How did offseason moves pan out? (cont.)
Shawn Marion, Dallas Mavericks
HOW ACQUIRED: Four-team trade that also involved Toronto, Orlando and Memphis
CONTRACT: Five years, $39 million as part of sign-and-trade
PROGRESS: There are fewer facets of the Matrix than there used to be -- he's 1-of-12 from three-point territory this season, compared to 141-for-364 in 2002-03, for example -- but he's provided most of the things Dallas was hoping for, including lineup flexibility, more speed, athleticism and defensive intensity, as well as an ability to score points without plays being run for him. Most of his numbers are down slightly, but he's chipping in 11.8 points on 51.3 percent shooting via transition baskets, putbacks and occasional post-ups, ensuring there are enough touches for the likes of Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and Josh Howard. Most important, Marion has helped coach Rick Carlisle emphasize a defensive identity, as the Mavs permit only 104 points per 100 possessions when he plays compared to 110.1 points per 100 possessions when he sits.
VERDICT: Mark Cuban is one of the few owners willing to lavish nearly $40 million on a versatile, 31-year-old role player like Marion in these tough economic times. But Dallas' season-long standing among the top three teams in the West, a success built on defense, makes it a good, if pricey, investment.
Shaquille O'Neal, Cleveland Cavaliers
HOW ACQUIRED: Traded by Phoenix for Ben Wallace, Sasha Pavlovic and a 2010 second-round pick
CONTRACT: $21 million contract expires after season
PROGRESS: As a longtime admirer and defender of Shaq, it feels weird to be harsh, but age has robbed the man of some pretty fundamental skills, like lateral movement. The Cavs were 66-16 without him last year, and they are 39-11 (23-4 since Dec. 11) with him this season, so he certainly hasn't gummed up the works too much. Statistically, the Cavs are much better when Varejao and/or Zydrunas Ilgauskus are on the floor instead -- Shaq has played 30 minutes or more only five times and Cleveland is 2-3 in those games. But the intangibles are intriguing. For the first time in his career, Shaq has embraced a role more than a couple of notches down in the pecking order, and Cleveland's defense is slightly better when Shaq is on the court. The downside is on offense: The Cavs score eight more points per 100 possessions when Shaq is on the bench. And yet, though his shooting percentage remains at a career low, Shaq's game is coming around, as his 64.8 percent shooting in January attests.
VERDICT: The jury will be hung and the pundits will squabble over the wisdom of getting Shaq until the Cavs face Howard and the Magic or Andrew Bynum and the Lakers (or both) in the playoffs and resolve the matter.
Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies
HOW ACQUIRED: Traded by Clippers for Quentin Richardson
CONTRACT: $33 million over this season and next
PROGRESS: The on-court production hasn't been that different this season for the nomadic Randolph, who was traded three times in a two-year span. Yes, his 50.1 percent shooting is his most accurate since the 2002-03 season, the 11.6 rebounds are a career high and the 32 double-doubles are third most in the league. But Randolph has always been able to score and board -- it's the indifferent defense, the punching of teammates and opponents and the run-ins with the law that have plagued him (and his employers) in the past. This season, Randolph has added a new element to his game -- leadership. He has paired with center Marc Gasol to establish Memphis as a team that dominates the glass (Randolph is the league's top offensive rebounder) and racks up points in the paint. His defense is still no better than mediocre, but he has maintained an infectiously positive attitude, produced at crunch time and, in the most important statistic of all, helped the Grizzlies to 26 wins, already more than the team's total in each of the previous seasons.
VERDICT: Almost everybody, myself included, mocked Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley for taking on such a renowned head case like Randolph. I figured Randolph would improve Memphis just enough to derail its development by denying touches to young swingmen O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay and depriving the franchise of a higher draft choice. But the Grizzlies are legitimately thinking playoffs, Randolph is on the All-Star team and Heisley just may deserve the last laugh. Ladies and gents, your top player acquisition of the 2009-10 season -- so far.
Hedo Turkoglu, Toronto Raptors
HOW ACQUIRED: Same four-team trade that sent Marion to Dallas
CONTRACT: Five years, $53 million as part of sign-and-trade
PROGRESS: As with Jefferson in San Antonio, Turkoglu has produced as much ennui as energy in Toronto; nothing embarrassing but not much spark. Even more than Jefferson, his skill set -- he's especially adept at gauging pace and fostering ball movement, and sporadic at best on the defensive end -- mirrors the Raptors' strengths and weaknesses. The Raptors are last in the league in defensive efficiency, and they're slightly worse at that end of the court when Turkoglu is playing. His history with Sacramento and Orlando shows that Turkoglu is a more valuable contributor once he contextualizes his role. A recent minor fracture of the orbital bone beneath his right eye doesn't help. Neither does a career-worst shooting percentage of 40.3.
VERDICT: Turkoglu's playmaking skills, which were on full display during Orlando's run to the Finals last season, will probably increase his value as the Raptors square off against one of the East's elite in the first round. But his ho-hum impact to date enhances the belief that, in basketball terms at least, he erred in choosing the cosmopolitan culture of Toronto over the complementary talent on the roster in Portland, his other major suitor.
Rasheed Wallace, Boston Celtics
HOW ACQUIRED: Free agent
CONTRACT: Three years, $18 million
PROGRESS: How does a 35-year-old joining three stars who are likewise all over 30 show up out of shape? Wallace knew he was supposed to be the missing link for a last-hurrah championship run, the guy who could ease the burden on Kevin Garnett's knees, space the floor with accurate three-point shooting and provide his customary lockdown defense in the paint. It hasn't happened. Wallace keeps chucking up treys -- he's sixth on the team in minutes and second in three-point attempts -- but has made only 30 percent. On defense, the Celtics allow five more points per 100 possessions with him on the court than when he's off it -- worse than Shelden Williams and Glen Davis, let alone Garnett or Kendrick Perkins.
VERDICT: Remember when people were bestowing Boston the mantle of Eastern Conference favorites after this signing? Remember when Wallace himself opined that the Celtics could challenge the Bulls' record 72-win season in 1995-96? Instead, Ray Allen trade rumors are rampant, Paul Pierce and Garnett are nursing various aches and pains and the Celtics look at least as old as their birth certificates. It's not all Wallace's fault, of course, but his lackluster play from the start set the tone for what has been a treacherous season in Boston.
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