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Getting my feet wet again, here's a recent salvo re: the NBA trade deadline

 

Upon NBA Stars Changing Places

February 11, 2008 by cgenyce

As the 2007-08 NBA season steams toward the All Star Break, several teams who believe they have a shot at the title have made some high-profile roster moves.

Four big names in the NBA have found new addresses over the past month, as three Western Conference powers  try to knock the San Antonio Spurs from the title perch they regularly inhabit. In this post, I’ll look at the moves made, and their potential championship implications.

Pau Gasol to the Lakers   ( for Kwame BrownJavaris Crittenton, the rights to Marc Gasol and first-round picks in 2008 and 2010)-

This move has obvious benefits for a Laker team which was coming into tis own before big man Andrew Bynum went down to injury. With one of the greatest players in the league in Kobe Bryant, and the coaching of Phil Jackson who does well in constructing a team around superstars, the addition of Gasol makes the Lakers extremely dangerous.  Pau gives 19 points and 9 rebounds per game, and at 7 feet tall plays the center-esque position that is popular in the NBA these days.

If Bynum returns healthy, and mirrors his production from earlier this season, the Lakers top 5 looks like this:

PG- Derek Fisher - 12.6 PPG, .442 3-point %,

SG- Kobe Bryant- if you don’t know, I can’t help you

SF- Lamar Odom - 13.4 PPG, 9.7 RPG

PF- Pau Gasol- 18.9 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 1.4 BPG

C- Andrew Bynum- 13.1 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 2.1 BPG

This starting 5 is right there with any 5 in the league. With reserves like Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton, Ronny Turiaf and Jordan Farmar, the Lakers have a solid team top to bottom. They currently stand at 5th in the West, but stand poised to make some real noise. Los Angeles will be a very tough out in the playoffs.

Verdict- This trade was a slam dunk for the Lakers. It made the team better, and put some worry into other teams in the West. Spurs coach Greg Popovich, for one,  was furious. Giving up mega-bust Kwame Brown and some picks for a legit title shot was a no-brainer. 

Chris Webber to the Golden State Warriors - (signed out of retirement)-

Chris Webber  has returned to the team where his NBA journey began. Webber was drafted #1 overall by the Orlando Magic in 1993, then acquired by Warriors in a draft day trade for Penny Hardaway. He had an excellent first season, earning Rookie of the Year honors. After a nasty feud with then-coach Don Nelson, Webber forced a trade to Washington. Now, after 15 years, and stops in Sacramento, Philadelphia and Detroit, Webber has returned to Oakland.

In an interesting twist, Coach Don Nelson is also back in Golden State, after returning to lead the team to the playoffs last season, complete with a shocking first round upset over the Dallas Mavericks. Both he and Webber insist their feud is in the past. However, moody Webber and cantankerous Nelson may face a challenge this year.

When Nelson arrived in Golden State, he instituted Nellie-ball, a frenetic style of play which emphasizes quantity over quality in terms of shot selection. The goal is to have a shot in the air within 7 seconds of each possession. The roster of the Warriors is stocked with high-energy players who get up and down the floor at a jack rabbit pace. This is a perfect style for the excellent-passing, explosive player that Webber had been for much of his career. The problem is, after having the infamous micro-fracture surgery on his knee in 2005, Webber has rarely looked like that player.

While still putting up a respectable 11.2 ppg last year, while hauling down a very respectable 7.2 rpg, a now lumbering Webber does not seem to be the best match with the Warriors style of play. He is working his way back into game shape, and playing with the Warriors is like jumping onto a treadmill going 20 miles an hour.

Verdict- Webber still has size, experience, great passing skills and vision, and a jump-shot. He is coming out of retirement, so the Warriors didn’t have to give up anything but money. They are risking something in the team chemistry department, as minutes which formerly went to others must now come to Webber if he is going to be effective.  Webber was a solid edition to the Pistons during their run to the Eastern Conference Finals last year, and if he can catch on to the Golden State way, the results could carry them past Round 2 this year. Low risk, decently high reward potential. Most likely though, the West is a bit too loaded for the Warriors to make much noise.  

And finally, the biggest move since Garnett to the Celtics

Shaquille O’Neal to the Phoenix Suns for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks

Wow, this one caught a lot of people by surprise. It was no secret that Marion was not happy with the situation in Phoenix, and that there has been an alpha-dog fight between him and Amare Stoudemire. In fact, Marion was on record last year questioning whether he would prefer to be a role player on a championship team, or the main guy on an average team.

Regardless of the reasons for Marion wanting out, we are talking about a guy who was being considered as a straight-up swap for KG, or a talent and cap room trade for Andre Kirilenko. Then the word came down that Marion was headed to Miami for Shaq….

By anyone’s reconing, even despite his injuries, Shaq is a shadow of his former Wilt Chamberneezy self. Father Time has a way of bringing all players back to the fold, and Shaq’s policy of playing his way into shape was bound to have reprocussions on his body. ESPN columnist Bill Simmons remarked earlier this season that Shaq looked like he had been showering in concrete before games. O’Neal was never an 82 game-a-year player; because of the immense physical toll that playing the way he does and being guarded the way he is takes on his body. However, after a rejuvenated “I’ll show you!” year his first season in Miami, his points, rebounds, blocks, minutes per game and games played have been in a steady decline.

So what is Phoenix getting in Shaq? He did follow through on his promise of delivering a championship to Miami, helped out by a yeoman’s effort from Dwyane Wade (and some well-timed whistles from the refs). He also gave the Heat an MVP season in 2004-2005, though the trophy was presented to his new teammate Steve Nash. His “screw Kobe” mentality fueled him to 23 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 2.3 bpg, and a .600 field goal %. Can the Suns hope for a similar result?

Much like the aforementioned Chris Webber, Shaq is joining a go-go-go Phoenix team that burns up the hardwood and lights up the scoreboard. Shaq as he is today does not seem to be able to play at that tempo. The only thing might make one believe that he can fit in is if he has one more round of ego-fueled renaissance left in him.  But what if the Suns also work to fit in with Shaq. The loss of Marion will hurt the Suns, as he does many things very well. But can they replace him with parts? With shaq in the middle gobbling rebounds, Amare can stop playing out of position, where he admits he was less than comfortable. The lob-dunks that Marion soared for can turn into Shaq dunks on the block, and the three-point shooting from Marion can turn into and-1s for Shaq (more for opponent foul trouble than the unlikely Shaq free-throw conversion).

Where Phoenix has run into trouble in the playoffs has been when an opponent has slowed them down and forced someone to beat them in the half-court. This is an area where a still-healthy Shaq can turn the tide. steve Nash is a master-distributor, and always hits an open man. Shaq has excellent hands and can still do work around the basket. Shaq can not jump like he used to, and the once-unthinkable block of a Shaq dunk in the paint has happened. With Steve Nash driving and either scoring or kicking to a jump shooter, a defense has to sag in the middle and pressure the wings. This leaves the door wide open for a Nash foray to the rim followed by a wrap-around pass to a waiting Shaq for the hammer.  Like so.. (sorry, Youtube link didnt come across)

  

Post-defense is another area where Shaq has not lost everything he once was. The centers in the West: Bynum, Yao, Dampier, Camby, Oberto/Duncan…etc, will not body Shaq on the block. With an explosive leaper like Amare providing weak-side help, shot-blocks that used to go to Marion on Stoudemire’s man will not go to Amare on Shaq’s man.

On the Miami side, the Heat get a point guard in Banks who never got a chance to play behind Steve “Mr. Durable” Nash, and Leandro Barbosa. Jury is still on him. In Marion, they are getting another freakish athlete to complement Wade. Marion does everything on the floor, both offensively and defensively, and works just as hard as Wade. He has a $17.5 million dollar player option for next year, which it would make the most sense for him to exercise. If his numbers hold, Marion is immediately the second leading scorer on the Heat, and by far the leading rebounder and shot-blocker. With Jason Williams, Udonis Haslem, Ricky Davis and Daequon Cook, Marion and Wade have some athletes to run with. The team still lacks a dead-eye shooter, but they have freed themselves some money from the Shaq contract to look for one. This season for Miami was long over anyway.

 Verdict: Contingent on Shaq’s health, this could be a big deal for the Suns. Adding some power to the Suns finesse, with whatever is left of possibly the most dominant big man of all time could be the move that puts Phoenix over the hump. If it doesn’t, people will question why a past-his-prime Shaq was the best that general manager Steve Kerr could get for an on the court glue guy like Marion.

PS- In the midst of these blockbuster deals, the San Antonio Spurs continued to fly under the radar and signed veteran point guard Damon Stoudamire while Tony Parker struggles with injury. The Spurs don’t make the BIG moves, but they usually make the right ones.


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