The Give and Go
By Charlie Zegers and Chris Liss
RotoWire Staff Writers
Subject: Give and Go
Date: February 11, 2008 10:08 AM PDT
It's been almost a week, but the biggest story in the NBA is still the Shaquille O'Neal/Shawn Marion trade. I wrote about the fantasy implications on the RotoWire blog, but it seems to me this deal goes well beyond the standard "this guy will get more minutes, this guy will lose minutes" trade analysis.
One of the most interesting angles to this whole deal is the notion that the owners -- Miami's Mickey Arison and the Suns' Robert Sarver -- were the real movers behind this trade. You see that from time to time, but usually that means we're looking at a salary dump. (Like, say the Pau Gasol/Kwame Brown trade. More on that in a sec.) The Suns certainly aren't clearing salary by taking on Shaq's enormous contract; the big fella will make $20 million plus for two more seasons after this one. That would seem to indicate that a) from Sarver's perspective, this is very specifically a basketball trade and b) the only conceivable reason he'd make such a trade is if he's convinced that his team couldn't win a championship with a core of Nash/Stoudemire/Marion.
Which seems like an odd decision to make when you're sporting the top record in the West, and the third-best overall record in the NBA.
It seems especially odd coming from an owner who has, for the last couple of years, treated draft picks and useful role players like Kurt Thomas as if they were covered in something icky -- ditching them as quickly as possible.
I can't decide whether I admire him for making a ballsy decision, or if I'm appalled at the decision itself. What's your take?
As for the Gasol trade, I'm particularly entertained by the reaction it has generated from people like Gregg Popovic. I refer you, once again, to the RotoWire basketball blog, where Bret Cohen compared Pop to a disgruntled fantasy owner.
Do you think the NBA needs some sort of safeguard to prevent lopsided trades? Or should franchises be left to make their own mistakes -- even if those mistakes can ultimately impact the league as a whole?
And bringing this back to a more fantasy-specific topic, what's your take on trade challenges and approvals? For or against?
Subject: Re: Give and Go
Date: Feb 11, 2008 7:11 PM PDT
There's an interesting article by former Sun Eddie Johnson that explains what the Suns were thinking - essentially that Nash only has another year or two left at this level, and they need to win now, that the Suns have been dominated by opposing big men all year and that the Lakers will have two with Gasol and Andrew Bynum. He also seems to think that Shaq's presence will allow Stoudemire and Hill to do more.
All of these are fair points, but as you mention, Shaq's contract extends two more years, while Marion's only got one more year on the books. And with Marion able to play 40-minutes a night for 80 games, and Shaq maybe 25 and 50, the value is pretty lopsided. Finally, the Suns with their current cast gave the Spurs all they could handle, even though Boris Diaw and Stoudemire were suspended for Game 5 of the Conference Finals, and referee Tim Donaghy was cheating on the Spurs' behalf. In other words, they were good enough to win it all last year, so it's not clear why they needed this shakeup.
On the other hand, Marion's making over $16 million this year and $17 next. What's he really got to be so miserable about? Marion's not LeBron James or Kobe Bryant - someone you re-negotiate with mid-stream - and he's getting paid as much as anyone for now. He's playing big minutes every night, so I don't entirely get it. Still, if he's that disgruntled, perhaps the Suns were right to move him. And while Shaq is a net negative for most teams with his salary, maybe for a team in need of some muscle underneath the basket with a small window to win a title, he's a positive. And if Marion's a negative and Shaq's a positive, then the deal makes sense.
But I'd argue that the collective windfall for both teams (which is, of course, the only reason trades occur) has not been shared equally here, and for that reason, the Suns got a bad deal. To illustrate what I mean, imagine for a second that you and I each owned similar businesses that were worth $10. And let's say we knew that by merging the business, economies of scale would make the resulting entity worth $30. If I offer you $11 for your $10 business, it's a win for you. Your net worth goes up $1. On the other hand, you could offer to sell it to me for $19, reasoning that the resulting entity is worth $20 more than my current business, and so I'm making the extra dollar. What should I buy your business for? Well, it could be anything between $10.01 and $19.99, but $15 sounds like the fairest deal. In that case, we each get $5 of the $10 windfall the merger creates.
Likewise, when teams trade, it's not enough to assess merely whether both benefit, but also whether the windfall is apportioned in a roughly fair manner. I'd say it isn't in this case. Getting a beat-up old Shaq off the books is huge for Miami. He serves no purpose there, and he's a massive sunk cost. Marion's on the books for one year less, and, more importantly, the Heat will get close to full value for that salary from him on the court. As for the Suns, if it wins them a title, okay, it's all worth it, but that's not knowable right now. If we say the Suns had a 15 percent chance to win the title before the deal, what are their chances now, 16 percent, 17 percent? Does anyone think this deal vaults the Suns much further up the Western Conference ladder than they were already? And that has to be offset by the '09-'10 version of O'Neal that will collect $20 million and likely be useless. Bottom line, I think the Suns were desperate to move Marion and acquire a big man, and O'Neal was an idea that ownership probably figured was just crazy enough to work. Give them credit for boldness, but it's an expensive gamble.
As for Popovich complaining, I can see why, but in a keeper league with bizarre salary cap rules (like the NBA), it's not as warranted. I mean Memphis didn't maximize the value they could have gotten for Gasol (why not hold off until closer to the deadline to see if anyone topped the Lakers' bid?), but they got cap relief. I doubt there was collusion, which is the standard I'd use in a fantasy league. Either collusion, or apathy, i.e., when the "losing" owner in the deal just doesn't care enough to bargain for a fair trade). I have a hard time believing a professional sports owner would do either, and so the trade has to stand. Basically, stupidity alone isn't enough.
Subject: Give and Go
Date: February 12, 2008 7:53 AM PDT
Ultimately, I think we have to judge this one like a baseball trade deadline deal.
There are tons of examples of baseball teams bringing in guys that don't necessarily fit the team concept or pay scale, etc., but who help get the team over the hump. Sometimes it works out -- best examples I can think of off the top of my head are the Yankees' acquisitions of Cecil Fielder in '96 and Dave Justice in 2000. Sometimes it doesn't.
If the Suns win the championship, then it was a good trade. Anything short of that means they gambled and lost.
The other angle worth watching: what if Marion is a product of the Phoenix system? I've read reports that Marion is dreadful at creating his own shot, that he needs a playmaker like Nash to get him the ball in order to be a real offensive force. Perhaps the years of playing with Nash have caused us all to overrate Marion's own ability -- because the occasionally eye-popping numbers he's produced are a product of the system more than an individual achievement?
(Obviously, his boards, blocks, etc., have nothing to do with Nash. I'm not suggesting The Matrix is a scrub. But it is possible that he's also not a top-10 player outside of the Valley of the Sun.)
Subject: Re: Give and Go
Date: February 12, 2008 11:19 PM PT
Good point about Marion - we always upgrade guys when they get paired with Jason Kidd or Nash, so obviously, there should be a corresponding downgrade. The only thing I'd say is that Stoudemire became Nash's main guy once he got healthy early last year, so Marion mostly just shot open threes and cleaned up some garbage. I suppose he also ran the break, so his numbers might suffer there (and the threes might not be so open), but it's not like Marion was the go-to guy anymore in the front court.
As for the overall trade, the contrarian part of me likes it - it's an incredibly bold move to get an aging and injured legend like Shaq, salary be damned, to win the whole thing. I'm just surprised they didn't extract a draft pick for taking on all that salary.
Article first appeared on 2/12/08