If you read certain beat writers, it would appear that the Nets are always on the verge of trading Richard Jefferson...to the Bulls for Luol Deng and a pick in June 2006, to the Pacers with Jason Collins, Nenad Krstic and/or Marcus Williams for Jermaine O'Neal in June 2007, to the Trail Blazers for Zach Randolph or to the Jazz for Andrei Kirilenko, both during the last off-season.
But a review of how Jefferson is doing, compared to how the players the Nets wudda/cudda/shudda have picked up, Rod Thorn must be happy he didn't do any of those deals. Sometimes, the best deal you make is the one you pass on.
The Bull deal was reportedly discussed on draft night 2006, when the Nets were offered Deng and their second pick for Jefferson. The Nets wanted the Bulls first pick, which they used to acquire Tyrus Thomas. The Bulls were offering their second pick, which wound up being Thabo Sefolosha. No deal. Deng has been one of the season's biggest disappointments. Nagged by injuries and rumored to be sent west for Kobe Bryant, Deng has had a significant dropoff in production. After averaging 18 and 7 last season, the 22 year old is barely averaging 16 now. His rebounding, assists and blocks are all down, as are his field goal and free throw perecentage, while his turnovers are up. Moreover, he has missed three games already after not missing a single one last season. Last season, this looked like it would have been a smart deal. Not any longer. Also, Deng becomes a restricted free agent this summer.
The Pacer deal was also a draft night discussion, in 2007. O'Neal for Jefferson, Collins, and depending on who talk to: Nenad Krstic or Marcus Williams. After off-season knee surgery, O'Neal has had difficulty rehabbing. Last season, in spite of injuries, O'Neal was close to a 20 and 10 performer, with averages of 19.4 and 9.6. He missed 13 games though, necessitating the surgery. This year, he has missed six games and his numbers are woeful, 13.1 and 7.4. Moreover, he isn't even shooting 40% from the field. As Tim Capstraw said recently, he may only be 29 but it's an old 29 with a lot of mileage on that body. He also has a player option this summer. If he exercises it, he will pass on the $44 million the Pacers still owe him. He has said he will exercise the option and become a free agent. But if he contines at this pace, that would be foolhardy.
The Blazers wanted rid of Randolph once they knew that Greg Oden was headed their way. They didn't or need Randolph, Oden and LaMarcus Aldridge. There were reports that they would be only too happy to do a deal sending him to New Jersey, along with his Titanic-sized baggage, trunks of it, in return for good guy Jefferson. But whether they offered it or not, the deal doesn't look so good now. Randolph was a legitimate 20 and 10 last season, hitting for 23.6 and 10.1. While his rebounding numbers are up slightly, he is averaging almost six fewer points. And his shooting percentage is down as well, from 46.7% to 43.9. His defense, always suspect, looks even worse on his new team, the Knicks. And there are the other issues familar to Blazer fans: namely that he's a black hole on offense. He hasn't seen a playoff game since 2003, and he is highlhy unlikely to see any with the Knicks in the foreseeable future.
The least credible rumor, for Kirilenko, is the only one that right now would have worked out reasonably well. Kirilenko's game Friday night shows his potential: a triple double that was almost a "5x5". With 20 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists, six steals and four blocks, AK-47 was one block away from one of the rarest personal achievement in basketball, a combination triple double and at least five of each in five categories. Kirilenko, who talked about wanting to leave the Jazz over the summer, is not a big scorer in the Jazz offense, averaging 10.8 ppg, but his across the board numbers are all more than solid: 6.9 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 2.2 blocks and 1.8 steals.
As for Jefferson, he is having his best season by far. He is fourth in the league in scoring at 25.1, first in free throws made, third in attempts, while averaging 5.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.1 steals. His three point shooting, which was up over 40% a few games ago, is still a career best 37.8% after 14 games. And after a nagging ankle injury last season, he has yet to miss a game and at 39.1 minutes a game, he is ninth in the NBA. None of those who were rumored to be dealt for him is with eight points of him per game. He almost doubles O'Neal's early season output. And in spite of the Nets typical early season woes, only the Jazz have a better record.