Chisholm: Analyzing the McGrady trade

Tim Chisholm
2/18/2010 2:38:04 PM
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SACRAMENTO GETS: Carl Landry, Larry Hughes, Joey Dorsey

Even when it looked like Sacramento was going to hold firm and keep Kevin Martin, anyone who saw them play recently had trouble believing that would the way things would play out. Instead the Kings get an underrated big man who plays all-out and can score in Landry and they get some serious cap relief from Hughes. That means that Sacramento not only got the kind of player they wanted in a Martin deal, but they got him at $3-million with a team option for next season while the rest of Martin's massive salary disappears from the books this summer.

Landry will now, in all likelihood, line up at power forward for the Kings while Beno Udrih returns to run the point (pushing rookie sensation Tyreke Evans back to shooting guard, which is a good thing). This move makes the Kings that much feistier and more athletic, and puts the focus squarely on Evans as the future of this franchise.

Landry is one of the league's little-known wonders that may finally be able to carve out a  recognizable niche for himself as a starter in Sacramento. As a reserve in Houston he was averaging 16.1 points and 5.5 rebounds while playing only 27 minutes per game, all numbers that could increase with a bigger role with the Kings. He's a ridiculously efficient player (he has a 21.70 PER, which puts him between Chauncey Billups and Zach Randolph) and his stock could soar with more minutes.

People might question giving up Martin for a reserve from Houston, but when people see how good that reserve is as a starter (at a position of need, too), combined with the salary relief attained from the deal, they'll see how well Sac made out in this transaction.


HOUSTON RECEIVES: Kevin Martin, Jordan Hill, Jared Jeffries, Hilton Armstrong, exchange rights for NY's 2011 first-round pick and NY's 2012 first-round pick

Even just scrawling down what Houston got back in this deal made me do a double-take. I wanted to put Sacramento first in these grades so that everyone knew my opinion of Landry before I said this; Houston just won the trade deadline, hands down, and I don't care who else gets traded after this. Seriously, Tracy McGrady was a lost cause in Houston, likely to be bought out if no trade could be arrived at, so his departure is wholly irrelevant to the Rockets. Landry was effective and will be missed, but basically exchanging him for Kevin Martin, one of the league's deadliest scorers, Jordan Hill, a promising rookie big, and Jared Jeffries, who actually fits what Houston does, is stunning. Then, they actually got two first-round picks from New York! Insane.

First let's talk Martin. K-Mart brings scoring to a team in desperate need of that attribute. Houston was a middle-of-the-pack scoring team with a fourth-from-league-worst shooting percentage. Martin is a legit 20ppg scorer who will be significantly helped in terms of efficiency by having the greatest group of role players surrounding him that he's ever seen. That, and it never hurts to be reunited with the coach that oversaw your best years as a pro. Martin slides onto the wings of this team and will be creating and finishing to his heart's content, and his defense doesn't even kill them because the rest of the Rockets squad is so utterly good on defense. Martin won't even be tasked with guarding the best opposing guards since that job falls to Trevor Ariza and Shane Battier. The Rockets are currently 2.5-games out of the eighth seed in the post-season and I have trouble, with Martin's addition, seeing how they don't close that gap in the final weeks of the season.

Now we move on to Jeffries. Here's the great con by Houston in this deal: they can actually use Jeffries, yet in agreeing to take on his salary they forced New York to part with TWO first-round picks. Jeffries has been playing outstanding hustle defense for the Knicks this season and his attributes in that area, especially with his height (6-11) allowing him to guard everything from shooting guard to centre, will work wonders for this team after losing Landry's get-up-and-go. He doesn't offer anything on offense, but taking him on was hardly a favor to New York - he can play Rockets' basketball. Plus, if he can't, he gives them a trade chip next season when they'll have a better picture of what they need to flesh out the team around the Yao/Martin tandem.

Jordan Hill being included in this deal was pure prospecting. He's had little impact as a pro thus far, but Mike D'Antoni never really appeared interested in giving Hill a shot this season. He's got a decent mid-range game and he's got some (very very raw) skill to play with, but getting a lottery pick “thrown into” this deal is a no-brainer for Houston. Even if he turns out to be not a whole lot as a pro, it isn't like he's locked into anything expensive or longterm with the Rockets, he's just a ‘let's see what we got' kid who'll have every opportunity to crack the rotation if he has the work ethic to survive Houston's energetic style of play.

Houston made out like bandits today by not giving up anything close to what they got back in value. Martin will probably become an All-Star in Houston, the Rockets fortified their offensive attack, got two first-rounders (or rather, one first-rounder in 2012 and the right to swap with New York next spring), two useful players and a shot at returning to the post-season despite not having their best player (Yao Ming) available to them all season. Insane.


NEW YORK RECEIVES: Tracy McGrady, Sergio Rodriguez

Well, I've gotta hand it to Donnie Walsh; he wanted space to sign two max free agents this summer and how he has it. Maybe McGrady has something left in the tank this year and maybe not, but that isn't really relevant right now, is it?

Well, it is if one wants to recall a little bit of history: in 2000, the Orlando Magic worked a similar deal to what New York has orchestrated, basically freeing themselves up to sign two max-level free agents in a summer when the best player in the NBA was becoming available (sound familiar?). Their plan was to sign Tim Duncan away from San Antonio, then sign Grant Hill away from Detroit. The problem was Tim Duncan was on a championship contender and decided he had no interest in a rebuilding project. Grant Hill jumped over, but he was injured and it turned out he would never fully recover to earn his massive salary with the Magic. The Magic gave up Ben Wallace and Chucky Atkins in a sign-and-trade to get Hill, too, and each proved to be crucial pieces to Detroit's renaissance this decade. In lieu of getting Duncan, the Magic settled on the aforementioned McGrady, who carried that team for years but saw little-to-know help in that time because all the team's money was tied up in two players. The team eventually let both McGrady and Hill move on without ever seeing a meaningful return on their investment.

Look, I appreciate that New York has a plan and that they've had the resolve to carry it this far. Even if they don't get one of the marquee guys this summer there is still plenty of talent around to fill out their team on slightly smaller deals. The problem is that right now the team has zero talent locked-up for next season beyond the ho-hum abilities of Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler. They traded away last year's lottery pick in this deal to Houston, they have to surrender their pick this spring to Utah, and then Houston comes back with the right to swap in 2011 and takes 2012 outright. Even if they can get a major force or two to New York, they have next to zero flexibility to add legit talent around them thereafter, which may have large implications with free agents deciding to leave winning situations (remember that Grant Hill left Detroit after two seasons with zero Playoffs and three first-round exists). Also worth remembering, though, is that New York can use this space to absorb players from other teams without sending salary/players back, which does increase their options.

Bottom line is this: New York has bought themselves the chance to have options, but all of the decision-making is out of their hands. This summer they are going to make plays for some big names and they may get them and they may not, but they haven't bought the right to decide that. The best New York can do is cast a wide net and hope they catch some fish. On the other hand, the fact that this team is actually looking at being so far below the cap after carrying the league's highest payroll for so long must feel good to James Dolan, and the ability to at least have a say in your own fate is better than being tied down by an inflexible salary cap situation.
If New York can get a major free agent or two to Manhattan as a result of this move, then this trade grades out very well for them, but if not then they've sacrificed A LOT for the right to try. Either way, no grade can be assessed until the dust settles for them this summer.


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