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Wheeling and Dealing With Donnie Walsh

Meet Your Host, Donnie Walsh!

It’s rare that we see deals with name-brand players mid-season in the NBA. This isn’t an elaborate series of one-on-one machinations like baseball. It’s basketball, a dynamic, fluid team game won or lost more often than not because of an intricate chemistry among players who have logged hundreds of hours on the court together. In basketball new teammates need time to gel, to learn a complex series of defensive rotations and offensive sets, to adapt to and memorize their teammates’ tendencies, skills and weaknesses on both ends.

But as Knicks fans know all too well, basketball isn’t just won or lost on the court either.

Also unlike baseball, the presence of a salary cap makes every transaction high on risk and strategy. That combination of factors is why the trade deadline usually comes and goes without incident, let alone the early season. It creates a general atmosphere of reluctance. That’s what made Count Donnie Walsh‘s pair of trades this weekend shocking and fascinating. But we shouldn’t be surprised at Walsh shipping Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph out of town – he had no choice. As for why the Clippers and Warriors were willing participants? That’s slightly more confusing.

Now that the dust has settled (for now), ETB examines and grades the transactions from all three angles.

Find out how the Clippers, Warriors and Knicks fared after the jump…

The Los Angeles Clippers:

While easy and fashionable, it’s also quite facile to have negative knee-jerk reactions to personnel moves. That said, I can’t see how this move displays anything but desperation, shortsightedness and small ambition from the Clippers. In Mike D’Antoni’s offense Zach Randolph was putting up a more than respectable 20.6 points and 12.5 boards a game. He won’t do that for Mike Dunleavy. And while Zach can certainly score, what else does he do? He’s slow, unathletic, doesn’t rebound, doesn’t pass, doesn’t play defense, is a malcontent on and off the court and is always looking for his own shot. For his career Randolph has the rare distinction of averaging nearly as many turnovers per game as assist, steals and blocks combined. He’s a loser, always will be. It seems like Baron Davis was frustrated, the natives were restless, and the Clips thought they just had to do something, anything. But Zach won’t make the Clippers a winner. He won’t even make them much better. All he’ll do is help the losses appear a little less lopsided from time to time.

It’s a shame because LA is a big-name destination and they could have taken advantage of it. The combined contracts of Marcus Camby, Tim Thomas and Cuttino Mobley were set to take a total of $24 million off the books for the all-important summer of 2010. Their team payroll would have been a miniscule $30 million, which would have afforded them the chance to pair two big free agents and a mid-level guy with their core of Baron Davis, Chris Kaman, Eric Gordon and Al Thornton. They’ll still have space now, but they’ll also have Zach Randolph’s $17.3 million clogging their books and his wide, flabby frame clogging their offense. The Elgin Baylor era is over, Los Angeles, you don’t have to keep doing this.

Grade: F

The Golden State Warriors:

Don Nelson gets his way, yet again. Nelson was fed up with Al Harrington and Al Harrington was fed up with Nelson. Harrington’s benching should have been an opportunity to give extended run to promising youngsters Anthony Randolph and Brandan Wright, but Nelson was his usual reticent self in developing the young talent. Despite their considerable athleticism, ability to run and obvious need for seasoning Nellie just doesn’t like to play kids, even on a team that isn’t a title contender. Now Nellie can stick with a veteran group, even if it means playing a painfully disadvantaged style of small ball.

So instead of sitting on Harrington’s contract that takes $10 million off the books after next season, Golden State shipped a disgruntled Harrington out of town and brought in another Stephen Jackson minus the defense and pedigree. I was no Harrington fan, but Jamal Crawford’s deal runs an extra season at an additional $10 million and the man doesn’t bring anything to the Warriors roster they didn’t already have. Crawford is a pure scorer with decent passing skills, but at base he’s just another volume shooter who doesn’t play defense, doesn’t rebound, turns the ball over, plays with a lack of discipline and doesn’t show good shot selection. It’s true they can ask him to play the point a little until Monta returns, he had a little experience at the position in Chicago. But once Monta does come back it’s hard to imagine Crawford being a productive member of a rotation featuring Monta, Jackson and Maggette and even if he is he’ll stunt the development of Azubuike, Morrow and Watson.

Grade: C

The New York Knickerbockers:

Quentin Richardson and Jamal Crawford do the Loser DanceThe deals from New York’s angle are all about freeing up cap space and unloading bad contracts. They were chances to undo some of the poor decisions of the Isiah Thomas era. Zach Randolph’s contract will pay him $17.3 million while Jamal Crawford’s will pay him $10 million in 2010-11. Now New York’s only guaranteed deals in the summer of 2010 will be Eddy Curry and Jared Jeffries, who combine for a paltry $18.1 million. It was the necessary move to throw the Knicks’ hat into the LeBron James sweepstakes, and given his affinity for the city anything and everything that accomplishes that end has to be considered a success.

And while this trade is a home run in terms of salary cap space, I don’t see why people seem convinced the deals make New York worse this season. Some were surprised to see Zach Randolph moved in a season when he was playing his best ball in years. Others thought Jamal Crawford could flourish in D’antoni’s offense. These were the Knicks two leading scorers, and it wasn’t close. Only Chris Duhon was playing more minutes than either. They were a big part of New York’s early-season success. Good, strike while the iron is hot. That doesn’t mean their departure makes the Knicks worse. Both of these guys were shoot-first players with poor defense who were averaging a combined 43.3% from the field. I discussed their shortcomings above: they’re both career losers who only fill up the scoring column.

Meanwhile, the deals should give the Knicks more minutes to spend on ETB favorites like Nate Robinson, David Lee and Wilson Chandler. Nate Robinson is an ultra-athletic scorer who has already shown an ability to thrive in this kind of up-tempo offense. The guy is a spark plug who can absolutely fill it up. Sure, his size makes him a major defensive liability, but he’s capable of playing an Iverson-like brand of defense that can help make up for it: swarming post players and pirating passing lanes. Lee won’t win any dunk contests, but he’s a steady, efficient big man who can score without dominating the ball and actually enjoys hustling and hitting the glass. Finally, ETB favorite Wilson Chandler has already shown himself to be a major asset this season. The second-year hybrid forward is strong, long and athletic and has drawn Shawn comparisons from D’Antoni. He’s explosive and versatile on both ends and moves like a deer. Keep a close eye on this kid, D’Antoni could make him into something special.

Grade: A

Related Reading:

The Los Angeles Clippers are the Worst Team in the West
Joe Dumars Pulls an Allen Iverson (and Maybe More) Out of His Magic Hat
Six NBA Players Poised for Breakout Seasons
LeBron James’ True Desire to Put NBA Titles Over Mass-Marketing Deals to Be Tested
Baron Davis Brings His Game Face On the Court and Off – Even in the Kitchen

Quentin Richardson and Jamal Crawford Photo Credit: Icon SMI

Donnie Walsh Photo Credit: Icon SMI


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