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Tragic Kingdom

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Tragic Kingdom

Yeah, I know, the Dwight Howard trade happened a week ago, but in my defense, that’s how long it took for me to pick my jaw up from off the floor. I mean, seriously, did you SEE this trade? First of all, star players NEVER get traded in four-team deals like this. Just look at the last 10 years or so of star players getting traded – Steve Nash (2012), Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams (2011), Pau Gasol, Jason Kidd, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen (2008), Allen Iverson (2006), Vince Carter, Shaquille O’Neal, Tracy McGrady (2004) – I mean, feel free to stop me when you see a trade that even involves three teams, let alone four. Carmelo’s deal was technically a three-team trade, but Minnesota was only peripherally involved.
There’s a reason four-team trades rarely happen – they’re pretty [expletive deleted] complicated. But a four-team trade that involves three guys that were All-Stars last season? I have no words. My gast is flabbered.
Here’s the other part that confuses the hell out of me – think back to the trades that those star players were involved in – or, more specifically, the players and picks that they were traded for.
Chris Paul was traded for Eric Gordon and a lottery pick that turned into Austin Rivers. Carmelo Anthony was traded for Danilo Gallinari (a lottery pick two years before), Wilson Chandler, Ray Felton (who was since flipped for Andre Miller), Timofey Mozgov, and three picks. Deron Williams was traded for Derrick Favors (the #3 pick in the previous draft), Devin Harris, plus another lottery pick that turned into Enes Kanter. Pau Gasol was traded for a huge expiring contract (Kwame Brown) plus the rights to Marc Gasol. Kevin Garnett was traded for a huge expiring contract (Theo Ratliff), plus Al Jefferson. Ray Allen was traded for a huge expiring contract (Wally Szczerbiak), plus a lottery pick that turned into Jeff Green.
Then Dwight Howard was traded for Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless, Christian Eyenga, Josh McRoberts, a 2014 first-round pick from Denver, a 2015 first-round pick from Philadelphia, and a 2017 first-round pick from Los Angeles. Not one expiring contract, not one lottery pick, and not one starter-quality player from a recent draft. Then also remember that Dwight Howard is better and more valuable than every player I just listed there (with the possible exceptions of Chris Paul in 2011 and Kevin Garnett in 2008).
When trading a star player, a team can either try to (A) get back enough talent to remain competitive (like Denver did with the Carmelo Anthony trade), or (B) clear salary, get back draft picks/young players, and bottom out (like Utah did with Deron Williams and New Orleans did with Chris Paul). Orlando did none of those things.
As a matter of fact, this trade is actually going to COST them money in the long run. Beyond this season, Afflalo, Harrington, and the other pieces will actually be more expensive than the other players Orlando dumped in the deal, Jason Richardson and Chris Duhon. Those two players would have cost Orlando $16.8 million in 2014 and 2015, meanwhile, Afflalo and Harrington will cost Orlando a combined $38 million through 2016. When you factor in the salaries of all the other players, it pushes close to $60 million.
Now, this would not be such a huge deal if Afflalo and Harrington were valuable pieces that will factor into Orlando’s rebuilding effort. Unfortunately, they aren’t, and they won’t. Orlando will likely bottom out this season, land a top-5 draft pick, and probably have a pick of similar value in 2014 as well. However, even with two back-to-back premium picks, Orlando will not really be a contending team until 2016 at the earliest, assuming both of those picks pan out (which they might not even do). By that time, Harrington will be 36 years old, in his 18th season in the league. The likelihood of him offering any value is effectively zilch. Afflalo will be 31 and likely in decline.
Get the picture yet? Afflalo and Harrington offer Orlando no value over the next three years (as they are tying up salary while not helping Orlando improve), and they aren’t providing any value beyond that, as they will be in serious decline by the time Orlando is ready to contend again.
In other words, Orlando traded away probably the third-best player in the league, and in doing so, agreed to pay $43 million over the next four years for the rights to Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless, Josh McRoberts, Christian Eyenga, and three future picks that will likely be in the mid-20s. That’s the whole trade when you really break it down.
Now, is it just me, or does that sound like one of the worst trades in the history of professional sports? It becomes even more suspect when you consider the other trade offer that was on the board. Earlier in the summer, Houston was offering to send Orlando Kevin Martin’s expiring contract, a guaranteed lottery pick from Toronto, a pick from Dallas that has the chance to be completely unprotected in 2018, one of their own picks, plus one or two of their young prospects, such as Jeremy Lamb, Royce White, Terrence Jones, Marcus Morris, Patrick Patterson, or Donatas Motiejunas. Now, just getting one of those players might not be as good as getting Harkless, Vucevic, and Christian Eyenga, but when you factor in the trade with Houston would cost close to $50 million less over the course of the next four years, Orlando could have easily used that money to buy a slew of first-round picks that often become available when teams are trying to avoid guaranteed contracts.
The trade with Houston would have allowed Orlando to bottom out right away while also presenting them with far superior draft considerations, as well as far superior salary cap relief. The only way to justify the Howard trade as it happened would be if having Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington for the next three years presents a clear advantage, but for a team that is rebuilding, they provide no salary-cap relief and no help in securing a high draft pick.
An important aside here – my criticism of this trade is in no way related to the fact that Dwight Howard ended up on the Lakers. In fact, in the trade that involved Houston, Howard still would have likely ended up in Los Angeles, with Andrew Bynum going to the Rockets. I have no problem with Howard going to Los Angeles, considering they gave up Andrew Bynum and were forced to take on Chris Duhon’s contract. That’s about as fair as a trade can get. I’m criticizing Orlando for taking pennies on the dollar for one of the best players in the league, especially when (A) there was a superior offer available, and (B) the trade deadline isn’t until February. It wasn’t the Lakers that threw this trade out of whack, it was Denver and Orlando.
Denver made out like bandits in this deal. The dirty little secret about Afflalo is that he didn’t really bring much to the table. When he played, Denver was about two points better than their opposition per 100 possessions. When Afflalo was on the bench, however, that number spiked to +7.7 per 100 possessions. His two biggest strengths, shooting and defense, were actually two major points of regression last season for him. His three-point shooting dropped from 42.3% to 39.8%, and he took major steps back defensively. In 2010, he was very strong defending spot-up shooters (55th in the league in opponents points per possession), and screen-roll ball handlers (16th in the league), and repeated that success in 2011 (top third in the league in both categories, as well as isolation plays). However, in 2012, he ranked just 218th in isolation defense, 192nd in screen-roll defense, and 344th in spot-up defense. That’s one of the major reasons Denver dropped from 16th in the league in defensive efficiency to 20th. With Andre Iguodala now taking over many of those minutes as the team’s primary perimeter defender, Denver’s defense should be much improved.
Trading Harrington also opens up more minutes at power forward, where Denver had a bit of a logjam. They definitely wanted to more playing time for Kenneth Faried and newly acquired Anthony Randolph, but I assume they also wanted to create more opportunities for Danilo Gallinari at power forward. Gallinari played primarily small forward last year, and Denver was successful with him there, outscoring opponents by about 5.4 points per 48 minutes, but he was even more deadly as a power forward. In the 380 minutes he played at power forward last year (according to 82games.com), Denver outscored their opponents by 92 points, which equates to over 11 points per 48 minutes. Gallinari’s size allows him to defend most 4’s (with the exception of truly elite post scorers, like Pau Gasol or Blake Griffin), and his ball handling is a nightmare to defend on the other end for opposing big men.
The angle that I’m still not sure about is Philadelphia’s. This is a team that was built on speed and covering ground on defense, and they just traded the catalyst of their defense for a slow, plodding center who was constantly exposed in screen-roll defense. Something about that tells me there might be a few problems.
After Philly let Lou Williams walk earlier in the summer, the two best players that remained on their roster were Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young. They complimented each other incredibly well, with Young finding seams in the defense and Iguodala finding him with passes for easy baskets. The duo worked especially well with Spencer Hawes, who is an adept passer from the high post.
Now Young is going to be forced to play next to Andrew Bynum, who has severe limitations as a passer and isn’t particularly effective unless he’s playing with his back to the basket. This is a nightmare for Young, who doesn’t space the floor especially well, and isn’t very good at creating his own shot. Adding Hawes to the mix won’t help either, because it would force Young to play small forward, where he is even less effective. Young’s game is based on being faster and more nimble than his counterpart – it’s the reason he’s so effective as a power forward – but those advantages wouldn’t exist if he played extended minutes at small forward.
In fact, the last time he did play extended minutes at small forward was 2011, and the results were rather disastrous. In 590 minutes at small forward in 2011, Young posted a Player Efficiency Rating of 13.9 (15.0 is league average), and Philly was outscored by about 7.3 points per 48 minutes. When he played power forward, about a 1400 minute sample, his PER was 20.7, and Philly outscored their opponents by over 9 points per 48 minutes.
Because of the roster moves, however, Young is going to have to play extended minutes at small forward, as well as extended minutes next to Andrew Bynum, and possibly both at the same time, which doesn’t bode well.
The rest of the Sixers’ roster is an equally peculiar fit next to Bynum. Their floor spacing is likely to be a major problem, particularly when Evan Turner is out on the wood, and they lack anyone outside of Jrue Holiday that has any hope at creating shots for others.
Without Iguodala wreaking havoc in the passing lanes, Philly is likely to force fewer turnovers, which in turn will limit their ability to get easy baskets in transition. Having a slow, plodding center like Bynum will also limit that. Offensively, one of the things that kept them afloat last year was their shockingly low turnover rate. Philly turned the ball over on just 10.9% of their offensive possessions last year, which led the league. In fact, the distance between Philly and the 2nd-place team, the Clippers (12.7%), was the same as the distance between the Clippers and the 24th-ranked Magic (14.5%). The main reason for that is the Sixers ran many of their possessions through players who didn’t generally turn the ball over, like Lou Williams, Jodie Meeks, Elton Brand, and Nikola Vucevic. The problem going forward? None of those guys are on the team anymore. Some of their new additions (Nick Young, Dorell Wright, Jason Richardson) don’t turn the ball over much, but Bynum does – he turned the ball over on 13.9% of his offensive possessions last year. Additionally, many of the possessions that involved Lou Williams (7.2% turnover rate) initiating offense will be turned over to Holiday, who had a 13.2% turnover rate.
Is that an indictment on the trade? No, not particularly, but limiting turnovers was really the one thing keeping Philly even respectable on offense last year. They were 25th in True Shooting percentage, 25th in offensive rebound rate, and dead last in foul rate. If they regress even to the league average in terms of turnovers, they could go from being a poor offensive team to an abysmal one. Bynum will help them in terms of foul rate and offensive rebounding, but he’ll likely actively hurt their floor spacing.
If Bynum agrees to re-sign in Philadelphia next summer, that will give the Sixers a larger window to tailor the team around him. But in the short-term, I’m not convinced the trade makes them better.
Final Consensus: Big Winner – Denver Consolation Winner – Los Angeles (for obvious reasons) Loser – Philadelphia Big Loser - Orlando
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Even one week later, NBA writer Jeremy Conlin still can't believe the Orlando Magic made this trade.

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