The 2014 NBA draft is today but the offseason officially began in earnest yesterday when the first two official trades of the summer happened. The Portland Trail Blazers were not involved in either of them, but three of the four teams involved were Western Conference teams, all with playoff aspirations for next year (a.k.a. the Blazers' direct competitors for those precious eight playoff seeds). Here I'll analyze each deal, what it means for the teams involved, what it means for the Blazers, and see if we can't pick out some winners and losers.
One thing to keep in mind before we get started. I am only focusing on how this affects the teams on the court for the 2014-15 season. I'm not looking ahead to what it means for each teams' cap situation moving forward, or whether or not it is good idea to trade a first-round pick a third year in a row and only put a top-3 protection on it. If you want that analysis or to have those conversations, head over to those teams' respective fan sites. I just want to look at how these trades will affect on-court performance. Let's get started.
The NBA's first trade of the summer could also be titled "everything old is new again," as Dallas sent Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Shane Larkin, Wayne Ellington and two second round picks to New York for Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton. Mark Cuban finally admits his mistake in letting Chandler leave two summers ago, and Phil Jackson makes the second substantial move of his short presidency.
What it means for NY: I'm only going to briefly cover the New York aspect of this trade, as they are in the Eastern Conference. This trade saves them about $3 mil this year in salary as they hope to re-sign Carmelo Anthony. Calderon is a clear upgrade at PG over Felton, and Larkin and Ellington should provide an injection of youth and depth in the backcourt. Ellington especially could see playing time if the Knicks do trade Iman Shumpet for a late first round pick in today's draft. Dalembert is a downgrade at center, and it's hard to see this team being anything more than a bottom-four seed in the East even with Carmelo. Bottom line: if it helps the Knicks re-sign Carmelo then it was a good trade. If he leaves the Knicks aren't going to be any good no matter what.
What it means for Dallas: It's a mixed bag for Dallas. Obviously Chandler was the prize here, as reuniting him with his former frontcourt mate in Dirk Nowitizki is a huge win for them. The Mavs never should have let him walk in free agency, and he will be a clear defensive and rebounding upgrade from Dalembert. Given the defensive shortcomings of Monta Ellis, Vince Carter and Shawn Marion, they need all the help they can get on that end of the floor.
Felton is a clear downgrade at PG from Calderon, but Devin Harris will likely be the starter anyway. They also have former first round pick Gal Mekel they have high hopes for who will compete for backup minutes. Rick Carlisle is one of the best and most respected coaches in the league, and he has the full backing of Cuban. He won't let Felton get away with any of his usual antics, so if he shows up fat and out of shape again it's likely he'll spend the entire season on the bench (if he doesn't get waived). He was a decent player once, and there's a decent chance he may be reinvigorated in Dallas under Carlisle.
Ultimately Chandler is a better player than Claderon and will make a bigger impact, so the trade is a net positive. Dallas should be better than they were last year, but in the brutal Western Conference they are likely still a 5-8 seed. In addition to their free agent pursuit of the big names like Carmelo and LeBron, I would expect them to pursue another PG as Felton insurance.
What it means for Portland: The Blazers are still an overall better team than Dallas. I don't think that's really up for debate. However, it does mean the road to home court advantage in the first round did get a little harder. Chandler is a non-threat offensively except in the pick-and-roll, where he is a beast. But the problem for Dallas is they just traded away their best pick-and-roll creator in Calderon. Chandler and Nowitzki give Portland more normalized match ups down low (Lopez marking Chandler and Aldridge on Dirk), which may actually work in the Blazers' favor. They are less dangerous and creative in the backcourt now, which will likely allow Lillard to guard Harris straight-up or hide him on Marion for stretches (though the danger there being Marion posting up Lillard). This trade doesn't seriously threaten the Blazers' position in the West's pecking order.
Winners: Blazer fans. With Felton playing in the East last season, Blazer fans only got one opportunity to express their...ahem...dislike of Felton. On the Mavericks they'll get two opportunities to drop fifty on him in Portland. Mark your calendars.
Losers: mid-tier Western Conference playoff hopefuls. This trade makes the Mavericks better. That's bad news for the Pelicans, Suns, Lakers, Timberwolves, and Grizzlies. The competition for the bottom four seeds in the West just got tougher.
Winner: Kevin Love. Unless the 'Wolves can improve substantially this offseason and become the Portland of next year it's looking more likely by the day that Flip Saunders is going to have to grant Love his wish and trade him, either before the season or at the trade deadline.
Later in the afternoon yesterday the long-awaited word finally broke that Houston traded disgruntled backup center Omer Asik to New Orleans for a top-3 protected lottery pick (the pick is actually top-3 protected and has a 20-30 protection on the back end as well). The Asik trade was a move everyone knew was coming, the only question was where he was going to end up.
What it means for New Orleans: The biggest question surrounding Anthony Davis coming out of Kentucky was if he was going to be strong and bulky enough to play center in the NBA. The answer, so far, is a resounding no. Not only has Monty Williams shied away from playing Davis at center, he has gone so far in attempting to develop his perimeter game as to play him some minutes at small forward. Asik finally gives the Pelicans a legitimate center to play next to Davis, a huge upgrade over the pu-pu platter of Alexis Ajinca, Greg Stiemsma and Jeff Withey they tried at the five last year. Asik is a huge upgrade, one that will make the Pellies an absolute nightmare to play against defensively.
The Pellies next year could be dangerous. Former All-Star PG Jrue Holiday missed 48 games due to injury, Ryan Anderson missed 60, and even Davis missed 15 with a broken hand. Just simply staying healthy will help their win total tremendously. However, it's hard to see them as more than a 6 seed in the brutal West.
Outside of Holiday their perimeter player rotation is a mess, and they're going to have spacing issues on offense. They are almost surely going to have to renounce the rights to Anthony Murrow and Brian Roberts, and that leaves Eric Gordon, Austin Rivers, Tyreke Evans, Al-Farouq Aminu and Luke Babbitt as underachieving disappointments all vying for minutes. Holiday and Babbitt are above-average three point shooters, but in Babbitt's case that's the only thing he can do on the court. Gordon is an average shooter, but Rivers is below average and Evans and Aminu are terrible shooters. The presence of Anderson will help alleviate some of the spacing concerns, but if two of the Evans/Rivers/Aminu trio share the court with Asik they are going to have trouble finding any space to run their offense.
The Pellies should attempt to trade some of their wing players for shooing help this summer. But with Evans and Gordon being on truly horrible contracts it's unlikely they'll be able to pull a trade off. New Orleans has a lot of pieces, but it's unclear exactly how well they will fit together. In a loaded Western Conference that may not even be good enough for a playoff seed.
What it means for Houston: In the short term, this is a clear downgrade in terms of the talent on hand for the Rockets. Asik allowed Houston to keep one elite interior defender/rebounder/rim protector on the court at all times. After getting absolutely torched by LaMarcus Aldridge for 89 combined points in Games 1 and 2 of the first-round serious against Portland, Kevin McHale relied heavily on the "twin towers" lineup featuring Asik and Howard together to pretty decent success. Asik was a luxury for the Rockets, yes, but the question they are now facing is who is going to defend inside when Howard sits? Terrance Jones is too small to ever be a good interior defender or rim protector, and Donatas Montiejunas is just, well, bad.
The Rockets' goal in this trade, however, was not to get better immediately. They are simply trying to clear up enough cap space to sign either Carmelo or LeBron this summer to team with Harden and Howard. The next step in that process is going to be to dump Jeremy Lin's contract. The Rockets received a first-round pick from the Pelicans, which is convenient as that's what it will likely cost for them to dump Lin on another team's cap sheet. They also have to hope that another team doesn't immediately sign Chandler Parsons to a big money offer sheet once free agency starts on July 10, which would erase most of the cap room cleared by the Asik and Lin trades.
If the Rockets do manage to lure LeBron or Anthony (the more likely option) and keep Parsons, then they are going to be very good next year. Forget how those players might fit together on the court, at some point overall talent will trump any awkward positional concerns. They would be a near-lock for a top-3 seed, and would have a good shot to be the best in the West. Even if they can't lure Carmelo or LeBron Daryl Morey will have cleared enough cap space to effectively retool the roster to find some perimeter defense, an extra big man, and some more shooting to put around Howard. A core of Patrick Beverley, Harden, Parsons and Howard will still be a major threat in the Western Conference.
What it means for Portland: While Harden and Howard still present problematic match ups for the Blazers, this trade makes them even less equipped to deal with the major match up problem Aldridge presents. Aldridge went off for 40+ points two straight games until McHale put Asik and Howard on the floor together. Even then, they only were able to hold Aldridge to his normal levels of production as opposed to stopping him. When Howard sits it's going to be open season on drives to the basket for Lillard, Batum and Barton. Until and unless Carmelo or LeBron sign in Houston, I am comfortable saying the Blazers are the better team right now.
Winner: LaMarcus Aldridge. See above. Aldridge should have a field day every time he faces the Rockets now with Howard as the only player left on the roster that's capable of guarding him. Even if Carmelo signs in Houston he's a no-defense player who can't help contain Aldridge. The Rockets are going to have to find another defensive minded big man if they don't want Aldridge going off for 40+ against them from now until forever.
Loser: Terrance Jones. Again, see above. Aldridge is the boogyman that haunts Jones' dreams at night.
Winners: ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo! Sports, SB Nation, every other internet/print spots media in the country. This is going to be a crazy summer for the NBA, and the "Carmelo-to-Houston" rumors have already started. The four- or possibly even five-way race between New York, Chicago, Houston, Dallas and Miami to land Carmelo and/or LeBron is any journalist's dream. The stories and headlines practically write themselves. You get fresh headlines and page clicks of new, unverifiable rumors and suggestive tweets every day that you can report as "news" to rabid fan bases in five of the country's major cities, plus Boston, LA, and every other city hoping for a title next year.
Losers: The Chicago Bulls' chances of signing Carmelo. Chicago is the clear favorite right now to land Carmelo. They have the advantage of playing in the East, which means a virtual cakewalk to the conference finals (or at least semifinals). They also have a lunatic for a coach and no offense, which means plenty of shots for Carmelo and a real chance that Thibs might turn him into a semi-competent defender.
The only place that might be better for Carmelo to end up is Houston. Houston, with its no state income tax, two superstars to play alongside and a coach that won't make him play defense. In terms of sheer star power, Harden and Howard trump Rose and Noah. If you're Carmelo, where would you rather go? Somewhere cold with a maniac for a head coach that will make you try on defense and whose franchise player is coming off two season-ending knee injuries in a row? Or the warmer climes of Houston where the points flow like honey and wine where you can play alongside two other superstars that will share the burden of winning?
In Chicago he'd be the scapegoat if they didn't win immediately. In Houston, there are plenty of other goats available: McHale, the overall lack of depth on the roster, the lack of defense, and the always-popular "Howard can't win the big ones". The only real concern in Houston is if the Rockets will be granted a waiver by Adam Silver to play with eight balls so the three of them will get all the shots they want. If I'm Carmelo, even though Chicago is probably the better fit, I think I'd rather go to Houston.
In a move that registered about a 6.5 on the surprise trade Richter scale, the Magic traded versatile wing Arron Afflalo back to Denver in exchage for Evan Fournier and the 56th pick.
What it means for the Magic: I'm not actually sure, nor am I sure anyone outside of Orlando GM Rob Hennigan's office knows either. If you're looking at it from strictly a basketball standpoint, Denver pretty clearly won this trade which is what makes it so puzzling. Afflalo clearly wasn't in the team's long-term plans, and paves the way for Victor Oladipo to start at shooting guard. The Magic have an interesting young core between Nicola Vucevic, Oladipo, and Tobias Harris, so you'd think they'd go after a point guard in the draft. Even though they were enamored by Marcus Smart last year before he decided to return for his sophomore season, and that hasn't changed, they also love Dante Exum. If Exum goes before the Magic pick at 4, do they take Smart or go with Embiid even though they already have Vucevic? In any event, it's a full on youth-movement in Orlando, and they should be bad again next year.
What it means for Denver: Afflalo has a player option for the 2015-16 season, and it remains to be seen what he will do about it. This also may be part of a larger play by Denver in an attempt to trade for Kevin Love, but I'm unsure what the package would be. Afflalo, Kenneth Faried, the No. 11 pick and...what, exactly? I think it is much more likely this is simply the Nuggets turning a young player into a more reliable veteran.
The Nuggets, as it turns out, are assembling a fairly exciting core. They have a good three guard rotation now between Ty Lawson, Afflalo, and Randy Foye, and Danilo Gallinari was an exciting player at SF before he tore his ACL, and will be healthy this season. They have a glut of guys at power forward, none of which are particularly exciting nor fit together very well. Faried, Darrell Arthur, JJ Hickson, and Anthony Randolph all are power forwards, and Wilson Chandler gives them a great stretch 4 to play in small ball lineups. The only true centers they have are JaVale McGee (injured last season and not particularly good when healthy), and Timofey Mozgov (again, not great). Arthur is probably the best defender of the group, but he has struggled with leg injuries for several years and his midrange game has been off because of it. Hickson plays zero defense, and Denver has spacing issues when he is on the floor with Mozgov or McGee. If I'm Tim Connelly, I'd be looking to dump or trade some big men. Other than Faried and possibly Mozgov, none of them would be described as part of Denver's "core".
The Nuggets seem set on the perimeter, especially if they re-sign backup PG Aaron Brooks. Reports have them linked to Nick Stauskas and Adam LeVine (or possibly Mitch McGary) at 11, but the more likely scenario is they are hoping that one of the Noah Vonleh/Aaron Gordon/Julius Randle trio falls to them. In that event I can't see them passing on a talented PF that will be the focal point of their low-post game and allow them to move the undersized Faried back to a rebounder/energy guy off the bench. Depending on how the young guys pan out, they might be this year's Phoenix: a young team that makes a surprising playoff bid that ultimately comes up short. But they are certainly a team to keep an eye on.
What it means for Portland: Apparently Afflalo's trade value was not as high as we all thought, and that showed in what they got for him. This looks like a salary dump for Orlando on the surface, but they have so much cap space already who the hell knows? It's hard not to look at this trade and imagine that an offer of McCollum, Leonard, plus cap filler gets that trade done.
Winner: David Shaw. Shaw has been adamant about not running the triangle in Denver, but he has brought some of those principle's to the Nuggets' offense. Afflalo gives him a high-IQ player to help make the offense more potent and provide more perimeter defense.
Loser: The Blazers' bench. We have no way of knowing if Rob Hennigan ever even called Olshey about Afflalo, but he would have looked great coming off the bench for the Blazers and providing them some scoring, ball handling, shooting, and defense.