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To Trade Or Not To Trade?

   by Larry Ness - 04/16/2008

As most people around the league will say, the Lakers 'stole' Pau Gasol from the Grizzlies in February (others would say the Grizzlies handed Gasol to them) but either way, the "Gasol trade" sent shock waves through the league, particularly in the tightly-contested West. However, before commenting on the Gasol trade, one has to begin with what the Celtics did last off-season.

Kevin Garnett had patiently waited in Minnesota as the 'face' of the franchise for 12 seasons. Beginning in his fourth year (1998-99), he averaged at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per game for nine consecutive seasons, while the T-wolves essentially "went nowhere." The team was yearly playoff 'disaster,' only once reaching the conference finals (in 2003-04). The team missed the playoffs in 2004-05 at 44-38 and then the next two seasons, finished 33-49 and 32-50. Paraphrasing Al Gore, "it was time for Kevin to go."

And go he did, in a trade to the Celtics, a team which had fallen from NBA 'royalty" to a laughing stock. While the T-wolves had gone a combined 65-99 the previous two seasons, the Celtics had been even worse, going 33-49 and 24-58. However, with Garnett in Boston, the Celtics were also able to convince long-time All Star guard Ray Allen to leave Seattle for the East Coast. You all know how it has turned out.

Garnett (19.0-9.3-3.5) is a leading MVP candidate (along with Kobe and Chris Paul), while Allen, who had averaged 20 or more points for eight consecutive seasons has averaged 17.6 PPG. They joined Paul Pierce (19.8-5.2-4.6) to form the league's newest "Big Three," while leading the Celtics to the biggest one-year turnaround in NBA history. While everyone expected Garnett and Allen to make a major impact in the much weaker Eastern Conference, the team's total transformation plus the play of its role players took the league by surprise. I'll have more on the Celtics in my NBA playoff preview article, come Friday.

The Celtics jumped out to a 20-2 start and were in 'cruise control' by Christmas. Meanwhile, the West was even tighter than most expected. In late December, the Utah Jazz traded Gordan Giricek to the 76ers for Kyle Korver. Giricek had become an irritant to Utah's head coach Jerry Sloan and there's little doubt who's in charge up in Salt Lake City. The trade made few headlines and while it's hard to argue that Korver, who has averaged 9.9 PPG this year (he averaged 14.4 PPG last year, playing a bigger role for the Sixers), has been the "reason" for Utah's turnaround, he was at least, the catalyst for it.

The numbers don't lie. Utah sat at 16-16 when Korver made his Jazz debut on December 31. The Jazz hosted the red-hot Blazers that night, a team which was on a 13-game winning streak, but Utah won, 111-101. The Jazz have never looked back, going 38-11 since (finish the season with a game at San Antonio on Wednesday). Utah has also finished the season with the best home record (37-4 / 29-12 ATS) of any team in the league. Say what you want but I think the Jazz are very happy they made the "Korver trade."

Kobe wanted "out of LA" all summer but no deal was made. The Lakers were only 13-9 in mid-December but with Tuesday's 124-101 home win over the Kings, have finished the regular season at 57-25, giving them the West's No. 1 seed. That's a 45-16 run to end the year, a winning percentage of .738. Ironically, the impetus for the Gasol trade was LA's 36th game of the season, a home game with the Memphis Grizzlies. LA's 20-year-old seven-foot center, Andrew Bynum (13.1-10.2), got hurt in that game and the Lakers, 25-11 at the time, knew "they needed help" in the West.

How or why the Grizzlies basically 'gave' LA the seven-foot Gasol is up for discussion but "give him to the Lakers they did," sending the rest of the West into a panic. Based on what's happened, the rest of the West was right to panic. Gasol's first game with LA came on Feb 5 and the Lakers went 15-3 with Gasol in their "new" lineup, before he sprained an ankle in a game at New Orleans on March 14. The Lakers lost that game and Gasol missed the next nine games as well, with LA going 5-5 during that 10-game stretch.

However, Gasol returned on April 2 and the Lakers won seven of their final eight games. All told, LA is 22-4 with Gasol in the lineup, a winning percentage of .846. Let's note that pending the outcome of Boston's regular season finale at home against the Nets on Wednesday night, the Celtics, who own the NBA's best record at 65-16, have a winning percentage of "just," .802. Now what happens if the Lakers actually get Bynum back in the lineup, healthy? More on that Friday.

All of LA's main rivals in the West knew what the Gasol trade meant to the Lakers (they were right, too!) and Dallas and Phoenix made the most drastic steps. New Orleans and Houston swapped role players (basically Bobby Jackson for Bonzi Wells), while the defending champs (San Antonio), signed guard Damon Stoudamire (who was released by the Grizzlies) and traded for power forward Kurt Thomas (Seattle).

Stoudamire has nothing left. Here's a guy who averaged better than double digits in 10 of his first 11 seasons (14.5 PPG career average) but after scoring 11 points in his San Antonio debut, has never reached double digits again. Over his last 20 games, he has scored two points or less, 15 times. As for Thomas, he's averaging 6.3 PPG and 7.3 RPG and while he's a nice addition, he's hardly a "difference maker." Consider that San Antonio was 37-17 (.685) before he arrived and the Spurs are 18-9 (.667), since. If the Spurs are to repeat (something they've never done), their "Big Three" (Duncan, Ginobili and Parker) will be the reason.

So did anyone make a good deal in response to the "Gasol trade?" Only the Mavs and Suns are left. Surely, the Mavs didn't. Dallas felt it needed to do something but acquiring Kidd for Harris has not made them better this year and has likely hurt them in the long run. Kidd will finish the season with a career-low average in PPG (currently at 10.6) and with a career-worst shooting percentage as well (currently (38.0). Meanwhile, Harris has averaged 15.8 PPG and 6.5 APG for the Nets in 24 games.

You've all heard or seen these numbers before but they are worth repeating. Dallas, 67-15 last year, was 35-18 (.660) before Kidd joined the team and just 15-13 (Mavs host the Hornets on Wednesday) with him. These breakdowns make the deal look even worse, as Dallas has gone just 3-11 against winning teams with Kidd and 12-2 vs losing teams. Harris is an excellent defensive player who always gave Tony Parker fits, while Kidd is just an "old man." Nice call, Mark!
Speaking of "old men," many felt (including me) the Suns were getting just that, in Shaq. However, he's surprised me and I assume, others as well. Things didn't start well for the Suns, as Phoenix went just 3-6 in Shaq's first nine games. However, beginning with a 94-87 win over the Spurs in Phoenix on March 9, the Suns have gone 14-5 SU (12-6-1 ATS), with a game at home vs Portland on Wednesday still remaining. Shaq has played in all but one of the team's last 19 games.

Shaq has added bulk inside for the Suns and has topped 15 rebounds (four times) more often than he has reached 20 points (three), since coming to Phoenix. He's averaging 10.7 RPG with the Suns and since that San Antonio home win, the Suns are 8-1 SU and ATS in Phoenix. The lone loss came to Dallas, when the Suns fell apart in the 4th quarter, getting outscored 27-9. Shaq's addition has been a plus but I think the biggest impact it has made, was allowing Amare Stoudemire to move to his natural position of power forward.

Stoudemire has averaged 29.1 PPG since the Suns acquired Shaq and in the end, his move out of the pivot, could be what the Suns needed all along to "take that next step." One more thing. Remember Giricek, who the Jazz sent to the 76ers for Korver? The Suns added him in early March and the 6-6 sharpshooter has been an excellent addition. In the 16 games in which he's played at least 17 minutes in a game, he's averaged 9.9 PPG as a Sun.

My NBA playoff preview will appear on Friday.

Good luck, Larry

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