Quiet deadline reflects new financial reality in NBA
The Sixth Man (cont.)
The Sixth Man (cont.)
The Sixth Man (cont.)
Really? This is all there was?
What became of all the many rumors involving trades of Dwight Howard and Josh Smith, Kevin Garnett and/or Paul Pierce, Paul Millsap or Al Jefferson? How could the biggest name moved Thursday at the trading deadline turn out to be J.J. Redick, the sixth man of Orlando who was sent to Milwaukee at the end of a highly anticlimactic day?
"Overall it was a little bit more of a conservative air in the way people were doing business,'' said Bucks GM John Hammond, who may have been the most ambitious executive in the league Thursday. He ticked off the concerns that prevented most teams from rushing forward -- the demands of impending free agents, the desire to save money, the unwillingness to give away expiring contracts.
The air has been chilled by the new luxury tax rules that will take effect over the next two seasons. We've already seen the new finances influence Oklahoma City's trade of James Harden, and the restrictions could preclude the Heat from keeping their championship team intact beyond next season, and so, in hindsight, it should come as no surprise that the entire league has become obsessed with book-balancing.
"The league is trying to figure it out,'' said Hammond. "It's going to be interesting to see, as we move forward, the decisions that people have to make. Because some difficult decisions are going to have to be made and will be made."
Hammond was aggressive at the deadline Thursday with the understanding that he would be creating difficult decisions for himself. He was trying to acquire the highly respected Redick as well as Smith, the Atlanta forward who was the biggest prize of the deadline -- and, according to league sources, he was trying to do so while holding onto his starting backcourt of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings as well as Larry Sanders, a Most Improved candidate at center.
"We're in a position where we're trying to win, we're trying to be competitive, trying to be a playoff team," said Hammond. "And with the acquisition of J.J., we should be better also to do that and be that. We have an opportunity to have a true three-guard rotation that can stand up with most teams around the league. Do we have the best three-guard rotation in the NBA? If it's not the best, then surely it's in that grouping."
A deal with the Hawks could have left Milwaukee with four top players -- Smith, Jennings, Ellis and Redick -- all headed to free agency in the summer (with Jennings as the lone restricted free agent among them). In recent years, many small-market teams would have run away from such uncertainty, but Hammond was running toward the fire.
The new rules have created interesting ripples. We're conditioned to automatically think of a small-market franchise like Milwaukee as operating from a position of weakness. So why was Hammond emboldened? Because his franchise was operating well below the threshhold of the luxury tax, and because owner Herb Kohl is more interested in winning than in saving money or accruing losing records during a long campaign of building through the draft.
"At the end of the day he was willing to do it," said Hammond of Kohl. "He was on board. He gave us a chance."
The Bucks were in the minority, while the NBA majority -- occupied by players and teams unable to make deals -- was not a happy grouping Thursday. The biggest names who were expected to be dealt all happened to be free agents: Smith, Millsap, Jefferson, Redick. Three of them remained in the same zip code because teams are wary of (1) trading away young cheap assets and (2) making big investments that could lead to unprecedented tax penalties.
Five or 10 years ago, several teams would have been happy to meet the asking price of a max contract for Smith, an explosive 27 year old who can impact the game at both ends. (If you need proof, look back at all of the bad contracts that have been handed out in recent offseasons, including many that have been amnestied since the lockout.) Today, however, Smith may have priced himself out of the market. He may be able to find the money he's seeking this summer, but the cost of trading for him and then paying him was more than teams were willing to bear.
No one wants to give up draft picks or cap space, which together have more value than ever. The old model of one team seeking to dump salary onto a rival with deep pockets has been undermined by the imminent changes in the luxury-tax code. There are more teams seeking to dump, and fewer teams capable of taking on extra salary.
Howard, by far the biggest potential target of this trade deadline, was kept off the market by the Lakers for good reason. A talent like Howard is available only when something is wrong -- such as when the Magic were forced to deal him to Los Angeles because he refused to commit long-term to Orlando. The reason Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak kept receiving calls from teams interested in dealing for Howard is the same reason Kupchak refused to make him available.
Suffering from injuries to his back and shoulder, reeling after two indecisive years that have damaged his professional credibility, and struggling to adapt to a foreign offense as well as the most demanding of all teammates (Kobe Bryant) and franchises, Howard has never seen his value dip lower. Now is the worst time to trade him. He is surely going to be playing at a higher level next season, and why would the Lakers want to enable a rival franchise to acquire Howard and look like geniuses at their expense one year from now?
The other reason to not trade Howard now has everything to do with the changing dynamic of leverage in the NBA. When he becomes a free agent this summer, Howard could choose to leave the Lakers in order to sign with cap-space rivals like Dallas, Houston or Atlanta. But that wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for the Lakers. They could simply replace Howard in the low post with Pau Gasol for one last season, and then celebrate the additional cap space derived from Gasol's expiring $19.3 million salary. In the climate of the new CBA, cap space means everything -- especially in L.A.
This reality has been settling over the NBA with increasing alarm. Mark Cuban and Sam Presti were among the first to recognize what was coming. Now the market is reflecting the fact that the rest of the league is catching on.
The moves last summer of Steve Nash and Howard to the Lakers turn out to have been the blockbusters of the season. Next in importance came the trade of James Harden to the Rockets, which was made by Oklahoma City for tax reasons.
The decision by Memphis to send Rudy Gay to Toronto three weeks ago turns out to have been bigger than anything that happened in the recent 48-hour window. The trades have grown smaller and less ambitious throughout this season because teams have grown more wary and conservative throughout the league.
Which leaves the move of Redick to the eighth-seeded Bucks as the biggest deal of a long, wasted day. Will the Bucks keep Redick as a free agent this summer?
"No question, he's a short-term hire," said Hammond, "but our hope is to make it a long-term fit for him."
And if they can't come to terms with Redick and/or Ellis? Then cap space, in this new era, becomes the ultimate consolation prize.
In non-trade news this week ...
• Derrick Rose's teammates criticized by his brother. After watching the trade deadline pass by without a move by the Bulls, Reggie Rose told ESPNChicago.com: "Joakim Noah is a great player. Luol Deng is a great player. But you need more than that. You have to put together pieces to your main piece. The players can only do so much. It's up to the organization to make them better. ... It's frustrating to see my brother play his heart and soul out for the team and them not put anything around him."
He added that the Bulls have downplayed the possibility that his brother would miss the entire season because they haven't wanted to damage ticket sales: "Everyone is expecting Derrick to come back. If Derrick comes back, they're going to sell more tickets. Is the reason for Derrick to come back to win a championship or make money? Right now, I don't believe a championship. Everything in the NBA is financial."
The Bulls' bench has been weakened by the departure of Omer Asik and other role players. This is, however, a complicated time for all NBA teams trying to make sense of the new CBA, which makes disciplined planning for the long-term more important than ever.
The Bulls tried to downplay those comments, and Rose separated himself from them by putting out a statement of his own. "I have always felt that the Bulls organization's goals have been the same as mine and that is to bring another championship to this city,'' said Derrick Rose on Thursday. That night the Bulls were clobbered 86-67 by the defending champion Heat, whose ninth straight win opened up a 5.5 game over the rest of the East. The Heat are themselves at risk of being broken up after next season because of credible luxury tax concerns.
• Clippers overwhelmed by the Spurs. After hearing speculation that they would be packaged to Boston in exchange for Kevin Garnett (who wanted no part of the deal), DeAndre Jordan generated two points, one rebound and three turnovers in 21 minutes and Eric Bledsoe went 2-for-8 for 5 points in the Spurs' 116-90 bludgeoning of the Clippers Thursday in Los Angeles. The top-seeded Spurs have won five straight and lead the No. 3 Clippers by 5.5 games in the West as Chris Paul experienced a week of extremes, from good to bad ...
• Chris Paul is MVP of All-Star Game. The league's best point guard had 20 points and 15 assists while leading the West to a 143-138 win over the top-heavy East. Those outcomes mean nothing of importance, and yet Paul's recognition continues a trend of rising prominence for him. He is the best player at the league's most competitive position. He is also the leader of the best team (Clippers) in the league's most important building (Staples Center). Is this the year he reaches an NBA Finals? Paul hopes so because, given the mileage on the Clippers' important reserves -- including Chauncey Billups, Grant Hill and Lamar Odom -- there can be no certainty for as much promise beyond this year.
• Kobe blocks LeBron. He did it twice in the fourth quarter of the All-Star Game, once off the ball to blindside a jump shot by James, and then again to stop a James drive. Those plays showed how much the NBA is going to miss Bryant when he leaves. He is the last of his kind: A star who treats the All-Star Game as if it is, in fact, a competitive game.
• Dunk contest is a waste of time. I'll put it this way: When the shooters in the three-point contest appear to be converting with more accuracy than the dunkers, isn't it fair to ask why anyone is paying attention?
• Pacers destroy Knicks. In this meeting of the East's No. 2 and 3 teams immediately after the break, the Pacers clobbered their houseguests with 53 percent shooting and 28 assists. All-Star Paul George (27 points and eight rebounds) outplayed Carmelo Anthony (15 points on 21 shots) as Indiana awaits the return of Danny Granger from a season-long knee injury. Will Granger strengthen the Pacers, or will he destabilize the chemistry they've built around George? The Knicks, with four losses in five games, should wish for such concerns: Yesterday they moved to sign sidelined power forward Kenyon Martin, who has been looking for work all season.
• Grizzlies beat Rudy Gay. Memphis went to Toronto and won its first meeting with the Raptors, who three weeks earlier received Gay in a controversial trade. I've wondered if Gay's departure may demoralize the Grizzlies, but they looked inspired Wednesday while pulling away at the end behind 17 points and 18 rebounds from Zach Randolph. They didn't want to lose to their former teammate, and showed they had moved on to establish goals of their own. "They weren't going to let Rudy get going," said Raptors coach Dwane Casey. "They were double-teaming him on pick-and-rolls, sending help quickly. They made it tough on him."
Gay was 5-for-15 for his 13 points, and in the final 2:11 he had two of his drives blocked and another stripped by Tony Allen, leading to the Grizzlies' fourth straight win overall. I find myself wondering if I'll be proved wrong in criticizing the Rudy Gay trade; could it yet turn out to be good for Memphis?
The 6-foot-9 forward has thrived this season (12.9 points and 10.4 rebounds in 29.4 minutes) as an undersized center for the surprising Trail Blazers, leading to speculation that he would be traded at the deadline Thursday. Like most of the other NBA players who were supposed to be moved, Hickson wound up staying put. Hickson, 24, spent his first two seasons with LeBron James in Cleveland before moving to Sacramento and then Portland.
• He was raised by his grandmother, Marie Myers, in Atlanta. "My mother died when I was like 10 years old. I had to grow up kind of fast. My grandmother had a couple jobs, but the one I remember her having was at the airport. I was the only child, so I think that explains why I'm a little bit of a loner right now. Even though I laugh and joke with the guys in the locker room, when I go home I'll just be by myself. I don't have a girl or any kids or any family members up here with me. It's just me by myself, so I can blame my childhood for that.
"My grandmother was strict overall. She let me be a boy, but at the same time if I messed up or did anything out of the norm, I had to answer to her. That's what kept me on the straight path, knowing I had someone to answer to. I had a couple friends who lived a block away and we used to play basketball out on the street. If I would stay out past a certain time, she would always come to get me, and it used to be so embarrassing. The older guys, they were like, 'Your grandmother just loves you. You're all she's got.' My friends at the time, they knew my story. They understood, but at the time it was so embarrassing. But it was all out of love.''
Miss Marie, as she was known in the neighborhood, also raised another grandchild, Altovice. Six years older than Hickson, she was afflicted by sickle cell anemia. "That was rough growing up and seeing her every day sick, sick, sick. I didn't have a silver spoon in my mouth, and that's why I don't take things for granted -- because of the things that I've seen growing up and the people that's been in my life.
"I was in, I want to say, ninth grade: I came home and my grandmother told me, 'She's gone.' I don't want to say it was expected, but it wasn't surprising at all, just seeing her and what she was going through. I know she's in a better place. That's one of the loves of my life right there.''
• It was after the death of Altovice that Hickson became more serious about basketball. "That was my life, basketball and schoolwork. I wasn't the popular kid in high school because I felt like I was so focused. I didn't go out or have too many friends. I kept a tight circle, and I still have that circle with me today.''
After one season at North Carolina State, Hickson was drafted in 2008 by the Cavaliers with the No. 19 pick. "It was something I had been wanting to do since ninth or 10th grade -- to play in the NBA and become good, become great, in the NBA. I sat down with my grandmother and my circle and I told them this is something I wanted to do. My grandmother let me know her opinion -- she wanted me to stay in school -- but she was like, 'If this is what you want to do, I'm behind you 100 percent.'
Miss Marie moved with Hickson to Cleveland for his rookie season. She has since moved back to Atlanta. "She wants me to graduate, and I told her I would go back. That's something I plan on doing toward the end of my career. But right now I'm just focused on the task at hand -- trying to make these playoffs and just play good team basketball."
• The Cavaliers were the No. 1 seed of the playoffs his first two years in the NBA. "From the outside looking in, you might say it was pressure. But amongst us it was no pressure. We was just doing what we loved to do and we had fun doing it. Unfortunately we came up short with the ultimate goal, which was winning the championship, but those two years that we had the best record? You can't give those years back. That's something that I always remember and it sticks with me now. It's giving me chills about how much fun we used to have. We had great players on that team, great coaching staff, everyone was getting along, there was no problems, we were winning, and those are times you will never forget."
James moved to Miami after Hickson's second year, and Hickson was traded one year later to the Kings. They waived him in March 2012, shortly before he signed with the Blazers. "I never thought I would be put in that position -- to not be playing, or to be on a team like that. I think the important part is that I learned from it [playing in Sacramento], and I hope I'm never in a situation like that. I think I dealt with it well. I have nothing against the organization, and hopefully they have nothing against me, and we all move on, and that's life.
"That experience motivated me. I definitely got into tip-top shape, I definitely worked at my game a lot more, and I was coming into this year with a chip on my shoulder -- and I still have it. My focus has always been the same, but I think with age and wisdom in this league comes being consistent. That's something I struggled with my first three or four years in the league was being consistent. I've had games where I haven't played well, but for the most part I've been consistent [this year], and that's why everyone is starting to notice me becoming a better player.''
Hickson is the smallest of the league's top 10 rebounders this season. "Just got to go get it, man. My will won't let you outwork me. My will won't let you get a rebound. If you think you have a rebound, my will is going to outwill your will.
"I've learned I'm not going to get a ton of plays called for me, and I'm cool with that -- me and coach [Terry Stotts] had a talk and that was understood before the season started. ... Playing against bigger guys, it's tough. But that's something I have to deal with, that's something I get myself mentally ready for, and I accept that challenge night in, night out.''
"You look around at all the trophies. You look at all the parades and all the support that we have and what this organization means, that all came from one man, his vision. His vision transcended the game. It became pop culture. The impact is global."
-- Kobe Bryant on Lakers owner Jerry Buss, who passed away on Feb. 18.
Buss bought the Lakers in 1979 and won 10 NBA championships. There was not a hint of exaggeration in Bryant's appraisal of Buss, which is unusual. But in this case all of it was true.
An NBA scout looks at what did and didn't happen at the trade deadline Thursday.
• On the Hawks' failure to trade Josh Smith: "I don't see that as good mojo going into the playoffs at all, and now they're not going to get any value for him in the summer. It screws them up this year and next year, when they don't get any value out of what is basically their franchise guy. I don't know if they hurt themselves by telling everybody they were going to trade him this week -- if that's true, I don't know if that's a great poker move. It's like Mark Cuban saying 'The bank of Cuban is open': How did that work out for him?
"It's not going to be a good feeling for the Hawks. Based on what I've seen and heard, Josh will be fine when things are good. But if things get bad, I don't think he'll be a joy to be around. He's been that way off and on this year."
• On whether the Clippers should have tried harder to send Eric Bledsoe and DeAndre Jordan to Boston in exchange for Kevin Garnett: "In a perfect world? Yes, I would have done it if you knew KG was going to waive his no-trade clause.
"But you have to figure KG is going to be a two-year guy, and you had to ask yourself, are we going to compete for a championship? Are we going to beat the Spurs or Oklahoma City this year or next year? Because I don't think Garnett has got much to give beyond next year. With Jordan and Bledsoe in their early 20s, you would hope you can trade them down the road and get somebody of value for them, or else you continue to develop them.
"I thought it was a perfect storm with Chauncey Billups being there and the relationship with Garnett and him being an L.A. guy in the offseason -- I thought it would actually work.
"But it appears to me that Garnett doesn't think the Clippers are going to win a championship this year either. Because if he did, then it would have been an easier jump for him. If he could have moved to the Spurs then yeah, maybe he'd be all in; or if it was OKC, maybe he would have said they're right there with a chance to win it. But the Clips? They still have dues to pay, I think."
• On the Celtics' acquisition of 24-year-old guard Jordan Crawford, who was traded by the Wizards despite providing 13.2 points and 3.7 assists in 26 minutes: "I guess if you've had Nate Robinson, you can put up with anybody.
"Nate still can give you something on the defensive end, and Doc Rivers got him to play hard when he was a Celtic. But Jordan is just about Jordan most of the time. I don't think they're going to want him to take any time from Courtney Lee or Jason Terry or those other guys, unless they think he can give them time as the backup point and initiate the offense a little bit. Doc has been good in the past with guys who are hard to coach, and maybe if Jordan is in an environment like Boston's where he doesn't have free reign and there are things he'll have to do, then maybe he'll respond. There was a stretch of maybe 20 games this year where he actually passed the ball and did some good things, and I thought maybe he turned the corner -- he was averaging something like four, five assists. But after that stretch, he just couldn't help himself, and he went back to being what he is."
• On the Bucks' acquisition of J.J. Redick: "If I'm with the Bucks, I'm asking, 'What does J.J. Redick give me? I'm in the eighth seed already. Is he going to help me beat Miami?' They've already got Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings getting all of the shots -- who's going to give up shots for J.J. Redick when he comes in?
"Milwaukee now doesn't have a backup point guard. They traded their only true point guard in Beno Udrih, who is a solid guy who didn't cause problems with their other guys in the backcourt. When they brought Udrih in off the bench they could move Jennings to the off-guard and play them and it would be no issue. Now I don't know who their backup point is. Are you going to rely on Monta to move to point guard?
"They've already got Mike Dunleavy as a scorer off the bench. I didn't see them making themselves any better at all. They're not striking fear in the hearts of people they're competing with for a playoff spot. I thought Orlando actually did better than Milwaukee in the end. Orlando accumulated young assets (Doron Lamb and Tobias Harris) who weren't throwaway players in college, and they got a veteran backup point. They weren't going anywhere, so they got a couple of young guys that they liked."
• On the Kings trading No. 5 pick Thomas Robinson to the Rockets: "If you need a true power forward who can run the floor and competes, he's proven he can be that. I think Sacramento will regret this trade.
"Two of the guys -- Cole Aldrich and Toney Douglas -- basically weren't playing for the Rockets. Robinson can fit into the way they play, because he'll run and play and rebound. They can start him at power forward, he's a low-maintenance guy and Kevin McHale should be good for him skill-wise."
• On Oklahoma City's trade of backup point guard Eric Maynor to Portland: "He wasn't playing for Oklahoma City. Bill Branch [the assistant GM of the Trail Blazers] was in Oklahoma City when they traded for Maynor -- I think he was a fan of Maynor, and a lot of people were intrigued by him. OKC has been committed to developing Reggie Jackson as the backup point because he brings little bit more to the table. Then they also traded for Ronnie Brewer, who gives them wing-defender minutes they'll need if they play Miami down the road."
This team of active players who have been traded around the deadline is named in honor of Redick, the best player to be dealt on what was an uneventful deadline day.
C Marc Gasol -- The Grizzlies were accused of being burgled in 2008 when they sent Gasol's brother to the Lakers, who sped off to the next three NBA Finals and won two of them. But Marc Gasol has turned out to be the best passing center in the NBA, and the Grizzlies are far ahead of Pau's troubled Lakers this season.
F Pau Gasol -- Never mind his troubles this season -- it was still a tremendous trade for the Lakers.
F Carmelo Anthony -- In 2010, the Knicks acquired an MVP candidate in Anthony as well as Billups, who was amnestied the following season in order to make room for Tyson Chandler. Timofey Mozgov, the controversial finishing piece of the trade, is a third-string center for the Nuggets, who have continued to thrive without Anthony.
G Jason Kidd -- In 2008, Dallas signed Keith Van Horn (who would never play) and packaged his salary to the Nets with two draft picks (who would become Ryan Anderson and Jordan Crawford). In return, the Mavs received Jason Kidd, who within three years would lead them to the championship.
G Kyrie Irving -- In 2011, the Cavaliers took on the weight of Baron Davis' contract as well as an unprotected draft pick of the Clippers. That pick went to No. 1 in the lottery and turned into Irving, who is now viewed as an emerging star who may lure LeBron James back to Cleveland in 2014.
C Kendrick Perkins -- He was injured and unable to provide much help to anyone in the months following his 2011 trade from the Celtics. But Perkins has gone on to galvanize the Thunder defense and help them reach an NBA Finals. The man he was traded for, Green, has looked like a great pickup in the aftermath of Rajon Rondo's season-ending injury in Boston.
F Gerald Wallace -- This was a two-sided heist for the Blazers, who in 2011 acquired Wallace from the Bobcats for two first-rounders (Tobias Harris in '11 and another pick upcoming this June) as well three role players. One year later they sent him to the Nets and received a package including a draft pick that would become Damian Lillard.
F Rudy Gay -- Last month Gay was dealt by the new management team in Memphis to Toronto as part of a three-team deal that sent Tayshaun Prince to the Grizzlies. Will the Grizzlies flourish or suffer without their leading scorer? Did Detroit wind up getting the best piece in Jose Calderon from the Raptors? We shall find out.
G Thabo Sefolosha -- In an eventful 2009 trade, the Thunder landed the perimeter defender who would help them reach the NBA Finals, while the Bulls received a draft pick who became Taj Gibson.
G Ray Allen -- Way back in 2003, the Bucks sent Allen, the surprising Ronald Murray, future UConn coach Kevin Ollie and a pick (which became Luke Ridnour) to Seattle in exchange for Gary Payton and Desmond Mason. Payton left Milwaukee after 28 games, while Allen eventually led the Sonics to the second round of the playoffs before he was moved to Boston for the pick that became Jeff Green.
G Deron Williams -- The Jazz shocked the league by sending their star point guard to the Nets in exchange for potential star Derrick Favors, a pick that became Enes Kanter, a future first-rounder and Devin Harris, who was traded for Marvin Williams: A good deal all around.