Transaction Analysis (9/17-10/3)

By Kevin Pelton
For Hoopsworld.com
Oct. 5, 2002

Atlanta Hawks
Signed free agent forward Darvin Ham, who had been with the Milwaukee Bucks. (9/20)

Hamís not a bad guy to have coming off the bench, which will undoubtedly be his role in Atlanta with Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Glenn Robinson Ė a couple of guys you may have heard of Ė holding down the starting forward positions. With Ira Newble playing some time at the two following DerMarr Johnsonís season-ending injury, there are some minutes available at forward for Ham, should he beat out Chris Crawford and Alan Henderson. Ham provides some good energy off the bench and plays hard, but his skill set is not much for a guy making the ďmillion-dollarĒ exception. With some other guys out there that could have been had for the some amount and luxury tax concerns in Atlanta, Iím not sure if they might not have been better off signing someone else or just going for a player at the minimum.

Cleveland Cavaliers
Rescinded the September 10 trade that sent forward Jumaine Jones to the Sacramento Kings for guard Mateen Cleaves; acquired guard Milt Palacio from the Phoenix Suns for a future second-round pick. (9/17)

Acquired center Michael Stewart and a future first-round draft pick from the Toronto Raptors for forward Lamond Murray and a future second-round draft pick. (9/25)

The cynical side of me wants to wonder if Jim Paxson read some of the harsher criticisms of the Cleaves trade (read: mine) and ordered his medical staff to concoct an injury for Cleaves. Certainly thatís not the case, but Paxson was able to take advantage of the opportunity provided by Cleavesí foot problems to make two better deals. To fill the role of backup point, the Cavs gave the closest thing possible to nothing (a 2008 second-round draft pick) to the Phoenix Suns for Palacio. Not only do I believe that Palacio is probably an equal to, if not better than, player than Cleaves, heís also cheaper in terms of both contract and trade cost.

With Jones back on the roster, the Cavs were free to move Murray, his complaining (not that I really can blame him), and his long-term contract. Itís going to take a lot of foot injuries up front for Stewart to have to play in Cleveland (not that, knowing the Cavsí poor luck with injuries, itís impossible), but his contract is smaller and two years shorter. That might make a Stewart-for-Murray swap decent, but when you add in a first-round pick, clear win for the Cavs. Did I just praise Paxson? Hey, heís learning.

Dallas Mavericks
Signed free agent forward Popeye Jones, who had been with the Washington Wizards. (9/20)

Re-signed free agent forward Eduardo Najera. (9/28)

Signed free agent guard Michael Redd, who had been with the Milwaukee Bucks, to an offer sheet. (10/1)

There was a certain school of thought amongst Mavericks fans, having read some of their fan sites, that the teamís pursuit of Rashard Lewis was costing them the chance to get other helpful free agents. Depending on what happens with Redd and the Bucks, they may well have put the lie to this thought. Jones by himself is a nice pickup for Dallas, especially considering the Mavericks were able to get him for the bargain-basement price of the NBA minimum. Teaming Jones and Najera, the Mavs could keep a top rebounder in the game at all times, not the worst thing for them to do.

Things get all the better if the Mavs can actually bring in Redd, which looks likely. Where does Redd play? Well, Dallas is short of minutes to go around; Van Exel plays most of the backup two minutes, forcing Redd to compete with Jones and Najera for the forward scraps left by Dirk Nowitzki. Wow . . . talk about depth. Itís my opinion Ė and I may well be alone on this Ė that you can never have too much talent, and Redd is clearly a guy who can be a player in this league. Nice pickup even if it doesnít fill a need.

Denver Nuggets
Waived guard Mark Jackson. (9/27)

Acquired forward Rodney White from the Detroit Pistons for forward Don Reid, center Mengke Bateer, and a first-round draft choice. (10/1)

Giving up a lottery-protected first-rounder and two marginal types for a guy who was a top 10 pick (number nine, to be exact) a year ago is a fine deal in my book. With White, James Posey (who can play two), Nene Hilario (who might grow into a five), and Nickoloz Tskitishvili, the Nuggets do seem to have a bit of a glut of forwards. However, with a team in Denverís situation, the thing to do is to take a look at a lot of talented players and let them sort themselves up. If the Nuggets find themselves in the happy situation where all three of the youngsters develop as well as hoped, then thereís always the option of trading one (see Miles, Darius).

Buying out Jackson really makes sense for both sides, but I canít help but wonder in hindsight now about releasing Carlos Arroyo. With Jackson gone, Arroyo would have given the Nuggets a respectable backup to Kenny Satterfield, the likely starter at the point. Denver did recently add Darrick Martin, but heís a fringe NBA type and, at age 31, Martin is surely not a long-term player for the Nuggets.

Detroit Pistons
Traded forward Rodney White to the Denver Nuggets for forward Don Reid, center Mengke Bateer and a first-round draft choice. (10/1)

Traded center Mengke Bateer to the San Antonio Spurs for a second-round draft pick. (10/3)

How quickly a player goes from star of the future to outcast. Itís not as if the Pistons gave Rodney White away Ė far from it Ė but itís still impossible to imagine them making this deal a year ago; his value has dropped significantly over the last 12 months. Drafting Tayshaun Prince seemed to spell trouble for Whiteís future, and while the effect wasnít immediate, now a move has been made. Personally, I think that Detroit might have given up on White a little early, but this does seem in fitting with their master plan of competing now and in the future. There is a lot of time balance in their thinking, it would seem.

With plenty of guaranteed contracts, the Pistons didnít have much room for Bateer. With so many frontcourt contributors already (Clifford Robinson, Ben Wallace, Zeljko Rebraca, and Mehmet Okur), the Pistons had little need either, hence the deal.

Los Angeles Clippers
Announced that center Michael Olowokandi has accepted a one-year qualifying offer. (9/23)

Signed free agent forwards Cherokee Parks and Tremaine Fowlkes. (9/27)

Signed free agent center Wang Zhizhi, who had been with the Dallas Mavericks, to an offer sheet. (10/1)

Arguably, Olowokandi and Zhizhi were two of the top five or so free agent centers in free agency this year (Raef LaFrentz, Jerome James, and Rasho Nesterovic being the others). Itís not often that you see such a pair of players sign with the same team within one week. No matter what Los Angeles management may say, itís impossible to believe that part of the thinking behind bringing in Zhizhi is as an insurance policy should Olowokandi bolt next summer. As I wrote in my last transaction analysis, players donít sign qualifying offers so they can re-sign long-term the next summer. Olowokandi may yet change his mind on the Clippers if they summon the money heís looking for, but this looks like his last year with the team.

With that in mind, the Clippers could do a lot worse for a replacement than Zhizhi. Elton Brand is rightfully sucking in the vast majority of Los Angelesí post looks, meaning that aspect of the Clippersí centerís game is not particularly important. As well, the Clippers are fairly weak in terms of their three-point shooting from the point and small forward positions, with Eric Piatkowski and Quentin Richardson Ė who will probably share time, for the most part Ė their only real three-point threats. Pairing the three-point shooting, shot-blocking, need a map to get to the paint Zhizhi with Brand, then, makes a lot of sense to me Ė especially if the price is right, which it is. Now itís a matter of waiting for the Mavericks to decide to match or not. As time passes, the less likely it seemingly is that they will match. If you do match, best to do so as soon as possible so that the player gets into camp.

Miami Heat
Re-signed guard Eddie House. (9/25)

Reportedly, a one-year, $770,000 deal for House. A nice raise based on his play last season, while still a cheap bench contributor for the Heat. Fairly standard on both sides.

Milwaukee Bucks
Waived forward Leon Smith. (10/1)

Minnesota Timberwolves
Signed free agent forward Kendall Gill, who had been with the Miami Heat, and re-signed free agent forward Gary Trent. (9/25)

At the minimum, Gill might be overpaid at this stage of his career. Iím serious about that. He is totally finished, and if he played 500 minutes this year for Minnesota, Iíd be shocked. Trent had hoped his play last season would net him a raise on last yearís minimum deal with the Timberwolves, but thatís not the way the current financial climate of the NBA works. Instead, heíll have to settle for merely the league-mandated raise for a year of inflation and an extra year of experience. Tough break for him, but the Wolves get to keep a solid contributor off the bench (take note, Atlanta) on the cheap.

Portland Trail Blazers
Signed free agent center Arvydas Sabonis. (9/20)

Re-signed free agent guard Bonzi Wells and center Chris Dudley. (9/30)

It took long enough, but the Blazers got two key pieces under contract in Sabonis and Wells. For the latter, the negotiations provided what has to be a fairly agreeable contract for both sides Ė given the circumstances. At somewhere near $7M per season, the Blazers got a bargain with Wells, but at four years the deal is short enough that heís not locked into that lowish salary forever. As well, because the Blazers held all the negotiating power, he didnít do that poorly relatively in terms of salary.

San Antonio Spurs
Acquired center Mengke Bateer from the Detroit Pistons for a second-round draft pick. (10/3)

I must say Iím rather impressed with what the Spurs have done this off-season, especially up front. Theyíve gone from possibly having only Tim Duncan and a lame duck David Robinson (admittedly still a great duo) to also re-signing Malik Rose, adding Kevin Willis for veteran insurance, and now Bateer as a long-term project. Thatís some nice work and should remind contenders that just because an area is a strength doesnít mean it canít be improved. No more starting Mark Bryant in the playoffs for San Antonio.

Seattle SuperSonics
Re-signed free agent forward Rashard Lewis. (9/20)

Much of the talk about Lewis this summer has focused on what he canít do. Thatís certainly a valid strategy, and one I like to use with prospects, but I think itís gone too far with Lewis. The next time I hear about how a player who averaged 17 and 7 last season was paid ďon potentialĒ, Iím going to be sick. Part of the problem is that people instinctively look at the average over the life of the deal (about $9M or so), which isnít really fair. The appropriate comparison is the first-year salary (a little more than $6M), which is less than many comparable small forwards, all of them older than a player who, at 23, still has room to grow.

Considering that in January there was legitimate debate about whether Lewis deserved a max deal (and a number of people in favor of it), getting him for nowhere near the max has to be considered a good deal for the Sonics even if it does mean they wonít be a real free agent player next summer.

Toronto Raptors
Traded center Michael Stewart and a future first-round draft pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers for forward Lamond Murray and a future second-round draft pick. (9/25)

On the surface, giving up a player who has no chance of contributing in Stewart for a solid reserve scorer like Murray is a real plus. Indeed, Murray should provide a big upgrade to the Toronto bench, which is down after the loss of Keon Clark, Chris Childs, Dell Curry, and Tracy Murray. As well, the Raptors have been hoping to move Stewart almost from the moment he arrived in Toronto. However, giving up a first-round pick is still a tough price for the Raptors. They look like a middle of the pack team for a while, so the pick should be in the teens, which is a high price to pay. As well, Murrayís deal is two years longer than Stewartís, giving the Raptors more guaranteed salary committed in the future. The Raptors needed to do something to upgrade their bench, but I think they overpaid.

Utah Jazz
Signed guard Raul Lopez, their first-round pick in the 2001 Draft, and re-signed free agent forward Scott Padgett. (9/26)

Signed free agent guard Mark Jackson, who had been with the Denver Nuggets. (10/2)

Might Jackson be the best backup the Jazz have ever had for John Stockton? Given the performances of Howard Eisley and Jacque Vaughn since they left the Utah system, I think that would definitely be fair to say. The 18 minutes or so per game that Stockton sits out are crucial for the Jazz, and Jackson will be able to give them a similar performance to what they get from Stockton. This move goes a long ways towards helping Utah make the playoffs again, though I still think theyíre on the outside looking in right now.

Kevin Pelton is the Lead Editor for the Pacific Division of News@Hoopsworld.com. He can be reached via e-mail at kpelton@sonicscentral.com.