Friday, February 13, 2009

The Naivete of Giving Serious Consideration to the Names Marion and O'Neal

As far as Shawn Marion being traded for Jermaine O'Neal is concerned, call me when this trade happens six years ago. There's no need to analyze what's become of Jermaine O'Neal. In short, his knees are gone, and with them, his explosiveness. No more drives or dunks, not much quickness defensively, and a whole lot of jump shots. He's a solid offensive big man who can still block shots, but he's an average rebounder and defender. With his frame and his skills, he's held back on a nightly basis by his body, and he hasn't been able to stay healthy for a long time.

Shawn Marion, meanwhile, was just confused in Miami. He's not meant to create his own shots, and in Miami's offense, is either Dwyane Wade is scoring, or he's creating a shot for his teammates, whether it's a three for Mario Chalmers or a jump shot off the pick-and-roll for Udonis Haslem. Sounds close enough to what Steve Nash did in Phoenix's offense, right? Only there are two big differences: the Heat don't run, and Marion isn't a power forward. He wasn't getting good looks from the perimeter, nor was he playing there as often as he did in Phoenix. He has absolutely no back to the basket game and just by the nature of his form can't get a jump shot off with a man in his face, and for as good of a rebounder as he has been for his career, he's not built to bang bodies in the post. Marion mostly played the 3 in Miami's starting lineup, but offensively, he was assigned the role of a player he has never been, and once Joel Anthony sat and the likes of Daequan Cook and Chris Quinn came in to space the floor for Wade, Marion was left without touches and without a specified place in their offense. His rebounds, steals and blocks were down for a simple reason: Miami's game entails way fewer possessions than Phoenix's did when Marion racked up double-doubles. The Heat plays a slower game, simply put.

For the next 24 hours, lots of sports talk, be it on the radio, TV or internet, will be consumed by this trade. Two former All-Stars, both relatively young, both extremely talented, traded for each other, with each arriving on a team struggling to build a winner around its superstar. Marion/JO to the rescue? Not quite. Plainly, the names--and the players--in this trade are meaningless. They are salary figures in a trade where each team acquires its desired form of cap relief.

The promise and intrigue of the 2010 Free Agent class is well-documented, and both Miami and Toronto have the future of their organizations at stake in the results of that offseason. The real reason for why each team agreed to this trade is revealed by analyzing its implications on their cap situations approaching that almighty offseason.


It's not clear whether or not there's any ground to the widespread (we'll call it) sentiment that Chris Bosh is one of the more likely candidates to change teams in 2010. Of course, there is no merit to Stephen A. Smith's report that Bosh has made it known to Toronto brass that he will change teams. It's really an absurd notion. If Bosh had actually done this, why wouldn't the Raptors be shopping him to get some value instead of letting him walk? And why on Earth would Bosh decide this two seasons before hitting the market, without any clue about potential suitors or how the Raptors' roster would look by then? Bosh is a smart guy who's never been accused of greed a la some of his classmates. Of course the guy will want to have an idea whether or not the Raptors can compete with guys like Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani, and of course that will influence his decision. Bosh's level of unhappiness would have to be irreversible for him to commit to relocating two seasons in advance of his opportunity to do so, and there's no reason why that would be the case.

There is, however, ground to Toronto's insecurity regarding its superstar's future. Bosh has said he likes playing in Canada, but there is the obvious lure of playing for a U.S. team, perhaps especially for a pretty impressive Olympian who played with a roster really proud of what it accomplished. Besides, superstars and a whole lot of promising young guys (TMac, Damon Stoudamire, Marcus Camby, Vince Carter) have either bolted on the organization, or soured on their experiences in Toronto and wanted out.

So there's a clear need to keep Bosh happy, and a massively disappointing season that has included the firing of a coach who was popular in his locker room is not the right step towards making CB4 feel like he's in the right situation. Trading for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks, however, is a potentially big step in the desired direction.

Jermaine O'Neal's contract comes off the books the same year as Bosh's. If they didn't build a winner by 2010, they risked being left with a whole lot of cap a departed superstar. Shawn Marion's contract, meanwhile, runs out after this season. Instead of having a ton of cap and a risk of completely striking out in 2010, the Raptors corner an ignored market. The 2009 Free Agent class is nowhere near spectacular, but very few teams have cap and there are a few noteworthy talents who will definitely be changing teams.

The Knicks are obsessed with saving cap for 2010, and may forgo re-signing David Lee and Nate Robinson in the process. The Pistons are almost a lock to let the failed Allen Iverson experiment last just one season. Meanwhile, Ben Gordon may be enjoying a career year, but the Bulls still suck, and still want to build around Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich in the backcourt, even if only because Hinrich's already been given a big contract.

With JO on the books, the Raptors would have been over the salary cap this offseason. But Marion's expiring deal, the Raptors will be somewhere in the range of 12-15 million dollars under the cap, depending on its adjustment. This year's cap is at $58.68 million, and the Raptors have under $46 million tied up in salary for next season.

This leaves the Raptors with a golden opportunity to add a legitimate pieces to its unit and increase the likelihood that Bosh stays. David Lee would be a pefect complement to Bosh's game--a double-double, ultra-athletic forward who thrives off of his skills in the post. He's not strong, but he's one of the best rebounders and finishers in the game. Ben Gordon, meanwhile, is the shooting guard the Raptors have been missing since VC's heyday. This team desperately needs a guard that can create his own shots and score without just shooting threes. Gordon lights it up from three, but would be a big addition as a guy who can theaten penetration off his dribble. Robinson could offer much the same, plus a whole lot of energy. Wherever he is, he'll increase ticket sales, and don't think playing in front of more people won't make a difference for Bosh.

Ultimately, it's a perfect chance for Toronto to take. If they can't make a signing this offseason, the cap is still there for next season. But if they are able to lock up, say, Lee, then they'll be far more competitive just in time for Bosh to believe he should stick around. Just don't be fooled into thinking this team dealt for a 31 year-old having the worst year of his career with the intentions of locking him up.


This trade doesn't have the most obvious implications for the Heat, and perhaps the player they received did have some impact on their reason for making this trade. But this is a trade almost entirely geared towards 2010.

Dwyane Wade has already won a championship in Miami and doesn't really have a reason to be unhappy. The team explored the idea of dealing for Amare Stoudemire, is playoffs-bound, and he's playing in one of the premier cities in the league. Could he leave? He openly discussed the idea of playing with LeBron James, but subsequently shot down the possibility of playing in New York. Good luck getting LeBron to go anywhere other than New York, Dwyane. Essentially, he's happy in Miami, says he's committed to spending his career there, and just doesn't seem like as big of a risk to leave.

But he could, and it doesn't hurt for Miami to give him more reasons to stay. And that's where Marcus Banks enters the conversation. Banks seems like an also-ran in this trade, given the two big names exchanged. But he's signed for $4.7 million in 2010-11, and clearing that cap off its roster furthers the possibility for the Heat to have a massive offseason.

Assuming the salary cap for the 2010-11 season is close where it is now, the Heat are staring at $41 million in spending money for the 2010 offseason. They could sign Wade and, say, Amare, with their cap. Not bad, but their situation is far more promising than that. Since Wade's potentially salary is unaffected by whatever Miami's potential cap situation may be, they could scheme to sign Wade after eating up their cap room with not just an Amare, but, for the scenario's sake, Dirk Nowitzki, too. The same planning cost the Clippers Elton Brand, but in theory, it's scary.

So, yeah, it's probably a good idea for the Heat to lose Marcus Banks' $4.7 million in time to lock up Bosh, LBJ and Wade.

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