Friday, February 22, 2008

Mitch Kupchak Makes the Lakers a Contender

"Put up or shut up, Kobe"
February 5, 2008
Stan McNeal

Mitch Kupchak is too dignified to gloat. But when the Lakers became legitimate title contenders in one stunning move last week, no one would have blamed Kupchak if he'd dialed up Kobe Bryant and said, "OK, hotshot. Now it's your turn."

After all of his whining and trade demands, Kobe finally has what he has wanted for years: the chance to be the main man on a championship team. For that, he can thank Kupchak. As productive as Kobe has been on the court, the Lakers' general manager has been more valuable to the franchise off of it. Consider what he has done in the past year or so:

•He refused to trade Andrew Bynum before and after Kobe was caught saying, in a profanity-laced rant, the Lakers should ship the young center out.

•He found a way to bring back starting point guard and team stabilizer Derek Fisher.

•He assembled one of the best benches in the league, a unit comprised mainly of late first- round and second-round picks.

For his crowning achievement, Kupchak traded for 7-foot forward Pau Gasol last week. To get Gasol, a one-time All-Star who averaged 18.9 points for the Grizzlies this season, Kupchak did not have to give up a single one of the Lakers' top 10 players.

League execs from coast to coast were shaking their heads in amazement. "That came out of nowhere. Absolutely makes the Lakers a championship contender," said one. "What is Memphis thinking?" wondered another.

Although the defending champion Spurs still have to be considered the favorites, the Lakers are settling into the Western Conference high-rent district previously limited to the Spurs, Mavericks and Suns. The Lakers will do it their way, too.

At a time when the league is trending toward small ball, the Lakers are going tall. When Bynum returns from a knee injury next month, the Lakers will be able to start two 7-footers and 6-10 Lamar Odom.

Gasol and Bynum should complement each other, scouts say. Gasol is a finesse scorer who likes to operate from 15 feet and in. Bynum is a true center who prefers the low block and relies on power and size. The move should play well into the future, too: Bynum turned 20 in October, Gasol is 27, and Kobe is 29.

Give Kobe credit for appreciating the opportunity he has been given. Talking to reporters about the Gasol deal, Kobe praised Kupchak and owner Jerry Buss for showing "a great deal of commitment." Then Bryant added, "Now it's time to walk the walk."

Kupchak has to agree, regardless of whether he says so.

Sam Presti Pulls Off a Coup

This past offseason, Sam Presti decided to allow the Orlando Magic to overpay Rashard Lewis. To do so, Seattle and Orlando agreed to a sign-and-trade deal that allowed them to gain an eight million dollar trade exception. Rather than holding onto that extra money, Presti did a masterful job of converting it into a handful of extra assets.

The first move, was to acquire veteran forward Kurt Thomas and the Phoenix Suns' first round draft choices in 2008 and 2010 for a conditional second round draft choice. Phoenix needed to clear Thomas from their payroll and Seattle was able to leverage their trade exception into multiple assets.

Then on Wednesday night, the Sonics traded Thomas to the Spurs for guard Brent Barry, center Francisco Elson, and a 2009 first round draft pick. Both Barry and Elson are in their last year of their contracts and will fall off the payroll this summer.

Presti said after making the trade with the Spurs, "looking at the first-round pick, in combination with our other future picks, we have great flexibility to add to our core or acquire another impact player in the future. At the same time, Kurt is a tremendous person and player, and I appreciate his contributions this season and wish him success."

Seattle has 13 draft picks over the next three years, including six in the first round - two each season. After next season, Luke Ridnour, Earl Watson, Nick Collison, Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Damien Wilkins, and Johan Petro are the only SuperSonics currently under contract. Presti has plenty of flexiblity and some intriguing young players to be big time players within the next few years.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Trade Deadline Day: My Top Ten Deals

Indiana trades Jermaine O'Neal, David Harrison, and Jamaal Tinsley to Miami for Jason Williams, Ricky Davis, Alonzo Mourning, Udonis Haslem, and Smush Parker.

Milwaukee trades Charlie Villanueva and Royal Ivey to Golden State for Patrick O'Bryant and Austin Croshere.

Cleveland trades Mike Miller and Brian Cardinal to Cleveland for Eric Snow, Donyell Marshall, Shannon Brown, and Devin Brown.

Charlotte trades Othella Harrington, Jermareo Davidson, Jason Richardson, and Ryan Hollins to New Jersey for Vince Carter.

Lakers get Mikki Moore, Ricky Davis, and Ron Artest; Sacramento gets Jason Williams, Trevor Ariza, and Smush Parker; Miami gets Lamar Odom.

Sacramento trades Mikki Moore and Ron Artest to Cleveland for Ira Newble, Shannon Brown, Drew Gooden, and Devin Brown.

Golden State trades Patrick O'Bryant, Mickael Pietrus, Austin Croshere, and $9,999,999 Jason Richardson Trade Exception to Golden State for Sam Cassell and Corey Maggette.

Sacramento gets Mickael Gelabale, Eduardo Najera, Linas Kleiza, and Denver's First Round Pick; Seattle gets Von Waker, Yakhouba Diawara, J.R. Smith; Denver gets Mouhamed Sene, Ron Artest, and Delonte West.

Phoenix trades Eric Piatkowski to Los Angeles Clippers for Dan Dickau and Quinton Ross.

Seattle trades Chris Wilcox and Delonte West to Orlando for Pat Garrity, Adonal Foyle, Carlos Arroyo, and James Augustine.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

New Jersey Ready to Move Vince Carter

After officially trading Jason Kidd yesterday, it appears Rod Thorn's next move would be to trade Vince Carter. This will be difficult for them to do because he has another three years on his contract after this season for almost fifty million dollars. So who would be willing to trade for Carter? Isiah and the Knicks, of course.

New Jersey Gets:
*Jason Williams
Salary: $8,937,500 Years Remaining: 1
*Ricky Davis
Salary: $6,819,000 Years Remaining: 1

New York Gets:
*Dorell Wright
Salary: $2,040,746 Years Remaining: 1
*Vince Carter
Salary: $13,325,000 Years Remaining: 5
*Smush Parker
Salary: $2,250,000 Years Remaining: 1

Miami Gets:
*Randolph Morris
Salary: $810,000 Years Remaining: 1
*Nate Robinson
Salary: $1,268,160 Years Remaining: 2
*Eddy Curry
Salary: $8,947,543 Years Remaining: 3
*Fred Jones
Salary: $3,300,000 Years Remaining: 1

In this trade, the Nets are able to dump Vince Carter's long-term, expensive contract for two 2008 expiring contracts. It would allow the Nets to have cap room, while still maintaining a core of Richard Jefferson, Devin Harris, Nenad Krstic, Sean Williams, Marcus Williams, and Josh Boone. Perhaps, the Nets would also get another future draft pick in the trade on top of the one's they will receive from Dallas.

The Knicks would be receiving a legitimate perimeter scorer to pair with Jamal Crawford. A likely lineup would be Crawford, Carter, Jeffries, Lee, and Randolph. The Knicks would be in position to draft a point guard in this year's draft. Wright is also an intriguing player who becomes a restricted free agent after this season.

The Heat would pull in two rotation players and two expiring contracts. Robinson would be a spark off the bench for Miami and Curry would be the inside threat that would be missing. Coach Pat Riley has had success with big men in the past, and Miami would be a good fit for Curry. A lineup of Marcus Banks, Dwyane Wade, Shawn Marion, Udonis Haslem, and Eddy Curry with Daequan Cook, Nate Robinson, and Mark Blount off the bench would be strong. A point guard such as Derrick Rose, OJ Mayo, or Darren Collison would be targeted.

"N.B.A.’s Rules Provide a Payday for the Unretired "

February 20, 2008
N.B.A.’s Rules Provide a Payday for the Unretired

Keith Van Horn earned $4.3 million on Tuesday, for nothing more than a signature and a flight to New Jersey. Aaron McKie earned $750,000 a few weeks ago for a few pen strokes and a trip to Memphis.

Retirement from the N.B.A. has never been so profitable.

In a league with a salary cap, a luxury tax and a collective bargaining agreement as thick as a bank-vault door, general managers occasionally need extreme measures to make a trade. Two recent blockbuster deals illustrate the point.

The Dallas Mavericks could not have acquired Jason Kidd on Tuesday without Van Horn’s participation as a trading chip sent to the Nets to balance salaries, per N.B.A. rules. Van Horn last played in 2006. The Los Angeles Lakers could not have acquired Pau Gasol from Memphis on Feb. 1 without using McKie — who was working as a Philadelphia 76ers assistant coach — in a similar sign-and-trade arrangement.

McKie has yet to play a minute for the Grizzlies. It would be surprising if Van Horn plays for the Nets before his contract expires in June. They are virtual ghosts on their rosters, appearing in name only. (McKie’s official page on still shows him in a Lakers jersey.)

To the general public, it looks like a shell game — a feat of economic gymnastics that has nothing to do with basketball or the wisdom of a particular trade. And that is essentially an accurate summation.

“It’s a legitimate method, allowed under the collective bargaining agreement,” said Mitch Kupchak, the Lakers’ general manager. “It’s been done for years. And it’s been done recently. So it’s not something that just came up.”

This is all made possible because of the N.B.A.’s arcane rules governing trades. Generally speaking, teams that are already over the salary cap have to balance salaries in a trade — taking back as much as they send away, give or take 25 percent.

McKie (a Laker from 2005 to 2007) and Van Horn (a Maverick from 2005 to 2006) became useful under another wrinkle. Neither ever filed retirement papers, and their respective teams never “renounced” their rights. That made them eligible to be used in sign-and-trade deals. The rules dictated they had to sign three-year deals, but only the first year is guaranteed, making them more like one-year deals. Or in this case, two-and-a-half-month deals.

N.B.A. officials were not thrilled with either trade. Before approving the deals, they sought assurances that McKie and Van Horn truly intended to resume their careers.

League officials were not available for comment, but Joel Litvin, the N.B.A.’s president of league and basketball operations, addressed the issue Saturday, saying: “You can’t discount players coming back.”

“Chris Webber came back midseason. It does happen,” Litvin said. “It has to be legit, it has to be a case where a player is really looking to resume his career. He might not expect to succeed in resuming his career. But at some point it doesn’t pass the smell test.”

But the smell test lacks specifics. How much time do McKie and Van Horn have to spend with their new teams before being waived? Do they have to play a game? N.B.A. officials have no easy answers to such questions, and acknowledge these situations are viewed the same way the Supremem Court views obscenity: it knows a salary-cap circumvention when it sees one.

“If the guy gets there and 20 seconds later he gets cut, and the guy is 55 years old, that’s not going to pass muster,” Litvin said.

The league could seek to close the loophole when the current labor deal expires. One possibility: a team’s right to a player could be automatically rescinded — removing the ability to do a sign-and-trade — after the player has been inactive and unsigned for a year.

But there is little incentive to draw up new rules. The loophole benefits general managers by giving them another tool to make complicated trades. It benefits players, their agents and the players association by putting more money in players’ hands.

And as one general manager said Tuesday, no one is hurt by the loophole, except maybe the league’s lawyers. Litvin verbally cringed at the suggestion of another rule.

“We have a C.B.A. that’s this thick, that is full of rules designed to address specific issues that come up and loopholes we decided to close,” he said.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Examining the 2008 Free Agent Class

Below is a look at the free agent class for 2008. There a handful of valuable restricted free agents, however, those players rarely end up with other teams. The remaining players are all fringe-NBA end-of-the-bench type players.

Here is a breakdown of the upcoming free agents:

Opt-out Stars (Early Termination Option)
Allen Iverson
Baron Davis
Elton Brand
Jermaine O'Neal
Ron Artest
Shawn Marion

Other Opt-out Players (Early Termination Option)
Corey Maggette
Kenny Thomas
Raef Lafrentz
Stephon Marbury

Unrestricted Starter
Antawn Jamison

Fringe Unrestricted Starters
Beno Udrih
Chris Webber
DeSagana Diop
Jason Williams

Veteran Role Players
Bonzi Wells
Bostjan Nachbar
Carlos Arroyo
Chris Duhon
Eddie House
Eduardo Najera
Flip Murray
Gerald Green
Ira Newble
Jamaal Magliore
Jarvis Hayes
Keyon Dooling
Kurt Thomas
Kwame Brown
Lindsey Hunter
Matt Barnes
Maurice Evans
Mickael Pietrus
Ricky Davis
Tyrone Lue

Player Options to Become Unrestricted Free Agent
Adonal Foyle
Calvin Booth
Chris Mihm
Eddie Jones
Grant Hill
Jacque Vaughn
James Jones
James Posey
Jannero Pargo
Jason Hart
Keith Bogans
Melvin Ely
Rasho Nesterovic
Smush Parker
Steve Francis
Stromile Swift
Trevor Ariza

Free Agents Likely to Retire
Alonzo Mourning
Brent Barry
Damon Stoudamire
Darrell Armstrong
Darrick Martin
Dikembe Mutombo
Eric Piatkowski
Juwan Howard
Kevin Ollie
Michael Finley
Robert Horry
Sam Cassell

Monday, February 18, 2008

Scouting Report: Jordan Crawford

This past Saturday, I was in Bloomington, Indiana for the Michigan State-Indiana game. Indiana won by 19 points and Jordan Crawford came off the bench to score twelve points, grabbed five rebounds, and dished out five assists.

Player Name: Jordan Crawford
Current Team: -
NBA Position: SG
Drafted: -
Height/Weight: 6'4"/195
Birthdate: 10/23/88
Hometown: Detroit, Michigan
College: Indiana University
Agent: -

Atteneded high school at Communication and Media Arts High; Attended Hargrave Military Academy for Prep School; Was rated as the eleventh best player in 2007 by; Leg injury forced him to miss his senior year in high school; Brother, Joe, plays for Kentucky; Considered North Carolina State, Tennesse, and Xavier before choosing Indiana; Suspended three games for violating team rules during his freshman season; Has had academic troubles in the past.

Can play both guard positions; Has range on his shot; Athleticism; Wingspan; Pull-up jumper;

Shot selection; Prefers to shoot off the dribble, but sometimes forces shots when doing so; Can disappear in games; Needs to improve upper body strength; Struggles to defend bigger guards;

Right now, Jordan Crawford reminds me of current Knicks guard Jamal Crawford (not related). Both are explosive combo guards who are streaky shooters. Both also have the problems of questionable shot selection, ability to defend bigger two guards, and a lack of bulk. Once Eric Gordon leaves Indiana, it will be interesting to see how Crawford develops and matures. He has the ability to be a first round pick if he can shore up the weaknesses in his game.