Author: Rob Mahoney


The tangled web of Chris Paul, David Stern, and the blockbuster trade that wasn’t


Last Friday, David Stern — acting as some amalgam of both owner of the New Orleans Hornets and commissioner of the NBA — put the kibosh on a trade that would’ve sent Chris Paul to the Lakers, brought Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, and Lamar Odom to the Hornets, and shipped Pau Gasol to the Rockets. Those players would have significantly altered the futures of all three franchises involved in the deal, but thanks to Stern’s controversial decision, things have developed along a different timeline.

The ripple effects of Stern’s veto have been incredibly far-reaching, and upset the delicate balance of an already furious free agency period. Behold: an attempt to capture the 10-team, 28-player insanity that has resulted from Stern’s decision to block the Chris Paul blockbuster:


Chart made by Rob Mahoney.

See a full-size version of the image here.

On Marcus Thornton and the messages sent in free agency

Marcus Thornton
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There’s no use in denying it: free agency in the NBA is kind of a blast, and particularly so when the entire period is condensed into a few hyper-active weeks of player movement. But beyond the surface-level intrigue of roster shuffling is a pretty clear demonstration of league-wide values. Free agency gives general managers the opportunity to bid for players in a restricted market, and thus offers a decent indication of what it is that professional basketball franchises value. Every dollar spent sends a message, as the wide variety of available players forces teams to prioritize their spending based on need and skill valuation.

Obviously, there’s some degree of difference in that regard from team to team and from GM to GM. All franchises are certainly willing to pay big for elite production — or even the potential for elite production. Size, too, has historically provided powerful motivation for owners to open their wallets, largely in the hope that an available center might be able to provide post scoring, rebounding, and interior defense. But beyond those two angles, NBA teams diverge rather strongly in the skills they choose to prioritize, with shot creation as a particularly notable point of contention.

The emphasis placed on shot creation in the NBA is understandable; offense decides the fate of teams on the most basic of levels, and every NBA club has use for another player who can help them outscore their opponent. But the oversimplification of shot creation on a conceptual level is where NBA teams get themselves into trouble. Players who can hit a difficult jumper off the dribble aren’t necessarily worthy of a lucrative contract, and neither are players who are able to generate 20 points per game with significant collateral damage.

Due to the nature of the market, all teams pay for shot creation. But good teams, to great benefit, pay for efficient shot creation.

The determination of a shot creator’s value shouldn’t rely on how many points he scores, but how his production relates to his shooting percentages, shot selection, and turnover rate. Players who grade out well in that regard are worthy of a substantial paycheck, just one reason among many why contracts like the four-year, $31 million deal Marcus Thornton received from the Sacramento Kings is perfectly sensible.

Thornton was an elite scorer for Sacramento last season, but moreover, his 21.3 points per game came on just 17.5 field goal attempts with a single-digit turnover rate. His gaudy scoring contributions come at a perfectly reasonable usage cost, and he’s able to thrive while either creating with the ball in his hands or working without it. He’s also a fair bit more versatile than his scoring-focused reputation gives him credit for; while defense remains an, ahem, area for improvement with Thornton, he’s able to initiate offense in a pinch and does a decent job of setting up his teammates. It’s true that the Kings may have paid a bit more for their own restricted free agent than they had to, but an efficient, highly productive, 24-year-old wing scorer is certainly worth a deal in the vicinity* of the one he received.

*Plus, as noted by Tom Ziller of Sactown Royalty, the potential savings from a mythical “better deal” would likely be marginal. Even if the Kings had bided their time and waited for Thornton to sign an offer sheet with another team, how much would they really be saving here?

As a rebuilding team below the league’s salary floor, Sacramento was essentially forced to spend money in free agency. They had to invest in someone, and though the Kings may not have the best track record overall (remember that time they traded Beno Udrih for John Salmons and moved down in the draft in one fell swoop?), President of Basketball Operations Geoff Petrie capitalized on the team’s situation by signing a useful defensive big and bringing back a prolific, efficient scoring threat. Neither move will usher in a new era or revamp the franchise, but both deals subtly speak to Petrie’s — and the Kings’ — appropriately allocated priorities.

Knicks will sign Mike Bibby for the minimum salary, but keep their point guard options open

Mike Bibby

The New York Knicks have gone to great lengths to find a talented center counterpart for Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. They used the amnesty clause to waive veteran point guard Chauncey Billups, and blew $14 million in the process. They chipped in another $3 million just to ensure the passing of the three-team deal that brought Tyson Chandler to New York. They gave away Ronny Turiaf in order to clear out salary to make Chandler’s signing possible, and handed over Andy Rautins to the Mavs so that Dallas would be able to create a traded player exception as motivation for a sign-and-trade.

And that was all just so the Knicks could have the opportunity to invest gobs and gobs of money in a lucrative contract for Chandler.

Those millions of dollars may not mean much for a team like the Knicks, but losing Billups — the team’s best point guard option — does. So much so, in fact, that the team has agreed to bring Mike Bibby to New York on a one-year deal for the minimum salary, according to Sam Amick of Bibby is a quality outside shooter, but he’s hardly the playmaker — nor defender — the Knicks would need in their point man. Any offense featuring Stoudemire and Anthony should score with relative ease, but a quality playmaker could make New York’s offense transcendent. Bibby certainly doesn’t qualify, even if his three-point stroke will help space the floor for the Knicks’ stars to operate.

Yet the more obvious concerns come on the defensive end, where Bibby may be the single worst perimeter defender in the NBA. The Miami Heat were able to account for that deficiency last season with the collective strength of their smothering defense, but a Knicks lineup featuring Anthony and Stoudemire will have enough problems on D as it is. Chandler’s a skilled catch-all defensive center, but even the most talented bigs in the league can only cover so much ground and hedge against so many individual defensive weaknesses at once. The Bibby turnstile could put this team past its breaking point defensively, and put a lot of additional pressure on Chandler to adapt to his new surroundings quickly.

That said, the Knicks aren’t quite done reworking their point guard rotation, even after adding Bibby. According to Chris Mannix of, New York is also exploring the possibility of adding unrestricted free agent J.J. Barea. That’s not exactly a perfect fit, either; Barea can’t quite match Bibby’s defensive ineptitude, but his height (Barea is rather generously listed as six feet tall) makes challenging any shot problematic. Barea works hard defensively, but everything is made more difficult by the size advantage he surrenders on a nightly basis.

Plus, Barea’s successful playoff run has conjured up a mirage of offensive sufficiency. It’s true that Barea can dart around the court and create angles of penetration out of nothing, but he’s terribly inconsistent in his role as a shot creator. Upon reaching the basket, opposing defenses sometimes swallow Barea whole, and cut off his clearest utility as a player. He’s certainly useful, but his strengths aren’t nearly as pronounced as his recurring role on national television in May and June would have you believe.

It’s encouraging that the Knicks are exploring some more creative options, as signing Bibby and calling it a day could have been an otherwise predictable course of action. That said, it’s curious that Toney Douglas, the Knicks’ incumbent backup point guard, isn’t getting more public consideration. Douglas is clearly limited as a playmaker, but that flaw is seemingly universal among the Knicks’ options. The pool here is relatively dry, and in Douglas, the Knicks at least have a competent outside shooter with proven defensive effectiveness. That’s more than we can say of Bibby, who politely cedes ground to any opponent he’s tasked with guarding, and it’s more than we can say of Barea, too, who draws charges at a respectable rate, but at best is merely passable on that end.

Considering all that the Knicks have surrendered in order to make their dreamy frontline a reality, the point guard position will have its problems. Initiating the offense will be an issue on occasion. A lack of ball movement could be problematic at times. But at this point, the rotation should be designed to mitigate weaknesses, not enhance strengths. Bibby and Barea each have something to offer New York, but significant minutes for either could nudge an already fragile defense toward its collapse.

Amid Magic dysfunction, Dwight Howard’s agent is given formal permission to speak with L.A., New Jersey, and Dallas

Orlando Magic v Atlanta Hawks - Game Six

UPDATE (12:59 AM EST): Sam Amick of to the rescue:

Orlando PR man Joel Glass calls to inform that D. Howard’s agent now has permission to speak w/ Lakers, Nets, & Mavs about possible trade.

Glass was clear that this permission was from here “going forward,” not previously.

The Lakers and Nets make sense as suitors given the assets they have at their disposal, but how the Mavericks squeezed their way into this bunch is beyond me. Dallas doesn’t seem to have much to offer Orlando in a potential deal, and yet here they are, among the few teams Howard’s agent, Dan Fagan, is authorized to speak to on his client’s behalf. Bizarre.

12:50 AM EST: The NBA seems to have moved on past the lockout days of conflicting reports from troublesome unnamed sources and right on to conflicting reports from troublesome named sources. According to Ric Bucher of, Orlando Magic general manager Otis Smith has confirmed that Dwight Howard was given permission to consult with representatives from select teams. Whatever could they have to talk about?

But before we get too excited about the idea of an impending deal for Howard, Sam Amick of swept in with a contrary report. According to Amick, Magic CEO Alex Martins claimed that Howard was given no such permission, and that Orlando was still considering filing formal tampering charges against the teams that contacted him out of turn. It’s all a bit of a mess, especially considering that the reporting is so transparent; Bucher and Amick have their sources published in plain view, giving the entire basketball world a glimpse into the Orlando Magic’s current dysfunction.

It’s only fair, after all, considering the stink still emanating from the NBA’s recent blunder in canceling a potential three-way trade involving Chris Paul. As it was written in the new collective bargaining agreement: “If ridiculousness befalls one superstar seeking relocation, it must befall all superstars seeking relocation.” Trust me — it was in the fine print.

What this actually means for a potential Howard trade is anyone’s guess, as the Magic have sufficiently run the rest of the basketball world in circles over the availability of their franchise centerpiece. Hopefully things will be clarified over the next 24 hours or so, because as it stands, it’s tough to say if Howard has actually met with any teams, if he was allowed to in the first place, and how all of this impacts the potential for a trade.

Magic trade Brandon Bass for Glen Davis, but what exactly do they hope to gain?

Boston Celtics v Orlando Magic

Amid a flurry of activity across the league, the Boston Celtics and Orlando Magic quietly agreed to swap two somewhat frustrating bigs. Brandon Bass, the athletic power forward who gave Stan Van Gundy more than a few gray hairs during his stint with the Magic, is Boston-bound in exchange for a signed-and-traded Glen Davis.

It makes a fair bit of sense for the Celtics, who were at risk of overpaying Davis in order to preserve their frontcourt depth. Boston lost Shaquille O’Neal to retirement and Nenad Krstic to a binding contract in Russia while the NBA was still locked out, and retaining Davis seemed like one of the franchise’s only ways to maintain consistency. Kevin Garnett and Jermaine O’Neal are still in the fold, but with both players so often injured and Jeff Green the next best (if “best” is the right word) option to play big, Davis seemed like an unfortunate lock. Doc Rivers and the Celtics hadn’t exactly been thrilled with Davis’ play and conditioning during his stint in Boston, but at times he had been a pivotal component of the Celtics’ oppressive defense.

With this deal, the Celtics have traded Davis for a more athletic, better-shooting equivalent on a more palatable contract. Bass isn’t quite as good defensively, but Boston nonetheless acquired a better player for less money, and found a better fit for their offense, to boot. Well played, Danny Ainge.

But it’s hard to see exactly what the Magic stand to gain with Davis’ four-year, $26 million contract. When at the absolute peak of his game, Davis is an effective defender with decent interior skills and a solid mid-range jumper. But Davis didn’t reach that point very often last season, as the focus-related errors stacked up at an alarming rate. On the hardwood and off, Davis presented problems for the Celtics. He wasn’t the player they needed him to be, nor the one he could be. Investing four years in a player with that kind of history is an iffy decision, especially at the cost of a comparable player on a more reasonable deal.

I can understand why, in a vacuum, the Magic would want a player like Davis (or like Bass, for that matter) to help fill out their rotation. But why commit two extra years and and an additional $18 million in a deal that doesn’t actually make the team better? Where, exactly, is the selling point that makes Davis’ game so much more appealing than Bass’? He isn’t the kind of piece that could entice Dwight Howard to stay in Orlando, nor is he a credible building block for a post-Howard rebuild. Bass himself is far from perfect, but he boasts a more productive and efficient overall game.

This isn’t one of those quirky trades with mutually beneficial fit. It’s trading for trading’s sake, and when the Magic were desperate to shake things up a bit, the Celtics capitalized.