Transaction Analysis (8/5-8/6)

By Kevin Pelton
For Hoopsworld.com
Aug. 7, 2002

I wasnít planning on writing another Transaction Analysis until the end of the week at earliest, but with todayís big deal sending Dikembe Mutombo to New Jersey for Todd MacCulloch and Keith Van Horn, I didnít want to save my thoughts that long. Without further ado, letís analyze some transactions. . . .

Detroit Pistons
Negotiated a buyout with center Mikki Moore, making him a free agent. (8/5)

Once upon a time, during the 1999-2000 season, Moore looked like a promising young big man. At the age of 24, Moore, not drafted out of Nebraska, averaged 7.9 points and 3.9 rebounds per game on 62% shooting during 29 games. After the season, the Pistons rewarded him with a three-year deal and watched as he failed to develop. Then Detroit brought in Ben Wallace, Clifford Robinson, and Zeljko Rebraca to form their rotation up front, causing Moore to get lost in the shuffle. This move, then, saves the Pistons a slight amount as compared to Mooreís $2.8 million salary -- $400,000, and an extra $100,000 if he hooks on somewhere else -- and a roster spot, since they had been at 15 players. Because heís 7-0, Moore is bound to end up in somebodyís camp next October.

Golden State Warriors
Named Hank Egan assistant coach. (8/6)

Egan, a seven-year assistant with the San Antonio Spurs, had retired in late May after the Spurs were eliminated from the playoffs, but came out of retirement to join the staff of new Golden State head man Eric Musselman, whom he had coached at the University of San Diego. Neither of the Warriorsí other two assistants (Phil Hubbard and Mark Osowski) has anything even resembling the experience Egan has, so he would seem to be an excellent addition to guide Musselman in his first head-coaching gig.

New Jersey Nets
Acquired center Dikembe Mutombo from the Philadelphia 76ers for forward Keith Van Horn and center Todd MacCulloch. (8/6)

I wrote last weekend of the Atlanta Hawksí deal for Glenn Robinson that the current Eastern Conference situation called for desperate moves by potential contenders. Count this amongst those moves. In the long run, itís hard to imagine that this deal will work out well for New Jersey. Theyíve given out a pair of 26-year-olds, both of them starters, for a 36-year-old.

For next year, however, the Nets have created one of the most imposing defensive teams ever put on the court. With second-year player Richard Jefferson replacing Van Horn in the starting lineup and Mutombo replacing MacCulloch, the Nets have dramatically improved defensively on a team that was already one of the best (if not the best) defenses in the league. The major short-term disadvantage to this deal is that the Nets have weakened their bench by elevating Jefferson to the starting five; with great certainty I can predict that the Nets will not be as reliant on their bench as they were last season. And it is true that the Nets have not really improved their offense. Still, they have to be the favorites to repeat in the East next season as I see it.

Long-term, the picture is not as pretty. Mutomboís mammoth contract will pay him nearly $20 million during the 2004-05 season, when itís tough to imagine that heíll still be a better player than MacCulloch. Already last year, Mutomboís blocks per 48 minutes dropped from 3.76 to 3.14, a precipitous 17% drop-off. And his 10.8 rebounds per game last year were the lowest figure of his career, with no corresponding cut in minutes. So the statistics, the birthdate, and the contract raise a lot of red flags with Mutombo.

One question worth thinking about . . . what does this deal indicate about the Netsí thinking with Kidd? Iíve heard it postulated that the Nets are trying to convince Kidd to stay with their success next season. Personally, my thinking is that this deal indicates the Nets donít expect Kidd to re-sign and are trying to milk his presence for all they can next season. But thatís idle speculation at best.

Philadelphia 76ers
Traded center Dikembe Mutombo to the New Jersey Nets for forward Keith Van Horn and center Todd MacCulloch. (8/6)

While the Nets are putting together a defensive juggernaut, the Sixers have almost completed disassembling their defensive dynamo from the 1999-2000 and 2000-01 seasons. Where once the Sixers started three strong defenders across the frontcourt (Mutombo, Tyrone Hill, and George Lynch), no one on their projected front line next season (MacCulloch, Derrick Coleman, and Van Horn) is better than average defensively. If Philadelphia moves Eric Snow, as has been frequently and loudly speculated, they could become one of the weakest defensive teams in the East.

Once upon a time, the Sixers were built on defense, toughness, and relying on Allen Iverson offensively. The strategy worked to the tune of a Finals appearance . . . so why has Larry Brown turned his back on it?

That said, I still think this will prove to be a good deal for Philadelphia. MacCulloch constantly has to fight a negative stereotype as a big white oaf (Iíve seen MacCulloch play in Gary Paytonís charity basketball game; he can run the floor), but heís a quality shot blocker (2.8 bp48) and rebounder (12.1 rp48) who shoots the ball for a high percentage (53.1% last year). I donít think itís far-fetched to suggest that, given more than the 24-25 minutes he averaged last season, MacCulloch could make an All-Star game during his career.

Strangely enough given that he was the second pick in the 1997 Draft and MacCulloch a second-round pick in 1999, I actually see Van Horn as the second-best part of this deal for the Sixers. His contract (which, assuming Van Horn exercises his player option, is year longer than Mutomboís) negates much of the value of dumping Mutomboís contract. But for all the grief he takes, Van Horn is a decent starter at either forward position.

Portland Trail Blazers
Acquired guards Antonio Daniels, Charles Smith and center Amal McCaskill from the San Antonio Spurs for guards Steve Kerr, Erick Barkley and a second-round pick in the 2003 draft. (8/5)

Itís been a while in coming, but this is one of those deals that remind you why Bob Whitsitt has earned the nickname ďTrader BobĒ and, through June 2000, a reputation as one of the leagueís shrewdest GMs. Whitsitt has fleeced the Spurs, acquiring a quality reserve guard in Daniels for little of long-term value to the Blazers. Neither Kerr nor Barkley was going to see any regular time this year in Portland and both were free agents after the year. The most valuable thing Portland gave up, perhaps, was the second-rounder.

Daniels for that package would have been a great deal, but acquiring Smith in addition makes it fabulous. A quality defender with good athleticism, Smith capably replaced Bruce Bowen in the Spursí lineup when Bowen was injured in January and February. There are a lot of teams in this league that Smith could play for . . . but Portland isnít one of them. Still, in case of injury, heís a great fifth guard.

San Antonio Spurs
Traded guards Antonio Daniels, Charles Smith and center Amal McCaskill to the Portland Trail Blazers for guards Steve Kerr, Erick Barkley and a second-round pick in the 2003 draft. (8/5)

In my younger days, I played a lot of fantasy-league baseball in a league that a couple of family members, a friend, and I ran and organized ourselves. My worst problem in the league was that I sometimes made inexplicably stupid trades that even I couldnít justify. What would happen is that I would talk myself into trading a player because I felt I could get value for them. Then, even when that value failed to materialize, Iíd still take the best offer because I already made up my mind to trade the player.

Thatís about the best explanation I can come up with the Spursí thinking behind this trade. The Daniels rumors have been flying for some time now, with a number of players linked to San Antonio. Maybe this was the best offer left.

When a lopsided trade like this occurs in the NBA, most fans automatically jump to the explanation of the salary cap. But this deal clears out no space for next summer; only Barkley (with a team option) has the chance of having his contract run into the 2003-04 season. It is true that the Spurs will shave a little bit of money off their payroll for next season, but the projections I have seen donít have them very near the luxury tax anyway.

The best rationale the media can come up with is that there were concerns about Daniels in the locker room, and I sure hope that it was a lot more than that which caused the Spurs to part ways with him. Another inevitable defense is that with Speedy Claxton and Emanuel Ginobili added this summer, the Spurs no longer need Daniels. But that doesnít excuse giving him away. In the always-competitive West, small things can make the difference between having homecourt in round two or going on the road. I think this deal may well come back to haunt San Antonio next May.

Kevin Pelton is a support editor covering the Pacific Division for News@Hoopsworld.com and believes fellow UW Husky Todd MacCulloch is highly underrated. He can be reached via e-mail at kpelton@sonicscentral.com.