Friday, July 20, 2007

Otis Smith's Huge Mistake

On July 3, it was widely reported that Rashard Lewis gave Orlando a verbal commitment that when free agency opened on July 11, he would sign with their franchise. On the first day of free agency, the Orlando Magic signed Rashard Lewis to a six-year maximum dollar contract and renounced the rights to Darko Milicic, who then proceeded to sign with the Memphis Grizzlies. The Magic should be commended for signing a young, wing player like Lewis, who will make a great duo with Dwight Howard. However, Magic general manager, Otis Smith, clearly made a mistake with the way he went about this series of transactions.

Smith was fortunate to be able to get a commitment from Lewis before free agency began. Once he locked up Lewis, Smith decided that he would not be able to afford Milicic, so he renounced his rights allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent and taking away the opportunity to match any offer he receives.

So what’s wrong with this? From the time Lewis committed to Orlando, Smith should have began to either work on a sign-and-trade with Seattle or make a move to trim their payroll by trading away some of their players who are in the last year of their deal. With Lewis' new, large contract coming onto their payroll with Howard and Nelson's new extensions abou to be signed, Orlando needs to consider where they stand. The Magic have three players who are in their last year of their deal and making near $4,000,000 in: Carlos Arroyo, Pat Garrity, and Keyon Dooling. Otis Smith and the Magic could have tried to trade a group of these players to Seattle along with draft picks, or look to trade these players to another team. Moving two of the three of these players would have allowed the Magic to both add Lewis and bring Milicic back.

Instead, Smith did not give himself a chance to put out a Lewis, Milicic, Howard frontline because he unnecssarily renounced the rights to Milicic before he needed to. In the end, the Magic sent Seattle a conditional second-round pick and also acquired a trade exception believed to be in the $9,000,000 range. On July 11, Milicic signed a new contract with Memphis for three years and $21,000,000. So where did Smith make his mistake? If he would have forced Seattle’s hand earlier and let Milicic and his agent, Marc Cornstein, know that he was committed to signing him but needed time, the Magic could have ended up with a great, young frontcourt. Smith got flustered too quickly and renounced the rights to Milicic which essentially was waving the white flag on the possibility of bringing him back. Did Smith really think the SuperSonics would take nothing over something? The Magic would not have been risking losing Lewis because they were going to be paying him significantly more money than anyone else. Lewis would have waited a few days into free agency for everything to work out for his new team.

At the same time, Cornstein and Milicic would have had no choice but to wait for Smith to finalize a deal with the SuperSonics or another team to clear the cap space to bring back Milicic. As a restricted free agent, Milicic was not free to sign with another team without the Magic having the option to match it. At the minimum, Smith should have held onto Milicic and when Memphis wanted to sign him, at least get compensation in return. A future first round pick or a young, post player like Alexander Johnson would have been better than nothing. Johnson is a good leaper and shoots the ball well, but tends to be foul-prone. He played in 59 games for the Grizzlies last season, including a stetch in December where he played well. In the end, the Magic received no compensation for Milicic, after acquiring him last season from Detroit for Kelvin Cato and a first-round pick.

Smith completely dropped the ball here and now Tony Battie, Marcin Gortat, and James Augustine are Orlando's only other big bodies outside of Howard and Lewis. If you add in the critiscm that many have made that Smith threw in an extra, sixth year at close to $24,000,000 for no real reason, the series of transactions becomes even more perplexing. At the end of the day, what could have become a spectacular front line for the next six years, has now become a team that will be struggling to put together a competent rotation.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Is Trading a Superstar Worthwhile?

With so many superstars being rumored to be traded, I wanted to take a look at how this type of acquisition has fared in the past. After examining this, I hope it can be determined based on past history whether the Lakers (Kobe Bryant), Timberwolves (Kevin Garnett), and Pacers (Jermaine O'Neal) should trade their top guys or hold onto them and look to improve the supporting cast.

Let's take a look at the superstars who were traded since 1990:

Charles Barkley
8/19/91: Philadelphia 76ers traded to Phoenix Suns
(Jeff Hornacek, Tim Perry and Andrew Lang)

After the 76ers traded Barkley, they endured five straight seasons of less than 30 wins. It took seven years after trading Barkley for Philadelphia to get back to the playoffs. On the other end, Barkley was the last piece of the puzzle for the Suns. In Barkley's first season in Phoenix, 1992-93, the Suns made it to the NBA finals before losing to the Chicago Bulls. During Barkley's stay in Phoenix, the Suns made it to the playoffs every season. Hornacek only played two seasons with Philadelphia before being traded to Utah. Perry and Lang were non-factors for Philadelphia.
Winner: Phoenix Suns

Jason Kidd
7/18/01: Phoenix Suns to New Jersey Nets
(with Chris Dudley for Stephon Marbury, Johnny Newman, and Soumaila Samake)

Kidd's impact in New Jersey was felt immediately. He teamed with Kenyon Martin, Kerry Kittles, and Richard Jefferson to reach the NBA finals in both the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons. During Kidd's stay, the Nets have made the playoffs each year. Marbury's selfish play handcuffed the Suns' franchise, and they only made the playoffs once during his stay there. None of the other players involved in the trade were contributors for their teams.
Winner: New Jersey Nets

Tracy McGrady
6/29/04: Orlando Magic to Houston Rockets
(with Juwan Howard, Reece Gaines, and Tyronn Lue for Steve Francis, Kelvin Cato, and Cuttino Mobley)

At the end of the 2003-04 season, the Magic decided that it needed to move McGrady in order for them to bring in more talent and get past the first round of the playoffs. In a large, blockbuster deal, the Magic moved McGrady along with others to bring in three players that could start for them. Unfortunately, the trade did not work out for the Magic and they went 21-61 in the 2003-04 season. In retrospect, the Magic should have continued to develop players around McGrady and by now, they would probably be competing to be on top of the East. The trade has not worked overly well for the Rockets because of some back injuries to McGrady. However, the Rockets will look to compete for the title this year.
Winner: Houston Rockets

Shaquille O'Neal
7/14/04: Los Angeles Lakers to Miami Heat
(Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant, and one first round draft pick)

O'Neal and the Magic won the NBA title in 2005-06 and are the winners in this trade. Although Odom, Butler, and Grant were key parts to Miami's success, the opportunity to win a title was too much for them to pass up. Although the Heat at this point look like they are beginning a downward trend in their success as O'Neal ages, I'm sure the Heat would still do the trend knowing they would win a title. The Lakers have not been able to truly contend for the championship since making this trade. There chances were increasingly hurt when they traded Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins for Kwame Brown.
Winner: Miami Heat

Vince Carter
12/17/04: Toronto Raptors to New Jersey Nets
(Alonzo Mourning, Aaron Williams, Eric Williams and two first round draft picks)

Although his hand was forced by Carter's public trade demand, Raptors' general manager at-the-time, Rob Babcock, got twenty-five cents on the dollar for Carter. None of the players that the Raptors got in return for Carter were significant contributors for the Raptors. Meanwhile, Carter was only 28 years old when he was traded to the Nets, and has averaged at least 24 points per game during his time with the Nets. The Nets have reached the postseason during Carter's two full years with the Nets, including an Eastern conference semifinals appearance in 2005-06.
Winner: New Jersey Nets

Baron Davis
2/24/05: New Orleans Hornets to Golden State Warriors
(Speedy Claxton and Dale Davis)

The Warriors acquired a 25 year old scoring point guard when they brought Davis in from New Orleans. Although he has been injured frequently during his time with the Warriors, this past season was a huge success the organization. The Hornets saw salary cap relief through this trade, which later allowed them to bring in Peja Stojakovic and Bobby Jackson. However, Davis is clearly the better player of the three, and the Warriors will look to compete for the Western conference title this year.
Winner: Golden State Warriors

Ron Artest
1/25/06: Indiana Pacers to Sacramento Kings
(Peja Stojakovic)
This trade is the hardest to judge because of what it did for each. At the time, the Pacers hand was forced by Artest's negative attitude. They had to trade Artest and the Kings were willing to take a risk with him. Unfortunately, Stojakovic did not help the Pacers get past the first round of the playoffs in 2005-06 and he then left for New Orleans the next offseason. The Pacers only got 40 total games from Stojakovic. They did receive cap relief when Stojakovic left, but they wasted it on Al Harrington, who eventually was traded to Golden State. This trade really was the end of Indiana's strong run as a title contender. In Sacramento, Artest has struggled to stay focused, and the Kings only won 33 games and Artest struggled to coincide with point guard, Mike Bibby. This season will be a pivotal one for Artest's legacy in Sacramento, but the Kings only project to be a fringe playoff team. At this point, I cannot say that either team benefitted from this trade.
Winner: Push

Allen Iverson
12/19/06: Philadelphia 76ers to Denver Nuggets
(Andre Miller, Joe Smith, and two first round draft picks)

76ers general manager, Billy King, most likely missed his chance to gain equal value for Iverson several times during his career. Last season, the 76ers finally decided to pull the trigger and move him for a group not as talented as him. Miller still has over $19,000,000 and two years left on his contract and Smith left this offseason to join the Chicago Bulls. Philadelphia used both picks that they received from Denver this year and came away with Colorado power forward, Jason Smith, and Vanderbilt guard, Derrick Byars. Denver won 45 games this season and lost in the first round of the playoffs. This season is a big year for the Nuggets, but either way, acquiring Iverson certainly made them a better team.
Winner: Denver Nuggets

So when you look back, it appears that the winning team of each trade has not been the team moving the superstar. Although in some cases the team was stuck and had to move their star for off-the-court reasons, this still has not turned out well for them. In the case of Barkley and Carter, these top-of-the-line players publicly demanded a trade, therefore handcuffing their own team. With Kidd, the Suns were concerned with his image after he was arrested for alleged domestic violence. Orlando felt that the team had reached its peak with McGrady, so they moved him for multiple potential starters. O'Neal was move because a well-documented feud with fellow superstar, Kobe Bryant. In the case of Baron Davis, it was believed that he was not getting along with coach Byron Scott and was often injured. In Artest's case, the Pacers felt like he had become such a distraction that they had to move him. With Iverson, the franchise was falling quickly and the 76ers hope to rebuild without their former star.

Two more all-stars were traded since last season when Seattle moved Ray Allen to the Celtics and Portland taded Zach Randolph to the Knicks. It is too early to tell how these moves will turnout, but based on history, the two teams acquiring these players will most likely come out ahead.

After examining the past, it is obvious that the team trading the superstar is never receiving equal value and that squad struggles for the next several seasons. These superstars tend to get traded for less than fifty cents on the dollar and it hurts the franchise for years to come. The Pacers, Timberwolves, and Lakers need to consider this when they are discussing trade O'Neal, Garnett, and Bryant.

Maurizio Gherardini Helps Bring Success to the Raptors

Last June, the Toronto Raptors hired Maurizio Gherardini to become their team’s vice president and assistant general manager. Gherardini was hired to work under Raptors president and general manager, Bryan Colangelo.

Why was this a significant hire for the NBA? Gherardini became the first European to hold a senior management position with an NBA team. In 1992, Gherardini joined Euroleague's Benetton Treviso and the club has experienced a great deal of success since then. With his leadership, the club became a training ground in Europe, and NBA personnel flocked there to scout players. He led Benetton to four league championships in 1997, 2002, 2003, and 2006. Benetton also won seven Italian Cups, three Italian Supercups, two Eurocups, and four times reached the Euroleague’s Final Four. Gherardini’s squads included NBA players Nickoloz Tskitishvili, Uros Slokar, Jorge Garbajosa, and Andrea Bargnani among others.

Upon hiring Colangelo, Gherardini said, “We are thrilled to have a globally esteemed basketball executive like Maurizio Gherardini join the Toronto Raptors. This is a ground-breaking move for the league, appropriately with the NBA's only true international franchise.”

Additionally, Gherardini was quoted as saying: “What made Toronto very special was actually the real opportunity to enter in some capacity the brainstorming process of an NBA team.”

With the idea that Toronto is not an attractive market for many NBA free agents, it became obvious that Colangelo and Gherardini wanted to add players from overseas in order to improve their team. Bargnani (drafted with the first pick in 2006), Jose Calderon (Spain), Jorge Garbajosa (Benetton), Rasho Nesterovic (Spurs, Slovenia), Anthony Parker (Maccabi Tel Aviv, Bradley), and Uros Slokar (Bennetton) were brought in. This offseason, Toronto traded for Carlos Delfino, who had previously played three seasons with Detroit. Delfino was born in Argentina and had yet to reach his potential with the Pistons.

Colangelo and Gherardini have shown that they properly value the international game and know how to compare values. Players like Garbajosa and Parker are glue guys, and will continue to help the Raptors maintain their playoff stature. Although many of the top players overseas are fans of the NBA, they often do not want to leave a place where they are highly regarded to come to the United States where they are just another player. Gherardini is able to help to sell them on the idea of coming to the league.

Along with helping to attract international talent, Gherardini was also brought in to evaluate the talent here in the states. Colangelo will not be asking him to evaluate the finances of the team and to make decisions based on the league's collective bargaining agreement, but to evaluate the talent that is in the United States and around the globe. This is the aspect of senior management that Gherardini has and will continue to excel at. With Gherardini and Colangelo at the helm, the Raptors will certainly look to improve the Raptors franchise and top last years 47-win seaspm.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

From PR to GM: Wizards' Sheppard likely to be running a team soon

Today I have posted an article that was written by writer Ian Thomsen on March 29, 2007.

The article can be found by going to:

"From PR to GM: Wizards' Sheppard likely to be running a team soon"
Thursday March 29, 2007 7:18PM

In the next year or two Tommy Sheppard will become a role model for all of the college graduates who want to make a career in pro sports but don't know how. A dozen years ago Sheppard was a young nobody with a twanging New Mexico accent who had just been hired as a media relations director by the Denver Nuggets. During his first week he told himself he was going to become a general manager in the NBA.

Now serving as assistant to Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld, Sheppard, 38, is one of the top candidates to fulfill his goal. It will be no surprise if he is running a team by next season.

Sheppard's playing career went no further than as a point guard -- "and not a good one'' -- for St. Pius X High School in Albuquerque. He was a backup free safety at New Mexico State, where he graduated in 1991 and went to work in sports media relations at his alma mater and later at UNLV. Bernie Bickerstaff, who was running the Nuggets, hired Sheppard in 1994 to run their media relations department.

How has a non-player climbed so high in 13 years? The answer is that Sheppard was far more than a press officer in Denver. He was also in charge of player relations, which is a humble title for someone who spent a decade preventing executives, coaches and players from killing one another. It's hard to say that anyone is the best at anything in a business as competitive as the NBA, but trust me on this: No one in the league is more intuitive, understanding or generous than Sheppard.

I am convinced that Kiki Vandeweghe would have kept his job with the Nuggets had he promoted Sheppard to a basketball operations position in 2003-04. It is no coincidence that the relationship between Vandeweghe and owner Stan Kroenke crumbled over the next three years, because Sheppard -- like Jimmy Stewart in It's A Wonderful Life -- wasn't there to fix it, to help each side see things from the other's point of view. After Vandeweghe's departure last summer, league insiders say the Nuggets tried to bring Sheppard back in a quasi-GM role. But instead he signed a three-year extension with Washington as its VP of basketball administration.

"He had a PR background, but he's a good people person and this is a people business,'' says Grunfeld, explaining why he hired Sheppard to work in basketball operations in 2003-04. "He was around the game a long time, he knew lot of people in the game. And he has a good eye, a good feel for the game.''

Grunfeld's "go-to guys,'' as he calls them, are Sheppard and VP of player personnel Milt Newton, who was interviewed to be the Cleveland GM two years ago when the Cavaliers were planning to hire Larry Brown as team president. While Newton's specialty is scouting -- he's a former CBA player who starred for Brown's 1988 NCAA champion at Kansas -- Sheppard hasn't stopped working to develop an eye for talent.

"I'd ask guys like Bernie, 'What are you looking for? What's important? What does this player do well?''' says Sheppard. "And the old scouts, guys like Dick McGuire, Al Menendez, you go to a game and sidle up to them and ask questions.''

How did Sheppard convince himself to pursue a dream that most people would have dismissed as impossible?

"I haven't done the counting lately, but at one time I remember there were 14 GMs who didn't play in the league,'' says Sheppard. "There is no set road that says if you did this, it enables you to work in the NBA. There's more than one way in this business to succeed. The exciting part is there are so many different ways to put things together and be successful. I believe in my heart that this is a people business, and every single player has a story, everybody has something tangible they can offer to help an organization get better.''

Grunfeld is one of the league's most respected basketball executives with a diverse winning record at New York, Milwaukee and now Washington. As a nine-year NBA player he has a rich basketball background, but he has established a model that could also work for Sheppard when he becomes a GM: Grunfeld hires people he trusts, and trusts the people he hires. He filters their evaluations of player talent, and when he decides whom to choose in the draft, free agency or trades, much of his decision is based on chemistry and how a new player will fit with the others on the roster. Those kinds of relationships are Sheppard's specialty.

Jerry Krause -- a non-player -- will go down as one of the winningest GMs in the history of the league with six championship rings in Chicago. Will Sheppard learn to judge pure basketball talent as well as Krause? That remains to be seen. But he will never be the antagonist that Krause was.

Stand in the hallway of any NBA arena with Sheppard for 10 minutes and he will appear to know half of the people who walk by, whether they are famous coaches and players or anonymous equipment managers and video coordinators.

"We were outside the locker rooms the other day and Sam Dalembert [the Haitian 76ers center] walked out and of course he knew Tommy,'' says Wizards P.R. director Zack Bolno. "Eric Hernandez, our Internet guy, said we could walk into the White House and Tommy Sheppard would know everybody's name from the Secret Service.''

He has served as a U.S. Olympic Committee press attaché at the last three Summer Olympics and other events, providing him with an enormous breadth of helpful friendships. He is also well-connected in Europe, where he helped Sarunas Marciulionis form the Northern European Basketball League.

Those who have worked with Sheppard will vouch for his unusual abilities to work with people, to bring out the best in colleagues and resolve problems. Those skills should in turn help him judge the qualities that can serve his team on the court.

"He has a passion and work ethic,'' says Suns coach Mike D'Antoni, who worked with Sheppard while coaching the Nuggets during the 1999 lockout season. "Tommy does things that go beyond the normal stuff, and though he was in media relations he had a big hand -- and knew what was going on -- in the administrative and GM side of things.''

What of the natural criticism that he will lack the expertise to judge basketball talent?

"They always say that if you didn't play. They say how are you going to be able to do it?'' says D'Antoni. "But they can say the same thing about people who did play. There is no science to it. It's all about being around it and doing your homework. A lot of it has to do with surrounding yourself with good people who know how to scout it and work it and have a vision of how to put it together. What you see in successful people is that they come from way, way different backgrounds.''

How many NBA teams turn out to be less than the sum of their parts? They have a lot of talent but don't work well together. When Sheppard is running his own team, he will help fix those problems. He won't eradicate them -- no one can -- but he will help his team reach its potential. If he fulfills his talent for working with people, then everything else -- the acquisition of talent, as well as the relations between front office, coaches and players -- will work more efficiently.

Daryl Morey and the Rockets Keeping Busy

On April 3, 2006, the Houston Rockets named Darryl Morey their assistant general manager. The Rockets planned on Morey eventually taking over the general manager position for the start of the 2007-08 season. Since taking over the job full-time, the Rockets have a great deal of depth and should get past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 1996-97. Since last season, the Rockets have added Mike James, Aaron Brooks, Jackie Butler, Luis Scola, and Carl Landry. Each one of these players adds much-needed depth and the Rockets should be as deep as any other team this season.

James was acquired from Minnesota in the trade that allowed Morey to get out from under Juwan Howard’s contract. James enjoyed success with the Rockets previously when he played 27 games and averaged 12.4 points per game, 2.9 assists per game, and 3.1 rebounds per game. James is a combo guard, who is in a point guard's body, but certainly has a scorers mentality. He is an above average defender who moves his feet well and can pressure the ball. Although he is not the greatest distributor, he has seen success playing both guard spots. He will compete to be the starting point guard and also grab minutes behind Tracy McGrady at the shooting guard spot. Justin Reed was also acquired by the Rockets in this trade and should make the roster out of summer camp.

Aaron Brooks and Carl Landry were picked up during last month's draft. Brooks is a Morey-favorite, who may become the starting point guard in the near-future. Brooks is an undersized guard with great quickness and strong ball-handling abilties. He is an excellent free throw shooter and possesses good fundamentals and a high basketball IQ. He sometimes can be single-minded on the court, but I think the Rockets believe that will change when he enters the league. Landry is an undersized power forward who has great mobility on the court. His post footwork, shooting touch, and soft hands enable him to convert most opportunities in the paint. Head coach, Rick Adelman, will most likely not give Landry many minutes this season, but he could be a factor down the road.

The real steal of the offseason was Morey's acquisition of Scola and Butler. When the Rockets knew that they weren’t going to be able to acquire Rashard Lewis, Morey had the foresight to think outside-the-box. Rather than overpaying veterans like Anderson Varejo, Chris Mihm, or Joe Smith, Morey looked to bring in someone who could provide greater upside. Morey described the addition of Scola by saying, "We saw him as one of, if not the, best option. He's a bit unique. He uses his body to finish around the basket. He's got a midrange game and a great IQ for the passing game. He has a lot of heart. That group of Argentinians he grew up with is as tough as nails and knows how to fit into teams. They're winners. As excited as I am about acquiring him, I don't think I've ever spoken to anyone more excited than he is. This has been a dream of his."

Scola should compete for the starting power forward job with Chuck Hayes and possibly even Shane Battier. Whether he starts or not, Scola will be a very valuable player for the Rockets this season next to center Yao Ming.

Butler was also a nice addition in the trade that also brought Scola to the Rockets. Butler is a developing post player, who is still young and inexperienced. Butler will most likely not see many minutes this year, but should play a key role once backup Dikembe Mutombo retires after this season. The Rockets added Scola and Butler to the team through a cost-cutting trade with the San Antonio Spurs. The Rockets gave up guard Vassilis Spanoulis and a 2009 second round pick in the trade.

At this point, the Rockets will have Rafer Alston, Mike James, and Aaron Brooks at the point guard spot; Tracy McGrady and Luther Head at the shooting guard position; Yao Ming, Dikembe Mutombo, and Jackie Butler will be the centers; Luis Scola and Chuck Hayes should compete to be the starting power forward with Carl Landry backing them up; and Shane Battier as the starting small forward with Justin Reed playing behind him.

The wildcard here is Bonzi Wells. If Wells is in shape, motivated, and willing to not be a distraction, he could be a huge part of the Rockets team this year. Wells will be reunited with his former coach, Adelman. Adelman coached Wells during arguably his most productive season in 2005-06, when he averaged 23.2 points per game and 12 rebounds per game in the playoffs and a steady regular season.

Wells is tough and relentless and could play both the shooting guard and small forward spots. He excels in the playoffs and when he is at his best, he is one of the toughest players in the league to guard. Wells’ prescense would allow Adelman to play both a slower lineup with Yao Ming and Chuck Hayes or a quick lineup which would include McGrady, Wells, Battier, and Scola. Wells has one year left on his contract at $2,284,200 and if he comes into camp with a positive attitude, Adelman and the Rockets will be happy to have him. If not, the Rockets will release him or buy him out of his contract.

Either way, in a very short time, Morey has shown that he is ready to take the reigns and lead the Houston Rockets. With Rick Adelman installed as head coach and a series of other transactions already made this summer, the Rockets are expected to make it past the first round for the first time in Tracy McGrady’s career.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Pre-Draft Individual Workout Videos

The NBA has posted videos on YouTube, which show Kevin Durant, Greg Oden, and Corey Brewer's individual workouts.

Kevin Durant:
Durant's video shows him working with his personal trainer, Eric Hughes, on coordination, ball handling, and agility.

Greg Oden:
Oden's video is comprehensive and shows how well he runs the floor and moves around the basket. The video also showed the Trail Blazers testing his agility, strength, and hands. Throughout the video, you could see his determination, as well as his outgoing personality.

Corey Brewer:
Brewer's video shows him working out for the Milwaukee Bucks. This video shows the Bucks testing his endurance and shooting ability. Additionally, Brewer's confident and bubbly personality is shown in the video.
In this video, the Memphis Grizzlies have Brewer in for a workout with two other players. Brewer is shown doing ball handling and one-on-one drills against Acie Law. His strength and footwork are shown off here in this video.

What does Sam Presti do next?

Newly hired Sam Presti has been busy already this summer, drafting Kevin Durant and Jeff Green, and trading Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. Additionally, Presti was able to acquire Delonte West and a trade exception from the Magic worth $9,350,000.

Although the other team got the better player in the trades of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, Presti was able to acquire some valuable assets and provide flexibility for his team. With Allen, the Sonics were able to create future cap relief, as well as, bring in West who could be promising. West is a lefthander who has a strong outside shot, especially from midrange, and good quickness and athleticism. He's not a natural point guard, however, as it's not his instinct to drive and dish and he doesn't push the ball well in transition. West is better in halfcourt set-ups where he can use his size to shoot over opponents, and he's a very good spot-up shooter when he plays off the ball. He has the tools to be an outstanding defender, but is not quite there yet. The trade of Allen also brought in Jeff Green, who seemingly is a perfect talent to put next to Durant.

Rashard Lewis left as a part of a sign-and-trade with Orlando. The Sonics and Rockets competed with the Magic for Lewis’ services, but in the end Orlando outbid everyone. Many have criticized the Magic for giving Lewis a sixth year in his contract when the Sonics were not going to match the five year offer in itself. Presti was smart enough to realize that overpaying for Lewis would not be smart for the long-term success of his team.

Presti recently was quoted as saying: "The exception has made me the most popular person in the gym (Thomas & Mack Center) the last 24 hours. We have to be smart about how to utilize it. If the right opportunity comes along, we won't hesitate to use it.”

So what is the next move for Presti? I believe that Presti should package some of the assets he has remaining to continue to rebuild the Sonics around his two young wing players. The assets that Seattle has in its pocket include:

*$9,350,000 trade exception from Orlando Magic
The trade exception expires after one year if it has not been used. It can be very valuable in an effort to bring in premium talent.

*Delonte West
2007-08 Contract: $1,889,759
2008-09 Contract: Qualifying offer of $276,282,800
2009-10 Contract: Potentially Unrestricted Free Agent
West could be very valuable to a team looking for an experienced, big guard to add to their backcourt.

*Wally Szczerbiak
2007-08 Contract: $12,000,000
2008-09 Contract: $13,000,000
2009-10 Contract: Unrestricted Free Agent
Szczerbiak has played at a high-level in the past and is a tremendous shooter. His contract likely will be a bigger asset to other teams than his talent.

*Chris Wilcox
2007-08 Contract: $6,500,000
2008-09 Contract: $6,750,000
2009-10 Contract: Unrestricted Free Agent
Wilcox is an outstanding leaper and great finisher around the basket. He rebounds the ball well, but does not bring much to the table from the offensive side and can still improve a great deal on defense. For a team looking to bring in another big body to bring off the bench, Wilcox would be a good fit. His contract expiring after the 2008-09 season would also be attractive to many teams.

*Luke Ridnour
$19,500,000 over the next three years
Ridnour is an experienced point guard having started there since the 2004-05 season. He fell out-of-favor with his coaches in the second half of the season and had a disappointing season. However, he maintains a strong assist-to-turnover ratio and gets to the basket fairly well. The biggest knock on Ridnour in the past has been his poor defense. He has quick hands and decent anticipation, but zero strength, average lateral movement, and can be shot over. He can be a nice addition for a team looking for a point guard who can eat up some minutes.

*21 year old, athletic centers
Robert Swift, Saer Sene, Johan Petro
Each one of these three do not make more than $3,000,000 per season and have great potential. Nobody in the group has played significant time in their career, but were all at one point first round picks. Swift missed last season when he blew out his knee in a preseason game, but in the past he has shown the ability to pass in the post and stay active. Sene most likely has the most upside of the group. He has wowed scouts in the past with his athleticism and shot-blocking ability. Petro is a great athlete, but has not been able to grasp the subtle aspects of offense. He generally looks to dunk the ball around the basket and has shown a decent short hook shot. He needs to develop some more post moves and improve in his team defense.

So, what should Presti do with this group of assets? I would look to acquire more talent to help the progression of Durant and Green. Some options at the point guard position would include: Jarrett Jack, Jose Calderon, Juan Carlos Navarro, and Mike Bibby. In the post, Marvin Williams, Jermaine O’Neal, Shelden Williams, and Drew Gooden may be available.

What would I do if I were Presti? I would offer the Pacers, Johan Petro ($1,077,120), Wally Szczerbiak ($12,775,000), Delonte West ($1,889,760), the $9,350,000 trade exception, and Seattle’s first round pick next year for Jermaine O’Neal ($19,728,000) and Jamaal Tinsley ($6,300,000). This trade would bring the Sonics back a top-knotch post player in O'Neal, who would play a similar role that Tim Duncan has played with the Spurs. A combination of Tinsley and Ridnour at point guard, Jeff Green at shooting guard, Kevin Durant at small forward, Nick Collison at power forward, and Jermaine O'Neal at center would be a great start towards the Sonics climb to the top of the West.

The Pacers should do this trade because of the great flexibility and the specific talents it gives them. The Pacers plan to alter their style of play this year under newly hired coach, Jim O'Brien. O'Brien recently said, "We're going to shoot the 3. I don't know (how often), but we're going to shoot the 3." Additionally, he said, "I can't have enough perimeter shooters." With this trade, he would be getting more perimeter-type players. West would immediately step into the starting point guard spot for the Pacers, and Szcazerbiak would provide the outside shooting they have missed since Peja Stojakovic left in free agency. Also, Petro would be an intriguing player the Pacers would be able to develop.

From a financial prespective, all the players the Pacers would receive in this trade could be off their payroll after the 2008-09 season. Including Tinsley in the trade would also be very attractive to the Pacers. He has four years remaining in his contract and clearly fell out-of-favor with Indiana's management last year. With the Sonics first round pick included in the trade, the Pacers would gain additional flexibility to rebuild their squad.

At this point, there have not been much reports of Seattle making another meeting immediately, but if I were Presti and the Sonics, I would surely go ahead and call the Pacers to try and pry away O'Neal. With O'Neal (28), Green (20), and Durant (18) as their core, the Sonics would definitely contend for the title for years to come.