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March 20, 2012
Transaction Analysis
Buyout Season

by Kevin Pelton

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Denver Nuggets

Signed forward Wilson Chandler to a multi-year contract. [3/18]

Chandler's sojourn in China complicated his restricted free agency, but he and the Nuggets eventually agreed to what looks like a fair deal. When discussing a possible contract extension for Nicolas Batum, Blazersedge.com's Benjamin Golliver put together a list of recent contracts signed by forwards and shooting guards hitting free agency for the first time. Chandler got five years and $37 million, which puts him in with Charlie Villanueva (5/37.7), Marvin Williams (5/37.5), Andray Blatche (5/35.7) and Trevor Ariza (5/34). Williams comes up as one of Chandler's four best comps by SCHOENE, and the two ended up signing nearly identical deals. This is about the going rate for a decent starter with the potential to continue to improve.

How much better Chandler might get depends largely on his three-point shooting. Under Mike D'Antoni, Chandler always shot plenty of his triples, but 2010-11 was the first time he made them at a league-average rate (35.0 percent). If Chandler can shoot that well on a consistent basis, he should be an average player or better. SCHOENE is optimistic, projecting 11.2 WARP for Chandler over the three-year period starting with 2011-12.

Masai Ujiri has handed out a lot of money lately, locking up Chandler and starting wings Arron Afflalo and Danilo Gallinari to long-term contracts. Even if the Nuggets re-sign JaVale McGee to a deal starting at $10-plus million, however, their cap looks to be in decent shape. That would put Denver at about $55 million for 12 players before dealing with Andre Miller or a replacement for Miller. The Nuggets should have room to extend Ty Lawson to a lucrative contract next fall that would kick in during 2013-14, by which point Al Harrington's contract is only partially guaranteed and the team could use the amnesty provision on Chris Andersen.

Houston Rockets

Waived guard Derek Fisher pursuant to a buyout. [3/19]

A Fisher buyout looked inevitable from the point he was traded to Houston last Thursday, but the details are the key here. Like Mike Bibby last year, Fisher apparently decided to forfeit his entire salary for the upcoming season in exchange for his freedom. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle first reported that Fisher gave up the $3.4 million he was owed. This is huge for the Rockets, since taking on Fisher's 2011-12 salary was the price they paid for getting the rights to Dallas' protected first-round pick from the Lakers.

Now, from a cash perspective, all Houston took on in this trade was the difference between his salary and Jordan Hill's for the remainder of this season--about $200,000. That, obviously, is a paltry price to pay for a first-round pick. The Rockets gave up a live body in Hill, but the addition of Marcus Camby in a separate deadline deal meant Hill was unlikely to play regular minutes the rest of the season. Houston must swallow a cap hit for next season because the buyout amount will be split over the remaining seasons of Fisher's contract, though it will be half the size of his actual salary.

In sum, Monday's buyout took the Fisher deal from solid to a coup. Houston may not see that pick for a few years, depending on how the Mavericks perform the rest of the season, but at this price the Rockets can happily be patient.

Marc Stein reported Monday night that Miami and Oklahoma City are the frontrunners to sign Fisher once he clears waivers. Norris Cole never rated as well as his reputation early in the season and since his fallen off dramatically from beyond the arc, so Fisher might actually be an upgrade as a backup to Mario Chalmers in addition to the leadership he could be provide. With the Thunder, Fisher would give Scott Brooks another option behind Russell Westbrook along with inconsistent rookie Reggie Jackson and defensive specialist Royal Ivey. The sheer number of choices would give Oklahoma City some security for the playoffs.

Memphis Grizzlies

Expected to sign guard Gilbert Arenas. [3/19]

The Memphis Commercial Appeal reported Monday that, after a workout for the Grizzlies, Arenas will sign with the team for the remainder of the season pending the results of a physical.

You'll read plenty about Arenas' off-the-court baggage; this analysis will focus on his merits as a player. Last season, Arenas slipped nearly to replacement level. His True Shooting Percentage of .471 made him one of the league's most inefficient scorers. Because Arenas had been more effective the previous two years, his SCHOENE projection called for him to play closer to league average in 2011-12, with a .476 winning percentage.

None of that made Arenas worth the $19.3 million he was scheduled to earn before the Magic used amnesty on his contract. In Memphis, the context is much different. Arenas needs only to be better than Jeremy Pargo and Josh Selby, the Grizzlies' rookie reserves who have struggled badly. With a combined -1.7 WARP, Pargo and Selby might be the worst set of backups at any position in the league. That's reflected in Mike Conley's plus-minus numbers. Memphis is +8.4 points per 100 possessions when Conley plays, per 82games.com, and a disastrous -12.6 when he's on the bench.

Pargo and Selby have both used an above-average share of the Grizzlies' offense while on the floor with poor results. Selby's True Shooting Percentage is .437, Pargo's .384, and both players are turning the ball over on about a quarter of their plays. If Arenas is anywhere near full health, he will be an improvement because how could he not be? It's less clear that Arenas was the best solution on the market, but so long as he can fit into a 15-minute role he should help a Memphis team that needs every win it can get the rest of the way in a crowded Western Conference.

Sacramento Kings

Waived forward J.J. Hickson pursuant to a buyout. [3/19]

Hickson has suffered a rapid tumble from promising young player in Cleveland to afterthought. I'm not sure Hickson was ever quite as effective as his reputation suggested. Hickson's poor net plus-minus suggested he wasn't fitting in to the Cavaliers' team concept at the defensive end. At worst, it still looked like Hickson could be a Chris Wilcox-type who contributed enough with his finishing ability and rebounding to offset defensive deficiencies.

That hope withered as Hickson changed roles on offense. He was most effective, certainly, when playing with LeBron James in Cleveland. His shot-type data at Hoopdata.com is telling. In 2009-10, 65.1 percent of Hickson's shot attempts came at the rim. That dipped to 46.6 percent last year and 34.7 percent so far this season. Hickson was also less effective as a finisher, and was assisted less frequently. All those numbers fit together, and they're reinforced by NBA.com/stats' data on James' influence on Hickson. During 2009-10, Hickson tried 70.4 percent of his shots within five feet when James was on the floor, and just 55.8 percent when he was on the bench. Not coincidentally, Hickson's shooting percentage dropped from 57.6 percent to 44.2 percent when James hit the bench.

So a lot of Hickson's potential was a function of playing with James. Beyond that, Hickson proved less capable of creating good shots by beating slower defenders to the rim over time. The James factor alone can't explain why Hickson is shooting at the rim so little this year. Hickson has never consistently been able to score either in the post or on jumpers, so if he can't get point-blank attempts, he's bound to struggle on offense.

Playing in an up-tempo offense could help Hickson get better shots, so it makes sense that Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Hickson favors signing with Golden State and Phoenix.

As for the Kings, giving up Omri Casspi and a first-round pick for Hickson looks even worse now than it did at the time. If Sacramento knew Hickson was gone next summer as a restricted free agent, however, there was little motivation to prolong the inevitable. Hopefully, some of Hickson's playing time can go to evaluating Hassan Whiteside as an NBA player. Assuming the Kings saved a little money, all the better.

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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