ONE: Quite a few big trades/signings during the last week, so lets kick it off with the first major one: the three-team deal that sent Richard Jefferson to the Spurs. In a basketball talent sense, the Spurs lost practically nothing in this trade and gained quite a great deal. Thomas was a serviceable but aging backup, Oberto is the kind of player who I struggle to see being effective anywhere else but San Antonio, and Bowen is also fading towards retirement – his corner threes are about the only thing the Spurs will miss. Jefferson on the other hand is a very handy wing player with an improving three-point shot, and has a few good years left in him (he’s 29, no spring chicken). He gives the Spurs an athletic presence they’ve rarely had over the last decade, and more importantly, he’ll help lessen the load on the already weighed-down Duncan/Ginobili/Parker trio. The one concern I have is whether RJ can adapt to getting far fewer touches and shots as he’s been used to the past few years. He’s been the number 1 or 2 scorer for his team for a while now – will he be happy being #3 or #4 in San Antonio? If anyone can convince him, it’s coach pops. Read more over at PTR who are pretty darn happy about the whole thing. Does every team blog welcome new players like this? Much respect to PTR for a killer post.
TWO: Shaq goes to Cleveland. We saw this coming, then it disappeared, then it finally happened. Shaq has succeeded in his quest to play alongside every great perimeter player of the past 15 years: Anfernee Hardaway, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Steve Nash and now Lebron James. To be honest, I’m more intrigued about the extreme sorry state of the Phoenix Suns camp following this trade than I am about what Shaq and Lebron could potentially achieve. I’ve spent the past few days counseling a few Suns supporters I know and having visited a few Suns blogs/forums lately, I legitimately fear for Steve Kerr and Robert Sarver’s life. Way to completely fuck up a franchise guys. As for the Cavs? This trade doesn’t push them in the direction I would be hoping for if I was a Cavs fan, for a few reasons. Firstly because I struggle seeing how he fits in the decently effective Cavs offense of A) Give it to Lebron and let him score or B) Give it to Lebron to drive and kick to the open shooters. Secondly, because this is such a band aid solution that gives Lebron no real incentive to want to remain in Cleveland (surely they don’t re-sign Shaq, and it doesn’t matter anyway because he’s freaking old). And thirdly, this reeks of a knee-jerk reaction to getting beaten by Orlando and wanting to plug the middle with someone who can hold Dwight. Unfortunately for Cleveland, Howard was just one of several reasons they lost – the more pressing need in my opinion would have been a more versatile/athletic four. But Shaq is Shaq, and if he can continue the form that made him a deserved All-Star in 2008-2009, and if he doesn’t destroy the offense that worked so well for Cleveland for so much of last season, things could get interesting come next May.
THREE: Vince to Orlando rounded out a trio of big changes to championship contenders (Third Quarter Collapse has you covered from a Magic perspective). Will Orlando miss Rafer Alston? Not really. Courtney Lee? Perhaps, but this team is built to win now and Carter simply brings so much more to the table than Lee. Can you seriously win a championship with Vince Carter on your team? Probably not. But If there’s one word that came to my mind where I heard this trade, it was “redemption”. Vince Carter has been counted out for years, overlooked, overrated, practically resigned to the history books as Slam Dunk Comp freak while his career is still playing out. At some point between being traded to New Jersey and Kidd leaving town, Vince Carter became completely irrelevant to the basketball world. And the strange thing is, he almost became better. He became a better leader, he started pulling out clutch games week after week, and seemed to happily embrace his role as elder statesmen while Devin Harris was built up as the face of the franchise. Watching Vince the past couple of years made me think he was happy for this to play out as his career faded – after all, how could he be blamed for not being a “winner” on a team that was rebuilding and had no business being in the playoffs? It was the perfect situation for Vince.
But now the Magic come and whisk him away to face the post-season music, and to put Vince back on the stage that he seemed so uncomfortable to walk on earlier in his career. It is a truly fascinating turn of events, because one of only two things can happen as far as Vince Carter is concerned: 1) The Magic win a title and Carter completely redeems himself and retires with a legacy as one of the game’s all-time most gifted athletes and the difference-maker in a championship team. Or 2) he retires as a perpetual choker who was brought to an already title-contending team but ultimately made them worse. Either way, one thing is for sure: Vince Carter is now highly relevant once again.
FOUR: Of course, the downside of the Carter trade (at least from my perspective) was the likelihood they’d lose Hedo Turkoglu, and sure enough, the man opted out of his contract two days ago. As I said during the Finals, Hedo was clearly the Magic’s MVP during that series. I could go on and on about what I love about him, but the most succinct way I can say it is that few players in the league have the combined skills and size that Hedo does. He’s Peja Stojakovic mixed with Lamar Odom and more clutch than both of them combined. After the Vince trade Magic GM Otis Smith said this: “Vince gives us a veteran, go-to scoring presence, especially at the end of games. Our goal remains the same — to win a championship. Any time you can add an All-Star to help you reach your goals, you have to do it.” Except that go-to scoring presence seems to be exactly what Hedo does, and what Vince has often been so questionable at doing in the playoffs. If the Magic succeed in re-signing Turk, then they come out far better than the Spurs or the Cavs after their big trades. But if they lose Turk, which is more than likely, then honestly, I think they really screwed up.
FIVE: The guys from the Sport Count are back in action with an amusing look at the worst draft picks of the last 10 years. Their analysis of Robert Traylor I found particularly insightful: “Able to dominate despite — and partly because of — his weight in college, Traylor was a mess playing against professional athletes. While his natural ability was clear, his inability not to be fucking enormous limited his playing time and contributions.”
SIX: My YouTube Clip of the Week.