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'Q' saga shows what NBA teams truly value

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Randy Hill

Veteran columnist Randy Hill is a frequent contributor to FOXSports.com.
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"Have expiring contract, will travel" reads the calling card of several men currently working in the NBA. But this year's howling example is Quentin Richardson, who has experienced more scene changes than the Stanley Cup during the summer of 2009. While shooting his way to within a year of free agency, "Q" has become the defining character in a league that waits to balance its books before assessing the balance of on-court power.
Have these financial variables created league-wide instability? Or do they represent the best anyone can muster given the prevailing circumstances? Before we take on those questions, let's take a not-exactly-quick inventory of Richardson's dip into welcome wagon hell. OK, we're trotting back to June 25, a simpler time when "Q" was employed by the New York Knicks as a shooting guard who somehow managed to go from being an Adrian Dantley type in college to a really mediocre Dell Curry impersonator. Richardson, who has one year and a bit more than $9 million remaining on a contract that should be credited to the Phoenix Suns and Mike D'Antoni's system, was swapped on NBA Draft day for notorious Memphis Grizzlies center Darko Milicic. Darko, it should be noted, has one year and $7.5 million left on his deal, which suggests that this really smells like a basketball-related trade for the otherwise cap-clearing Knicks. So, those types of transactions aren't extinct, after all. Let's fast forward to July 8. With the firecracker smoke still in his nostrils, Q is traded to the Los Angeles Clippers (his original NBA team) in exchange for the huge contract and voluminous baggage of 20-and-10 machine Zach Randolph. The teams weren't required to come with 10 percent of each other in salary swaps because the Grizzlies were under the salary cap and seemed content to use that space on Randolph. Almost two whole weeks later, the Clips used Q's contract to bring in three inexpensive pieces from the Minnesota Timberwolves; two of those depth-creating players are Craig Smith and Sebastian Telfair. The third, Mark "Dancing Machine" Madsen, would come in handy if the Clips somehow manage to win the NBA championship and actually spring for a parade. On Aug. 13, the T-Wolves used Richardson to snag backup center Mark Blount (and his expiring $7 million contract) from the Miami Heat. If he remains with the Heat, Q will attempt to earn his living sniping from long range after kick-outs from Dwyane Wade. Anyway, while the four trades of Richardson include some moves with minor on-court ramifications, he certainly isn't the only player moved this summer for the sake of salary. The list of dump-ees includes the great Shaquille O'Neal, who's taking his expiring, $20 million contract to Cleveland, where the Cavs were delighted to jettison high-priced Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic to Phoenix. The Atlanta Hawks were able to acquire Jamal Crawford for Acie Law and Speedy Claxton when the Golden State Warriors decided two more years and almost $20 million was too much to pay for Jamal. The Milwaukee Bucks keep insisting their trade of handsomely remunerated Richard Jefferson to the San Antonio Spurs wasn't a salary dump ... and we'll let them keep believing it. It certainly will be interesting to see how these cost-effective maneuvers will influence what occurs on the court. If recent predecessors to these dump deals can be used as reference points, the impact could be huge. Our obvious choice for demonstration purposes was the Grizzlies' trade of relatively pricey Pau Gasol to the Los Angeles Lakers for the expiring contract of Kwame Brown and two other prospects (including Gasol's little brother Marc). The acquisition of Gasol made the Lakers a top-tier team and — more importantly — made Kobe Bryant happy. Another important salary dump was made early last season by the Denver Nuggets, who rid themselves of Allen Iverson and his expiring deal worth a getaway $21 million. Iverson was traded to the Detroit Pistons, who didn't mind having that kind of loot coming off their books (they used the space to snag Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva in free agency). The Pistons had to part with leader Chauncey Billups and some contractual ballast named Antonio McDyess (yes, a fine player) to acquire A.I. The Pistons had convinced themselves that Billups' best days were in the rear-view mirror. The Nuggets, on the other hand, expected Chauncey to be a much better play-making fit than Iverson, but had no idea he'd come in and turn into the NBA version of Gandhi. Billups was so good in a leadership role that Denver fans forgave the franchise for trading defensive ace Marcus Camby to the Clippers for pocket lint. But sometimes these cost-cutting measures leave a bitter taste in the mouths of fans that's hard to remove. For example, the thrifty Phoenix Suns waved bye-bye to their only post defender, Kurt Thomas, in a 2007 deal with Seattle that also cost them two conditional first-round picks. It should be noted the Suns have coughed up several first-round selections that yielded fine players to other teams in exchange for cap relief ... before the Suns brought in a cap buster like Shaq. Yeah, the practice of trading players with little or no regard to on-court consequences can be pretty unseemly. And it's not too difficult to imagine that salary cap and luxury tax crises can compromise the integrity of the league. Sure, the Grizzlies' cap-conscious gift of Gasol was a nightmare for the legion of Laker-haters. But without variables like the salary cap and luxury tax, teams like the Lakers would be able to hoard even more talent than they already have. Since Y2K, 11 teams have competed in the NBA Finals. That's not exactly a shout out to parity, but with one great player capable of keeping a team viable for many years, things could be a lot worse. The efficacy of cap-and-tax systems throughout professional sports can be debated from now until kingdom come. But it's hard to argue against the notion that the teams with the sharpest personnel employees will find a way to prevail in spite of any system. Perhaps Quentin Richardson will be able to play for one of these franchises some day.
Tagged: Hawks, Cavaliers, Nuggets, Pistons, Warriors, Clippers, Lakers, Heat, Bucks, Timberwolves, Knicks, Suns, Spurs, Grizzlies, Antonio McDyess, Ben Wallace, Quentin Richardson, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Chauncey Billups, Richard Jefferson, Kurt Thomas, Marcus Camby, Zach Randolph, Kwame Brown, Pau Gasol, Jamal Crawford, Sasha Pavlovic, Ben Gordon, Sebastian Telfair, Charlie Villanueva, Craig Smith, Acie Law

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