Jonathan Watters: Gut Reaction

Jonathan Watters: Gut Reaction
Jun 29, 2007, 02:42 pm
Before the dust settles, Jonathan Watters offers up hasty conclusions on the 2007 NBA Draft’s biggest developments. First up, a look at the night's major trades.

No, the KG blockbuster of all blockbusters never went down. Now Phoenix would like everybody to believe that they were never even in discussions, and would laugh at the idea of trading for one of the game's premier players if approached by an increasingly desperate Kevin McHale. Plus, there was a decided lack of both green room drama and stunning selections. But beyond the fizzling of the night's top trade-related story, several more surprising moves were made. Boston and Charlotte take aim at the playoffs by trading out of the draft and receiving proven producers in return, while Seattle and Golden State attempted to position themselves for the future. The following (in order of perceived importance) is a rundown of the night's key trades.

Seattle trades Ray Allen and #35(Glen Davis) for Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West, and #5 (Jeff Green)

In last year’s post draft article, I mentioned how putting together a successful NBA team is much more than just amassing as many talented youngsters and letting them grow old. I even cited Danny Ainge and Boston as a team would eventually have to lay down a few cards to make that move back to respectability. At the time it looked like Allen Iverson might eventually be the player teaming up with Paul Pierce, but instead comes the Ray Allen acquisition – somewhat out of left field.

While the Celtics were a long ways away from respectability a season ago, make no mistake that a healthy Boston club actually attempting to win games could have done just that last season. There is also opportunity in the East, where teams like Miami, Washington and Orlando probably would have struggled to win 30 games playing on the other side of the Mississippi. Add Ray Allen to the core of Paul Pierce, Al Jefferson, Gerald Green and Rajon Rondo, and you have a team that can probably compete in the East. This isn’t a group that Ainge would want to mortgage the future to come up with, but the nice thing is that he really didn’t do that. Boston needed another perimeter scoring threat - not a post player, and the only players that to me would justify passing on Ray Allen available at #5 were Joakim Noah and Brandan Wright.

Maybe this is a more of a compromise than anything. Boston doesn’t become an overnight title contender like they would have with Garnett, but hanging on to Al Jefferson is a decision that will eventually win Danny Ainge a few admirers in Boston in the years to come.

Boston: B+

From Seattle’s standpoint, the decision to trade Allen makes perfect sense. He isn’t getting younger, and the Sonics aren’t making the playoffs anytime soon in the ultra-competitive West. The rebuilding project begins with Durant, and Sam Presti was able to speed up the timetable by getting a ready-to-contribute Jeff Green in addition to the 2nd best player to come along since LeBron James.

The talk of resigning Rashard Lewis and eventually building around the two 6’10 shooters plus Green doesn’t line up as well to me, though. Play the forward trio with a point guard and a true big man, and your point guard better be one heck of a creator. Play them with a point guard and a traditional shooting guard, and you’ve got a defensive lineup with more holes than the post-iceberg Titanic. I just don’t see two skinny, 6’10 wannabe guards co-existing very well in the athleticism-dominated west coast game. Green complements either player nicely, but as a trio I am forced to take a “see it to believe it” approach before I’m on board.

However, the nice thing here is that the Sonics have now committed to rebuilding and will probably struggle to win 25 games in next year’s brutally competitive west. That means a legit shot at Derrick Rose or OJ Mayo in 2007 – a legit creator like either of those two, and you have yourself a PNW version of the Phoenix Suns brewing.

Once again, it is important to consider the situation this team is in at the moment. For Boston, who already had a young talent base in place, this would probably be a lateral move. But tonight’s trade means the Presti-Durant era in Seattle got a significant jump start. By the time 2008’s draft is complete, it could be time for Seattle to switch modes and take their shot at becoming competitive again.

Seattle: A

Golden State trades Jason Richardson and #36 (Jermareo Davidson) to Charlotte for #8 (Brandan Wright)

In a word, wow.

This was a bold move for both parties, but Chris Mullin apparently decided to throw the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” out the window here. There has been talk that Golden State would eventually be forced to decide between Jason Richardson and Monta Ellis at the two guard spot, but Richardson was a crucial piece of the 2007 playoff run and even the slightest dropoff could result in the Warriors watching the 2008 postseason from their couches. With Baron Davis’ injury history and Monta Ellis’ postseason disappearing act, it isn’t as if Richardson was entirely expendable.

The reason I’m still giving this trade a chance is because Brandan Wright is one hell of a talent. It isn’t clear why a player like Wright would drop to #8 after an encouraging freshman season in which he displayed enough athleticism and skill to eventually emerge as a star, and Mullin apparently feels the way that I do. Mullin hasn’t hesitated to make a bold move in the past, and his history includes both home runs and complete whiffs. To me, Brandan Wright is eventually a home run. Golden State’s multi-guard attack will leave Wright plenty of space to operate with, and matched up against slower opposition with no chance of containing him when he faces the basket. His upside as a weak side help defender is off the charts, considering he owns a package of athleticism and length that is every bit the equal of a Tyrus Thomas. When he isn’t slashing opposing defenses to bits from the mid-post, he’ll be running the floor and finishing all sorts of mind-boggling fast break plays courtesy of the aforementioned Davis and Ellis backcourt duo.

The risk here would be a dropoff in play that leads to a non-playoff 2008 season, and the somewhat passive Wright wilting under the pressure of essentially replacing Richardson’s presence within the offense. It is ballsy, but Wright might just be worth the risk. My guess is that Memphis, Boston, Milwaukee and Minnesota fans will eventually rue the day their respective teams passed on Brandan Wright.

Golden State: B

With names like Kwame Brown and Adam Morrison on his resume, Michael Jordan needed something special out of the 2007 draft. I assumed he got it when Brandan Wright fell into his lap at #8 and he made the correct selection of Jared Dudley at #22. But apparently the brass in Charlotte are concerned about Gerald Wallace jumping ship, and ended up trading the high-upside Tar Heel product to purchase some insurance. Richardson certainly makes this a better team, as his scoring pop at the wing is something the Bobcats were sorely lacking this past season. If Charlotte can resign Wallace and the youngsters stay healthy, this is a team that could improve quite quickly.

At the same time, the trade for Richardson could signal the beginning of the end for Wallace in Charlotte. The Wallace-mold forward is in hot demand at the moment, and bringing Richardson into the fold leaves both parties with less motivation to iron out a deal. In this case, Richardson might only be a lateral move. A resigned Wallace and a potential franchise player in the frontcourt certainly trumps an increasingly injury prone Richardson in my book.

Once again, we have a big gamble on the part of the Charlotte front office. Bringing in Richardson signals an attempt to compete, with players such as Wallace, Ray Felton, Emeka Okafor and Sean May just entering their primes. At the end of the day, this trade probably ends up defining Jordan’s tenure back in basketball country.

Charlotte: C+

Portland trades Zach Randolph, Fred Jones and Dan Dickau to New York for Steve Francis and Channing Frye

Portland’s rationale for giving up Randolph probably has little to do with the team’s near-term success. Were they afraid of the surly big man poisoning what could be a fragile locker room yet again in 07-08, or did the team simply want to let Oden and Aldridge develop while saving $30 million in the process? Steve Francis doesn’t have a place on this roster, and Channing Frye could find minutes hard to come by with Oden, Aldridge and Pryzbilla all likely to command significant minutes. Perhaps more of a lateral, infrastructure-related move than anything else?

Grade: B-

Just when you think New York’s salary situation can’t possibly spiral any further out of control, they sign Jerome James to a long-term deal. Just when you think New York’s salary situation can’t possibly spiral any further out of control, they sign Eddy Curry to a long term deal. Just when you think New York’s salary situation can’t possibly spiral any further out of control, they sign Jared Jeffries to a long term deal. Just when you think New York’s salary situation can’t possibly spiral any further out of control, they trade for Steve Francis. Should I keep going?

There is really nothing left to say at this point, but I guess I’ll take a shot some good ol’ fashioned Isaiah blasting (it has been a while, come to think of it).

A frontcourt of Randolph and Curry might look good on paper, but here are two players who don’t complement each other well at all. Randolph got in shape a season ago and is one of the league’s elite post scorers, but clearly has a propensity for showing up out of shape and is an adequate defender at best. Curry is essentially the same player, but to an extreme – he’s got the same scoring tools with an extra two inches. Unfortunately, that would be two inches around the middle as well as at the shoulders, and Randolph will probably look like Bill Russell compared to what Curry brings to the table defensively. Add in Jerome James, and you have approximately 900 pounds of motivationally challenged, defense-lacking beef.

So even though Isaiah does have a track record of drafting well in the late first round, he appears to be mired in quicksand and attempting to dig himself out with a spoon. These short-sighted moves are only sinking the franchise deeper and deeper. But at least Renaldo Balkman and Wilson Chandler will look good sitting on the bench next to each other, and both will be perfect trade fodder the next time an established pseudo all-star signs a big contract, blows out his knee, and wears out his welcome with his prior team…

Grade: F

Portland buys #24 (Rudy Fernandez) from Phoenix

Does anybody else find it a little amusing how fascinated the talking heads on “the network” appear to be over Portland’s supposed intricate and well-planned maneuvering in the past two drafts? I’ll give the Trailblazers all the credit in the world for somehow ending up with Brandon Roy last season. But I don’t see anything all that complicated about Portland acquiring a pick that its original owner decided to give up for purely fiscal reasons. There aren’t many front offices with as much “play money” as Portland’s, and I can just imagine Kevin Pritchard walking into Paul Allen’s office the night before the draft, pointing out the merits of Rudy Fernandez, and then pointing to Allen’s wallet - and of course Allen complying, because he has little reason not to. Rodriguez worked out well enough, and Fernandez may not be headed to the states anytime soon.

Both players are impressive prospects, so the real question would be why teams weren’t chomping at the bit to acquire one of International basketball’s brightest young stars. I guess that is a question the other 28 teams will have to answer for themselves…

Portland: A

Maybe Phoenix really was close to acquiring a lottery pick in one of the moves they would so go on so vehemently deny even considering, or maybe the Suns just felt like upping the ante in the pre-draft circus ring by holding large-scale, 100% meaningless workouts the week before the draft. If this was a financial move, the team apparently did what it had to do. But there were certainly players at 24 that could have helped the club down the road, even the player they ended up picking for Portland.

Phoenix: D

Philadelphia trades #30(Petteri Koponen) to Portland for #42(Derrick Byars) and cash

This is another no-brainer for just about anybody with a desired player left on the board, if the going rate is a mid-second rounder and cash. Once again, take a look at the risk and the reward. Where was the rest of the league on this?

Portland: A

After having already committed to two first round contracts earlier in the move, the Sixers were able to move down in the draft and still pick up a player many believed to be worthy of a first round selection in Derrick Byars. Byars is the type of player that could help out right away, and his fall into the second round gives Billy Knight a bit more flexibility should he not work out at the NBA level.

Philadelphia: B

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