Which team will swing the next big deal?
“I am easily satisfied,” Winston Churchill once said, “with the very best.”
Churchill, it turns out, might’ve made a heck of an NBA executive for these times when there is no tomorrow (literally, given the coming labor strife) and when such an open opportunity for success today. Entering this NBA season, Miami in the East and the Lakers in the West seemed to some the prohibitive favorites. But as we approach the one-third mark of the schedule, there is plenty of elbow room for other contenders.
So, Orlando just elbowed its way nearer the top in the on-paper talent-collecting business with its dual trades that bring to the Magic erstwhile superstar Gilbert Arenas from Washington and three additions from Phoenix in deals that jettison fading standouts Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis.
“As always,” says Dallas GM Donnie Nelson, “about this time of year it becomes a basketball version of an arms race.”
Nelson knows. His Mavericks have completed blockbuster February deadline trades in two of the last three winters, acquiring the likes of starters Jason Kidd, Caron Butler, DeShawn Stevenson along with backup center Brendan Haywood.
And the Mavericks are thinking of doing it again.
Should they? Are there contending teams that would be wise to “Stand Pat” and others that would be more legit if they’d “Shake It Up?”
We’ve got teams in each category and one special distinction for new-look Orlando:
1. Mavericks: On Friday, DallasBasketball.com cited two sources in reporting that the center-starved Rockets (possibly facing life without Yao Ming) are “eyeing” Mavs center Brendan Haywood. Maybe not coincidentally, the site reported that the Mavs “covet” Houston’s Kevin Martin.
Those aren’t trade talks. … not yet. But Dallas’ involvement here is indicative of owner Mark Cuban’s endless push for his team to be “the next big thing.”
But there needs to be deep evaluation of change here. Nelson says, “One of our top intentions is to not mess with an incredible chemistry,” and who can blame him? Dallas is 21-5 and has won 14 of 15.
Martin has a very efficient offensive game. Consider three standout stats:
* He’s back up over 40 percent from the arc.
*Entering the weekend he was leading the league with 195 made free throws – that’s more than Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry combined!
*Dirk’s having one of the best shooting seasons of all-time on the mid- and long-range 2-pointer. So far he’s averaging 1.47 points per field-goal attempt. Kevin Martin’s ability to take and shoot the 3-pointer (56 makes; Kidd is the Mavericks leader with 42) combined with his free throws has him at 1.58 points per field-goal attempt.
The Mavs’ original plan was sound: Assemble a team of bigs (led by Tyson Chandler and Haywood) that could be difference-makers in the playoffs against the long Lakers. And then keep the trade powder dry in order to maybe hit a Carmelo Anthony-level home run.
If Dallas did a deal like this, it would be in the hopes that Martin is ‘Melo, it would be to the detriment of Dallas’ surprisingly stout defense (that end of the floor isn’t Kevin’s bag) and it would require the Mavs to hand the No. 2 center job to the unproven Ian Mahinmi.
We say that at this time, all of that means there isn’t reason enough to make a change – and we say that with the full knowledge that Haywood (with his new contract) hasn’t yet contributed much.
The Mavs are 26th in the league in offensive rebounding percentage. That needs to change. Who might change that? Haywood, who was third in the league last year in offensive rebounds and second in offensive rebound percentage in 07-08 and 09-10.
2. Lakers: Simply put, the defending champs do not need to bother with such matters.
LA this week acquired an extra big, Joe Smith, in the three-team deal involving the Rockets and the Nets. Moved out was Sasha Vujacic, no longer in favor with the club and a financial burden.
Yes, the Lakers can do a salary dump and not get criticized for it.
3. Celtics: Delonte West goes down. Shaq goes down. Jermaine O’Neal goes down. Now Rondo’s gone down.
Boston, off to a 21-4 start and fortified with a “been-there/done-that” mindset — doesn’t flinch.
GM Danny Ainge and coach Doc Rivers have assembled a cast of extremely malleable parts. That malleability may experience some stretching during upcoming moments … the other night, Nate Robinson and Turkish big man Semih Eerden started and Avery Bradley and Luke Harangody were elevated to rotation-level players … but Boston understands that December is something to endure on the way to June.
SHAKE IT UP
1. Knicks: The Knicks are relevant. Relevant enough to appear twice in three days on ESPN’s prime-time telecast. Relevant enough to be on the coattails of MVP candidate Amare Stoudemire. Relevant enough to have almost beaten the Celtics. …
But as the Knicks will learn, it is much easier to vault from “lousy to good” than it is to climb from “good to great.” Getting credit for “almost beating the Celtics” in a home game at Madison Square Garden isn’t quite the foundation of a title contender.
But trading for Carmelo Anthony is.
New York doesn’t have swap-worthy pieces on the same level with New Jersey. (Or, for that matter, with Dallas, which would trade a kitchen sink of assets for ‘Melo, even without him signing an extension.) But ‘Melo has leverage here, because of his impending free agency.
The Knicks need to “Shake It Up” – but they need ‘Melo to grab hold and help with the shaking.
2. Bulls: The dam is about to burst … and maybe the Chicago bubble is, too.
The Bulls survived this first third of the season without the services of Carlos Boozer, and just as he returned from injury, now fellow big Joakim Noah will likely miss nine weeks following thumb surgery.
Bulls GM Gar Forman tells the Chicago media that the team might seek a small deal and a “short-term replacement” while endorsing the potential of backups.
“It’s an opportunity for Omer (Asik) to play some,” Forman said.
There is a window of opportunity here for the Bulls. If they have trade ammunition, they might consider asking someone besides Omer Asik to keep that window propped open.
Magic: Like their Western counterparts in Dallas, the Magic have spent considerable time at the lip of the cup of excellence; Dallas was in the NBA Finals in 2006, Orlando in 2009. And like the Mavericks, the Magic generally spare no expense and fear no risk.
"I circled the West Coast trip on our schedule a long time ago," Orlando GM Otis Smith said. "The West Coast trip, to me, was going to decide whether or not we’re going to either fix our woes or continue down the same path. I don’t think we’ve played particularly well leading up to the West Coast trip. So, we were on the West Coast trip and some of our woes continued, so you start to explore opportunities that are out there."
What happened to the Magic on that roadie? Lose three of four on the trip, a continuation of a skid that saw the Magic lose five of six games. So, with Dwight Howard as the constant centerpiece of a potential title contender, Smith had the option to “Shake It Up.”
He pulled the trigger on a deal with Washington that brings Arenas to town (in exchange for Lewis). In doing so, Orlando takes on a one-time star dogged by controversy and a contract that pays him $62 million in the three years following this one.
And the Magic did the same on a multi-player deal to get from Phoenix the threesome of Jason Richardson, ex-Magic Hedo Turkoglu and Earl Clark (pieces of a Suns team that never fit together) while giving up Carter, Marcin Gortat, Mickael Pietrus, a first-round pick and cash.
Why should Orlando make changes? Weren’t the Magic – despite their recent struggles a 16-9 team with the fourth-best winning percentage in the conference — pretty good as previously constructed?
Because as with Winston Churchill, for some teams, “good” isn’t good enough.