July Trade Analysis

By Kevin Pelton
For Hoopsworld.com
July 28, 2004

In lieu of a full transaction analysis, since "Page 23" has already analyzed many of this summer's big free agent moves, we stick to trade analysis for this update for the month of July. That also means no sign-and-trades like Kenyon Martin to Denver and Stephen Jackson for Al Harrington.

Charlotte gets: G Eddie House, F Melvin Ely
L.A. Clippers get: Two second-round picks

We all know the Clippers made this trade in the hopes of luring Kobe Bryant to switch locker rooms at the STAPLES Center, and since that ship has long since sailed, the assumption is that the Clippers got robbed. That may not be completely accurate. The Bobcats will be awful next season, no doubt about it, so the 2005 second-rounder the Clippers get should be pretty good, the 2006 pick only slightly less good. Ely had nowhere to play in Los Angeles, so he's not a tremendous loss, and House is the definition of a replaceable player. All in all, this wasn't a bad gamble for the Clippers to take on getting Bryant.

As for Charlotte, Bernie Bickerstaff has pretty clearly demonstrated he doesn't value his second-round picks tremendously highly, dealing three of them so far to the Clippers (the first, this year's, dealt in the move up to the #2 pick and used on Lionel Chalmers). Ely has a great deal more value to the Bobcats, immediately becoming their second most talented big man after Emeka Okafor. An Ely-Okafor frontcourt could definitely hold its own. Ely hasn't done much yet at the NBA level, but his statistics at Fresno State seemed to indicate he could be a contributor at this level, and he may just need an opportunity. He's a good pickup and a nice fit for the expansion situation. I see this as a win-win deal.

Cleveland gets: G Eric Snow
Philadelphia gets: F/G Kedrick Brown, G Kevin Ollie

When exactly did everyone get together and decide that Kevin Ollie's contract was the worst in the NBA and that he can't play at all? I would have liked to be invited to that meeting.

I think I'm uniquely qualified, though some would say I'm uniquely unqualified, to evaluate this deal because Eric Snow and Kevin Ollie are two of my favorite players in the NBA. What can I say? I have a thing for backup point guards who have played for the Sonics -- if only Earl Watson could have been worked into this deal somehow.

Conventional wisdom appears to believe that the Cavs took on some more salary in order to get a massive talent upgrade. HoopsAnalyst's Harlan Schreiber exemplified this thinking, writing, "(the Cavaliers) were able to dump Ollie for the also overpaid but much better Snow."

This sentiment well, it's just plain wrong. The difference between Eric Snow at 30 (he turned 31 just after last season) and Kevin Ollie at 31 just wasn't that large. Here's a breakdown in some key areas:

Player  Roland  OppPER   TS%  Reb%  Pass  Win%  WARP
----------------------------------------------------
Ollie     +4.7    14.5  .510   6.7  4.03  .471   2.1
Snow      +2.4    13.5  .494   5.6  5.42  .492   5.7

Roland - "Roland Rating", a team's points per 100
possessions differential with a player minus their
differential without him, tracked by 82games.com OppPER - Opponent PER; PER is John Hollinger's
linear-weights rating, which 82games tracks for
opponents at the same position as a player while he
is on the court. League average is 15.0; lower numbers
are better, bigger numbers worse TS% = PTS/(2*(FGA+(.44*FTA))) Reb% = Player's rebounds/Estimate of available rebounds
while he was on the court Pass = ((AST/MIN)^2)*(AST/TO)*50 Win% - A player's theoretical winning percentage when
added to a team of four average players WARP - Wins Above Replacement Player

The only dramatic advantage Snow has is in terms of wins above replacement player, and that's largely because he played far more minutes than Ollie did. Pro-rate them to the same minutes totals, and Snow is about 1.3 wins above replacement player more valuable than Ollie. That's a tangible difference, but not nearly as large as it's being made to seem.

In fairness to Snow, he was significantly better the year before (as was Ollie), but point guards in their 30s are not exactly known for holding up their skills well, so I'm not inclined to think that decline a fluke in either case.

The most relevant numbers here are the players' salaries:

Season  Snow  Ollie
-------------------
04-05   5.27   2.75
05-06   5.39   3.00
06-07   6.06   3.25
07-08   6.73   3.50
08-09   7.40
-------------------
Total  30.85  12.50

Is Ollie's contract bad? Sure it is, since he's not that tremendously far above replacement level and there are so many similar point guards on the free-agent market every year. But Snow's contract is a downright cap killer -- though it wasn't quite that bad in Philadelphia, because the Sixers' cap space was gone with or without him. Think of it this way if Snow as a free agent at age 31, and someone signed him to a five-year, $31 million deal, would we not include that as one of the summer's worst deals?

Now this isn't quite as bad for the Cavs, because they get out of Ollie's contract (and also, for this year, Kedrick Brown's), but they also lose out on Ollie's similar production. Ollie rated as Snow's third-most comparable player last season by my system, and number one, oddly, was Jeff McInnis (which illustrates there's no accounting for defense). Any way you look at it, the difference between Snow and Ollie isn't nearly as great as their contracts, which is why Philadelphia wins this trade in my book.

Cleveland gets: F Drew Gooden, C Steven Hunter, the rights to F Anderson Varejao
Orlando gets: C Tony Battie, second-round picks in 2005 and 2007

As with the Snow trade, conventional wisdom has come down firmly on the Cavaliers' side of their deal with Orlando. And again, I'm not so certain that's correct. Would it be blasphemous to argue that Anderson Varejao is the most valuable of the four players involved in this trade? I don't think so.

That the Magic wanted to move Gooden after drafting Dwight Howard last month is no surprise. That they were so intent on doing it, less than a year and a half after acquiring Gooden from Memphis, that they accepted what even Orlando management seems to admit is below market value, is a surprise. To figure out Magic GM John Weisbrod's logic, one need read between the lines of what he said in the press conference announcing the trade. Fortunately, Steve Kyler, our esteemed leader here at Hoopsworld who is based out of Tampa, has already done this.

"Magic GM John Weisbrod made it absolutely clear the decision was about character more than talent, and about mental toughness and leadership; areas the Magic found lacking in Drew Gooden," summarized Kyler, who adds that Memphis' Jerry West gave up on Gooden months after drafting him -- in another trade which was panned as not bringing back equal talent -- for similar reasons, which squares with what I've heard about that move.

Kyler fundamentally disagrees with Weisbrod, noting that Gooden has been unhappy when forced to play small forward and struggled in that role. There is evidence to support that contention; last season, per 82games.com, Gooden posted a 16.7 PER at power forward, as opposed to 14.7 at the three. However, as is also on that link, Gooden was one of the worst defenders in the league against power forwards, allowing them a 57.8% effective field goal percentage and a 23.8 PER. I haven't seen every player page on 82games, but I'm doubting there are many players who played a statistically significant time at a position and defended it as poorly as Gooden did.

For Gooden's apparent unhappiness, more than two-thirds of his minutes came at power forward; looking at the lineups pages, this includes considering Gooden the small forward in a Gooden-Howard lineup.

Gooden's putridness on defense carried over to the Magic as a team; they were 6.6 points per 100 possessions worse on defense with him in the game last season (and 5.1 points worse on offense). Given the Magic's defense was the worst in the league, Gooden had to be truly awful to be that much worse than his horrid teammates. Dan Rosenbaum's "DanVAL" rating system takes this, as well as Gooden's own statistics, into account, and rated Gooden 126th of the 128 players who played more than 2,000 minutes last season.

So, I might conclude, maybe this isn't just about attitude but about ability as well. Not quite. I tend to agree that Gooden has plenty of potential, as demonstrated by his dominant performance at Kansas. I wasn't doing college statistics translations when Gooden entered the Draft, but in hindsight, I have him rated behind only Carlos Boozer (yep) and Freddie Jones (wha?) in the 2002 Draft.

In no area has Gooden's underachieving been more apparent than on the glass. He was a dominant rebounder in college, pulling down 18.1 rebounds per 48 minutes. That should have translated into at least 13 per 48 minutes in the NBA, but he's actually been at 11.7 and 11.6 the last two years. You could argue that's because Gooden has played on the perimeter more as a small forward, but 82games steps in to shoot that theory down; while Gooden was better at power forward, his rebounding was the same at both positions.

Basically, I don't think it's unfair to suggest that Gooden's off-court issues have affected him on the court. Since he's not yet 23, there's plenty of time for him to turn things around, and his age-22 comparables by my similarity system are decently positive, including Vin Baker, Antawn Jamison, and Xavier McDaniel in the top 10 (it is with no small amount of irony that I note that Tony Battie is also in the that group). His salary is still pretty low, so this is precisely the kind of gamble the Cavs should have taken to replace Carlos Boozer. But don't fool yourself into believing this and Boozer's departure to be anything but a huge downgrade at the position for Cleveland.

Entering last season, Battie was one of my favorite centers. I tend to like guys who rebound, defend, and stay out of the way on offense. Battie not only did that as a starter for the Celtics, he shot 53% or better to boot. Last year, Battie's shooting percentage slipped all the way to 44.3%, which took him from "pretty valuable starter" to "adequate backup". Battie's other skills slipped a little, but not nearly as much as his shooting, which generally indicates he's likely to improve next season.

There is a caveat here, that being that Battie really struggled to hit shots after being traded from Boston to Cleveland; his field-goal percentage went down from 47.9% to 42.7% after the trade. Combined with the evidence showing that Mark Blount has been a much better shooter playing center for the Celtics than anywhere else, this seems to suggest that there may be something about Boston's offensive system that helps the C's centers shoot high percentages, good news on the Blount front that tends to temper my harsh assessment of him a few weeks ago.

Assuming he shoots somewhere north of 47% from the field, Battie makes a solid platoon partner for Kelvin Cato; the Magic will pay them a lot, but they should provide pretty solid production. The problem, of course, is that Cato will turn 30 next month and Battie is 28, so these are not the kind of young building blocks the Magic will need going forward. The theory is that the Magic wants to be good next season to erase all memories of last year's disaster, but if that means becoming the new version of the late-90s/early-00s Nuggets who won 35 games or so a year and were on the fringe of the playoff hunt with little hope for going forward, what's the point?

The big loss for the Magic, in my opinion, is Varejao, a decently-regarded prospect who slipped to the 31st pick of the draft, where Orlando snapped him up. That one pick means the difference between a three-year guaranteed contract and the possibility of signing Varejao for the minimum (though Cleveland will probably have to spend some money buying out Varejao's Spanish deal). If the Cavs can sign him to a three-year deal, there can be little doubt they will be exercising the team option on the third year.

Orlando redeems this deal by getting a pair of second-round picks. I heard "draft picks" when the early rumors of this trade were going around, and felt a little let down when I heard they were second rounders, but early second-round picks are typically more valuable than late first-rounders because of the contracts associated with each pick. As far as I know, the picks are Cleveland's own, which means the 2005 one should be pretty good (barring something unforeseen). The 2007 pick is tougher to peg. Ultimately, I do think the Magic loses on talent and continues to head in a questionable direction, but this deal isn't that bad for them and isn't a slam dunk for the Cavs in my book.

Dallas gets: C Calvin Booth
Seattle gets: F Danny Fortson

As usual, I'll recuse myself when the Sonics are involved. Brendan at the "These Days" blog has some excellent analysis of this move -- check it out. Again, I'll pimp my own work for Supersonics.com:

  • Sonics Acquire Fortson in Exchange for Booth
  • The Danny Fortson File

    Golden State gets: G Dan Dickau, C Dale Davis
    Portland gets: G Nick Van Exel

    I don't know about anyone else, but I have a real hard time getting excited about this deal. We have a 35-year-old coming off far and away the worst year of his career (Davis) being swapped for a 32-year-old who demonstrated fairly conclusively last season that he is nothing more than an adequate starter at this stage of his career (Van Exel). The dollars are obviously similar, and all three players are in the last years of their contracts (don't be counting on the Warriors picking up that team option, Dickau).

    Last year, Davis cratered, going from 54.1% shooting to 47.3%. Davis once possessed one of the league's better efficient scoring-rebounding combinations, but he's now no better than average in either category, dropping below 12 rebounds per 48 minutes the last two seasons. Defensively, he's miscast as a center because of his poor help defense, the biggest reason Portland's "big" lineup struggled last year in my book. The Blazers were 3.8 points per 100 possessions better on defense with Davis on the pine. Davis is nearing the end of his worthwhile life, though he can probably give Golden State 20 minutes a night behind Adonal Foyle.

    Although Nazr Mohammed is clearly the superior player at the better stage of his career, this deal makes more sense for the Warriors than the sign-and-trade involving Erick Dampier they were supposedly discussing with the Knicks; Davis' contract, like Van Exel's comes off the books next summer, when the Warriors can clear a good-sized amount of cap room if they don't re-sign Jason Richardson. That, of course, was the appeal of acquiring Van Exel in the first place.

    For the Blazers, this deal was sparked by Theo Ratliff locking down the center position after coming over from Atlanta in February. Ratliff played 32 minutes a game in Portland. With Zach Randolph and Shareef Abdur-Rahim covering the power forward and the probability of a few minutes a night for Randolph in the middle with Abdur-Rahim at the four, Portland was looking at 10-15 minutes a night for Davis. (That assumes Abdur-Rahim isn't traded, but nothing seems imminent at the moment and the Goodwins' threats that Abdur-Rahim will hold out are essentially empty -- quick, name the last NBA player to seriously hold out that's what I thought.)

    If Blazers coach Maurice Cheeks' analysis in "his" blog at NBA.com is accurate, Portland sees a much bigger role for Van Exel. Cheeks says he'll split time in the backcourt with Derek Anderson and Damon Stoudamire. Stoudamire-Van Exel is an awfully small backcourt, but you could do worse, and the Blazers struggled to back up Stoudamire throughout last season. The 10-15 minutes a night Davis would have played can easily be replaced by Vladimir Stepania, particularly if he rebounds after a poor 2003-04.

    Cheeks' logic also seems to imply the Blazers are looking at Trenton Hassell, whom they recently signed to a lucrative offer sheet, as a small forward and potentially a replacement for free agent Darius Miles, assuming the Timberwolves choose not to match Portland's offer.

    Basically, the two teams improve their positional distribution a little bit, and that's it.

    L.A. Lakers get: F Caron Butler, F Lamar Odom, F/C Brian Grant, a first-round pick, and a second-round pick
    Miami gets: C Shaquille O'Neal

    And now, your main event. There are those who think you just don't trade Shaquille O'Neal, especially because of his extra motivation, and those who think the Heat is trading for an aging, out-of-shape player on the downside of his career.

    As usual, reality probably lies somewhere in between these extreme viewpoints. Is O'Neal slowing down? Undoubtedly. Hoopsanalyst's Schreiber disagrees, pointing out, "Shaq's numbers are not down across the board, just in field goals attempted." That's true, as it goes, but it ignores the fact that a decrease in possession usage like O'Neal experienced -- from 29% of the Lakers' possessions to 26%, by my numbers -- is usually accompanied by a larger increase in efficiency than O'Neal experienced. It's impossible to separate out what of that is aging and what is a different role, but my numbers have O'Neal as considerably less effective on offense in 2003-04 than 2002-03, and they are designed to account for differing roles in an offense.

    (The counterpoint here is that superstar players like O'Neal don't see their efficiency vary as much with possession usage as do role players, an argument Dean Oliver makes in great detail in Basketball On Paper.)

    There was once a time when I half-jokingly (kidding on the square, Al Franken would say) evaluated NBA rating systems with the "Shaq Test"; if O'Neal didn't rate tops in the league on at least a per-minute basis, the system was worthless. Nowadays, virtually any system you care to use would fail that test; O'Neal simply doesn't dominate like that anymore. The numbers David Schoenfield produces in the negative article linked above give the same results this just in, players, even great ones, decline in their 30s.

    At the same time, the negative spin ESPN.com attached to Schoenfield's piece was laughable. O'Neal doesn't need to be as good as he was in 1999-00 to be the best center in the league. Then, he was, let's say, 20% better than any other center. If he declines by 20%, that still leaves him as the best. And, depending on how Yao Ming's development goes next season, that's the case. Yao is really the only young center with any real possibility of passing O'Neal in the near future.

    In terms of one superstar for multiple role players, the two trades that come up the most are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to the Lakers and Charles Barkley to Phoenix. I wasn't around for the Abdul-Jabbar deal, and it's pretty clearly not comparable because Abdul-Jabbar was still in his prime when he went to L.A. Barkley, for his matter, turned 30 during his first season in Phoenix. A better comparison in terms of career stage would be Barkley going to Houston for Robert Horry and Sam Cassell (to simplify the deal) in 1996-97, the season he turned 34. Still, that's really not similar because Barkley was going to a former two-time champion that already boasted a pair of future Hall of Famers in Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon.

    My point here is to demonstrate that while people are using these deals to illustrate that trading a number of good players for one elite one is usually good idea, they're not particularly relevant. The Barkley trade is a good example. The 1991-92 Suns had a number of All-Star caliber players but no superstar; they had more than enough depth to replace the players they sent to Philadelphia for Barkley. They replaced the key player (Jeff Hornacek) with Dan Majerle, who had already been an All-Star as a sixth man the year before. Philadelphia, meanwhile, was in the opposite situation, ending up with several good but not great players (Hornacek, Hersey Hawkins, and Clarence Weatherspoon, with Hawkins and Hornacek both shooting guards).

    The Lakers and Heat approach this trade from different positions. Unlike the Suns, Miami doesn't have the depth to easily shed three starters and still be deep. Udonis Haslem can capably step up and play power forward, but they still have a hole at small forward. The deal forced the Heat to fill that position and most of their bench with free agents, and they're not off to a good start, having signed Keyon Dooling and Michael Doleac. Robert Horry seems to be next, which does little to inspire me. Maybe Miami can find some bargains as training camp nears, but, for now, depth looks like a major issue.

    The Lakers, meanwhile, have the superstar most teams do not when they deal another superstar in the form of Kobe Bryant. With aging Gary Payton and Karl Malone the rest of the Lakers' 2003-04 core, it was clear Los Angeles needed to add several players who could play heavy minutes, and that's exactly what they've done with the trade and the acquisition of Vlade Divac in free agency. The Lakers still have their own issues on the bench, but they look a lot more like an NBA team going forward than they did before the trade.

    The question is, how much quality did the Heat give up in addition to quantity? Odom is the centerpiece of the deal, clearly, and I've never been a big fan. I felt Miami took a major risk signing Odom to the deal it did last summer, but it paid off nicely. While my linear-weights ratings still looked unfavorably on Odom, he rated as worth more than 12 wins above a replacement-level player by my possession-based system, putting him in the NBA's top 20 players. Still, Odom never felt like a guy you could truly build around as a centerpiece, and the media implicitly agreed, declaring rookie Dwyane Wade "the man" in Miami.

    Butler had a statistically awful 2003-04 season, largely because of the nagging effect of arthroscopic knee surgery at the start of the year. The aforementioned DanVAL rated him 119th of the 128 players who played 2,000 minutes, and I didn't rate Butler that far above replacement level. Clearly, he isn't that bad, but he also isn't nearly as good as the hype that surrounded his rookie season, based largely on the fact that he scored a lot of points for a team with few other options on offense. Average small forwards aren't really a commodity in the NBA, and Butler falls into that group.

    Lastly, there's Grant, whom I rated only slightly better than Butler last season. Grant was decent in 2002-03, averaging a double-double, one of only a handful of players league-wide to do so. Last year, his rebounding numbers went into the tank and his scoring was down as well despite only a slight change in minutes. Presumably, a lot of that was due to the Heat's talent upgrade, largely Odom, but Grant missed qualifying for John Hollinger's "Fluke Rule" by such a slim margin that Hollinger included him anyway, and Grant is on the wrong side of 30.

    The theory has always been that Grant's play would improve if he was able to return to his natural power forward position. According to 82games' numbers, that wasn't the case two years ago (last year, Grant played a statistically insignificant number of minutes at power forward); Grant rebounded better and was a far more efficient scorer at the five spot. The logic really doesn't make a ton of sense to me; while centers are generally bigger, the talent level in this league is much greater at power forward than center, so I'd rather be matched up with the centers, all things considered. I guess we'll see this year.

    Butler, the first-round pick, and potentially the second-round pick have value, but they are bit parts, not the kinds of things a team builds upon. Basically, for the Lakers, this trade comes down to Odom. If he's unaffected by having to share the ball with Bryant and the two of them can form a Jordan-Pippen-esque duo, the Lakers should come out okay in the post-O'Neal era. I disagree with those who think the Lakers should have dealt Bryant and kept Shaq; what the Lakers could have gotten back in such a deal is unclear, and they would have forced themselves into a short window to try to win more championships. As long as Bryant stays out of prison, the Lakers are contenders for many years to come.

    On Miami's side, this is a ballsy move. The Heat are going for it now instead of trying to build around the young core of Wade and Odom. O'Neal, Wade, and Eddie Jones have the ability to be a championship-caliber trio, but the talent around them is still lacking until Miami does more in free agency. The Heat has given itself a chance to contend for a championship, but I'd still put them a level below Detroit and Indiana in the East.

    One last note on this deal you may have heard ESPN.com's Bill Simmons discuss how the media picked the wrong guy out of Bryant and O'Neal. Aaron Schatz of FootballOutsiders.com fame delved into this topic in more detail, exploring its relation to class, in an excellent column for The New Republic Online. While the column is for subscribers, let's just say if you poke around Aaron's Web site (hint: try the second page of "around the web"), you might be able to read it. Check out the site as well ... football analysis gets no better.

    Kevin Pelton is an intern for the Seattle SuperSonics and is responsible for original content on Supersonics.com. He writes "Page 23" for Hoopsworld.com on a semi-regular basis. He can be reached via e-mail at kevin.pelton@gmail.com.