey as empty-handed as Utah feared being. The Nets are a lot further than one player, even one as good as Williams, from being able to contend in the Eastern Conference, which will complicate the process of keeping Williams around.
In a superstar-driven league, however, I think this was a risk worth taking for New Jersey. For one thing, by the time the summer of 2012 rolls around, changes to the Collective Bargaining Agreement may make it highly unfavorable for Williams to opt out of his contract or switch teams as a free agent. The Nets also now have the opportunity to sell themselves to Williams for more than a year. By 2012, the move to Brooklyn will be right around the corner, making the Nets a more attractive place to stay. If Brook Lopez develops within that span and the Nets show signs of coalescing into a winning team, Williams may see no need to test the market.
The trump card from the Nets' perspective is this: If, by this time next year, Williams appears headed elsewhere, they can always try to recoup value by trading him again. As the Anthony negotiations demonstrated, impending free agents still have plenty of value.
The biggest issue for the Nets is that by giving up both Favors and their first-round pick, they've surrendered much of their ability to improve over the next season. New Jersey still has a major hole at small forward, and it's not entirely clear that Anthony Morrow and Kris Humphries represent long-term answers at shooting guard and power forward, respectively. Addressing all three of those positions in free agency will be difficult. Last year's effort doesn't offer a lot of hope, as two of the players the Nets signed (Travis Outlaw and Johan Petro) are already being offered elsewhere. The Nets can get better fairly quickly by merely replacing the dead weight on the roster (Stephen Graham, for one, has the most negative WARP of any player in the league), but we said the same thing going into last summer and New Jersey failed to upgrade the end of its bench.
The Nets have added one candidate to provide depth in Wright. When it first popped up, the rumored deal with Golden State made little sense to the extent that New Jersey did not seem to have any playing time available for Wright at power forward. Now that Favors has been moved, Wright can step into his spot playing 20 minutes a night off the bench. Wright was a numbers favorite during his first two seasons before his defensive limitations became so onerous that the Warriors buried him. The chances of Wright panning out are low, but since he came at virtually no cost this was a no-brainer.
New Orleans Hornets
Acquired forward Carl Landry from the Sacramento Kings in exchange for guard Marcus Thornton and cash considerations. [2/23]
By all accounts, the Hornets have been very aggressive leading up to the deadline in their search for bench production. Landry is a fine sixth man, as he showed with the Houston Rockets, and the price isn't excessive. Nonetheless, the fit of this deal doesn't seem right to me.
While Landry and New Orleans starter David West score in very different ways--West is the master of the pick-and-pop, while Landry is more of a post scorer--they're both undersized four-men. That makes Landry a good insurance policy in case West, who can opt out of the final season of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent, heads elsewhere. But for the remainder of this season, it will be difficult for Hornets coach Monty Williams to use the two players together in the frontcourt. That kind of pairing could be a disaster at the defensive end of the floor, since neither West nor Landry is especially effective as a help defender.
Because West plays 35 minutes a night, and because New Orleans is weak in the middle behind starting center Emeka Okafor, West is sure to end up playing some five next to Landry to allow the newcomer to play the 20-25 minutes a night his play merits. Because of the defensive shortcomings, I'm not sure that's much of an upgrade on the trio of Jason Smith, Aaron Gray and DJ Mbenga. Landry will help--especially in the 13 or so minutes he'll get to play at his natural position--but not as much as a player that better fit the Hornets' needs might have done.
Acquired guard Marcus Thornton and cash considerations from the New Orleans Hornets in exchange for forward Carl Landry. [2/23]
I liked the Kings' logic in acquiring Landry as the centerpiece of last year's trade that sent Kevin Martin to the Houston Rockets. Sometimes, it just doesn't work out. Landry was gone as an unrestricted free agent this summer, so Sacramento was right to move him now and get something of value. Thornton qualifies as an interesting prospect despite a severe sophomore slump.
Where Thornton's unwillingness to commit at the defensive end limited his minutes under Williams, it may actually be seen as something of a badge of honor with the Kings. He'll get his chance to go out and score while Tyreke Evans deals with plantar fasciitis. If Thornton's shooting percentages are closer to where they were as a rookie (.550 True Shooting Percentage) than this year (.493), he'll continue to command minutes after Evans returns to the lineup.
The limiting factor is that Thornton's upside is strikingly similar to Martin's--a defensively-challenged scoring two-guard. There isn't necessarily room for one of those players in Sacramento as long as the team is built around Evans. Still, if the Kings can pump some value into Thornton's stock and flip him for something else as a restricted free agent this summer or thereafter, that's a win.
It's probably worth taking note of the fact that Sacramento wins financially in this deal, both by taking on Thornton's smaller contract and with cash changing hands. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban took exception to the Hornets, a ward of the league, serving as ATM. His general point has merit--the Montreal Expos, if memory serves, were never allowed to make similar moves when they were owned by MLB--but Cuban's specific assertion that "There's so few teams in the league that can afford to do that" falls flat. Like all teams, New Orleans operates within a budget. By dealing Peja Stojakovic to Toronto earlier this season, the Hornets saved enough that they could make this move while still staying within their original payroll commitment. That's why it is acceptable.
Acquired guard Devin Harris, forward Derrick Favors, a 2011 first-round pick and Golden State's 2012 first-round pick from the New Jersey Nets in exchange for guard Deron Williams . [2/23]
When a team trades the face of its franchise, there is almost always a period of anticipation leading up to the deal. In the case of Anthony, Denver Nuggets had the better part of a year to come to terms with the notion of losing their superstar. Jazz fans had a few minutes. Sure, the whispers that Williams might walk in the summer of 2012 were getting steadily louder over the past few months. With the Jazz struggling and Williams' frustration mounting, the talk was reasonable. Still, the Williams trade came seemingly out of nowhere. The best recent example I can remember is the Milwaukee Bucks trading Ray Allen to the Seattle SuperSonics for Gary Payton at the 2003 trade deadline.
My sense is that the Jazz moved a bit too fast here. If I was Kevin O'Connor, my position would have favored waiting until the summer to decide what to do with Williams. It's unlikely his value would change much by then (this same offer would probably have been available, for example, though Utah would not have been able to choose its own player). At the same time, waiting a few months might have given the Jazz to see how much more favorable the new CBA would be for keeping Williams around.
Once Utah's front office decided to move Williams, it's easy to see how tempting this deal was. Favors' potential is enormous, and his help defense and rebounding make him a better fit alongside either of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap than the two players are as a tandem. In Harris, the Jazz gets a point guard who can capably step in and start at the point right away. A change of scenery was clearly in order for Harris, who still has the talent to be one of the league's better point guards if he resumes attacking the basket and puts in a modicum of effort at the defensive end.
Utah has now stockpiled draft picks, with up to four first-round selections over the next two years. The Nets' pick is the most attractive of them. Williams' addition is unlikely to push New Jersey's selection much worse than sixth going into the draft lottery. The Jazz will also keep its own pick by finishing in the lottery, a likely outcome at this point. Golden State's 2012 pick has limited upside because it is top-seven protected and may not even be a lottery pick, but still gives Utah another opportunity to add a young contributor.
While hanging on to Williams as a centerpiece would have been ideal, the Jazz was destined for a rebuilding or retooling effort at some point within the next season or two. The worst thing Utah could have done was try to hang on to the possibility of a win total in the mid-40s and a first-round playoff exit while Williams fumed and the roster aged. By admitting the run is over, the Jazz has given itself a chance to build a new core over the next two or three seasons.
Acquired guards Mike Bibby and Jordan Crawford, forward Maurice Evans and a 2011 first-round pick from the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for guard Kirk Hinrich and center Hilton Armstrong. [2/23]
This move reminds me of how Sam Presti used his cap space during his first summer as GM back in Seattle. The Sonics took on Kurt Thomas' contract from the tax-paying Phoenix Suns in exchange for two first-round picks. Presti then managed to flip Thomas to the San Antonio Spurs at the deadline for another first-rounder. One of those picks became Serge Ibaka. This is how rebuilding is done.
Effectively, the Wizards did the same thing in terms of renting out their cap space for three first-round picks, one of them being Crawford. The cost to them was substantially higher because Washington took on two years of Hinrich's contact, but the Wizards initially got the pick they used on Kevin Seraphin with Hinrich and now are getting more goodies by downgrading from Hinrich to Bibby for the next year-plus. Bibby is neither as good nor as easy a fit alongside John Wall, since he will struggle to defend shooting guards as much as he has point guards, but what difference will a win or two make for Washington next year?
I'm curious to get a look at Crawford, who has played just 160 minutes this season. I was not a huge fan of Crawford's volume scoring at Xavier, but should the Wizards lose Nick Young in free agency, Crawford could be ideal as a replacement. He's certainly got the shoot-first mentality down. Now it's a matter of actually hitting those shots, as Young has finally begun doing this season.
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Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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