The Give and Go
By Charlie Zegers and Chris Liss
RotoWire Staff Writers
Subject: Give and Go
Date: January 26, 2008 2:07 PM PDT
At the risk of making this another trade deadline wild conjecture column...
I don't know if you've noticed, but there seems to be a new and somewhat creepy sort of rumor circulating this year. Several significant players are being accused - more or less openly - of faking injuries in the hopes of preventing trades.
I've seen the "he'll hobble around until February 19th has passed" scuttlebutt surrounding - in no particular order - Tracy McGrady, Baron Davis, Shawn Marion, Chris Kaman, and Jermaine O'Neal. Frankly, I'm not sure what to make of it.
You'd think a guy like Marion, or Kaman, or O'Neal would be eager to get out of a bad situation and on to a team where he'd be able to contribute more, right?
You'd think a guy competitive enough to reach the pros would want to be on the floor whenever possible.
On the other hand - I've never been traded, so I don't know what it's like. Fans probably don't understand how difficult it must be. On the other hand, for guys who are making $20 million per, it's going to be hard to muster much sympathy.
Do you give these rumors any weight? Enough weight to use them as the basis for a roster move? Let's say T-Mac is faking his latest knee injury - for whatever reason. If you knew that to be the case, you could make a lowball offer to acquire him in a trade - knowing that come February 20, you'd be getting a top-20 performer.
Or do you think the faking rumors are just coming from reporters with an axe to grind?
Another thing we're seeing this month - the dreaded "rookie wall." The NCAA basketball season tops out at around 40 games - guys like Derrick Rose and O.J. Mayo - even someone like Wilson Chandler, who wasn't used much as a rookie - are in uncharted territory as far as minutes played is concerned. How do you handle this with your teams? Do you use your star rookies as you would normally, and just hope they'll get over the hump and finish strong? Does it makes sense to think about shopping guys like Rose or Mayo or Russell Westbrook or Kevin Love while their value is still high? Does it make the rookies who haven't been playing starter's minutes - a Michael Beasley or D.J. Augustin or Greg Oden - better buys for the second half?
Subject: Re: Give and Go
Date: January 27, 2008 1:11 AM PDT
I'd be surprised if players resorted to that. For O'Neal or McGrady, it makes little sense, especially when you consider how often they've been hurt and how much both would love to re-establish their previous level of play. And if both spent more time on the court instead of in the trainer's room, their teams probably wouldn't be looking to move them in the first place.
So I don't give those rumors much weight, but I still wouldn't be eager to acquire either of those two. There have been too many superstars - Grant Hill, Penny Hardway, Larry Johnson, to name a few, who got hurt and then played for a long time afterwards, but never came close to being back to what they were pre-injury. You'll see glimpses every once in a while of what the player was, but ultimately there's no going back. It might be different if the player were a Michael Jordan/Kobe Bryant-level workaholic, but those are few and far between. Once your standard hard-working professional NBA star goes downhill due to chronic injury, you should probably bet against his full recovery - at least if he's over 26 or so years old.
Baron Davis supposedly wants to be traded, so it doesn't make sense in his case, and I don't see why Marion wouldn't want to get back to a faster-paced attack. And Kaman's a big guy with a foot injury - it's unfair to assume he's faking it when team doctors said that his arch isn't completely healed. As for relocating, I don't know their particular situations, e.g., whether they have extensive ties to the community or live in their team's city in the offseason. But it's not like any of them would have shop for cardboard boxes and load up the U-Haul. They probably just get on a first-class flight, and their clothes are in their closets when they get there. I'd probably target Marion and Davis because both have so much upside when healthy, especially Davis whose injury (a tailbone bruise) doesn't seem as likely to linger as a muscle strain.
As for the rookie wall, some rookies taper off, but some get better down the stretch. Kevin Durant had a huge second half last year, and of all the rookies, he was the one getting the most minutes and under the most scrutiny. He was also one of the skinniest and most slightly built players in the league. So I'm not sure there's a hard and fast rule. I've actually heard that when rookies hit the wall, it's because they're mentally drained, having never faced this level of competition for such a sustained period of time. Just getting up for the intensity of it for so long and dealing with all the travel wears them out.
Out of this year's crop, I like Westbrook to keep playing well because he's in a good situation. The Thunder aren't expected to win, but they've actually been playing .500 ball over their last 10, and it's probably fun to get up and down the court with Jeff Green and Durant. There's not much pressure, and Westbrook's the type of athlete (6-3, 190, extremely quick) that can run all day. I like Oden because the Blazers have brought him along slowly and given him a chance to ease into learning the NBA game. There's more pressure to win, but the team's not leaning on him particularly, and he'll hold his own no matter what with his size and strength. And if I were to guess, Love seems like a player who's comfortable on the floor because of his understanding of the game, i.e., I don't think transitioning to the NBA will tire him out mentally. Beasley I'd buy on the cheap for his skill set (especially if Marion gets moved), but I don't have a strong opinion on whether he'll kick it into another gear. I don't know if there's any correlation between fewer minutes played in November through January and increased rookie production in the second half. There might be, but until I see some numbers on that, I probably won't favor certain rookies in the second half for that reason alone.
You disagree? Also, Dre' wrote a column a couple weeks ago talking about how the more stringent hand-check rules have allowed perimeter players like Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Paul to run amuck. I agreed with the premise then, but after seeing Paul post another near-quadruple-double, it seems especially salient. Or is Paul really just that ridiculous? Is he really better than say Gary Payton in is prime?
Subject: Give and Go
Date: January 27, 2008 6:41 AM PDT
I think Marion is probably the big name most likely to be traded, so I see big upside for Beasley in the second half. (Course, I've been holding him all year in several leagues, so that may be wishful thinking on my part.)
Westbrook is a young guy who can run in the middle of a young lineup that likes to run - what's not to like? He might also get a boost at the trade deadline if the Thunder move Earl Watson. And continued improvement for Oden would make sense, given that he's still getting used to the NBA game - I think it takes a little longer for big men to adapt - and coming back from a full year of rehab.
I like Mayo too - though the situation in Memphis in general is getting uglier by the day. (Lionel Hollins? Really?)
For a little while there I was starting to think that they'd turned a corner, even to the point that I was thinking of them as a team with significant potential two or three years down the road. Mayo is the real deal, so is Rudy Gay. Marc Gasol is a nice player, and I still think Mike Conley has some potential. And they've got a lot of young guys who could develop or who could bring back real value in trades. But they've had so much transition and uncertainty in the front office, they're beginning to feel like the Clippers - a team that becomes a "feeder" for the rest of the league, with young talented players who can't wait to sign elsewhere.
I read Dre's article, and it was his usual excellent stuff. I think he's absolutely right - the NBA has been making life more difficult for perimeter defenders for over a decade now - going back to the "Derek Harper Rule" restricting hand-checks that was implemented after Riley's Knicks made their run to the Finals in 1994.
But that's the sort of thing that makes Paul vs. Payton a near-impossible comparison. Sure, Paul doesn't face the same sort of hand-checking physical defense that GP saw every night - but let's not forget, GP was a pretty fair defender in his day as well - today's rule interpretations would likely hurt him on defense as much as it would help him with the ball. The reverse is true of Paul - he's the league leader in steals already - how many would he rack up if he was actually allowed to lay a hand on his man?
Subject: Re: Give and Go
Date: January 27, 2008 2:37 PM PDT
Payton's arguably a top-five all-time point guard anyway, so whether he stacks up to Paul doesn't diminish Paul any. But you wonder what his numbers would be if he played by today's rules. The other interesting player on that front is Allen Iverson who put up huge numbers for a small perimeter guy before the league changed the rules. That he seems to have kept most of his skills into his 30s (at least until this season) might also be due in part to the rule changes. You also wonder what Iverson circa 2001 would have done without the extra hand checking.
As to your point about Memphis being like the Clippers, most young teams go the way of the Clips. In other words, when a team gets Rudy Gay, Mayo and a few supporting pieces, there's always potential, but it usually doesn't pan out. I think the Thunder actually have a good chance to contend a couple years from now, especially with another likely top draft pick coming their way. And obviously, Portland's put together a good group (it helps that they have such a good coach in Nate McMillan). But Minnesota has Kevin Love, Randy Foye and Al Jefferson, the current version of the Clips has Eric Gordon and Al Thornton to build around, etc., etc. The Jazz, Hornets, Spurs and Lakers aren't going away any time soon, so there isn't a lot of room for new teams to become serious contenders, especially in the West. That means talented young teams will routinely be broken up within a year or two unless they show some Portland-like success. And unless that happens, they become talent-feeders, especially when, as you point out, there's no consistent management in place to implement a long-term vision.
Article first appeared on 1/27/09