Transaction Analysis (8/24-8/30)

By Kevin Pelton
For Hoopsworld.com
Aug. 31, 2002

As the world turns its eyes to Indianapolis and the World Championships of Basketball, the NBA is no exception. After a busy Monday, the league has basically taken the rest of the week off, with only a pair of minor signings filling it out.

Houston Rockets
Signed guard Steve Francis to a multi-year contract extension. (8/26)

Thereís been almost no discussion of this transaction, which is both unsurprising and surprising. Itís not a surprise because this is a move that has anticipated virtually the entire summer, unlike extensions for Baron Davis -- who once looked like he might be traded -- and Shawn Marion -- which came out of left field. Nevertheless, that there hasnít been much of anything written about Francisí extension still surprises me because there was a fair amount of hand wringing about Marion, and Iím not convinced that Francis is a better player.

Francis is an elite-level player in two areas of his game. Few NBA players get to the hole any better than the ultra-quick Houston point guard, and heís also the second-best rebounding point guard in the NBA. But the rest of his game leaves much to be desired; Francis is merely adequate as a distributor, below-average from three-point range, and his lackluster defense was a significant reason why the Rockets were one of the leagueís worst teams on that end of the court.

That all said, Francis is without question one of the brightest young stars in the NBA and the piece around which the Rockets are rebuilding. Not extending him is almost unimaginable; that doesnít mean it wasnít worth discussing at least a little.

Milwaukee Bucks
Signed second-round draft picks Ronald Murray and Dan Gadzuric. (8/29)

With Murray and Gadzuric both four-year college veterans, there was never really much question theyíd be Bucks next year -- at least during training camp. Murray is currently penciled in as the Bucksí backup to Sam Cassell next season, though there remains a strong possibility that they sign a veteran between now and training camp. Either way, he should make the team as at worst a fifth guard. Gadzuric faces an uphill battle if he hopes to play this season; the Bucks return the two players they used at center last season, Joel Przybilla and Ervin Johnson, and drafted another center in the second round, Calís Jamal Sampson. However, Gadzuric is at least as talented as his competition and, at 24, fairly mature for a rookie. It wouldnít be surprising at all to see him playing regularly by seasonís end despite George Karlís notorious disdain for rookies. These were two second-round picks well spent.

Minnesota Timberwolves
Signed free agent guard Troy Hudson, who had been with the Orlando Magic. (8/26)

There is no comparison in terms of talent between Hudson and the other free agents left on the market (Rod and Erick Strickland, Damon Jones, Travis Best, and Kevin Ollie, to name a few). If the Timberwolves were looking strictly for a backup, that might have made one of the more-experienced stable hands a better fit. However, Kevin McHale has to be thinking that he might need a starter if Terrell Brandon has lingering effects from his injuries last season. Going with the latter Strickland, Jones, or Ollie as a starter would be fairly disastrous, ruling them out. The elder Strickland can start, but was probably older than the Wolves wanted. That leaves Best and Hudson, who have fairly similar games. Both are undersized (Best 5-11; Hudson 6-1) and better scorers than distributors. Hudson, however, is four years younger and has plenty of room to grow as a player, making him the clear choice. At best, Minnesota has pulled off a steal like they got with Chauncey Billups two years ago. At worst, Hudson will be a solid backup point guard making about half the teamís median exception.

New Orleans Hornets
Re-signed restricted free agent forward Robert Traylor. (8/23)

To think, he was once traded for Dirk Nowitzki. That was four years ago, and if you add Traylorís scoring averages from his four years pro, they donít total Nowitzkiís points per game last year. The Hornets seemed to be fairly pleased with Traylorís play last season -- certainly to the point where they re-signed him -- in a limited role last season. Thereís little else in the way of big men on the market, so a one-year deal might have been in order, but Iím not sure I understand giving Traylor a two-year deal when it costs the Hornets precious salary cap space for next summer. Traylorís salary -- a reported average of $2 million over the two years -- is not nearly high enough to make this a contract that will haunt New Orleans next year, but they still may well regret it.

Philadelphia 76ers
Signed free agent forward Brian Skinner, who had been with the Cleveland Cavaliers. (8/27)

Well, when given a choice between Skinner and Mark Bryant as a reserve forward. . . . I suppose Skinner will more or less step into the role filled by Corie Blount last season, doing it slightly cheaper because he has less experience. Last season was the first time Skinner played more than 1,000 minutes, and he showed some decent skills. Shooting infrequently, Skinner made 54% from the field, and his per-minute block and rebound rates are strong. Thatís worth the minimum.

Skinner becomes especially valuable with the news that Derrick Coleman will be out until late November after having surgery on his left knee earlier this summer. With Coleman out, assumedly Keith Van Horn slides to the power forward position, with one of the group of Monty Williams, Aaron McKie, and Greg Buckner playing small forward. That leaves Skinner as the primary backup at both power forward and center; he should play heavily. The rest of the season, Van Horn will likely backup Coleman and play both forward positions, with Skinner getting most of his minutes at center. There should still be a lot of minutes there for him. Unless, of course, Samuel Dalembert, Bryant, or rookie Efthimios Rentzias takes Skinnerís job, in which case all this talk is for naught.

San Antonio Spurs
Signed free agent center-forward Kevin Willis, who had been with the Houston Rockets. (8/26)

This smacks of a move made at least as much to keep Willis from joining a Western Conference competitor as for his value to the Spurs. Willis was one of the top candidates left if the Los Angeles Lakers decided to add a veteran backup big man, and anything that hurts the Lakers naturally helps the Spurs. Thatís not to disparage Willisí game; as one of the NBAís top per-minute rebounders last season, he can definitely still play as he nears 40 (wish him a happy birthday a week from yesterday, by the way). However, the Spurs already have a pretty full frontcourt with Tim Duncan, David Robinson, and Malik Rose. Last year, those guys combined for 91 minutes, meaning thereís not much time left over for Willis despite Robinson probably playing less next season. For San Antonio, Willis is essentially an insurance policy in case the Spurs have an injury to one of their top three big men. They were able to stay healthy from November to mid-April, but with Robinson out in the playoffs Bryant had to play regularly, which is not an ideal situation. Now, the Spurs can plug in Willis for Rose or Robinson and not suffer a dramatic drop-off in play up front.

Toronto Raptors
Exercised their fourth-year option on forward Morris Peterson. (8/26)

No brainer.

Kevin Pelton is the Lead Editor for the Pacific Division of News@Hoopsworld.com. He has never been mistaken for Robert "Tractor" Traylor. He can be reached via e-mail at kpelton@sonicscentral.com.