Sunday, February 24, 2008

Theo Ratliff's Expiring Contract.

First, a little background on the impetus of this post.

Back when the contract was merely a gleam in Pete (brother of Rob) Babcock's eye, Theo Ratliff played four years at Wyoming. In 1995, he was drafted 18th by the Pistons. Between 1997 and 2001 he maintained a PER above 16 while playing for the 76ers. Over the last three seasons of that moderately successful run, he missed a combined 99 games (RED FLAG). After making an average of roughly 6.67 million dollars a year, he signed a 7 year deal for $57 million with the Atlanta Hawks. In 01-02, he played 82 minutes. Improbably, he followed that by making appearances in 166 regular season games over the next two seasons (NBA seasons are 82 games long), that number being owed to the fact that mid-season, he found himself traded to the 03-04 season to Portland. Since then, he's been paid by two more franchises and played a total, as of now, 127 games over more than 3 and half seasons.

His main function over the final two years has been to rehab vigorously and help make up the difference in transactions in which big salaries moved between teams. In the Kevin Garnett deal this summer, it was his ability to be signed to a ludicrous contract several years prior that saw him sent over to Minnesota and the thought was that, of all expiring deals, his would be one that would have to be in play as the trade deadline passed as it would fit as part of a package in which multiple players of quality could be sent between the rival townships that the NBA is made up of, but like P.J. Brown's last year, nothing was done, and the great running joke that his contract was has, to the sadness of some, died.

As Theo Ratliff has passed from relevance, I was wondering what budget crushing contract expirations might be on the horizon (why spend time talking about the game actually being played on court when the season is going on? I mean, seriously?); so, looking ahead to when teams are allowed to make trades, I've created a the quintessential list (try to top me) of players who might be traded for reasons other than what they'll bring to a team on the wood, ranked by size of deal. First are the small contracts given to players that have the potential to be D-League All-Stars this year and next, then will be questionable signings that, largely unsurprisingly, didn't pan out, followed by the albatrosses, the fireable offenses.

In the interests of full disclosure, ESPN's Trade Machine and NBA 2K8 were the primary sources when it came to salary details and the statistics are as of 2/23/08.

Saer Sene, Seattle Supersonics
PER: 15.1; Salary: 2.31 million
Drafted with the 10th pick of the 2006 draft, ahead of players who have already shown that they may be functional pros: Ronnie Brewer, Rajon Rondo, Josh Boone, Paul Millsap, Renaldo Balkman, Kyle Lowry, Jordan Farmar, Sergio Rodriguez, and Daniel Gibson; he marked the third time in three years that the Sonics used their first round pick on big players who would be best described as "projects." He's getting paid a lot of money to mostly sit on the bench (his PER is largely inflated, he's only played a total of 38 minutes this season), but it's hard to imagine that they'd give up on him this early in his pro career despite it being a new regime, and one would hope that he could be resigned for a smaller contract than his current one. A friend of mine is convinced he'll be a passable pro, largely thanks to once seeing an apparently awesome youtube video. I haven't seen this video and am dubious.

Jarron Collins, Utah Jazz
2007-08 PER: 5.7; 2008-09 Salary: 2.59 million
His first season was 01-02, in which he played in 70 games and posted a career high PER, 11.5. He's averaged 11 and 10 1/2 minutes a game over the past two seasons, starting a total of 16 over that span (I would credit injuries to capable players for that). On a team that features talented post players Boozer, Okur, and Millsap, his services are that of a space filler, one who averages more fouls per 36 minutes than rebounds (5.6 to 5.4). It's hard to think his production couldn't be replaced by a D-League player (I look forward to finding out about an NBA equivalent to VORP because I'm sure he'd be negative-whatever in that sort of metric). The Jazz organization appears to have a sort of loyalty to him (he's played each season since his first with them), but like most of the names on this list, one thinks he has to have more value as a contract next year than as a player.

Adam Morrison, Charlotte Bobcats
2006-07 PER: 7.9, Salary: 4.27 million
If I remember correctly, John Hollinger called him the worst regular player in the league last year. He's relatively one dimensional, his strength (shooting, scoring, what-have-you) doesn't appear to be translatable to the pro game. While he shot 49.6% from the field and 42.8% in his last year at Gonzaga, last season he shot 37.6% and 33.7% (do we have to say "respectively" in this context?) in the NBA. He's missing this season with an injury and probably would have found himself behind Matt Carroll in the rotation, anyway; that is if Sam Vincent thought he'd be better served playing the clearly inferior player (which is saying something considering Carroll's 10.5 PER, his .530 true shooting percentage, he makes big money because he's supposed to be Kapono-like) as he already does with Carroll playing more minutes than Jared Dudley. Whether or not he's traded simply as dead salary will be dependent on whether next February will be too soon to gauge whether Morrison is a bust or not, which in fairness, it likely will be.

Zaza Pachulia, Atlanta Hawks
PER: 9.2, Salary: 4.4 million
I don't know how many people out there play fantasy sports on CBS Sportsline, but I do. It's great, I've won a couple of leagues. For one of them I received my completely legal monetary prize promptly, the other I'm still waiting a couple of months after the fact and have, to be honest, given up hope on ever seeing my check. I have a basketball team I've currently given up on (I was out of playoff contention within two months and when I lost my internet connection --right about the fifth day of the African Cup of Nations-- I just couldn't bring myself to maintain my pathetic team, the will of the champion had been lost). What I consider to be the principal cause for my lack of success was that, despite what CBS' website professed before the preseason, during the preseason, and through the current NBA season, Al Jefferson does not have dual F-C eligibility. Now, of course, perhaps, I shouldn't have taken it for granted that the information on the site about the way the site operates its leagues would be accurate, so really I shouldn't be complaining about them a) screwing my roster, and b)not giving me my prize money for the football league I just dominated (by "dominated," I mean won because everyone on every other team got injured late in the season). I mention all of this because I didn't realize, until the end of the draft, that I didn't have a center, that I just had a tall forward that was playing center on his real-life team, in Al Jefferson. I drafted Zaza Pachulia (who was available because he would be starting the season on the injured list) and Troy Murphy. I figured, despite the screwjob perpetrated on me by CBS Sportsline, that I'd probably still be okay (I did pretty well last year with Mark Blount filling in for an injured Yao Ming) because both had the potential to be alright. I don't know how many people are following the Atlanta Hawks and the Indiana Pacers this season, but that hasn't really been the case. Murphy's minutes have been dicked around and Pachulia barely plays. After looking like a promising young center the last few years, he's lost playing time because of those nagging injuries and the emergence of Al Horford, as well as the continued improvements of Josh Smith and Marvin Williams. It seems like he could rebound next year and extricate himself from this list (his salary is reasonable) but if he continues to struggle, it wouldn't be surprising to see him on another team next year like I wish he was in my fantasy league.

Jorge Garbajosa, Toronto Raptors
PER: 10.7; Salary: 4.49 million
Garbajosa, or "Garbo" as we all know him by, has played a total of 74 minutes this season, all in November, so his low statistical numbers aren't a totally accurate way to gauge. Last year's first year numbers weren't entirely impressive, but neither were Calderon's in 05-06. It seems premature to suggest that he won't be a valuable part of the Raptor rotation when his ankle is finally healed, but in the interest of cynicism, watch for his name in transaction reports a year from now.

Damon Jones, Cleveland Cavaliers
PER: 11.1; Salary: 4.59 million
Writing any sort of informational capsule on Damon Jones is leading me to consider, in the future, making a list of my least-favorite players in the NBA. I haven't thought out who else would make the list yet, but the reason for Jones' guaranteed inclusion would be centered around his belief that he's fundamentally better than what he is, a stop-gap guard who can at times shoot well (he has produced true shooting percentages over .550 twice in his career, 04-05 and this season), and, as described in his player profile on ESPN, the false bravado that's resulted from this. On the other hand, he did do this, which I tip my hat to, and like Tony Parker's rap career makes me like the Spurs a tiny bit more, softens my stance a little on Jones.

Donyell Marshall, Seattle Supersonics
PER: 8.5, Salary: 6.12 million
It's hard to remember, and I can't say I appreciated it much at the time, but Marshall was once actually good. Like, from 1996 through 2005. What's hilarious, of course, is that only two of these seasons were for teams that made the playoffs and it wasn't until he was on a relevant conference title contender that he fell off a cliff. This season, he's played in 11 games and shot under 30% from the field, which is exactly what you'd want from a player brought in specifically to space the floor for LeBron James. I have no idea if the Sonics are going to or have already bought him out, but after watching Presti's shrewd moves surrounding the aging Kurt Thomas, one would hope (if that one were a Sonics fan, such as the person typing this) that over the next several months he's on the team, he's able to show that he might have, if even momentarily, regained his outside touch so that he could be packaged in some sort of deal to a contender for more draft picks in the coming years. Either way, I've always had a soft spot for U Conn, the explanation of which is a story for another day, so I'll enjoy watching the decrepit Husky sit on the bench in warm-ups even if that rekindling of magic doesn't take place.

Desmond Mason, Milwaukee Bucks
PER: 12.7; Salary: 6.33 million
He's having his best season since 04-05, but that's not saying a whole lot. He finds himself on a roster that is largely thought to be on the cusp of a rebuilding effort with huge sums of money being paid to players (Michael Redd, Bobby Simmons, Dan Gadzuric, Maurice Williams --and comparatively-- Charlie Bell to name more than a few) who really shouldn't be paid what they're finding themselves being given. If you've ever played with Mason in a video game, he functions superbly as an athletic trailer on the break and he's actually a pretty good defender, but I always traded him before he reached free agency, proving that I, like millions, would be better at general managing than Isiah Thomas, or, I guess, Larry Harris, if we're going to keep this Bucks-specific.

Jason Collins
, Memphis Grizzlies
PER: 2.4: Salary: 6.71 million
He's significantly worse and paid significantly more than his twin. He's dead last among eligible players in PER, more than a point and a half under new teammate Casey Jacobsen. He's last among centers in rebound rate, averaging almost a point and a half less than David Harrison. Needless to say, he's a waste of space on a basketball court (but probably a great, honorable man off it; I'm just guessing). I know it's irrational to associate the great, honorable Collins men with every Stanford product to come, but with the relative lack of success both twins have had in the NBA, I worry when I see Brook Lopez high on mock draft lists that I could end up --if my team stays in Seattle-- having to watch the next worst center in the league for years on end. On the brightside, David Stern views Oklahoma City a much better market than Seattle (who wouldn't?) so that's a danger for someone else to consider.

Eric Snow, Cleveland Cavaliers
PER: 3.2; Salary: 7.37 million
He plays defense and he was largely credited with reigning in Allen Iverson when they played alongside each other in the backcourt of the Philadelphia 76ers. Whether or not his value on the court completely dissipated when their partnership broke up (probably), or whether it was just in the past year or two (yes, if you're one of those apologist types), it's completely gone now. He's played in 22 games so far, which seems a strangely high number; he's shooting 15.8% from the field (he's almost as bad as Ben Wallace from the free throw line, by the way), he shouldn't be playing, and if it weren't for particular players with higher cap figures and the fact that Mike Brown improbably keeps giving him minutes, he'd be the most likely player to take the mantle of existing as no more than as a big red X on a playing card.

Malik Rose, New York Knicks
PER: o.5; Salary: 7.81 million
He was once a very good contributer on a championship team, and a solid one on a couple of contenders (his last good season was the last year of the Lakers mini-dynasty of earlier-in-the-decade) so perhaps that's why Isiah Thomas was so willing to give up a true center who is known to play defense occasionally, Nazr. Granted, Mohammed has regularly been a disappointment for all of the teams he's played for since, he's more functional than Rose, who doesn't even play basketball at this point. As far as PER is concerned, only Jason Collins and Eric Snow are likely candidates to be having worse seasons at this point next season. Will he be used to add another overrated, undersized shooting guard mistakenly playing point? Yes, probably.

Raef LaFrentz, Portland Trailblazers
PER: 11.8; Salary: 12.99 million
He's averaging 11.8, but he's only played in 25 games, for a total of 172 minutes, just under 7 an appearance. If I had to pick one player on this list, I would select LaFrentz as next year's Ratliff, P.J., etc. and funnily enough, he was once traded by Boston for Theo Ratliff. After being drafted with the third pick of the 1998 draft, he's been criminally overrated by the general managers charged with assigning monetary values to players. Maybe it was size, or his range (he's occasionally been a very good 3 point shooter), but his contract has been one that has hung heavily around the neck of whatever team had him. He's played double digit minutes 7 times this season and likely would have been bought out like Steve Francis if he wasn't potentially such a valuable trade asset next season (and a good influence). They're fortunate not to have ended up with Jason Kidd, because there'll undoubtedly be a better point guard on the market next season (at worst, T.J. Ford or Jamaal Tinsley, right?).

Wally Szczerbiak, Cleveland Cavaliers
PER: 16; Salary: 13.2 million
A genuinely good shooter on a team that is perfectly willing to give a whole great amount of money to a player that doesn't necessarily need to bring anything more to the table (see: Marshall, Donyell). Unless he's having the same sort of injury problems as he's had in the past, (see: 2002-03, 2003-04, 2006-07), I would assume he'll be playing regularly with the Cavs throughout the rest of his deal.

Mike Bibby, Atlanta Hawks
PER: 14.7; Salary: 14.85 million
Bibby, assuming he doesn't experience a renaissance with Atlanta, peaked from 2003-05. He hasn't shot as well from the field this season as he did then, but he is shooting better from 3 (a career high, 41.7%) in limited time and that was, before the recent trade that sent him to the Hawks, one of Atlanta's biggest weaknesses (along with their lack of depth at point guard). They've famously passed over Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Randy Foye, and Mike Conley, Jr. in past drafts and, after Bibby, their next option is Acie Law IV, who is sporting a 7.5 PER (second to last among eligible point guards), a 43.8% true shooting (fourth to last among eligible point guards), and a 13.0 turnover rate (56th out of 64th among eligible point guards). If they have a shot at a playoff berth, they're likely to keep Bibby even if they're ceiling is first round fodder.

Lamar Odom, Los Angeles Lakers
PER: 15.2; Salary: 14.87 million
I would say he's the best player on this list. I'm including him because I believe with the addition of Pau Gasol and Odom's continual decline in production from his statistical peak in 03-04 --the year he played with Miami-- his PER has dropped to a still passable 15.2, it's possible he won't be as relevant in the Lakers' plans next year and would seem to be a likely candidate to find himself trade bait for another piece to a lottery-bound team looking for cap relief.

Stephon Marbury, New York Knicks
PER: 14.2; Salary: 22.11 million
I don't think this one worked out.

The question is whether Isiah, if he's still employed by the Knicks after this season, will be looking to trade the contract or just let it expire. Obviously the latter would be the best move, but these are the Knicks. A lot of what Thomas has done as general manager of this team has made this team worse, resulting in a continuation of what was already an organization in the state of trainwreck. I wonder if the next GM will operate in the same fashion. The media has repeated, ad nauseam, that New York fans lack patience and require their teams be relevant and in the playoffs, no matter whether the most prudent course would be to blow up the roster and start over. With the East as weak as it is --nearly every team but Miami having a shot at making the playoffs-- it can be argued, if you're explaining basketball to morons, that if a team is one transaction away from losing promptly in the first round, they should make that move. So, how much of what the Knicks have become is the result of Isiah Thomas' inability to construct a proper roster, and how much of that is due to pressure from Dolan and the media currently calling for his head? It'll be interesting, to me at least, to see just how poorly this team will be run after the easiest scapegoat I've ever heard of is gone. He deserves to be let go, but what will the state of the franchise be considering the vacuum he existed within when the further destruction of the Knicks was perpetrated, and the next over-matched GM is brought in?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Another Blockbuster.

I feel like the sort of writer I don't want to be would start this blog --after giving it that title-- with a note about the trade between the Nuggets and the Trailblazers in which Von Wafer and Taurean Green switched spots, following that by writing "just kidding," or "bah-dum-ching," or "but seriously," and then moving onto the higher profile deal between Chicago, Cleveland, and Seattle in which players who actually appear on the playing surface regularly were involved. I don't want to be that writer, and yet, because I've read that sort of introduction so many times it was so firmly embedded in my head I couldn't think of anything else to start with (a phenomenon --make that "happening"-- Joe Po referenced here, scroll for it ... scroll for it ...) so now I feel compelled to actually say something about Wafer for Green before advancing to the trade that likely will effect the teams involved.

Cheating --which I had to do because I haven't had cable for years and so my only opportunities to watch either one play was Florida in the NCAA tournament last year in a bar and most of that time was probably spent drunk-- I looked at John Hollinger's player profiles on ESPN and I learned things. Did you know Von Wafer lead the D-League in 3 point shooting last year? I'm mildly impressed by that stat. Taurean is leaving a team in which he's fourth on the depth chart of at his position, as is Wafer, to go to a team where he'll likely be the third point guard, while Wafer will be the third shooting guard. It's difficult to imagine that, barring injuries, either player will have an impact on their new team this season, but considering Green and his presumably low ceiling (the next Jacque Vaughn?) I have to think Portland is better off here. With the regularity teams seem to be in the need of a shooter --to help space the floor and etc.-- why not trade a mediocre point guard when you have three for someone who could have value down the road if he's able to figure out how not to be a total liability in every other phase of the game. I'm nearly positive that in a year or two, I'll look back on this and wonder why on Earth I spent this much time (yes, even this much) writing about this deal, but it seems like one that could have the potential of looking pretty okay down the road for Portland.

I have a friend, a whole one, that is from Cleveland and, predictably, he's a Pistons fan. He hates the Bulls because when he was younger, they always beat the Cavs in the playoffs, so following that logic, when Ben Wallace signed with Chicago, he put up a picture --torn from a magazine-- of Wallace standing in front of Kirk Hinrich and Ben Gordon with arms crossed on his wall. I haven't talked to him about this trade yet, but I imagine he's stoked to have his favorite basketball player on the team he roots for only when the Pistons have been eliminated from the playoffs and then only joylessly (but in fairness, that joylessness could partly be attributed to the fact that the only time the Cavs have been in the playoffs longer than the Pistons this decade was last year's Finals when only rubes and dullards were giving Cleveland a chance to win).

Ignoring the rest of the players they're receiving, Wallace is a perfect acquisition for the Cavs. Watching them the past two years, their offense seems to revolve largely around LeBron ISOs which may or may not result in open looks for teammates that are even less likely to be made. If there's one coach whose schemes won't be affected negatively by a complete liability on offense like Big Ben, that man (or woman; I'm not calling Mike Brown a woman, but I don't want to be accused of assuming females, another word for "women," shouldn't/can't/won't coach a professional basketball team with the same level of competence as Brown) is Mike Brown. I'm doubtful anyone will notice they're doing anything differently when he's on the floor.

As for the rest of the players involved, I've liked Wally Szczerbiak with the Sonics; as an overpriced veteran on a bad team playing inconsistent minutes, I was impressed on Tuesday against Memphis that he was still playing as though he cared. His role will be to replace Larry Hughes, or rather play as well as Cleveland would have hoped Hughes would have, but considering his injury history and his inconsistency, luck will be required. Delonte West is another undersized shooting guard to go along with Boobie, but with LeBron being the primary playmaker in the Cleveland offense, he'll be able to spot up and shoot when left open. He and Wally are being brought in as Hughes and Donyell Marshall leave, the later who was specifically signed to do what they're hoping West will, why he'll be more effective in that role than Marshall, I'm not sure, because he's been just as brittle this year and he looks like a cancer patient which won't help anyone.

All in all, it's a positive trade for Cleveland, they've managed to add shooters, a solid defensive center, and a power forward (Joe Smith) who, while not being as a good a rebounder as Gooden, does have a PER around 4 1/2 points higher and haven't further negatively affected their future financial flexibility. Wallace's contract will run two years after this one, but they were going to be stuck with Hughes for just as long, who was probably producing far less than the three million dollar difference between the two player's salaries.

Among members of their rotation, they're losing Ben Wallace and Joe Smith and among players that are likely to play for them that are coming in, they're getting Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden. If this trade means that the Bulls will be playing Aaron Gray, Tyrus Thomas, and Joakim Noah more, that can only be a good thing down the road, but it doesn't allow them to get out from under what they already had, a brutal long term contract given to an overrated player in a shallow free agent market. Hughes, likely to be known only as Larry Hughes' Expiring Contract within a year and a half, gives them a far below-league-average shooting guard who can start while Chicago continues to bring Gordon off the bench. They didn't trade away any of their young pieces but it's hard to imagine they'll be better in the near future, at least with Please Stop Taking So Many Bad Shots' contract affecting their cap.

Couldn't they at least have picked up a draft pick? For Ray Allen, they've now received Jeff Green and expiring deals. I know that certain prognosticators have likened Green to Pippen (and Durant to Jordan), but without jumping the gun, that's seems a tad optimistic. Allen hasn't played as well this year as he had in the past, but he was a top shooting guard not too far beyond his prime and it's disappointing that all the Sonics are able to get back are Adrian Griffin and Donyell Marshall. Szczerbiak, Marshall, and Griffin's contract all expire in two years, so it won't give them a great deal more cap room for next year beyond Newble's expiring deal, I wonder if they'd have been able to get more for Szczerbiak next season.

Cleveland has probably improved, Chicago will be better not having to play Wallace and they avoid acknowledging how horrible a mistake that deal was, but Seattle has done little than to shorten their rotation. They're clearly not trying to win this year or next, but it's hard to think they couldn't have gotten more.