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Food for Thought: Was the KG trade unfair?

 

TrueHoop today posts excerpts from a very candid interview Dirk Nowitzki did with a German magazine, in which Dirk, among other things, laments that it has become very difficult to win a title because Boston and Los Angeles benefited from “unfair trades.”

I’ve never thought of the KG trade as unfair, not in the sense that the Pau Gasol trade as so obviously lop-sided. Henry Abbott and I emailed briefly about Dirk’s comments, and I protested the characterization of the KG trade as “unfair.”

After all, I wrote, Al Jefferson was everyone’s favorite shoulda-been All-Star this year. Henry tried to get me to see the trade from Nowitzki’s perspective: the Timberwolves gave up a top-10 NBA player in his prime in a deal that was not going to help them win in the next couple of seasons.

The Timberwolves haven’t gotten any better; the Celtics zoomed right past the Mavs in the NBA hierarchy and became champions.

I suppose I see the point: If you’re going to trade Garnett and make it more difficult for the other 29 teams to win a title, you should get something more in return than a (very good) young player who will be the foundation for a promising future.

Otherwise, the theory goes, don’t make the deal; Nowitzki is almost saying a team in the T’Wolves (or Grizzlies) position should consider the welfare rest of the league before pulling the trigger on a deal for the future.

It almost reminds me of the baseball team in a tight pennant that complains when their rival plays a late September series against a losing team trying to work in some minor-leaguers: “You’re doing something good for your future, but you’re compromising the league now.”

But what are you supposed to do if you’re the Wolves and you’re sure KG is going to leave for free agency when his contract is up (or you just want it off the books)?

Or if you’re the Raptors and Vince Carter has sent you the same message with his lazy, uninspired play? Or if you’re the Magic in June 2004 and you think Tracy McGrady is probably going to opt out of his contract after the 04-05 season and seek a max deal?

Is there ever a time to trade a true top-10 NBA player? I’m talking about megastars, guys you can build an NBA team around. I’m not talking about Allen Iverson going to Denver in 2006 or Chris Webber coming to Philadelphia in 2005, two all-world guys who were past their primes.

How many times in the last 20 years or so has a truly elite NBA player changed teams, and have the teams making those trades ever received equal value in return?

Luckily, Marc Stein ranked a half-dozen recent ones (Shaq to the Lakers Heat for Odom, Butler and change–including a first-rounder that became Jordan Farmar; McGrady to Houston for Steve Francis, Cat Mobley and Kelvin Cato; KG to Boston for Jefferson, Telfair, Green, Gomes, Ratliff and picks; and Vince Carter to New Jersey for Zo, Eric Williams, Aaron Williams and two draft picks).

A few others I can think off the top of my head are:

1992: Charles Barkley from Philly to Phoenix in exchange for Jeff Hornacek, Andrew Lang and Tim Perry.

1996: Jason Kidd, Tony Dumas and Loren Wright from Dallas to Phoenix for Michael Finley, Sam Cassell and a second-round draft pick (that became Greg Buckner)

1998: Chris Webber from Washington to Sacramento for Mitch Richmond and Otis Thorpe

So, I guess you really can’t win if you trade a top-10/top-15 NBA player, can you? If Al Jefferson comes back from his knee injury with the same offensive game and learns to defend well, the KG trade may actually turn out to be among the “fairest” of all of these. Another conclusion: It turns out Mitch Kupchak made a pretty nice deal in the Shaq trade. Too bad the Lakers screwed it by flipping Butler to Washington for Kwame Brown.

  • Trieu

    There's another way in which it's incorrect to call those trades "unfair." ANY TEAM could have traded with Minnesota and Memphis. It's not as if the league sabotaged the telephones of the other 28 NBA teams. Even if the trades were the most lopsided in history (and they weren't), they weren't unfair, because there was nothing preventing the other teams from making those trades. Don't want Gasol to go to the Lakers? Then make a better offer to Memphis! Complaining about the good fortune of others, instead of solving your own problems, is just lame.

  • Mark

    A recent trade that always stands out for me was the three-way a few years back when the Pistons acquired Rasheed Wallace from Atlanta. While Wallace was maybe not a "Top 10" player I would certainly put him in the Top 20 of the time and he was the missing piece that helped the Pistons win the title that year. Pistons gave up very little of value including Lindsay Hunter who they just resigned 10 days later anyway.

    In reality, when you look back, it's very rare to get equal value back in NBA trades because of the salary cap. Yes, there's the occasional Kidd to Dallas deal last year where I honestly feel the team unloading the "star" made out considerably better in both talent and cap flexibility than the team acquiring the star, but more often than not, good players are traded to good teams for spare parts, expiring contracts and draft picks.

  • steveo

    Sure ANY TEAM could have contacted them and they did, but no, McHale gifted his star player to his old franchise. I guarantee you he could have gotten more than he did for Garnett but he chose to go with his old team. That's why is suspicious.

    and Somone had to make a better offer than the one Minnesota accepted. It was such a bad deal its extremely obvious now.

    I understand why Celtics fans are quick to try and refute this argument, and understandably they don't want the championship they just won to be cheapened in anyway. Its just a really a really suspicious trade

  • JB

    The Gasol trade was somewhat lopsided, if you only look at the big names trading salaries (Kwame Brown for a top-10 post player), but the Lakers did surrender two first-round picks, their first-round pick that year (Crittenton, who hasn't impressed anyone thus far, but still a first-round pick), and the rights to Marc Gasol, who we've seen is a fairly solid starter on a bad team.

    The upcoming first-round picks will likely be very low, but Rondo was a low first-rounder, as were Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and a host of others. A lottery pick is going to be better on average, but Memphis' goal was to shed Gasol's large contract (which the expiring Brown deal let them do), and stockpile a load of young talent and draft picks.

    And if you take a longer view and look at it as the completion of the Shaq trade, the Lakers got Farmar, Odom and Gasol, along with the right to overpay Brian Grant in the final year of his contract, for Shaq, and two years in the wilderness starting Kwame freaking Brown. That seems fair on balance.

  • Crase42

    You forget that Kwame was later traded for Gasol…

  • EMF

    trades are never fair, it's hard to get exact value back; someone always wins in this case it was boston. 10 years from now it could be sota

    gasol trade seemed unfair but what if the lakers would have drafted two late round studs with there picks (they didn't but it could have happened)

    other interesting note about the gasol trade, i remeber reading about a GM who said there were better offers on the table for gasol then the one the grizzles took. can't seem to find a link for that though

  • WildYams

    There may have been better trades on the table for Gasol from a basketball perspective last year, but it is clear the Grizzlies were trading from a financial perspective, not in an effort to immediately improve the team. They were losing money and losing games, so they figured it's better to lose games for a cheaper cost, and instead looked to the future. So they got Kwame Brown's expiring contract (the largest expiring deal in the NBA last year other than Theo Ratliffe's), and they got a bunch of draft picks and prospects. From Memphis' standpoint, that makes sense. There were long rumors that Chicago could have had Gasol without having to give up their best players to do so as well, but all reports were that they just weren't willing to consider giving up anyone (keep in mind that's the same team that nixed any trades for Kobe Bryant if they included Luol Deng).

    You have to remember that not every team out there is trying to win right away, and some either have the goal of blowing it up and starting over with young prospects as their goal, or simply wanting to decrease salary. People ripped the Lakers back in 2004 for trading Shaq for three players who had never made the All Star team, but LA decided to blow it up and rebuild from the ground up with an eye to the future. That trade was never about making the Lakers title contenders in the first post-Shaq year. Considering that even before the Gasol trade last year LA had the best record in the West the day that Bynum got hurt, it's clear that LA made some good decisions from 2004-2007 in trying to build for the future. Reportedly the Lakers initially tried to trade Lamar Odom for Gasol, but the Grizzlies were warned off by Odom's additional contract year and instead preferred the cap relief Kwame Brown could provide, even if they knew he'd bring virtually nothing to the team on the court (he frequently got DNP-CDs in Memphis after that trade, despite competing with Darko Milicic and Brian Cardinal for minutes at center).

    The main thing to keep in mind when looking at any trade, especially one that involves a top-level talent, is that you can't judge it by the immediate results, and instead need to look at it a couple years later to see if it was really successful or not. In the summer of 2006 everyone felt that the Heat had got the clear better end of the Shaq trade, with Miami the reigning champs and LA having just missed the playoffs one year and being a 1st round out the next. However, just two years later with Miami having the league's worst record and the Lakers being back in the NBA Finals and poised to be title contenders for a number of years, you have to wonder if maybe LA didn't get the better end of that trade. If the Lakers win it this year you'd have to almost certainly say that they did.

    My point is this: who knows what the Celtics and Timberwolves will both look like in two years? Who knows what the Lakers and Grizzlies will look like in two years? When two teams are swapping their future potential for present success, you have to let the future unfold to see who really profited.

  • http://celticshub.com Zach Lowe

    Great stuff everyone. And for the record, I disagree with Nowitzki. Minnesota's only obligations are to its players, fans, etc.–to itself.

    @ Mark: You're a Jersey homer!

    @ Yams: It is interesting trying to judge that Shaq trade. How much is a title worth? Does a title + three mediocre seasons = four good seaons but no title? Or is the first one better? Or the second one?

    And, yes, you have to wait years sometimes to judge trades–esp when so many people are making trades with moves several steps ahead in mind.

  • http://www.okaymentary.com the_capital_t

    Can you go back and edit the last couple of graphs in this piece? Shaq went to the HEAT for LO, Caron, etc. Mitch did not make the deal FOR Shaq, he traded O'Neal AWAY. Your wording is really confusing (and appears to be quite wrong) as is. Jerry West signed Shaq as a free agent for the Lakers.

    You make an interesting point overall, but the construction of portions of the last quarter of your post dilutes that point. Just a lil bit.

  • Yo

    KG wasnt in his prime, thats a bunch of BS…minnesotta thought he was worn down even more then he ended up being, but all in all they got a player who can put up similar numbers, cap relief and some good role players

    KGs prime was 04

  • Ignarus

    The KG trade wasn't "unfair" – The T-Wolves traded a year of KG on the downswing of this career for several years of Al Jefferson and the ability to stink badly enough to get good draft picks (OJ Mayo/Kevin Love).

    It worked out really well for the Celtics, but KG's production is declining. If anything, it was a win-win trade for both teams because Boston's window simply wasn't wide enough to wait for Jefferson to get more experienced, what with Allen and Pierce into their 30s.

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  • http://chadfx.com Chad

    Yeah… but Kwame Brown became Pau Gasol. All is forgiven Mitch!

  • Yo

    Oh – and didnt Dallas try to make a similar type deal? except it backfired and worked out the opposite way? Kidd/Harris?

  • winner1

    The fact that Mchale played for Boston makes you SAY that it was a lopsided deal, but it wasn't at all. For a player that would have left the next year, the twolves got a 22 pt 11 reb 24 year old, Gomes, who is a solid role player, and Ratliff, who had an expiring contract plus some picks.

    Anyway, I can't remotely consider understanding how a trade could cheapen a championship.

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    Thanks for some other great post. The place else may anyone get that kind of information in such an ideal method of writing? I’ve a presentation subsequent week, and I’m on the look for such info.

  • http://wedding-venues-in-yorkshire.co.uk/ Chris Mobile

    That was an unfair trade for KC! Not afraid to say that!

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