Saturday, February 23, 2013

NBA Contenders Who Missed Opportunities

More than anything, the 2013 NBA trade deadline will be remembered for the trades that didn't happen rather than the trades that did. As I mentioned in yesterday's post, a rather large number of big ticket guys were legitimately in play. Going along with that, a rather large number of teams seemed to have the proper motivation to either buy or sell. Seems like the perfect formula for a blockbuster trade deadline, no?

Obviously, it didn't quite work out. For a variety of reasons -- cap space, future cap considerations, outrageous asking prices, pure stupidity -- none of those big tickets were cashed in...unless you want to consider Dexter Pittman a BIG ticket, which is a totally reasonable viewpoint. For that reason, it seems more relevant to discuss how the day's inactivity will affect things going forward, starting with the implications on this year's title. Three contenders in particular stand out to me as having missed a major opportunity on Thursday:

1. Indiana Pacers

It would have been interesting to how things would have shaken out had Danny Granger returned in time to be a viable trade chip, but it just didn't work out that way. Given the lack of big moves, I doubt it would have made a difference anyways. Besides, getting Granger back in the lineup is like swinging a blockbuster deal, especially since none of Indy's major competitors added anything of value.

Nevertheless, the Pacers missed a big opportunity when they reportedly passed on including their first round pick in a potential J.J. Redick deal. I'm not the first to write this, but Redick would have been a perfect elixir for what ails the Pacers, namely their woeful shooting efficiency. Indy currently ranks 15th in 3PT makes per game, t-13th in 3PT%, 21st in Points Per Shot, and 23rd in Adjusted Field Goal%. On the latter, they're shooting a woeful .475, while Miami is shooting .545, San Antonio .539, and OKC .532. Since 2000, the only team to shoot anywhere near that percentage and win the title is the 03-04 Pistons (.461). As much as I love the Pacers defense, they aren't the 03-04 Pistons.

Granger should help if he's healthy enough and able to accept a secondary scoring role. However, his AFG% hasn't been north of .500 in four seasons and he'll never be the deadeye sharpshooter this offense needs. Redick would have been, no question. He's shooting 39% from downtown on 6 attempts per game, and his AFG% is a ridiculous .551. He would have been an ideal fit coming off the bench and spotting up around post passing wizard David West.

As for that first round pick they so intently protected...well, there must be something I'm missing. Indy is in line for a late first round pick which, historically, has produced about as much value as your typical Powerball ticket. Last year, the Pacers ended up with Miles Plumlee -- aka. the worst of the Plumlii triumvirate. Unless they were scheming to use next years pick on Mason and a future pick on Marshall...well, I'm guessing you can see how ridiculous I think this whole thing is. 

The Pacers are in a position to win a title right now. Not next year, not in 2015. Now. Sacrificing such a marginally valuable future piece shouldn't be an issue. Also, Redick will be a free agent after the season, which means their future cap is totally unaffected. Unless something else was going on to prevent a deal, this is a big miss.

2. Los Angeles Clippers

Similar to the Pacers situation in that they're in a position to win a title this year, but different in that the piece they'd have to give up is far more valuable. Eric Bledsoe is perhaps the hottest piece of speculative property in the league right now, and I certainly understand why the Clippers would feel some anxiety in giving him up. What if Chris Paul skips town? What if Bledsoe blows up in the playoffs and doubles his trade value? There could have been an enormous amount of opportunity cost had the Clips dealt him on Thursday. Then again, there could be an enormous amount of opportunity cost from not dealing him.

I, personally, think the latter is the case. As much as I like Bledsoe, I don't ever seeing him joining the ranks of Paul, Irving, or Rondo as an elite, All-NBA type PG. Athletically, yes, he's right there, but Bledsoe doesn't shoot it like Paul or Irving and doesn't the innate court vision of Rondo. He's a poor man's Russell Westbrook, and those types of players aren't typically franchise altering. 

Given that, the time to cash in that trade chip was now. The team is right there, just a half step below the Spurs and Thunder, and a major upgrade could have pushed them over the top. The rumored swap of Bledsoe and Jordan for Garnett could have won them a title immediately while also freeing them from Jordan's ghastly deal. Or, they could have used Bledsoe to get in on the Rudy Gay Sweepstakes a few weeks earlier, giving them an immense core piece, both for now and the future. 

The likely scenario is that they move Bledsoe in the offseason...but doesn't that make their inaction all the more damning? If you were already planning on cashing him in, why do it after a golden opportunity has slipped through your fingers. As they are currently comprised, I doubt they can topple either OKC or San Antonio. With Gay or Garnett? Yes, they absolutely could. This one makes no sense to me.

3. Denver Nuggets

Denver is a fringe contender, at best, but certainly had the assets to become a much more serious threat. They currently have ten legit rotation players, as well as two or three other young players that any rebuilding team would be interested in. Given some of the reported deals that were *close* to happening, you can't tell me Denver couldn't have gotten a pretty sizable deal done. Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov, and Evan Fournier were all reportedly pieces other teams were interested in. Given how expendable they are all, some kind of deal should have gotten done.

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