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News » Give and Go: Yao's unfortunate timing

Give and Go: Yao's unfortunate timing

Give and Go: Yao's unfortunate timing
Charlie Zegers: It seems to me there's a very good reason why midseason trades are so common in baseball and so rare in the NBA (and NFL). A few reasons, actually:

  • Baseball trades are just easier. NBA salary cap rules make figuring trades only slightly less difficult than deciphering the U.S. tax code.

  • Baseball teams have robust farm systems, which means they have more assets to move around and more of an ability to trade current players for future players.
  • But the reason I'm thinking about is the nature of the game itself. Baseball's a team game, but it's heavily centered on individual performances. There's coordination between a pitcher and a catcher, or between a second baseman and shortstop turning a double play, but for the most part you can take a player from one team and plug him into another lineup with only minimal adjustment.

    In hoops - and in football - there's a much greater premium on coordination between players. The point guard needs to know when the small forward will cut to the basket, or where his shooters like to spot up, or where his center likes to get the ball. That sort of connection between players comes from familiarity. From experience. From tons and tons of reps in practice.

    This is the reason - we're told - the Pistons are so good. The top six or seven guys in their rotation have been playing together for years, to the extent that they can complete each other's sentences. This is one reason the Knicks are so bad. They dislike each other so intensely off the court they can't establish any cohesion on it. This is one reason Team USA struggles in international competitions. We put together All-Star teams for a couple of weeks, while the rest of the world has well-established national teams with years worth of continuity.

    And finally, this is the reason NBA teams don't make major trades at midseason that often. Practice time's in very short supply in February and March. There's no time to get new guys up to speed. It makes more sense to make big changes in the off-season when you have the benefit of a full training camp.

    I can't help thinking about all those reasons as I consider the events of last week. It seems to me the Mavs and Cavs have taken conventional wisdom and thrown it, rather unceremoniously, out the window.

    The Mavericks must think they're contending for a title this year. You don't give up on a 25-year-old with Devin Harris' potential and take on the extra millions in salary and luxury tax associated with Jason Kidd's contract if you don't intend to make a run at the Finals. But plugging in Kidd isn't like adding some depth in the frontcourt (a la the Spurs and Kurt Thomas) or even like integrating a new frontcourt scoring option (like the Lakers with Pau Gasol). It's like signing a quarterback off the street in Week 12 and expecting him to get you through the playoffs. Does this gamble have a snowball's chance in hell?

    Meanwhile, the Cavaliers seem to be taking an even bigger leap of faith. If the rotation Mike Brown used in his first game with the new-look Cavs are an indication, Cleveland's going to play the stretch drive with two new starters in Ben Wallace and Delonte West and two new key bench players in Joe Smith and Wally Szczerbiak. For those keeping score at home, that's 50 percent of their eight-man rotation still in the process of being introduced to each other. Can this possibly work?

    One factor in their favor: both Kidd and Cleveland's LeBron James have an uncanny ability to get teammates involved. I'd be even more skeptical if we were talking about teams without the benefit of their otherworldly court vision. And Cleveland also has the benefit of playing in the East. They can probably treat the next month or so as training camp part deux without sacrificing playoff standing.

    What do you think? Do these trades substantially change your feelings on the favorites in each conference? Can Cleveland and Dallas integrate their new players in time? Or will the inevitable adjustment period kill their championship hopes?

    Chris Liss: Really good points, which I will address in a second. But first, what a tragic situation in Houston, losing Yao Ming for the season amidst a 12-game winning streak. Things like that are just bad for the league and bad for humanity in general. Injuries, especially of the foot variety to 7-foot-6, 300-pound players can't be helped, but what a terrible way for their season to be destroyed. I think Denver and Golden State benefit the most, because I expect both of them to overtake the Rockets and get into the playoffs. Luis Scola will get more minutes, and he could keep Houston competitive. But at this point, I'd rather see the Nuggets or Warriors make it, because Houston's going nowhere. What a letdown.

    As for the trades, I think both Cleveland and Dallas did the right thing. Your point about basketball being a team sport and that it's hard to integrate players is well taken, but I didn't expect the Cavs to do any damage before the trade, and Dallas absolutely has more upside now as well. Plus, Kidd's contract is only one more year, which he'll presumably come close to earning (he's still playing near his peak levels), and Harris was a good prospect, but unlikely to turn into the next Deron Williams or Chris Paul. For Dallas, I think it was well worth the risk. As you point out, as far as players integrating, Kidd's one who will probably pick things up quickly. Also, Harris was out, and Jason Terry is no longer suited to be a point guard, so the integration period for Kidd (even if it took a few games) really wouldn't be worse than what they had. And it seems after a bad loss in New Orleans, the integration is going just fine. Kidd had 17 assists the other day.

    For Cleveland, that supporting cast just wasn't going to get it done, and now Cleveland has two good shooters in Szczerbiak and West and more depth in the frontcourt with Wallace and Smith. In fact, Cleveland has excellent depth all around now - Ilgauskas and Wallace at the five, Smith and Varejao at the four, LeBron logging huge minutes at the three, Szczerbiak, West and Daniel Gibson at the guards, with Damon Jones and Sasha Pavlovic available if needed. It's not high-end depth, but LeBron and the perfect role players is better than LeBron, a redundant Larry Hughes, and low-upside Drew Gooden. I think Szczerbiak and West are underrated players - Wally's a pure shooter from the floor, the arc and the line, and West is a decent point guard who can also shoot. If Wallace can get energized, the Cavs could be a headache for someone in the playoffs.

    Zegers: Let's just say I'm deeply thankful I flipped on ESPNews as I was sitting down to write this week's column. My big pick of the week - for fairly obvious reasons - quickly became Scola.

    What hideous timing for this injury, too. Just a few days ago the Rockets might have been able to make some sort of roster adjustment. Now, they're going to be trolling for the likes of Jamaal Magloire. That's just ugly.

    I like most of the guys Cleveland got in their big deal. I'll admit I'm not a huge Delonte West fan. If he was as good as people seem to think he is - our buddy the Professor picked him as biggest immediate impact - why didn't he beat out Earl Watson and Luke Ridnour for the starting job in Seattle?

    I guess I still see him as a bit of a 'tweener - not really big enough to play the two, but not really a one at the pro level. Maybe that'll be good enough in Cleveland, but I've been wrong before. If I was going to get any of the new Cavs in one of my leagues, I'd be making a claim for Szczerbiak. He just seems like a natural fit for the receiving end of LeBron's kickouts. (Of course, so did Donyell Marshall. And Pavlovic. And Jones.)

    Liss: I think part of the reason West couldn't beat out Watson is that Watson's pretty good. I watched him a couple years ago in the Vegas Summer League and, granted, that's against rookies and journeymen, but he seemed to really know what he was doing - like you'd expect from an NBA point guard. West's a good shooter, though, and a better all-around player than Jones. Marshall was over the hill by the time he got to Cleveland, it seems.

    And, by the way, I just checked out last week's article where you neglected to mention the Rockets in your initial list of contenders so as not to "jinx" them.

    Nice going, Zegers.

    Article first appeared on 2/27/08

    Author: Fox Sports
    Author's Website:
    Added: February 27, 2008


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