The Houston Rockets saved $10 million. The New Orleans Hornets can say they did more this summer than re-sign bench warmer Aaron Gray. Indiana Pacers President Larry Bird dealt for a point guard and jettisoned an albatross contract. The New Jersey Nets swapped a bricklayer for a jump shooting forward with the mobility of a brick and cap space next summer.
When the dust settles, those might be the only good vibrations that emanate from the four-team trade completed Thursday involving the aforementioned squads. ESPN.com first reported the deal, which will send Trevor Ariza to New Orleans, Darren Collison, and James Posey to Indiana, Troy Murphy to New Jersey, and Courtney Lee to Houston.
The participating clubs each waited to snatch up the ideal impact pieces.
The Hornets want to keep franchise player Chris Paul happy and in the Big Easy for the remainder of his contract and beyond. The moribund Pacers have sought better guard options than Brandon Rush and T.J. Ford. Mikhail Prokhorov, the Nets' new Russian billionaire owner, has pledged to field a championship roster within the next five years. The Rockets hope to assemble the optimal cast around a healthy Yao Ming.
Here's a look at how all involved might lose in this early August transaction.
Rockets trade Ariza, welcome Lee
Trevor, we hardly knew ye.
GM Daryl Morey and coach Rick Adelman will regret not affording Ariza the chance to test drive his game alongside Yao. The front office expects the center to participate in all training camp activities.
Ariza began his first campaign in Houston in scorching fashion. He notched several 30 point games and showed the explosiveness that made him an attractive free agent buy. Given his championship experience and his relative youth, his contract was reasonable and far from a payroll handicap.
He devolved into a low-percentage trey bomber when opponents began to figure out the Yao-less Rockets' admirable but predictable schemes. His defense deteriorated to the point that Adelman wondered if the small forward had forgotten how to play it. He was a turnover machine in the endgame.
Yao's presence, however, could have minimized or eliminated those shortcomings.
Ariza switched from a team with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol to one with Luis Scola and Chuck Hayes at the forward and center spots, and no clear starter at the two. That makes a difference.
His ability to check quicker guards and forwards would have spared Yao early foul trouble during the All-Star's expected on-court recuperation. The double teams Yao commands coupled with a more commodious Scola would have opened up much better looks for Ariza. Bombs away.
Instead, Rockets management threw a grenade in his direction and may not like the results. Lee plays earnest, stingy defense, but does not boast superior quickness or decision making to Ariza. Lee, too, racks up turnovers when he's asked to do too much.
His three-point accuracy on the hysterically bad Nets was comparable to Ariza's. He hit 34 percent of his treys. He doesn't slash to the basket as much and projects as a lesser playmaker.
The Rockets will save themselves from future luxury tax hits, but that qualifyiesas a win for a team eyeing title contention if the net gain, Lee, proves superior to the player surrendered.
Hornets trade Darren Collison and James Posey, welcome Ariza
New Orleans rookie GM Dell Demps will regret dumping Paul's potential backup and backcourt sidekick for the next decade. Collison's commendable run in place of the injured Paul showcased his versatility. He shot a reasonable percentage from distance, threw timely passes, drove with gusto, and delivered laudable defensive efforts. He was not, however, going to supplant CP3.
A title worthy team needs at least three starter-quality players at its strength positions. The L.A. Lakers employ Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom. Even journeyman Theo Ratliff started some games for the Charlotte Bobcats last year.
If Paul injures himself again—a real possibility—who will step in and run the offense? When Paul needs a few minutes of rest in a big game—a necessity for any star at any position no matter his age—who can Monty Williams trust to keep the ship from hitting a proverbial iceberg with the best player on the bench?
Collison and Marcus Thornton gave the Hornets and Paul a capable support tandem. The front office tried for years to find a worthy reserve point man. Jannero Pargo, Antonio Daniels, and Mike James failed. Why trade a great fit for that role now?
The Rockets boast more raw talent than the Hornets, and Ariza needs to play with as much raw talent as possible for his skills to shine. Posey had become an out-of-shape, oft-injured, and aging headache, but the urgency surrounding Paul's roster discontent might have lit one last fire.
Demps did not want his franchise's activity in the Summer of LeBron to read in the NBA history books: "re-signed scrub forward-center Aaron Gray." The Hornets also coveted wing help, given Peja Stojakovic's decline and increasingly creative choke artistry.
Stojakovic's contract, not Posey's, was the real problem. With Collison gone, Demps cannot package anyone attractive with the soft shooter without further hamstringing the roster.
Pacers trade Troy Murphy, welcome Darren Collison and Posey
I loved Collison as Paul's backup and as a potential first mate at shooting guard. He will not soon approximate Paul as a full-time starter at the one in Indiana. If he exposes me as an imbecile, I will apologize in a future column. I said sorry to Zach Randolph. Maybe I'll do the same with Collison.
Posey emerged as a clutch shooter and do-it-all role player in 2006 and 2008 with two championship squads in Miami and Boston. He played lock down, grimy defense on some of the league's best perimeter assassins, including Kobe Bryant. It says here the Celtics still feel the sting of his departure.
Why, then, is Posey now seen as damaged goods? He doesn't play hard for lottery teams, which the Pacers will surely be, and age has zapped much of the lateral quickness that allowed him to harangue Bryant just two years ago. Plus, Posey and Dahntay Jones alone cannot carry a defenseless roster back to respectability.
Bird will not regret losing Murphy, but he might wonder if he fetched the best return possible.
Nets trade Courtney Lee, welcome Troy Murphy
Lee misfired and made too many mistakes in his inaugural trial run as a starter, one season removed from a Finals berth as a key reserve. Like Ariza in Houston, though, he played on a team devoid of All-Stars for much of the year. Devin Harris spent much of that miserable jaunt in street clothes or in an all-around funk, and Brook Lopez has not shown enough to merit consideration as a star big fella.
No player on a 12 win roster should be untouchable. That goes without saying. But, Lee for Murphy?
The Pacers' overpriced sharpshooting forward can haul down rebounds in machine-like fashion, score a few put back baskets, and ride hot streaks beyond the arc. He is not an adept passer and is an atrocious defender. He gets abused in the post and could not guard his own shadow. A flower vase could amass 20 points against him.
It's hard to see how this softy will improve Jersey's still dismal prospects.
The Keys to Making This Four-Team Deal a Success for All Involved
Lee and Ariza were dead-eye shooters on championship-contending squads loaded with talent. Lee, whom the Rockets have pursued relentlessly since 2008 draft night, will need to prove his adhesive defense boasts the discipline necessary to make up for the explosive anticipation Ariza provided.
He must also demonstrate that, alongside Yao, he can bolster his long-distance accuracy from the low 30s back to the 40-percent range, where it was when he shared the court with Dwight Howard.
Ariza will need to convert Paul's pinpoint passes into points. He must rediscover his slashing ability and must commit that he will not continue the camp-behind-the-arc act that damaged his game in Houston.
The Rockets also snagged a nifty, $6.3 million trade exception. That could become a useful bargaining chip in a future impact deal. Ariza's contract alone was not a cap killer, but retaining Scola and Kyle Lowry, signing Brad Miller, and looming hefty paydays for Brooks and Yao caused Alexander and Morey to want to save some coin.
Collison has the most to prove. Did he play out of his mind in Paul's absence and overachieve? Is he better suited as a valuable accessory on a championship-caliber roster, or can he become a full-time starter on the Pacers?
If Roy Hibbert makes significant strides, and Granger can learn to play something that resembles defense, Bird might finally employ three-to-four fifths of a playoff-caliber starting five.
It remains to be seen if Murphy will play much on the woeful Nets. His expiring contract could afford New Jersey as much as $23 million to spend in 2011 free agency.
Disposable income, though, is not the best thing to have in advance of a lockout, which could envelop the owners, league officials, and the player's association before the market opens July 1.
The team that lands Carmelo Anthony wins big. The squads that strike out on impact stars can go find a quiet corner and cry there for a few years. It merits mention that Prokhorov pined for LeBron a month ago and settled for Johan Petro, Jordan Farmar, Anthony Morrow, and a few other complimentary pieces. Just sayin'...
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