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Cheap Seats: Who Needed a Trade?

The trade deadline came and went on Thursday afternoon, with very few deals going down. Which player who didn’t get dealt most needed a trade?

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Every season, we welcome in a new group of interns and typically their work is done 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 player who most needed a trade before the deadline.

Iman Shumpert

The 2013-14 NBA trade deadline has come and gone. In the days leading up to the deadline there were rumors about deals gaining traction, such as the Grizzlies’ pursuit of the Timberwolves’ Chase Budinger and J.J. Barea. By the deadline, small moves were made, but no blockbuster deals. However, the trade of Danny Granger for the 76ers’ Evan Turner was an unexpected and strong move by the Pacers. Upon review of the deadline, there were obvious winners and losers, but perhaps no one player could have benefited from a change of scenery more than Iman Shumpert of the Knicks.

One rumored deal involved the Clippers and the Knicks. The deal had moving parts, but the main players were Clippers’ backup point guard Darren Collison and Shumpert. It made sense. The Knicks currently rely on Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni and Beno Udrih (who had demanded a trade out of New York) at the point guard position, and the Clippers are desperately looking for depth on the wing with J.J. Redick sidelined indefinitely with a back injury, and with Matt Barnes and Jared Dudley struggling mightily.

The Oklahoma City Thunder were also rumored to be after Shumpert, though it is not clear what exactly they were offering in exchange for the Knicks guard. Shumpert’s size and tenacity on the defensive side of the ball would have bolstered the Thunder’s strong team defense, and complemented other solid individual defenders like Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka.

Neither deal went through however, and Shumpert remains in New York. Unfortunately Shumpert sprained his MCL against the Pelicans the night before the deadline, and New York wanted to include Felton in the deal, whose inclusion likely helped kill the deal. Additionally, Rivers realized that buyout players that would soon be available, and wouldn’t require surrendering solid players like Collison, or assets like a draft pick or promising rookie Reggie Bullock. Some names on that list include Danny Granger, Metta World Peace, Glen Davis and Ben Gordon. Whatever the deciding factor, Shumpert is the loser in this failed deal.

The Knicks currently stand at 21-34, the 11th seed in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks continue to underachieve, and even worse for the Knicks, superstar Carmelo Anthony is rumored to be considering other teams after this season. Coach Mike Woodson has been on the hot seat all season, and the team is currently in buyout negotiations with Metta World Peace and Beno Udrih. It is an uneasy situation in New York. Furthermore, Shumpert is currently lumped into a packed shooting guard/wing position with the controversial J.R. Smith, who has struggled this year after winning Sixth Man of the Year last season, and promising rookie Tim Hardaway, Jr. With Shumpert’s offensive struggles this season, and the uncertainty in New York, Shumpert would have benefited short-term and long-term from a move out West.

Shumpert has struggled offensively, averaging 6.9 points a game on 37% shooting from the field, but he continues to excel as an on-ball defender. After going scoreless against Portland earlier this month, Anthony said, “If we have to do a better job of getting him the ball in his spots, then we have to do that. I don’t think it’s just on him … Does he have to be more aggressive? I think so. But for the most part, we have to help him out in that category.” However, Shumpert’s stock has fallen to the point that New York was willing to give him up for a rental of Collison, who is solid, but has struggled as the lead point guard in both Indiana and Dallas. For reference, Mike James won the starting position from Collison in Dallas last season.

The Clippers boast the league’s third most efficient offense, but its team defense has struggled recently. Inserting Shumpert would have given Doc Rivers a young wing defender to slow down elite wing players. Shumpert is the size of a prototypical shooting guard, but is more than capable of guarding small forwards. Shumpert could have been a Tony Allen type player for the Clippers, but with a better offensive game, despite his struggles. He also plays small forward on the most efficient lineup the Knicks play, which includes Felton, Prigioni, Anthony and Tyson Chandler, which boasts an 18.8 net rating. Clearly Shumpert’s inclusion doesn’t preclude a team from being effective on offense, and the Clippers’ offense is already elite. Shumpert would have been featured as the Clippers’ elite wing defender in the playoffs and could have reestablished his reputation as a valuable player.

With the Thunder, Shumpert could have come off the bench to take over for Thabo Sefolosha and to fill in for the inexperienced Jeremy Lamb. The Thunder have enough offensive talent that Shumpert could have filled in as a wing defender, allowing Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka to carry the load on offense. Players such as Jeremy Lamb and Kendrick Perkins are asked to do only a few things well, while letting the star players carry the load. With the Knicks, Coach Woodson looks for Shumpert to do more than just defend at this point, stating in late January “he’s still playing the minutes and he’s got the freedom to play. I don’t know if he’s down on his confidence or what. But that’s something we gotta sit down and talk about here in the next couple of days, because I need Iman to not only defend, but I need him to just play all-around.” Shumpert would have been a valuable addition, and made the Thunder even more dangerous.

In fact, a trade to Thunder may have been the best scenario for Shumpert long-term. Since Harden was traded to Houston, and Kevin Martin left to Minnesota, the Thunder have relied on Sefolosha and Lamb to man the shooting guard position. Together, the two have done an adequate job at shooting guard, but it is not an area of strength for the Thunder. Shumpert could have entered the shooting guard slot, competed at a high level in the playoffs and earned himself a long-term deal to take over the position. With elite stars like Westbrook and Durant, Shumpert could have continued his strong work on defense and developed his offensive game further. This same long term opportunity may not have existed with the Clippers, who gave J.J. Redick a four-year contract this year, and who has exceeded expectations when he has been healthy this season.

Instead, Shumpert remains in New York, and will be sidelined for at least two weeks. When his MCL heals, he will return to the Knicks’ lineup and help them try to fight for a playoff spot in the East. But if last night’s loss to the Orlando Magic was any indication, the Knicks are still a long way from overcoming their poor play, and Shumpert will continue to feel the weight of a disappointed New York fan base. The Clippers will likely fill the void that Shumpert could have with a player who was bought out of his contract, perhaps Granger, World Peace or Gordon.

The Thunder will push forward with Sefolosha and Lamb as their shooting guards. Neither team needed this deal, even if it potentially was beneficial for them, but Shumpert did. After spending the first half of the season hearing his name in trade rumors, maybe now Shumpert can focus on things like getting healthy, finding his offense and working on the parts of his game that made him a fan favorite in New York. Though that might have been a much easier task in Los Angeles or Oklahoma City.

– Jesse Blancarte

 

Rajon Rondo

On July 12th, 2013, the Boston Celtics agreed to trade Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to the Brooklyn Nets for Gerald Wallace, Keith Bogans, Kris Humphries, Kris Joseph, MarShon Brooks and three future first-round picks with the option to swap first-round picks in the 2017 draft. This trade made it clear what direction Celtics GM Danny Ainge planned to take the team. The legendary franchise shipped off three players who were who were substantial pieces in the team’s most recent NBA title. Couple that with the fact that future Hall of Famer, Ray Allen, had already decided to jump ship and join the rival Miami HEAT, the Celtics were left with a roster of Rajon Rondo and a collection of journeymen veterans along with a few young players sprinkled in. The writing was on the wall; Ainge and the Celtics were looking toward the future and were willing to sacrifice their 2013-14 season under the belief that doing so would better position the team for long-term success.

With the Celtics in the early stages of a rebuild it leaves Rondo, who is coming off an injury but is in the prime of his career, in a very tough spot.  For this season and the next Rondo is under contract with the Celtics, a very reasonable contract for a player of his caliber earning just under $12 million this season and just under $13 million in 2014-15.  Rondo was offered a contract extension from the Celtics earlier this season but declined.

“In the Collective Bargaining Agreement, there are limits on what can and can’t be done,” Ainge told CBS Boston. “Really it’s not that Rondo doesn’t want to accept an extension, but it’s just not financially smart for him to accept it right now. We didn’t think he would [sign], but we did try.”

“I like to stick to the script,” Rondo told Baxter Holmes of the Boston Globe. “I don’t like change much. I wouldn’t mind staying here the rest of my career.

“Things don’t always seem to go that way, but like I said before, it’s just a business. I wouldn’t mind extending another 10 years in Boston.”

Both parties seem to be stuck in wait-and-see mode at the moment. The Celtics appear to have a tempered interest in signing Rondo long term if the price is right but the question remains, what is the right price for both sides?  Rondo will more than likely be offered a max extension when he enters free agency following the 2015 season and while the Celtics would be able offer an extra year on that contract, the deciding factor will inevitably be the potential of the team.

The next few years, presuming he stays healthy, will be some of the most productive years of Rondo’s impressive career and it would be a failure for both sides if those years were wasted on team stuck in the middle of a rebuild.  Of course the Celtics could turn things around quicker than expected through the draft and or free agency, but generally the process doesn’t occur overnight. There were some rumblings regarding Rondo and possible trades this week as the trade deadline came and went but after all was said and done, Rondo still remains with the Celtics.  The most notable deal discussed would have sent him to the Houston Rockets, but the asking price for Rondo was just too high and in the end both sides weren’t able to come to an agreement.

It will be very interesting to see how this plays out.  Rondo, being signed through 2015, allows both him and the Celtics some time to weigh their decision and consider what the best course of action may be. For Rondo, who will be 29 after his current contract expires, making the most of his time left in the NBA should be priority number one.  He is an exceptionally gifted point guard (averaging over 11 assists per game the last three seasons) and can be a maestro with the ball in his hands.  He has proven in the past that when surrounded with a talented supporting cast he can win big games, championship games. Rondo is the type of player who could transform a playoff caliber team into a championship caliber team if the fit is right.  Granted the NBA could look very different in a couple of years but it is difficult to imagine a situation in the near future where the Celtics are back competing deep into the playoffs, with or without Rondo. If Rondo has aspirations of another title run, he and the Celtics may need to part ways.

– John Zitzler

 

Pau Gasol

The Los Angeles Lakers made a little bit of noise at the NBA trade deadline, but it wasn’t the noise everyone expected. In the weeks leading up to the deadline, rumors were spreading like wild fire that the Lakers would trade Pau Gasol in order to rid themselves of his $19 million contract. Instead, the Lakers opted to trade off Steve Blake to the Golden State Warriors for MarShon Brooks and Kent Bazemore.

The reasoning behind the Blake trade was justified — to save $4 million from salary and luxury tax – but trading Gasol in addition to Blake could have really helped the Lakers. Trading Jordan Hill also could’ve helped the Lakers, as it would’ve gotten them out of the luxury tax. But neither happened.

By trading Gasol, the team could have saved money and acquired some assets in the process. The longstanding rumor was that the Lakers and Phoenix Suns were discussing a Gasol deal, with the Suns interested in acquiring a proven veteran to aid in a playoff run. The Suns’ front office was content with trading one of their four first-round draft picks if it meant help for the playoffs. The Lakers would benefit in adding another first-round draft pick in addition to their own pick in this year’s talent-heavy draft.

The reported snag in the deal was the Suns were unsure how Gasol would play upon returning from an injured groin. There was also some belief that the Suns could have gambled on Gasol returning by giving up a draft pick since they have four total picks as of now. If the Suns acquired Gasol at the deadline, the team could have used the final couple of months to show Gasol what kind of team they have, essentially using a playoff run to persuade him to opt to sign a new deal there this summer when he becomes a free agent. The Suns are a team led by veteran guys like Goran Dragic and Gerald Green with younger talent like Eric Bledsoe and Miles Plumlee. If the team holds on to their upcoming draft picks, younger guys will be brought in as well to give the team a bright outlook for the future.

For what it’s worth, Gasol returned on Friday night against the Boston Celtics and scored 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting and pulled in seven rebounds.

By dumping Gasol’s remaining salary this season, the Lakers would have gotten under the luxury tax threshold due to the $4 million that was removed by trading Blake. Moving out of the luxury tax bracket would have allowed the Lakers to become more financially flexible, which the team could use in the upcoming free agency class. It also would’ve helped the Lakers avoid the repeater tax in the future.

The Lakers seem content with letting Gasol walk in the summer if they aren’t able to re-sign him to a deal, so acquiring a draft pick would have helped the team tremendously.  By not trading Gasol, the Lakers passed up on the possibility of incoming assets – which they don’t have a lot of – and are now exclusively relying on free agency to fill their roster out. While Los Angeles is undoubtedly an attractive place to play, the team is banking that Carmelo Anthony leaves money on the table in New York and guys like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh leave an established system just to change scenery.

– Cody Taylor

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