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February 19, 2009
Transaction Analysis
Wednesday's Deals

by Kevin Pelton

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Chicago Bulls

Traded forwards Drew Gooden, Andres Nocioni and Cedric Simmons to the Sacramento Kings and center Michael Ruffin to the Portland Trail Blazers in a three-way trade, receiving center Brad Miller and forward John Salmons. [2/18]

How I feel about the Bulls' portion of Wednesday's three-way trade depends in large part on whether John Paxson and company can pull off another deal between now and the deadline.

Let's start with the positive, which is easy to see. The Bulls upgrade both at center and small forward with this deal, replacing Gooden with Miller and Nocioni with Salmons. The former swap gives them a legitimate center, a talented offensive one. Instead of messing around with Gooden as an undersized five or minutes for Aaron Gray, Chicago can now settle in on a three-player frontcourt rotation, with Miller, Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas, that looks pretty good.

Nocioni has always inspired strong feelings with his play. He has his admirers, but also plenty of detractors amongst Bulls fans. I lean toward the latter perspective. As Kelly Dwyer has written in the past, Nocioni seems like the classic case of the Wooden maxim of not mistaking activity for achievement. He's constantly hustling, but the results don't seem to show up in the stats. Yes, the Bulls have been much better with Nocioni on the floor this season (+8.2 points per 100 possessions). Look through the 82games.com archives, however, and you'll find that Nocioni's impact is typically negative, befitting pedestrian statistics. To get Nocioni on the floor, Chicago has often used him as an undersized power forward, creating rebounding problems. In many ways, dealing Nocioni is addition by subtraction.

In addition to that, the Bulls are getting an effective sixth man in John Salmons. Salmons can step in and back up Luol Deng as well as playing minutes behind shooting guard Ben Gordon and perhaps the odd chance to play alongside both of them in a smaller lineup. Having provided solid production to Sacramento as a starter this year and much of last, Salmons is overqualified for the spot.

Back-of-the-envelope calculations show Chicago gaining two or three wins the rest of the way with this deal. With the Bulls a game and a half back of injury-battered Milwaukee for the last playoff spot in the East, that could make all the difference in terms of playing on into late April and May.

So why does Chicago need another deal? The downside here is that the Bulls add potentially upwards of $10 million to their cap figure next season, pushing them perilously close to the luxury tax. Gordon will be a restricted free agent once again, and--assuming Jerry Reinsdorf is unwilling to pay the tax--Chicago needs to unload another contract to make room. If that means dealing Larry Hughes for an expiring contract like New York's Malik Rose (a deal said to have fallen apart yesterday), the Bulls make out very well. If it means giving up Kirk Hinrich for ending contracts (a rumored trade with Minnesota also apparently fell through), then Hinrich has to be considered a casualty of this deal as well, making it less appealing. And if Chicago loses Gordon for the sake of Miller and Salmons, the team will look back on this move with regret. As a result, I'll be keeping a close eye on the Bulls leading up to the deadline.

L.A. Lakers

Traded center Chris Mihm and cash considerations to the Memphis Grizzlies for a conditional 2013 second-round pick. [2/18]

The follow-up to the recent trade sending Vladimir Radmanovic to Charlotte features the Lakers offloading another contract. Dealing Mihm allows the Lakers to save some money on the luxury tax, and even with Andrew Bynum sidelined, Mihm hadn't been much of a factor. It doesn't look like he'll ever come all the way back from the ankle reconstruction that cost him the entire 2006-07 season.

Memphis Grizzlies

Traded a conditional 2013 second-round pick to the L.A. Lakers for center Chris Mihm and cash considerations. [2/18]

Strictly a financial deal for the Grizzlies, though I was surprised to read in the Memphis Commercial Appeal that they plan to keep Mihm around. I'm not exactly sure what the point is of doing that. I guess it's slightly cheaper than waiving Mihm and replacing him with a D-League player, presuming Mihm did not latch on anywhere else.

Portland Trail Blazers

Traded forward Ike Diogu to the Sacramento Kings in a three-way trade, receiving center Michael Ruffin. [2/18]

Any mystery about the Blazers' motives in becoming a part of what could have been a straight-up deal between Chicago and Sacramento was cleared up by the team's press release announcing the move. Line two:

"Trail Blazers also gain a $3 million trade exception, which they can use for one calendar year."

Trade exceptions can come in handy, and it's easy to see Kevin Pritchard putting this to use as part of a draft-night transaction like the one in 2007 where the Blazers took on James Jones' contract from Phoenix using an exception to get the pick they used on Rudy Fernandez.

There's also a financial savings for Portland by swapping Diogu for the lower-salaried Ruffin, which reduces the team's luxury-tax payment. In terms of basketball, depending on whether the Blazers make further moves, this is good news for Channing Frye, who had slipped behind Diogu in the rotation--not that either has seen much action.

Sacramento Kings

Traded center Brad Miller and forward John Salmons to the Chicago Bulls in a three-way trade, receiving forwards Ike Diogu, Drew Gooden, Andres Nocioni and Cedric Simmons. Waived guards Sam Cassell and Quincy Douby. [2/18]

When evaluating trades, I like to keep two things in mind: The benefit gained from doing any deal, and the possible alternative deals available. The latter is, of course, much more difficult to assess from the outside, but sometimes it can be key. I feel like that comes into play with this deal. It absolutely made sense for the Kings to move the contracts of Miller and Salmons. Even taking back Nocioni's contract, Sacramento has the chance to move about $10 million under the cap by declining Mikki Moore's team option, per the excellent Tom Ziller.

This trade also means the future is now in the frontcourt for the Kings. Spencer Hawes takes over Miller's role as starting center and gets additional playing time in his development. Hawes' sophomore campaign has stalled somewhat after a terrific beginning as a starter in place of Miller, suspended by the league for a substance-abuse violation. Hawes and Jason Thompson are Sacramento's duo up front for the foreseeable future, and the more time they get together, the better.

So, with all of those benefits, why did this deal leave me disappointed? It's that, even in a buyer's market, I feel like the Kings should have been able to get some kind of pick out of Miller and Salmons, some additional value besides simply unloading their contracts. Half the league was reported to be interested in Salmons. The counter-argument here is that obviously Geoff Petrie would have liked to get a pick and it just wasn't out there. The now-rescinded Tyson Chandler deal set value in a buyer's market for even an above-average starter as ending contracts without any picks. Despite all that, there's a nagging feeling Sacramento could have gotten a little more as urgency to make a move built by the deadline.

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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