Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Celtic Salvage Operation

What do you do when a dream turns into a nightmare with the bounce of a ping-pong ball? Irrational or not, all of Boston thought they were getting a top two pick and riding off into the sunset. (In fact, it seems that to a man, Boston fans were somehow convinced that they would nab exactly the #2 pick and that it would be Kevin Durant; it was kind of weird how specific it all got.)

Now? They are sitting on a #5 pick that feels like purgatory. Not only is it a letdown, but it doesn't really match value with need in this case. Either Brandan Wright or Al Horford should be there at 5, but those guys play the same position as their best young player, Al Jefferson. Corey Brewer might be around, but plays the same position (pretty much) as Paul Pierce. Yi Jianlin is intriguing, but mainly because he's a mortal lock to be the worst All-Star starter in NBA history next season thanks to China's domination of the fan vote (credit my buddy Josh Stump for leading the way on that observation). Plus, even if he does wind up being good, he's a few years away. Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge absolutely will not be around to experience a "good Yi season," that is for sure. So what on earth should they do?

I will tell you: find the one team in the NBA that thinks the #5 pick is fabulous. This requires a few things. First, that team must have a certain perspective; one that never at any time thought Oden or Durant was a possible outcome. Second, that team must be desperate to move established players for cheap rookies, purely for luxury tax purposes. Third, that team must have a good player they are willing to trade, maybe even for slightly bizarre reasons.

In case you haven't figured it out by now, that team is the Phoenix Suns.

Think about it. Phoenix is obsessed with getting under the luxury tax. There have been reports all season that it is an either/or Armageddon situation with Marion and Amare. And they were making all kinds of plans regarding a potential pick in the 4-7 range, because that is where the Atlanta trade would have landed them. They are probably in love with a guy like Wright and are currently plotting how to get him. They are probably trolling for a way to trade Marion without inciting the entire fan base. The Celtics, in possession of the #5 pick, some young, cheap assets, and a big contract set to expire in 2008, can swoop in and give Phoenix the perfect out.

Here is one way the deal could go down:

Phoenix Gives Up: Shawn Marion, Marcus Banks, and the #29 pick

Boston Gives Up: the #5 pick, Theo Ratliff's expiring $12 million contract (in 2008), Delonte West, Kendrick Perkins, and their first round pick in 2008

[Update: I'm starting to think Boston could get this done without giving up the future first rounder. So feel free to consider it with or without the 2008 pick.]

I know this looks less-than-awesome for Phoenix on paper, but consider everything that it accomplishes. First, it alleviates this supposed logjam with Marion and Amare. If you believe the reports, these guys struggle to coexist, plus they both make a ton of money on a team that has an owner unwilling to pay the tax. Someone has to go, either this year or next. Maybe Phoenix can get a better player for Marion, but it is hard to see them gaining more depth, youth, and financial flexibility. The #5 pick could net them a very exciting young big man, as mentioned above. I happen to believe that Wright and Horford are going to be sweet NBA players and remember, those guys (or Yi or Noah or whoever) presented a very exciting "best case scenario" about 12 hours ago for Phoenix. The Suns also get their precious luxury tax relief 12 months from now. Their financial situation wouldn't change much next year, because in order to trade Marion under the cap rules, they have to bring pretty much equal salary back over. But Ratliff is coming off the books at the end of next season and would bring them well under the luxury tax threshold.

The Ratliff contract does even more than save Robert Sarver money though. It also allows Phoenix to draft a foreign player at #24 and then stash him overseas until the finances allow them to bring him back over. (By the way, let me pause here and say how much I hate the luxury tax. It penalizes a team for getting good players who eventually demand larger paychecks. I hate it with a passion that is a little frightening.) PLUS, it would make Phoenix a big-time player at the trade deadline next year. If Sarver had a change of heart next winter and decided a title would be worth the extra dollars, he could turn Ratliff's contract and his fistful of draft picks into a legit stud at the deadline.

Phoenix would also get some nice pieces back from Boston. Delonte West could spell Steve Nash, hit mid-range jumpers, and play tough defense off the bench, all for just over a million dollars a year. Kendrick Perkins could give them frontcourt depth and some Diop-like defense on Duncan, for the price tag of $4 million per (when his extension kicks in next year). Basically, they would be swapping the worthless Marcus Banks for the potentially valuable Perkins (as a sort of transaction tax on Boston). Plus, they would have Atlanta's and Boston's first round picks next year, which could conservatively project to a top-10 and a top-20.

The net result for Phoenix is that they would have Nash, Amare, Raja Bell, and Barbosa as the core of the team, with Boris Diaw, Kurt Thomas, Brandan Wright (or whoever they take at #5), Delonte West, and Kendrick Perkins rounding out the nine-man rotation. That is still a really great team, with far more depth, versatility, and roster flexibility. (Not to mention a team set up to receive an influx of up to four first rounders - their own, Boston's, Atlanta's, and the foreign guy at #24 this year - at a time whey they can finally dole out some paychecks.)

As for Boston, they would have to bring Marcus Banks back, but that is required to make the deal work. But the Celtics would gain a star in Marion that would help them win right now and allow them to roll out a pretty nice starting lineup of Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Ryan Gomes, Shawn Marion, and Al Jefferson. You'd have to think that Pierce/Marion/Jefferson would be the best trio in the East. Plus, Boson would be trimming down the rotation, which is a must with Doc Rivers on the bench, AND they would still have the #29 and #32 picks with which to work in a very deep draft (how about Morris Almond and Sean Williams?).

This feels like a no-brainer for Boston and normally, they would never be able to pull off this kind of trade for an all-league type player. But it seems like Phoenix has a perfect storm situation that would actually make this a good deal for them, rather than the mediocre-to-crappy deal it would normally be.

If nothing else, Danny Ainge needs to get on the phone and give it a shot. Danny and Doc didn't get bailed out by the ping-pong balls, but maybe if they play their cards right, they can dig themselves out of this mess.


srp said...

As a Suns fan this deal looks great to me! It is time for Marion to go and his value is highest right now.

And you have to think that Ainge's ties to Phx can't hurt either. There are only two cities in the NBA world that don't hate Danny A from his court days so why not make a deal?

Anonymous said...

Not gonna happen. Phoenix isn't as obsessed with getting below the luxury tax as everyone thinks.

Anonymous said...

And who wants a player who dosen't show up come playoff time?

Rob said...

Ryan Gomes is not a starter and who would back him up? Jefferson is not a C, he is a PF. The C's are looking for more front court help not less.

Although the Celtics are desperate for another superstar/quality veteran to become a playoff team this trade limits the future moves that are necessary for the Celtics to actually compete.

Change this trade to Amare coming to the C's and I could see something happening.

I actually think the C's could go after Artest (shades of Detroit's acquisition of Rasheed Wallace) on the cheap and spend their bullets on Jason Kidd.


Now that is a team and you need to take risks to be successful.

Nathaniel said...

Suns Fan -> Im ambivalent about it. I think it has potential at some point, but I dont think Phx is going for it. For one, why should they change something that is, right now, so good? Marion has one more year and that could well be the year for the Suns' championship. After that I am not so sure that we will see much movement. Marion is a star. Only if the reports of tension between him and Amare are true should they trade him. Sure the prospect of a better draft this year is nice but they dont need much. Maybe a good mid-range shooter and someone more dominant on the drive like Nash and Barbosa...possibly someone like Thomas only more agressive offensively and younger. I guess we'll see.

Anonymous said...

you are really smart. This would work.

Anonymous said...

I really like this trade as a Celtics fan simply because I am sick of waiting to win. Marion instantly gets us into playoff contention. My only concern is the center position because Big Al is not a true center, he is much more productive at the PF spot. But even considering that I would still make that trade to get some buzz back to the Green.

mr_hish said...

As a Suns fan, I think this would be a great deal for both teams. Like Adam wrote, it would help the Suns in a number of areas:

1) incompatibility between Marion & Amare (playing styles, egos, etc)
2) upgrade in size, toughness, & rebounding (plus nets Suns a true young big)
3) get rid of Marcus Banks and his horrid contract
4) luxury tax relief

The Suns NEED to do this deal. If nothing else, it would be ironic if two of the teams that got shafted the most by the lottery ended up helping each other out.

Anonymous said...

What about a Memphis-Phoenix deal? Now that Iavoroni is in Memphis, he might want a familiar face or two to come to town. I'm thinking Marion and Banks for Miller, Swift, and the #4 pick. This deal gives the Griz a Banks, Gay, Marion, Warrick, Gasol line-up, and gives the Suns a Nash, Bell, Miller, Horford, Stoudemire line-up as well as some luxury tax relief. The Suns might need to throw in a couple of draft picks themselves to make it work, but it looks good to me.