Boy, give NBA general managers a month-long transaction moratorium and a new collective-bargaining agreement with some rules that make trading easier and they go bananas.
Five teams cobbled together a deal Tuesday that involved 13 players, two draft picks and some cash and turned Shaquille O’Neal’s new five-year, $100 million contract into a sidebar story.
But Shaq’s Miami Heat stayed at the top of the headlines, getting Antoine Walker from the Boston Celtics and Jason Williams from the Memphis Grizzlies and sending Eddie Jones to the Griz.
What’s happened is that the Heat, who came within seven points of beating the Detroit Pistons and going to the NBA Finals last season with their two best players, O’Neal and Dwyane Wade, hurting, have completely overhauled their roster, bringing in a couple of no-defense ball hogs to be no better than the third scoring option.
If you think this is part of some master plan by boss Pat Riley to create an impossible atmosphere, undermine coach Stan Van Gundy and give Slick an excuse to return to the bench, a move that was a hot rumor for a while this summer, you’re not alone.
Walker is the biggest name who’s changing addresses, but there are plenty of names to go around, and going around is what they’re doing. Really tall guys are running into each other at airports all over the Midwest, going, “Hey, Jason Williams, where are you headed?”
“Miami, Greg Ostertag, how about you?”
“Well, I thought I was going to Memphis, but now I’m either going back to Utah, back to Sacramento or over to Boston, unless I’m really the draft rights to a Spanish player you’ve never heard of. Am I the draft rights to a Spanish player you’ve never heard of?”
“I gotta go, Greg.”
The moratorium on deals was in place while lawyers for the league and the players union worked on the details of the new CBA. O’Neal quickly signed a deal under which he’ll take a pay cut from $30 million to $20 million next season, which gives the Heat salary-cap flexibility to build around him in exchange for four more years at $20 million each.
That was the biggest news of the day. For a few minutes.
Then came the blockbuster. The Heat essentially get Williams and Walker, plus James Posey, a good-defending forward, and Andre Emmett, who’ll keep the bench from flying away, for small forward Jones, their third scoring option last year and a good perimeter defender, plus a whole bunch of packing material.
Here, just so you know what we’re talking about even if I don’t, is a rundown of who gave up whom and whom they got back, in easy-to-confuse format:
Gave up: F Antoine Walker
Got: C Curtis Borchardt, C Albert Miralles (draft rights), F Qyntel Woods, Miami’s 2006 second-round pick, Miami’s 2007 or ’08 second-round pick, a $5 million trade exception, cash
Gave up: G-F Rasual Butler, F Eddie Jones, F Qyntel Woods, two second-round picks (see above), $5 million trade exception, cash
Got: C Roberto Duenas (draft rights), F Andre Emmett, F James Posey, F Antoine Walker, G Jason Williams
Gave up: F Andre Emmett, C Greg Ostertag, F James Posey, G Jason Williams
Got: F Eddie Jones, G Raul Lopez
NEW ORLEANS HORNETS
Gave up: C Roberto Duenas (draft rights)
Got: G-F Rasual Butler, G Kirk Snyder
Gave up: C Curtis Borchardt, G Raul Lopez, F Kirk Snyder
Got: C Greg Ostertag
The $5 million trade exception, a function of the new rules, gives the Celtics the freedom to make a trade in the next year in which the salaries don’t match.
The deal is the largest in NBA history, for what that’s worth, just edging out a 12-player, four-team deal in 2000 that sent a fading Patrick Ewing from the New York Knicks to the Seattle SuperSonics.
Like that trade, which moved Glen Rice, Luc Longley, Horace Grant, Chris Dudley and a host of even lesser figures, this one involves a big pile of role players and projects. Neither of the Spanish centers is going to be a big-time player if he ever comes to the NBA. Duenas is 30. Miralles, 23, has struggled to get playing time in Europe, where playing time comes a lot cheaper than it does over here.
O’Neal is being praised for taking a $10 million pay cut next year to create the cap space to allow the Heat to try to build a champion — though $10 million may not be enough to buy all the basketballs the Heat are going to need for O’Neal, Wade, Williams and Walker — and rightly so.
If nothing else, Shaq is allowing his league-high salary to dip below those of a few other players starting in 2006, if not sooner should someone else sign a megadeal this year. An NBA superstar putting aside his ego like that is as rare as a 45 percent 3-point shooter.
But is he really giving up money in the long term? O’Neal will probably be a bargain at $20 million this coming year and maybe the year after that, but he’s 33 now, an age at which every NBA center not named Robert Parish has been in decline.
Shaq looked like he was headed downhill in 2003-’04, his last year with the Los Angeles Lakers, when he was fat, hurting and not nearly as good as he’d been in the past. He reversed the decline last year by getting in shape and bringing a new, post-Kobe Bryant enthusiasm to the arena, but he still had his least productive season other than ’03-’04.
It’s the rare great NBA center who’s still a good player after the age of 35, which will be the third year of O’Neal’s five-year contract. I don’t think there’s any reason to believe O’Neal’s going to be one of those.
It might be good to think of his new contract as being worth $30 million this coming season, and then worth $5 million less each season for the next four years, so that by those last two years, when I think O’Neal will either be out of the league or turning in 10 to 15 minutes a game of shot-blocking and rebounding, he’ll be getting $15 million and then $10 million.
And after three years of inflation that will be less than it is today. Today $10 million can buy a lot but not a superstar.
I doubt the Heat are thinking of it this way. I’m guessing they’re thinking of the Shaq deal as more of a roll of the dice. Best-case scenario is that Shaq remains at least a very good player for the length of the contract, and the Heat fill their arena and have some flexibility to get other good players.
Worst case, Shaq is off playing deputy sheriff somewhere by the back half of the contract and the Heat are stuck with his salary-cap figure, but at least they had a couple of years of Shaq, full houses and flexibility.
I think they could have done a lot better with that flexibility than picking up Antoine Walker and Jason Williams, two guys who make the phrase “you don’t win a championship with” leap to mind. But at least they should be fun to watch, especially if you like missed 3-pointers.
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