Thursday, January 03, 2008

Matchmaker: Big Ben to the Rockets

Bet you never thought that the Matchmaker gimmick would make a repeat appearance (since none of the previous gimmicks ever did). Well, you were wrong!

Anyway, I was swapping emails with Dritz (one of the contributors to this blog) earlier and discussing the Bulls. He's a Chicago guy through and through and while he wants to be optimistic about the Bulls chances in light of Gordon's return the bench (and corresponding hot streak) and the coaching change, he can't quite turn the corner. In an attempt to cheer him up, I suggested that perhaps the Bulls could acquire Mickael Pietrus (the Warriors are clearly trying to showcase him right now in an effort to move him), but he waved that off by (correctly) pointing out that Thabo Sefolosha could and should eventually be the same kind of player. He then mentioned that what really needed to happen was for the Bulls to get rid of Ben Wallace.

Let me first say that I didn't realize that Big Ben was that big of a problem. I know that his play has been poor, that his contract is terrible, and that swapping out Chandler for Wallace was a gaffe of epic proportions, but lately he seems to be picking it up a bit and - worst case scenario - he can always be benched in favor of the young bigs. But Dritz was adament and once I started thinking about it, I could see his point. Right now, Wallace is like a magnet sucking the energy out of this team (which is ironic, because he used to be the energy supplier in Detroit). As long as he's around, he will remind everyone of the failed free agent move and of the fact that things are falling apart. So he has to go.

The question is: who would trade for him? I mean, we've got a guy who is getting worse every year, can barely post stats worthy of a starting role player, and who will be getting paid $15.5 million per for the next three seasons. That's not an easy contract to move.

I spent my entire lunch break trying to find a trade partner for the Bulls and ultimately found one possibility: the Houston Rockets.

The Rockets are the only team desperate enough to bring on a contract like Big Ben's and the only team that could really, really use even a shell of his former Pistons self. Houston is currently sitting outside of the Western Conference playoff picture and even when McGrady gets back, they will be hard pressed to pass two teams, which would be some combination of the improved Lakers, deadly Hornets, determined Jazz, surging Blazers, and tenacious Warriors (fun with adjectives!). The Rockets have to make a move if they are to have any shot at making the playoffs this year (let alone doing anything once they get there).

Houston's biggest weakness is at the power forward position, where they start the 5'4" Chuck Hayes (slight exaggeration). And while Luis Scola is helping a bit of the bench, the combination of Scola and Hayes at the 4 is clearly not going to get it done in a conference loaded with guys like Duncan, Boozer, Dirk, Amare, etc. There are so many agile power forwards/centers in the West and to be frank, Yao can't guard any of them (see: any footage of their first round series against Utah and Boozer last year). And obviously, neither can any of their power forwards. I know that Big Ben isn't what he used to be, but surely he'd give them more hope of defending opposing 4's than what they have now.

So I spent a few minutes on the uber-valuable ESPN Trade Machine and got the following trade to work:

To Houston
- Ben Wallace ($15.5 million per, 3 years remaining)

To Chicago
- Mike James ($5.9 million per, 2 years remaining)
- Luis Scola ($3 million per, 3 years remaining)
- Steve Francis ($2.5 million per, expiring)
- Bonzi Wells ($2.3 million per, expiring)

Obviously, I think this deal helps Chicago. It gives them a decent post scorer in Scola, who could play 25-30 minutes a night in a rotation with Joe Smith, Joakim Noah, and Tyrus Thomas. Their frontcourt would suddenly have a nice blend of youth and experience, scoring and defense. Francis would likely grow roots on the bench, but you never know. And regardless, his deal expires. Same for Bonzi, except that he could actually help them a ton. He would become the Bulls' best post scorer, a guy that would allow Chicago to run an inside-out offense, and give them a fighting chance against Detroit (what Piston would guard him? Tayshaun? If so, that would free up Deng). They probably still couldn't beat Boston, but so be it. The poison pill here is obviously James, who has a bloated deal, would be on the payroll for another year after this one, and just duplicates Gordon's skills on a lower level. But I think it would be better to have him on the roster at $6 million per for two years than Wallace for $15 million per for three. Plus, there is the outside chance that they could move him or even get something out of him at the point (very outside, but still). Overall, they would get two guys that can score on the block, clear playing time for Noah and Thomas, and drastically improve their cap situation, all while turning the page on the Ben Wallace era and getting a true fresh start.

As for Houston, the move is far less appealing considering that the opposite of everything I mentioned above becomes true for the Rockets - they would have less post scoring, less cap flexibility, etc. But they desperately need someone who can cover Yao's defensive deficiencies, pound the glass, and set some screens. Houston is probably best served loading up now with a veteran core of Yao, Big Ben, Battier, and McGrady, taking a hard run at it, and then just blowing things up in three years.

The lineups for each team after the trade would look something like this:

PG - Kirk Hinrich, Chris Duhon, Mike James
SG - Bonzi Wells, Ben Gordon
SF - Luol Deng, Andres Nocioni
PF - Luis Scola, Tyrus Thomas
C - Joakim Noah, Joe Smith, Aaron Gray

PG - Rafer Alston, Aaron Brooks
SG - Tracy McGrady, Luther Head
SF - Shane Battier, Steve Novak
PF - Ben Wallace, Chuck Hayes, Carl Landry
C - Yao Ming, Dikembe Mutombo

I like both of these disappointing teams a lot better that way. Let's make it happen, people.

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