Transaction Analysis (9/4-9/12)

By Kevin Pelton
For Hoopsworld.com
Sep. 13, 2002

Atlanta Hawks
Re-signed free agent forward Ira Newble. (9/11/02)

Who knew? Based on last yearís 42-game stint with the Atlanta Hawks, Newble looks like he could be a contributor in this league. In just over 30 minutes a game, Newble averaged 8.0 points and 5.3 rebounds while shooting 49.8% from the field. That made him a priority to re-sign, though luxury tax questions made the negotiations a bit dicey before the two sides came to an agreement. With Glenn Robinson on board, Newbleís role is smaller next season, which is probably for the best; I remain unconvinced he can maintain that level of production in starterís minutes over the course of the season. But off the bench, Newble is valuable and the best perimeter defender the Hawks have. All-around, he might be a better player than some defensive specialists like San Antonioís Bruce Bowen and Detroitís Michael Curry, both of them starters.

Cleveland Cavaliers
Traded forward Jumaine Jones to the Sacramento Kings for guard Mateen Cleaves. (9/10/02)

Imagine that all you heard about this transaction was that a team had traded a player who played more than 2,000 minutes last season for Cleaves (who played a grand total of 153). If you were forced to guess which team had made the trade, which would you have picked? Maybe Iím giving myself too much credit, but I think I would have guessed Cleveland.

The Cavsí point guard options had dwindled in the wake of recent free agent moves, but Cleaves? It was my opinion he had proven rather conclusively during his rookie season with the Pistons that he was not an NBA player. During that rookie season, Cleaves shot 40% (without the benefit of any three-pointers) and turned the ball over 5.3 times per 48 minutes, leading to a miserable 1.49 assist/turnover ratio. Granted, heís young and could improve, but there were better -- and cheaper -- options available as free agents. If the Cavs didnít want to go with an aging player like Rod Strickland, what about Damon Jones? How about young players like Khalid El-Amin, Carlos Arroyo, or Pepe Sanchez? All of these players could have been had for the minimum and without the cost of Jones. Jones would have had a smaller role with Darius Miles and Carlos Boozer playing forward minutes, but he remains a valuable young player who seemingly could have fetched more value in trade elsewhere.

Detroit Pistons
Traded guard Jerry Stackhouse and forward Brian Cardinal and Ratko Varda to the Washington Wizards for guards Richard Hamilton and Hubert Davis and forward Bobby Simmons. (9/11/02)

Man, the East does crazy things to general managers. New Jersey, Detroit, and Boston finish 1-2-3 in the East, all advance to at least the second round, and their response is . . . to all make blockbuster trades? No, thatís not how they draw it up in General Managing 101. But while the Nets made a rather conventional move in light of the wide-open East, sacrificing a bit of their future in trading for the aging Dikembe Mutombo to try to go back to the NBA Finals, the Pistons have actually hurt themselves for next season in the hopes of improving long-term.

Even if you believe that Hamilton is as good as Stackhouse in the short term -- and I donít -- shaking up the roster so dramatically should cost the Pistons a couple of early games. In the wide-open East, a couple of games are the difference between winning your division and playing on the road in the first round. It was already my opinion that the Pistons were the most likely team to decline of the Eastís contenders last year (get your angry e-mail ready, Detroit fans) because so many Pistons players -- Chucky Atkins, Damon Jones, Jon Barry, Michael Curry, Corliss Williamson, and Ben Wallace -- had career years last season. A younger guy like Wallace can be expected to repeat or improve upon his performance, but I have my doubts about whether the bench duo of Barry and Williamson will be nearly as effective next season. Following this trade, I wouldnít be shocked to see Detroit miss the playoffs next year.

Of course, this deal is not made for just one year, and over the long term it does favor the Pistons -- though I think the magnitude of that improvement is overstated by most experts. Yes, Stackhouse expects the max next season, but Hamilton may reasonably expect it as well, and thereís not a huge difference between the amounts they can make. And yes, the Pistons will have the right of first refusal on Hamilton, but if another team makes him a six- or seven-year deal at the max, are the Pistons going to match? If not, then the four-year age difference means absolutely zero.

Houston Rockets
Signed guard Tito Maddox, their second-round pick. (9/12/02)

Not much to say here. Barring injury to Steve Francis, Maddox will sit and watch this year with Moochie Norris locked in through 2007 as Francisí backup.

Indiana Pacers
Signed free agent guard Erick Strickland, who had been with the Boston Celtics. (9/11/02)

Thereís a certain something to be said for the Pacers showing their faith in starting point guard Jamaal Tinsley by signing a player who is not really a threat to Tinsleyís job. But at the end of the day, the Pacers are essentially in the same situation as last year if Tinsley struggles, as he did during the playoffs. Strickland did a solid job for Boston last year, but it was a definite career year and Iím cynical about his chances of repeating the performance. Strickland is a better shooter than last seasonís backup, Kevin Ollie, and opposing defenders will not be able to sag off of him. However, heís not as capable a ballhandler. That would be okay if the Pacers had other players to help him bring the ball up or set up the offense, but -- playoff experiment with Ron Mercer notwithstanding -- thatís not really the case. Wrong Strickland in my book.

Los Angeles Clippers
Signed forward-center Melvin Ely, their first-round pick, to a three-year contract with a club option. (9/4/02)

Elyís coming. Thereís probably a further bad pun in that song somewhere, but unfortunately I donít know it very well.

Miami Heat
Signed free agent guard Travis Best, who had been with the Chicago Bulls. (9/5/02)

This yearís bloated market for point guards who are fringe starters and strong reserves made for a number of winners and losers. In this deal, that breakdown is apparent. The Heat win getting Best for next to nothing (their Ďmillion-dollarí exception); Best loses by having to play for that salary, even if he gets the chance to start. Personally, Iíve never been sold that Best should be a starter, but heís an upgrade over Rod Strickland and dramatically better than the Heatís other choices at the point.

Milwaukee Bucks
Signed free agent guard Kevin Ollie, who had been with the Indiana Pacers (9/6/02)

Ollie seems like an ideal backup point guard for George Karl, who basically expects such a player to come in and not make mistakes. Ollie has a solid assist/turnover ratio at 2.7 and can run an offense, though his lack of shooting ability makes him a bit of a liability. On defense, Ollie isnít a stopper but does a credible job. The Bucks are in trouble if Sam Cassell gets hurt and Ollie has to start, but he is an improvement over last seasonís backup Rafer Alston, who never seemed to connect with Karl.

Minnesota Timberwolves
Announced that restricted free agent center Rasho Nesterovic has accepted a one-year qualifying offer; signed guard Igor Rakocevic to a multi-year contract. (9/10/02)

The odds of the Timberwolves re-signing Nesterovic next summer look bleak at the moment; NBA players donít take qualifying offers so that they can work out long-term deals down the road. No, this is a pretty good sign that Nesterovic is waiting out his assigned time in Minnesota and will bolt next summer -- with early scuttle that heíll be headed to New York. Given that, it might make sense for Minnesota to cut Nesterovicís minutes next season in favor of backups Marc Jackson and Loren Woods (when the latter signs a contract for this season) to see if they can replace Nesterovic in-house. If the Timberwolves fall out of the playoff hunt, thereís really no reason whatsoever for them to continue playing Nesterovic. A trade might also make sense if Minnesota can return a useful player and not just empty salary.

Orlando Magic
Signed free agent forward Shawn Kemp, who had been with the Portland Trail Blazers. (9/5/02)

Signed free agent forward Jabari Smith and free agent center Peter Cornell. (9/12/02)

Kempís acquisition has been portrayed by the media as a risk, but I canít understand that whatsoever. $1 million (the veteran minimum -- and half of that is paid by the league anyway) cannot be construed as a risk in my opinion. Even if Kemp continues to play at essentially the same level he played at in Portland, as merely an adequate backup, heís worth the minimum. And with Orlandoís fairly desperate frontcourt situation, that kind of player is valuable to the Magic right now.

The worst-case scenario, I suppose, is that Kemp has some sort of drug relapse and is suspended by the league. What then? The Magic are not locked into a long-term contract like Portland was; they can just cut Kemp lose. Best-case, regular playing time rejuvenates Kemp and allows him to become, if not the superstar he was in Seattle, the very good starting power forward he was at the end of his time in Cleveland. If thatís the case, Orlando can start making plans to go deep in the post-season right now.

Sacramento Kings
Traded guard Mateen Cleaves to the Cleveland Cavaliers for forward Jumaine Jones. (9/10/02)

Exercised the option on the contract of forward Hedo Turkoglu for the 2003-2004 season. (9/12/02)

Itís the big moves that end up remembered in the long run, like signing Vlade Divac and trading for Chris Webber, but in my book itís the little things like this trade that make Geoff Petrie the leagueís best general manager (ESPN.com recently ranked Petrie second behind Jerry West). Depending on the outcome of Webberís recent legal troubles, odds are that Jones wonít have a major role to play in Sacramento next season with a deep forward group that includes Webber, Peja Stojakovic, Hedo Turkoglu, Keon Clark, Lawrence Funderburke, and Gerald Wallace. But then again, Cleaves wouldnít be a contributor in Sacramento barring injury either. Given that fact, it comes down to pure talent and Jones is vastly superior to Cleaves in that regard. If Petrie finds a hole to fill later in the season, he can flip Jones for far more value than Cleaves.

As for Turkoglu, Martin McNeal of the Sacramento Bee summarized it well yesterday. ďThe only real decision the Kings had,Ē McNeal wrote, ďon whether to exercise their option on third-year swingman Hedo Turkoglu for 2003-04 was when to make the announcement.Ē

San Antonio Spurs
Named P.J. Carlesimo assistant coach. (9/6/02)

I donít know about anybody else, but I never expected to see Carlesimo professionally employed by an NBA team again. His run-in with Latrell Sprewell -- and, in some quarters, the justification of it because of the victim -- might have ended the career of a perennial winner, and Carlesimoís credentials werenít very good to begin with. As an assistant, Carlesimo wonít have the same responsibility and he will be dealing with a more mature, veteran group in San Antonio, but why court trouble?

Utah Jazz
Signed free agent guard Carlos Arroyo, who had been with the Denver Nuggets (9/10/02)

Arroyo ends up one of the biggest winners of the World Basketball Championships after his Puerto Rico squad surprised a lot of opposing countries en route to a seventh-place finish. Arroyo spent last season with both Toronto and Denver before the Nuggets cut him about a month ago. At this point, Arroyo looks like the favorite to back up John Stockton until Raul Lopez returns from knee surgery. The Jazzís system has made contributors of a number of otherwise marginal point guards, and Arroyo -- a good distributor -- seems to fit the bill. It wouldnít surprise me at all to see him parlay a strong season into a substantial raise next summer.

Washington Wizards
Signed free agent forward Bryon Russell, who had been with the Utah Jazz, to a two-year contract. (9/10/02)

Traded guards Richard Hamilton and Hubert Davis and forward Bobby Simmons to the Detroit Pistons for guard Jerry Stackhouse and forwards Brian Cardinal and Ratko Varda. (9/11/02)

Signed guard-forward Rod Grizzard to a two-year contract. (9/13/02)

Hey, how were your two days? Michael Jordan and company sure were busy, altering 40% of their starting lineup in a 24-hour period. Thereís little question in my mind that the Wizards are improved as a result. On a team with limited offense out of four positions, Stackhouse replaces Jordan as the offensive focus. With all due respect to Jordan, at this stage of the career Stackhouse is definitely an upgrade. Russell, meanwhile, gives the Wizards the defense they didnít get from small forward or shooting guard when Jordan was injured and Washington was forced to use sieves Hamilton and Alexander together. Russell fits the offensive philosophy well, as heís used to playing without the ball off of stars. The main question I now have about the projected starting group is whether Larry Hughes works better than Chris Whitney or Tyronn Lue at the point with Stackhouse likely dominating the ball.

From a pure talent standpoint, the Wizards got a lot worse in the rest of this deal, giving up Davis, who will be able to shoot when heís 40, and Simmons. However, with the level of depth Washington already had, neither of those players were going to contribute anyway. From that standpoint, itís good thinking to get Davisí long-term contract off the books and clear more salary-cap space.

By trading him, the Wizards are now spared a difficult decision on whether Hamilton is worth the kind of money it might require to keep him in the nationís capital. There will be a decision to be made on Stackhouse, of course, but I donít think thereís as much question heís worth the max. The Wizards will have the flexibility to explore their options before returning to Stackhouse, if thatís what they return to deal. Score this one for the Wiz.

Kevin Pelton is the Lead Editor for the Pacific Division of News@Hoopsworld.com and thinks even he could capably back up John Stockton in Utah's offense. He can be reached via e-mail at kpelton@sonicscentral.com.