Column: Breaking down the biggest moves of the NBA trade deadline
Here is a recap of the bigger trades that went down before the trade deadline. The following grades are based on the how each team affected its chances of winning a championship sometime in the future.
New York Knicks acquire: Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Shelden Williams, Renaldo Balkman, Anthony Carter, Corey Brewer
Denver Nuggets acquire: Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Timofey Mozgov, Kosta Koufus, the Knicks’ first-round pick (in 2014 or later), the Warriors’ second-round picks in 2012 and 2013, $3 million
Minnesota Timberwolves acquire: Eddy Curry, Anthony Randolph
Knicks grade: C-minus
The Knicks have been vying for Anthony for quite some time now, and to be honest, I cannot tell why. Yes, it’s true that he is a four-time All-NBA selection and a four-time All-Star, and he helped lead the Redeem Team to the gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He is all of these things because he posesses an excellent and varied arsenal of offensive moves that he uses to score from all over the court, but he uses these moves at the detriment of his team. Anthony does not score through an offensive system tailored to his strengths like a player such as Ray Allen or Kobe Bryant does. Instead, he scores by playing one-on-one against his opponents, which leads to high point totals but numerous ugly shots. Anthony is a 31.2 percent career three-point shooter and not particularly good at distributing the ball.
Another issue I have with Anthony is his lack of defensive play. Many call Melo a superstar, but I don’t think a player can be called a superstar until his presence on the court is felt at both the offensive and defensive ends of the court. The LeBron James-Dwyane Wade matchup works because both players are great at finding their teammates, taking intelligent shots and putting high effort into defense. They have both had SportsCenter specials about their willingness to chase down opponents on fast breaks to block normally automatic layups. This reason is why the Beijing team worked so well. Anthony teamed up with the best defenders the United States had to offer. On a New York Knicks team that features the offensive-minded forward Amare Stoudemire and head coach Mike D’Antoni, the team will never be able to put together the defense necessary to win a championship.
Perhaps all the Knicks head office wanted to do with this trade was sell jerseys, sell tickets and make basketball relevant again in Madison Square Garden. If that is all the head office was trying to do, then this trade would get an A, because Melo’s jerseys are going to sell all over New York, and New York will be a consistent playoff team for years to come. If they were looking to actually contend for an NBA Championship, this was a bad move. Max deals for both Amare and Melo mean that attracting another new star will be hard without the necessary money.
Knicks fans may say that guard Chauncey Billups is that third star and that he makes the deal great. But at age 34, how much longer will Billups be producing at a high level? In my opinion, Billups does not make this trade better because I don’t believe the Knicks are going to be finals contenders with his contributions, and once they get more pieces, Billups will see his minutes decline severely. The Knicks won’t make it to the Eastern Conference Finals with Anthony, let alone the Championships, making this trade a bust.
Nuggets grade: A-minus
The Nuggets knew Anthony wasn’t going to sign with them after his contract ran out this year. In fact, the whole league knew Carmelo wasn’t going to willingly sign with any team outside of New York. With this fact in mind, the fact that the Nuggets were still able to trade for so much talent is beyond my explanation. Perhaps the Knicks panicked after hearing reports that the Nets were close to coming to a deal for Anthony. This overreaction hurt them dearly because the Knicks gutted their team for a player who doesn’t play defense and is an offensive flow killer.
Teams never get full value for trading superstars (look at Shaq, Kevin Garnett, and Pau Gasol trades as examples), but sometimes the teams who get the short end of the stick still manage to turn the trade into something good in the future. The Nuggets have the perfect opportunity to improve the outcome of this trade with a talented core of players. They won’t be in the running for a title any time in the immediate future, but they do have a promising team in the long-term. Considering that the alternative to this trade was losing Anthony without compensation, the deal reflects well on the Nuggets personnel department.
Timberwolves grade: B
Eddy Curry’s expiring contract will give the Wolves some room to find a player this offseason, and Randolph is an improving, average NBA player who can make an immediate contribution to the Wolves squad.
New Jersey Nets acquire: Deron Williams
Utah Jazz acquire: Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, one 2011 first-round pick, one 2012 first-round pick, $3 million
Nets Grade: B-plus
At first look, I love this trade for the Nets. They give up an above-average point guard and an unpolished rookie with a lot of upside for the second-best point guard in the league. Williams made it known that he hasn’t been thrilled with his time in Utah so far, and many expected him to enter free agency in 2012. The Jazz made a preemptive deal so they wouldn’t have to go through a season of trade rumors and speculation like that through which the Nuggets and Anthony went this year. The Nets could run into this exact situation unless they find some talent for Williams. If the point guard decides to leave the Nets, they will have destroyed their team and will have to go back into a long rebuilding period. If, however, the Nets can convince Williams to stay and even surround him with more talent (say, from the free agent class of 2012), this could go down as one of the best trades in the history of the franchise.
Jazz grade: B
By taking on Favors and Harris, the Jazz surrender that they won’t be relevant for the next few years. The question, though, is whether they have a plan to become relevant soon. While Harris and Favors are two young, talented players, they certainly aren’t the tipping point in making a championship run. The Jazz need much more work. If they expected Williams to leave, this trade was good compensation.
Los Angeles Clippers acquire: Mo Williams, Jamario Moon
Cleveland Cavaliers acquire: Baron Davis, one 2011 first-round pick
Clippers grade: B-plus
This trade wasn’t a blockbuster by any means, but it does put the Clippers on the right track in surrounding star forward Blake Griffin with more talented players. The Clippers finally unloaded Davis, an out-of-shape point guard who only started caring about basketball again when Griffin arrived. Williams was a borderline all-star talent for some time and could perhaps get back to that level now that he is playing with two of the best young players in the game, Griffin and guard Eric Gordon. The Clippers are expected to let Moon go at the end of the season, saving them some money. This was mostly a financial move by the Clippers, and puts them in the running for some good players next summer.
Cavaliers grade: D
The Cavs get Baron Davis, who probably will go from unmotivated to vegetable mode in under a week. The Cavs also take on Davis’ roughly $13 million a year contract and a draft pick in one of the least talented draft classes in recent history. Lottery teams have been dumping pick after pick this year due to the lack of projected talent among lottery picks. Maybe the Cavs will get lucky and pick up on a late-bloomer, but otherwise this trade is not going to help them recover the pieces from LeBron’s departure.
Boston Celtics acquire: Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic, one 2012 first-round pick
Oklahoma City Thunder acquire: Kendrick Perkins, Nate Robinson
Thunder grade: A
When the Miami Heat started picking up steam near the middle of the year, I wrote a column about how the new Heat scare me and have the potential to make deep runs into the playoffs for years to come. After this trade, I have the same feeling for the Thunder. By acquiring Perkins, the Thunder acquire a player with a strong defensive presence and playoff experience. This trade immediately makes the Thunder a championship contender, and I expect them to put pressure on the top teams in the West. If the playoffs started right now, the Thunder could play the San Antonio Spurs in the second round, and I strongly believe the Thunder could give San Antonio issues even without home court advantage. The Thunder now have a solid big man in Perkins, the top scorer in the league in forward Kevin Durant, and a top-five point guard in Russell Westbrook. These three will more than likely take the Thunder deep into the playoffs in the upcoming years.
Celtics grade: B-minus
The Celtics are gambling with this trade, betting on the Heat and Spurs and against the Magic and Lakers. Due to an injury, Perkins has been unable to play for the Celtics for much of the season. While the Celtics have played the best in the East so far, the pace of the game changes in the playoffs, and defensive-minded big men go a long way toward securing wins. The Celtics are betting that the added wing play of Green will benefit them in terms of guarding teams with several good ball-handlers, such as LeBron and Wade on the Heat or Richard Jefferson and Manu Ginobili on the Spurs. However, this means that they will also be counting on the combination of Garnett, Krstic and Glen Davis to defend against Hedo Turkoglu and Dwight Howard from Orlando and Gasol and Andrew Bynum from the Lakers.
I don’t buy the idea that the Celtics have enough depth in their frontcourt to win an NBA Championship anymore. Kobe Bryant agreed with me when he said that “the Boston [trade], I just didn’t get, because Perkins was instrumental against us and what the Celtics did defensively.” Maybe the gamble will pay off. Or maybe, as I believe, the wager will fail to work.