Traded center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, the rights to forward Emir Preldzic and their 2010 first-round pick to the Washington Wizards as part of a three-team deal in exchange for guard Sebastian Telfair and forward Antawn Jamison. [2/17]
Let's say the rumors connecting Amar'e Stoudemire to the Cavaliers had never existed. In a world where Stoudemire wasn't on the block, how would this trade look? In order to get a two-time All-Star who topped the 10-WARP mark as recently as two seasons ago, Cleveland surrendered Zydrunas Ilgauskas, what is likely to be a very poor first-round pick and the rights to the 57th pick of last year's draft. Especially when you consider the possibility that Ilgauskas returns to the Cavaliers in a month after reaching a buyout agreement with the Wizards, that deal sounds pretty good on paper.
Count me among those who think Jamison is a better fit for Cleveland than Stoudemire, based on the reasons I went into in scouting the two players earlier this week. Jamison is a much better partner for Cavaliers sixth man Anderson Varejao, and while I don't think Stoudemire and Shaquille O'Neal are incapable of playing together, neither do I think they are as potent as a duo as Jamison and O'Neal because of Jamison's superior range.
In terms of winning a championship this year, I think Jamison was Cleveland's best bet. If and when Ilgauskas returns (he'd have to sit out at least 30 days if he decides to re-sign), the Cavaliers will be incredibly deep in the frontcourt, where it's tough to imagine quality players like J.J. Hickson or Leon Powe seeing any playing time at this point. The big thing Cleveland has now done is given Mike Brown the ability to match up with almost any kind of lineup. The Cavaliers already were built to combat the size of the Celtics in the frontcourt, and O'Neal has been effective against Dwight Howard and the Magic. Even if you're dubious of using him strictly on the perimeter on offense, Jamison's versatility will be a major help in matching up with other stretch fours like Orlando's Rashard Lewis and the Lakers' Lamar Odom.
If there's a cause for concern, it's down the line. Jamison will be 34 in June, and his productivity figures to go the opposite direction of his salary over the next two seasons. Cleveland took on a lot of money in this trade, and one interesting cost is that the Cavaliers can no longer go under the cap as a Plan B should LeBron James sign elsewhere this summer. They'll also simply be paying more for next year's roster, which also will include Telfair as a pricey third point guard assuming he decides to exercise his player option. (Two long-term positives: Jamison could be a valuable expiring contract in 2011-12, depending on how radically the next Collective Bargaining Agreement shakes things up, and the team still has the chance to develop Hickson into a quality power forward.)
Those quibbles noted, to borrow a phrase coined by our colleagues at Baseball Prospectus, flags fly forever. Cleveland is clearly all-in with this deal, and if the Cavaliers do what they are capable of doing in the postseason it's hard to imagine James looking elsewhere or Dan Gilbert chafing too much about coughing up the extra salary. Cleveland was already the favorite in my book, and while I think it's possible to overstate their improvement, the Cavaliers have strengthened that position with this trade.
Traded guard Sebastian Telfair to the Cleveland Cavaliers and forward Al Thornton to the Washington Wizards as part of a three-team deal in exchange for forward/center Drew Gooden. [2/17]
After the Clippers unloaded their best asset (Marcus Camby) earlier this week, the odds of their being able to shed 2010-11 payroll seemed low. Fortunately for Mike Dunleavy and company, the Cavaliers ended up dealing for Jamison instead of Stoudemire, which allowed the Clippers to get involved in a three-team trade and dump Sebastian Telfair's $2.7 million player option for next season while giving up only third-year forward Al Thornton--and getting rid of Thornton's 2010-11 salary as well.
Combined, the Clippers saved $5.5 million from this trade and now have just four players under contract for next season--Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, Blake Griffin and Chris Kaman. Those four, all of them starters, are due $32.7 million (per Storyteller's salaries). There's a scenario, then, by which the Clippers could put themselves just about $16.5 million under a projected $53 million cap, enough to essentially make a max offer to the top players on the market. (Those already making the max, like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, will have a maximum salary of $16.6 million.)
Getting to that point will require some sacrifices more difficult than dealing Thornton, who had fallen out of favor this season, has never posted positive WARP in three seasons and has been a drag in terms of net plus-minus his whole career. To be able to make a max-type offer, the Clippers would have to trade their first-round pick for a future selection and trade second-year center DeAndre Jordan or decline his modest team option for next season.
The decision the Clippers must make between now and then--and probably right before this June's NBA Draft--is whether it's worth pursuing one of the top free agents on the market if it costs them talent. Even though they would be very short-handed, the Clippers can present free agents--especially a small forward who would fill out their starting lineup nicely--with a far more star-studded supporting cast than teams like New Jersey and New York. Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, Blake Griffin and Chris Kaman are already a competitive foursome. Still, this is the Clippers, and that will presumably weigh against them in recruiting free agents.
The summer of 2004 makes the argument both ways. If you'll recall, speculation ran rampant that summer that Kobe Bryant would make a crosstown switch, since the Clippers had better young talent than the Lakers. The optimist would say that Bryant even reportedly considering that move is a sign the Clippers could attract a top free agent despite their dismal reputation. The pessimist would say the Clippers were played then, with Bryant merely using them as leverage, and would fill the same kind of role this time around--the NBA equivalent of Charlie Brown having the football pulled away at the last minute.
I'm not sure which direction I would lean, but the fact that the Clippers can even have such a conversation is a win. At worst, L.A. now has plenty of space to go after a second-tier free agent like Memphis' Rudy Gay, and the cost was minimal. The Clippers are in far better position for 2010 and beyond than they were at the beginning of the day.
Traded forward Brian Cardinal to the New York Knicks in exchange for center Darko Milicic and cash considerations. [2/17]
For the Timberwolves, this represents a chance to kick the tires on Milicic over the final two months of the season. Given that Milicic has said he plans to return to Europe next season after his contract ends, getting an up-close look at him will probably be meaningless for Minnesota. Still, the only thing the Timberwolves lose is Cardinal's veteran presence in the locker room. My assumption is the Knicks sent enough cash to cover the difference between the two players' contracts over the rest of the season.
I'll give Strawberry Alarm Clock the last word here:
Who cares what games we choose? /
Little to win, but nothing to lose.
New York Knicks
Traded center Darko Milicic and cash considerations to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for forward Brian Cardinal. [2/17]
Milicic had played just 71 minutes this season, so whatever savings the Knicks are getting on their luxury-tax bill, they're worth it. Cardinal will be waived, and there are pretty good odds his NBA career is over. While he'll be remembered around the league for being massively overpaid by Jerry West based on his most effective season, I'll always think fondly of Cardinal as "The Custodian."
Traded forward Antawn Jamison to the Cleveland Cavaliers and forward/center Drew Gooden to the L.A. Clippers as part of a three-team deal in exchange for forward Al Thornton and center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, the rights to forward Emir Preldzic and Cleveland's 2010 first-round pick. [2/17]
I'm disappointed, and I'm not sure whether it's because the Wizards got less than they should have for their stars or because the market simply wasn't there. For Jamison and Caron Butler, Washington ended up hauling Thornton, a first-round pick that will surely be late in the round if not at the very end and the chance to give up DeShawn Stevenson's contract. The Wizards are in good financial shape for next season, with approximately $35.2 million in committed salary after factoring in draft pick and cap holds. That gives them $17.8 million under the projected cap. The question is, around what exactly are they building?
The 2010-11 Washington roster, as it now stands, includes Gilbert Arenas, Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee, Quinton Ross, Thornton and Nick Young. Leaving aside Arenas, none of the young players has yet proven they can even be a decent full-time starter, let alone an anchor. It's hard to imagine any of the top free agents playing for the Wizards, which means their best move might be to sit on the cap space for a couple of years while building a young core through the draft. Since the team is going to be largely building from scratch, that is going to be a lengthy process even if Washington lands John Wall this summer. Think Portland Trail Blazers rebuild, but at its very beginning--2004-05, four years before the Blazers returned to the postseason.
Given that extended timeline, I'm talking myself into the Thornton addition. He's a flyer for next season and not a particularly expensive one, though I'm dubious of the chances of turning him into anything. As noted in the Clippers section, it's hard to find any sort of appealing stat from Thornton's first three NBA seasons. That would be one thing if he was 21, but Thornton celebrated his 26th birthday in December and it's getting awfully late to talk about potential.
By tacking the Clippers on the deal and forcing Cleveland to take Telfair's contract, the Wizards benefited quite a bit financially. A straight-up deal sending Jamison for Ilgauskas would have been cap-neutral, but they saved $2.8 million in payroll in the Thornton-Gooden exchange. That's enough to get Washington under the luxury tax and become eligible for the distribution of the tax (worth somewhere between $4-4.5 million). Factor in savings on an Ilgauskas buyout and all told the Wizards will make nearly $9 million with this move.
The financial factor is why Washington ultimately had to do this deal, rather than keeping Jamison around. It's also something of a favor to Jamison, who gets to chase a championship rather than spend his 30s playing out the string with younger teammates. In isolation, the move was an obvious one for the Wizards in the absence of other offers for Jamison. The bigger picture, however, remains dark in Washington over the next few years.
Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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