Grading The Trading: Making Sense Of The Busiest Trade Deadline In Years

The NBA Trade Deadline has come and gone. We can all take a deep breath.

Wait, what's that? Time to analyze everything? WOO! The excitement never ends!

This has been one of the more active trade deadlines in recent memory, so if your head is spinning, you're not alone. Before we get into who improved and which teams struck out, we should say that none of this is surprising. This was one of the most active trade deadlines in history, but for two specific reasons. First, the economic landscape has wreaked havoc on teams all throughout the NBA, and this year you had an inordinate amount teams trying to slash their payroll and save money. And second, the summer of 2010 has legions of teams licking their chops, looking to add a cant-miss superstar.

Most of these teams will strike out, but as teams cut payroll, it's a convenient excuse to pare down their roster for the time being. Somehow, it's become an acceptable strategy to forfeit your season and trade valuable assets, all in the name of "thinking longterm." It's a distant cousin of tanking, and it's taken the NBA by storm. But for better or worse, this strategy had a number of teams looking to offload assets at the eleventh hour this year. And just like that, we've seen the most active trade season in recent memory.

Without further ado, and in no particular order, this year's winners and losers at the Trade Deadline.


Houston Rockets—A+

Moves: Got rid of Tracy McGrady's $23 million contract, acquired approximately 18 future first round draft picks, Kevin Martin, Jared Jefferies, A fleet of Maybachs, AND a lifetime supply of cashmere socks for Daryl Morey's sensitive feet.

When Ball Don't Lie posted this video of Daryl Morey and Donnie Walsh's trade negotiations earlier this week, it was a pretty hilarious spoof. ("I want the right to the names 'Madison Square Garden' ... free cable from Cablevision from the city of Houston ... Central Park"). But maybe that was closer to the truth than any of us realized?

As we wrote in the Trade Deadline storystream:

[Houston] traded Carl Landry, Tracy McGrady (who was inactive for them), and Joey Dorsey. So basically, they lost one player from their rotation (Landry). What did that net them? Two first round picks, a lottery pick from last year's draft (Jordan Hill), Jared Jefferies, and one of the more effective shooting guards in the league, Kevin Martin. And again, from this year's core, they lose only Carl Landry.

Giving up Carl Landry stings, but good lord. Is this what happens when Daryl Morey actually sacrifices a valuable asset? As I said this morning, it's gotten to the point where if I were an NBA GM, I just wouldn't even make eye contact with Daryl Morey, let alone negotiate a trade with him. It's like sitting down at a high stakes poker table. Doesn't matter what cards you have—just by sitting down, you're setting yourself up for embarrassment. That's Daryl Morey at this point.

SB Nation's Rockets blog, The Dream Shake, showers praise on him, as well:

Bravo, Daryl Morey. My goodness, bravo.

This is why Landry was ultimately traded. This is why we didn't try to entice anything more out of Sacramento other than contracts. This is why Sergio Rodriguez wasn't worth it. And ultimately, this is why we took on Jared Jeffries.

It's because of Jordan Hill, and a couple of draft picks that could help solidify our place among the league's best for years to come. It's absolutely worth the bad contract in Jeffries. 100 times out of 100. Best of all, once that bad contract leaves, assuming we don't want to keep him, we're still youthful and still competitive, and able to go after even more talent in either free agency or on the trade market.

New York Knicks—C+

Moves: Shedded Jared Jeffries' salary, traded Nate Robinson, added Tracy McGrady, bet their future on 2010 Free Agency

If Daryl Morey is the master poker player that's guaranteed to take your money, then New York would be the gambling addict that just can't say no to a card game. And really, there's something about New York's strategy that you have to respect. The Knicks are playing for Lebron or bust. There are no second options, and they make no apologies about it.

With their moves at the deadline, New York's cleared enough cap room so that they could concievably add two max-level superstars before next season. They've been so cavalier about offloading assets that you honestly have to wonder whether there's some sort of collusion in play, and Lebron's already told them he's coming to New York. That's how bold these gambles have been. And again, you sort of have to admire them for it. They've traded away any potential backup plans, and they're going to let it ride. Bron or bust. Or Wade. Or Bosh. But beyond that, the Knicks haven't left themselves many options for the future. To wit, SB Nation's Knicks blog, Posting and Toasting, takes a look at what this trade means for the future:

This is a gamble and a waiting game. The Knicks will try and woo LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and dozens of other free agents of varying prices and skill levels this summer. Donnie Walsh will enter this summer with four players definitely under contract, so there's a lot of work to be done. Having a team with over 30 million dollars of cap space and a few precocious neophytes (Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and Toney Douglas) should be very, very exciting. The appeal of the Knicks versus that of other teams isn't really worth debating right now. Maybe not ever. Whatever happens will happen. Stay positive.

We're either going to look back at these trades as a crucial step to cleaning up in free agency, or a moment that indirectly proves the psychology was problematic all along. And given the history here, I'm leaning towards the latter.

Sacramento Kings—B+

Moves: Traded Kevin Martin, added Carl Landry, Larry Hughes' Expiring Contract...

Solid trade from Sacramento. Giving up Kevin Martin hurts, but ultimately it seemed inevitable. Here's SB Nation's Sactown Royalty:

It hurts to lose him. He was ours -- our secret, our walking idiosyncrasy, our source of impromptu elation. Chris Webber, high and low, was shared with the world. Peja, too. Even Mitch Richmond was a star who happened to play in Sacramento. But Martin? He was ours. And he's gone. Partly because he wanted out -- he's been pissed at the franchise's lack of support -- and partly because of the franchise's itchy finger. Partly because Carl Landry is awesome, and the Kings bigs, on the whole, are not. Partly because Martin and Tyreke Evans just haven't clicked totally. Partly because the Knicks are going to Crazytown and might want to take us along.

And then, from a separate post on Carl Landry:

Landry basically scores as frequently as Brandon Roy and Tim Duncan ... but does so far more efficiently. He scores one point fewer than Amare Stoudemire for every 36 minutes played ... but gets his more efficiently. This season, Landry has scored more frequently than Kevin Martin, and done so far, far more efficiently.

And that's why Sacramento made the trade. Tyreke Evans assumed the mantle as the face of the franchise earlier this season, and that made Kevin Martin expendable, particularly since they're both perimeter-oriented players. Now, Evans will pair with a Landry for at least the next two seasons (while Landry will earn a shocking $3 million-a-year), and the Kings have a foundation to build on. From all indications, they weren't sure Kevin Martin could be part of that foundation.

But Landry? He's a sure thing. About as sturdy a building block as you'll find in the whole league. And that's a pretty solid start for Sacramento. But in honor of the Sacramento fans mourning the end of an era, let's all take a moment of silence. Kevin Martin, stay dreamy...



Moves: Do rumors count? They traded for Jodie Meeks, which was pretty decent, but the roster remains largely unchanged.

Not a whole lot to say, except that Philadelphia fielded calls from a lot of teams about Andre Iguodala, and had they played their cards right, the Sixers probably could have bailed themselves out and pushed the reset button, a la Washington. Instead, they've got the same mediocre mix that's plagued them for the past few years, and no hope in sight. It's okay to stand pat at the trade deadline, but not if your team is fatally flawed and there's no plan to change things.

Meanwhile, Philadelphia fans are getting excited for baseball season. Pitchers and catchers!

Chicago Bulls—C+

Moves: Trading John Salmons to Milwaukee, cleared cap space to sign a max-free agent, traded Tyrus Thomas to Charlotte for a mid-first round pick, Flip Murray, and Acie Law. But did we mention the cap space???

The Bulls succeeded at carving out enough cap space to possibly lure Dwyane Wade or Lebron James to Chicago. Whether that dream ever comes to fruition is another story, but offloading John Salmons at least gives them a chance. Especially given the team they've got assembled—roughly summarized as Derrick Rose and some other guys—you have to think the Bulls are pretty satisfied going to war with Rose the rest of the year, and keeping their fingers crossed come free agency. This is what we've seen from them all year.

Still, they have assets that could have been moved, and while trading John Salmons gets them the cap room necessary to lure a superstar, keeping a guy like Kirk Hinrich, or trading Tyrus Thomas for a mid-first round pick, ensures that luring said superstar remains a longshot. There were ways to improve this roster now while retaining the flexibility for later, but the Bulls management decided to stand pat with what they've got. That's their choice, and it's not surprising, but it's still nothing more than a C-effort.

Criticism of the Bulls' management aside, I hope Dwyane Wade goes to Chicago. I've always hoped this. It just feels right. Battling Lebron four times a year, playing in his hometown, and pairing with Derrick Rose for years to come. It would be a storybook scenario, and that's why it's a longshot, but Miami's helping the cause...


Moves: Do Super Bowl parties count? Something tells me Pat Riley threw a kickass Super Bowl party.

Why should Dwyane Wade stay in Miami? He spends the year carrying average players to the playoffs, playing hurt in front of a half-full stadium, and generally being the bright spot against an otherwise mediocre backdrop in Miami. So how does Miami improve? By doing nothing. Not saying it's easy, but this has been going on for a while now. There's a middle ground between being Cleveland the past few years—desperately taking on anyone you can find to build around your superstar—and what Miami's done by completely neglecting that superstar.

The second-best player in the NBA deserves better than this. That is all.


Cleveland Cavaliers—A

Moves: Acquired Antawn Jamison, Gave Zydrunas Ilgauskas a 30-day vacation, sacrificed #30 pick in draft

Here's the thing: Cleveland has no control over what Lebron James does after this season. Their biggest mistake over the past few years has been trying to please him with panicked moves that have them big names at a high cost, all in the name of making a public show of support for Lebron. Look! We're building a contender for you!

But by now, Cavs management has learned their lesson. Whatever happens this season, the summer's still a complete and utter crapshoot, and they may lose one of the greatest players of all time. This is their reality, and again, they have no control. Where a more naive regime might have tried to use Amare Stoudemire to convince Lebron of a bright future in Cleveland, the Cavs went in the other direction, and traded for the guy that's best suited to help them win now.

Beyond this season, who knows what'll happen. But this year, the Cavs just got a lot better with Antawn Jamison. Adding Amare would have clogged the lane for Lebron, made for complicated dynamics with Shaq, and generally, it would have a been a completely unpredicatable experiment. Instead, they get Jamison, the consummate veteran who's good for a team like the Wizards, but great for a contender like the Cavs. Can he carry a team? No, but neither can Mo Williams.

Next to a superstar as good as Lebron, both Jamison and Mo Williams become twice as valuable. 'Tawn will stretch the defense out to the perimeter, chip in on the boards, and then on defense, Cleveland's good enough to hide him and help with other defenders. That's pretty much a perfect fit. As sexy as Stoudemire? No, but as soon as Cleveland realized that "Sexy" won't be what convinces Lebron to stay this summer, they started moving in the right direction.

And for this season, the Cavs just became the favorite to win the East, and maybe an NBA title.

Dallas Mavericks—B+

Moves: Acquired Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, and Deshawn Stevenson, gave up nothing (also took Washington's lunch money)

The only reason the Mavericks don't get an A+ for their trade this past weekend is their inability to move Erick Dampier in the aftermath. Granted, Dampier's still got another year (for $13 million) on his deal after this season, but with Haywood coming in to replicate everything he's ever done well for the Mavs, moving Dampier for an additional piece would have been the ultimate victory for Dallas. But even absent an 11th-hour miracle from Mark Cuban and the Mavs, we're still talking about a team that got a lot better at the trade deadline. 

This is what the Trade Deadline's supposed to be. Contenders that take risks, take on salary, and go for it. That's what Dallas is doing here, and even though it's Mark Cuban and we shouldn't be surprised, it's still refreshing. Caron Butler is basically the same player as Josh Howard—he's just better in every phase of the game. And adding Haywood improves their interior defense for the stretch run, and he's probably good enough on that end to partially compensate for Dirk and Jason Kidd's matador D.

Will it make Dallas Western Conference champs? Probably not, but a week ago, that notion would have been altogether ridiculous. Now? Not so much. Still a stretch, but... It could happen. And that's the whole point of the Trade Deadline. Give yourselves a chance.

Washington Wizards—C+

Moves: Traded their three best players for Josh Howard and Al Thornton, saved money

What else would you have had them do? Bullets Forver didn't like the initial trade that sent Butler and Haywood to Dallas, and I agree. The Jamison trade didn't net much either, and considering the Wizards were giving up two foundational figures of the last five years, it sort of feels weird to say, "Oh well, we got nothing back, but at least they're gone!" But what else could we have hoped for? Like Cleveland, it was a matter of facing reality.

The Washington Wizards weren't going to win anything with Caron Butler or Antawn Jamison and it was time to start over. Did the rest of the league know we were starting over? Did that completely undercut our ability to negotiate on a level playing field? Probably. But... At least they're gone!

Now, the Wizards have tons of cap space to play with for the next few years, not to mention a very good chance of clearing out even more space should they void Gilbert Arenas' contract. How often can a team go from "fatally flawed contender" to "intriguing rebuilding project" in a matter of two months? Because that's what these trades did for the Wizards. Did we get anything more than Howard, Al Thornton, and a low first round pick that we'll probably sell? No. But they successfully pushed the reset button, and that's worth more than you think.

Los Angeles Clippers—B

Moves: Traded Al Thornton, Marcus Camby, Sebastian Telfair... Saved money

It's impossible to predict how we'll judge these trades for the longterm, because everything hinges on what happens this summer. If the Clippers were going to trade Marcus Camby, you'd think they could get more than Travis Outlaw, Steve Blake, and $3 million in cash. Trading Thornton and Telfair was a success insofar as it created cap room, but as for on-court assets, they got almost nothing back for any of them.

So then, that's the question: Are the Clippers going to use the cap room they've created, or is that $3 million in cash symbolic? They could have gotten more for Camby than two cheap expiring deals and cash, but maybe the Clippers are just trying to save money. Owner Donald Sterling spent much of the past two decades earning a reputation as the cheapest, most miserable owner in all of sports. And while he's loosened the reins in recent years, the team hasn't improved much. And we're still talking about Donald Sterling. You never know when he'll decide to say screw it and just stop paying anyone.

So for now, this team gets a B, basically because it's impossible to tell what could happen. If they wind up with Lebron James, we'll have these moves to thank for putting them in position. And on that topic, Clips Nation expounds:

The Clippers chances of luring LeBron James to LA may not be particularly good - but if there's any chance at all, you absolutely have to go for it.  This is a franchise-changing opportunity, and if you don't believe me, look at Cleveland's record the five years before and after the 2003 draft.  Moreover, even if the odds don't look good today, you never know what's going to happen in the next few months.  Maybe LeBron and the Cavs will have some sort of falling out.  It's not like he has gone on record saying he's planning on playing his entire career in Cleveland.  I've said before and I still believe that he's most likely, even highly likely, to be a Cavalier next season.  But it's not at all difficult to make the case that if he wants an alternative, the best one is LAC.


Boston Celtics—D+

Moves: Acquired Nate Robinson, for some reason...

This trade makes no sense. Not necessarily a bad thing, but just... Why? Celtics Blog says the same:

I've been ruminating on this Nate Robinson deal all day and I think I've finally put a finger on my feelings about it.  It isn't so much that I don't like the deal itself.  In fact, I'm pretty much ambivalent about it.  Nate will give us instant offense off the bench.  We are giving up a guy that, ...gave us instant offense off the bench.  Maybe he's an upgrade from House, maybe not.  Maybe he's a better fit in our offense, or maybe he's a lateral move.

Moreover, giving up Eddie House seems meaningless now, but he's an assassin in the playoffs. For 15-20 minutes off the bench, House keeps defenses honest, and uses his considerable cajones to nail backbreaking threes. He's not indispensable and certainly has his weaknesses, but still. It helps to have guys like Eddie House on a championship contender. Can you say the same about Nate Robinson?

We're about to find out. The obvious difference is that Nate Robinson's nothing like the shooter that House is, and needs the ball in his hands to put pressure on the defense. In other words, his only value comes when he's at the focal point of the offense. And if he's the focal point of the Celtics offense when he's on the floor, how much value is there for Boston?

The Celtics needed to shake up things up for the stretch run, but this wasn't the right move.

Darko Milicic—A+

First of all, Darko is his own entity at this point.

Moves: Shipped to basketball Serbia for Brian Cardinal.

As part of one last eff you to Darko, the Knicks declined to release their mercurial disaster of a big man (at his request), and instead sent him to Minnesota. This is the equivalent an employer denying your two weeks notice, and outsourcing your employment contract to a factory in Greenland. It's a completely inconsequential move that will likely have very little positive bearing on either team—he was exchanged for Brian Cardinal, who the Knicks will likely waive within days—but of course, David Kahn is intrigued. I think we're all intrigued:

"I think we're all intrigued by the fact that Darko was at one point the second pick taken in the draft and is still a very young player. He's been in the league--I think--seven years, and he's only about 25 years old. He's 7'1" and has the kind of skill set that would really compliment Kevin and Al both, no matter which of the two he was playing with. But having said that, I also have to acknowledge that he hasn't played much this year, and he's had a very strange NBA career when you consider where he was taken."

Darko doesn't want to be in the NBA anymore, but it's fitting that on his way out, he's duped one more person into taking a flier on his immeasurable potential. And it's fitting that David Kahn is that dupe. Some things just happen perfectly. When the universe aligns, we don't ask questions, we just take a deep breath and enjoy.

Phoenix Suns—C-

Moves: Did not trade Amare Stoudemire...

It's not to say they didn't try... But ultimately, nobody could make an offer the Suns could justify. And that's fine. As long as Suns fans and management have no illusions about the future. Either they give Amare Stoudemire the contract extension he wants, or he's gone. Financially speaking, he absolutely must opt out of his current deal. If he becomes a free agent in 2011, he's going to fall prey to at worst, an NBA Lockout, and at best, a much-stricter collective bargaining agreement that will severely handicap his earning potential. Bright Side of the Sun explains:

If Amare stays, which is looking more and more likely, that means we are right back here in June when Amare gets to decide if he's picking up the final year of his contract ($17m) or opting out to try and get more money before the new CBA. Despite what some people (...Jon Barry) think, Amare would be foolish to pick up that final year.

I already wrote a few thousand words about that, and nothing I've seen since changes my mind. Amare can get more years and more money this summer as a free agent then he can by picking up the $17m and waiting until 2011 when the new CBA will be in effect. I don't care one whit about what Amare says regarding this. That's just noise.

Contrast the 2011 scenario with this summer, when there are at least eight teams with max cap room, at least seven of whom won't sign Lebron James. After Lebron and Dwyane Wade, teams will have a lot of money to throw at second-tier guys like Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, and yes, Amare Stoudemire. So not only will Amare opt out, but there should be a market for his services. What does this mean?

Unless a zombie version of Robert Sarver emerges and decides he wants to open his checkbook, Amare's probably leaving Phoenix after this season. Keeping Stoudemire seems semi-reasonable now, but just remember when he leaves this summer, the Suns could have gotten something for him back in February. And didn't.

Charlotte Bobcats—A-

Moves: Added Tyrus Thomas, quietly became a terrifying science experiment of a lineup.

The only reason the Charlotte Bobcats don't get an A+ for this trade is because it's unclear whether they'll have the money to bring Tyrus Thomas back next season. But even just for this year. Charlotte can now trot out a lineup with Stephen Jackson at the 2, Gerald Wallace at the 3, and Tyrus Thomas at 4. Even that sentence is athletic.

Seriously, the Bobcats now have one of the toughest teams in the NBA. Would you want to try and score on them for seven straight playoff games? A union of Tyrus Thomas and Larry Brown isn't guaranteed to work out, but if it does, this is a scary team. And what did they give up? Flip Murray, Acie Law, and a first round pick. Considering this trade gives them the lengthiest, most athletic lineup in the league, I'd say that's a fair concession.

And besides Cleveland, Houston, and Dallas, that makes Charlotte one of Thursday's biggest winners. That's quite a step for the Bobcats. They've had a decent team for a few years now, but never before have Bobcats fans been able to say, "Our management team kicked ass today!" Today, they did. Don't look now, but Charlotte's 14-8 since January 1st, and they just became a much scarier matchup. If they play Atlanta or Boston in the playoffs, are we sure they couldn't pull off an upset? If that happens, the Bobcats might even attract attention from that old guy in the ugly blazer.


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