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Cheap Seats: Best Trade of the NBA Season

Basketball Insiders’ interns Jesse Blancarte, Cody Taylor and John Zitzler discuss the best trade of the 2013-14 NBA season.

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Every season, we welcome in a new group of interns and typically their work is done primarily behind the scenes. But now that the current group has been around for awhile, we’re giving them a platform to voice their thoughts on the NBA. Each week, Basketball Insiders’ interns Jesse Blancarte, Cody Taylor and John Zitzler will discuss a topic related to the league in Cheap Seats.

This week, the interns discuss the best trade of the 2013-14 NBA season.

On January 6, the Chicago Bulls traded small forward Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Andrew Bynum. If this was Bynum from 2011-12, this trade would have been a major win for the Bulls in terms of a straight talent swap. However, the Bulls traded for the 2014 version of Bynum, who has suffered through various knee injuries and a questioned desire to play basketball. This Bynum was a valuable trade piece because of his unique contract, rather than his on court production. Bynum’s deal with the Cavaliers was only guaranteed for roughly $6 million of a total $12 million for this season. Therefore, any team that had the rights to Bynum could waive him before January 7 at 5 p.m. and take a salary cap hit of $6 million, rather than the full $12 million. The Bulls knew this, and wisely executed the trade without receiving any impact players in return.

After waiving Bynum, the Bulls saved roughly $20 million. It was recognition from the Bulls’ front office that with Derrick Rose’s latest knee injury, they were not likely to win a championship, and that future flexibility was a bigger priority.

John Paxson, the Bulls’ executive vice president of basketball operations told ESPN, “What was unusual about this, unique about this was the Andrew Bynum contract…it gives us tremendous financial flexibility moving forward. The thing that we are assured of in talking to [Bulls chairman] Jerry [Reinsdorf] in going through this process is that the things that we benefit from financially, we are going to, in the future, put back into this basketball team.”

The Bulls also received future draft picks, including a protected first-round pick, and second-round draft picks in 2015 and 2016.

The Bulls did not want to part with Deng, who has been a solid player, a fan favorite, and is a former All-Star. However, Chicago and Deng failed to reach an agreement on a contract extension, and determined they would have to pay more than they wanted to in order to keep him past this year. Realizing this, the Bulls flipped Deng into large financial savings and future draft picks, clearing the way for a free agent run at Carmelo Anthony.

Recent reports claim that Joakim Noah was recruiting Anthony during All-Star Weekend. As ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported, acquiring Anthony is not straightforward in spite of the $20 million savings. The Bulls will have to amnesty Carlos Boozer, trade away someone currently on the roster like Mike Dunleavy (owed slightly more than $3 million), and delay bringing over Nikola Mirotic, an overseas prospect. This all assumes Anthony is willing to take less money than he stands to make with the Knicks, which is not a sure bet. However if Chicago can pull this off, and Rose can come back healthy next season, the Bulls will feature a formidable lineup, including Rose, Jimmy Butler, Anthony, Taj Gibson and Noah.

The Bulls will have to fill in pieces around this unit to add depth, but as this season has shown, in today’s NBA veteran players will take less money for a chance to win a championship. Also, Chicago has proven this season that valuable players can be acquired midseason. The Bulls acquired D.J. Augustin in December and he has performed well above expectations. He is not Rose, but he has filled in admirably, as Nate Robinson did last year. The Bulls also acquired sharp shooter Jimmer Fredette, who was bought out of his contract with the Sacramento Kings. The Bulls are not the only team to acquire valuable players midseason. The Clippers acquired Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Danny Granger for minimum deals after each player was bought out of their contracts. Also, the Oklahoma City Thunder managed to acquire small forward Caron Butler, who will help fill the void left by Thabo Sefolosha, who is injured and expected to miss several weeks.

The trend now is the rich get richer, and there is little doubt that veteran players will sign up for a chance to win a title in Chicago, especially if Carmelo is there next season. However, a run at Anthony is not Chicago’s only strategy toward improving their roster. Other players are likely to hit the free agent market, like the Big Three in Miami. If none of these options work out, the Bulls can delay acquiring any major players this summer, maintain cap flexibility and pursue free agents in 2015, when stars like LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love may be available.

In addition, this trade does not just have future benefits as the Bulls have continued to compete without Deng. Before the trade, the Bulls allowed 97.8 points per 100 possessions, which ranked second best in the league. After the trade, the Bulls have allowed 98.1 points per 100 possessions, still good for second best, right behind Indiana. More significantly, the offense has jumped from 96.5 points scored per 100 possessions to 101.2. Additionally, the Bulls have a better win percentage, having gone 20-10 since January 6, whereas the team was 14-18 before the trade. Surprisingly, the Bulls managed to improve their on-court performance while increasing their flexibility for next season.

The franchise recognized that having flexibility this upcoming summer was more important than the chance to win a few more game this season. Now Cleveland faces the same problem the Bulls recognized with Deng, which is that he will be looking for a big new contract, and may leave the team if he can get more money elsewhere. With the Bulls currently playing well, and the Knicks’ disastrous season getting worse by the day- increasing the likelihood Carmelo will leave- this deal should be considered the best this season.

– Jesse Blancarte

 

On December 9, 2013, the Toronto Raptors agreed to a trade with the Sacramento Kings sending Rudy Gay, Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy to the Kings in exchange for Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, Chuck Hayes and John Salmons. This trade marked the end of Gay’s brief and unsuccessful tenure in Toronto. Gay, who is being paid $17.9 million this season and has a player option worth $19.3 million available for next season, was never able to play up to his contract during his time in Toronto.

Gay got off to the worst shooting start of his career this season, shooting a mere 38.8 percent from the field. When you weigh Gay’s production against his salary it isn’t hard to see why new Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri jumped at the opportunity to move the inefficient forward and his whale of a contract. The Raptors began the season slow, winning just six of their first 18 contests, but since the Gay trade the Raptors have surged going 28-14. Even just on the surface, it is evident the Raptors win more games when Gay is not a part of the team. Taking a more in-depth look at the team’s stats since the trade, it becomes even more apparent, as field goal percentage, scoring, rebounding and assists have all increased. Without even considering how the players (Vasquez, Patterson, Hayes, Salmons) returned in the trade have impacted their new team, at the very least the trade should be considered addition by subtraction.

Gay’s departure has allowed for growth throughout the roster, most notably in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. Despite the fact that Gay had the higher usage rate, DeRozan was leading the team in scoring prior to the trade averaging 21.3 points per game and has since increased his scoring to 22.7 a game. The league took notice of DeRozan’s impressive start this season and he was selected to appear in his first All-Star game. Alongside DeRozan, Lowry has been outstanding as well; the veteran point guard is having his best season as a pro. Lowry is putting up career best numbers in points per game (16.8), assists per game (7.7) and three point shooting (37.8 percent). The improved production from both DeRozan and Lowry has been a significant factor in the team’s improved overall play and their record reflects this. It hasn’t just been a two-man show; while Lowry and DeRozan certainly are very important, other players have stepped to fill the void left by Gay as well. Second-year guard and former slam dunk champ Terrence Ross may have benefited more than any other Raptor, as his minutes have significantly increased and he has proven to be ready for the opportunity. Ross has become a very legitimate threat shooting the three and must be respected by the defense because if not he has the potential to put up big scoring numbers. Ross busted out in a game against the Clippers in late January for 51 points, making 10 threes and shooting 16-29 from the field, a performance that opened a lot of eyes.

However, the trade hasn’t been completely one sided; the frequently criticized Gay has played much better since being shipped off to Sacramento. While it may not be saying much considering how poorly he played with the Raptors, it certainly has been a welcome sight for Kings fans. Gay, who is known for his irritating shot selection, has reduced his attempts from three from 3.3 a game with the Raptors down to 2.7 a game with the Kings. While this may seem like a very marginal decrease, it is a step in the right direction. He has been dramatically better from inside the arc, shooting just under 50 percent on two point field goal attempts. If he can continue to minimize his three point attempts he can be a productive addition alongside DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas for the Kings.

The quick work by Ujiri to rid the Raptors of Gay must be applauded. He found a new home for a guy that was making that task a very difficult with his on court play combined with his big contract. The trade has allowed the Raptors to flourish and become one the few teams in the Eastern Conference playing winning basketball. They look poised to lock up home court for at least one playoff series and presuming they can advance could be a very tough out for one of the two Eastern Conference powers. It has been quite an impressive turnaround for a team that early on that looked like it was more likely to be in the race for a top draft pick rather than home court in the playoffs. It is impossible to ignore the impact of the early season trade and it hard argue that any trade this season has had a more positive impact on a team’s performance.

-John Zitzler

If there was any question about just how serious the Indiana Pacers are about making a deep playoff run, it was answered a couple of weeks back at the NBA trade deadline. The Pacers acquired forward Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen from the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for longtime Pacer Danny Granger.

The Pacers recognized that Granger, who spent his first nine seasons in Indiana, was expendable for the first time in his career. Last year Granger battled a left knee injury all season that limited him to just five games played. During that time, Paul George began to establish himself as one of the top scoring options for the Pacers. Granger has yet to return to form, as he only appeared in 29 games this season for the Pacers. In those 29 games, Granger scored just 8.3 points per game on 36 percent shooting from the field; a stark contrast from the 2011-12 season when he averaged 18.7 points on 42 percent shooting. The Pacers felt that they couldn’t rely on Granger any longer and made the necessary move.

The Pacers’ acquisition of Turner was an excellent move that the front office should get more credit for. The Pacers realized that they have a big task during this upcoming offseason, as they attempt to bring Lance Stephenson back. Stephenson will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and will be in line for a huge pay day as he is currently averaging career highs in points (14), rebounds (7.3), assists (5.1) and field goal percentage (49 percent). The team’s goal is still to re-sign Stephenson, but now they have an insurance option in Turner just in case they can’t bring back Stephenson.

Turner came into Indiana averaging a career-high 17.4 points per game in Philadelphia. Turner will also be a free agent following this season, but should the Pacers tender his $8.7 million qualifying offer, Turner will be a restricted free agent and the Pacers can match any offer made to him. The Pacers are winners in this trade because they didn’t lose any valuable assets – they would have likely let Granger walk in free agency regardless.  Bringing Turner in for the final half of the season will enable the Pacers to look at Turner as a rental player of sorts and if they like him enough, they can keep him for next season. Turner also serves as insurance policy for the team should they become unsuccessful in bringing Stephenson back; they can use Turner in the role vacated by Stephenson.

For the time being, Turner becomes an additional body the Pacers can rely on during the end of the season and in their run in the playoffs. The former second overall pick in the 2010 draft has proven he can score, which should help the Pacers’ bench manufacture points, something they rank toward the bottom of the league in doing. Turner turned in his best game as a Pacer last Wednesday in a blowout loss to the Charlotte Bobcats, a game in which he scored 22 points on nine-of-12 shooting from the field, including two-of-two from three-point range. That game showed precisely why the Pacers brought Turner in and ultimately what Turner brings to the table for the Pacers.

-Cody Taylor

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