The 2009 off-season will be remembered more for the long-term economic impact of trades than the immediate gratification GM's and fans usually want.
Vince Carter, Shaquille O'Neal, Richard Jefferson, Emeka Okafor, Tyson Chandler, Zach Randolph and Jamal Crawford all changed teams in lop-sided deals...to one degree or another "salary dumps". A lot has been written about how the dumpees got the best of the dumpers. So we decided to grade the transactions from the other side, from the perspective of the GM's gaining the most in cap space. We graded based on two measures: how much cap space was saved and what value those GM's got back...if any.
We based our numbers on how much was owed, putting aside things like player options--assuming in this economy few will opt out; but included money owed to players on rookie contracts up to their fourth year. We didn't count the value of the qualifying offer. In one case, we noted that a player on a rookie contract could get dumped early but counted what he owed. Also, we kept our analysis to the big name deals involving two teams. Detroit made a series of smaller cost-cutting deals we ignored and the four player deal that may have saved the Grizzlies some money was less of a salary dump than a transaction of convenience.
Who did the best? Right now, it's a close call between Rod Thorn and Rod Higgins of the Bobcats, both of whom work for bosses trying to sell all or part of their teams.
Bobcats trade Emeka Okafor to the Hornets for Tyson Chandler.
Two young big men switch jobs. Chandler has been troubled with a toe injury and Okafor has never seen the playoffs. Both were big parts of their franchises. It's hard calling this a salary dump...until you look at the numbers involved, which are extraordinary, and you understand how desperate Bob Johnson is to cut long-term financial commitments.
The Bobcats save $37,062,500 over the course of the two players' contracts, the difference between the $62,462,500 owed Okafor, who just signed a new deal before last season, and the $25,400,000 that the Hornets had to pay Chandler. That's $11 million more than the Nets saved on the Carter deal, the next biggest number.
Nets trade Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson to the Magic for Rafer Alston, Courtney Lee and Tony Battie (plus two trade exceptions worth $3.75 million and $1.2 million).
The Nets walked away with a good young player on a rookie contract (and a reasonable one at that), plus the starting point guard on the Eastern Conference champs as well as a decent backup big man.
They also picked up payroll savings of $25,917,613, difference between what is owed Carter and Anderson over the course of their contracts--$42,616,386--and that owed the three Magic players--$16,698,773.
Clippers trade Zach Randolph to the Grizzlies for Quentin Richardson.
Richardson was subsequently traded (his third trade of the off season) to the Timberwolves for Sebastian Telfair, Mark Madsen and Craig Smith. So using that calculus, the Clippers wound up with a journeyman and two young, but not that promising players in Telfair and Smith. More importantly, they ended a logjam at the power forward position and eliminated the possibility that the notorious Randolph would do his worst to Blake Griffin.
From a salary perspective, the Clippers saved $22,993,333, the difference between Randolph’s $33,333,333 over two years and the $10,340,000 owed to Telfair, Madsen and Smith. Other than Carter, no player traded in the off-season was owed more than Randolph.
Bucks trade Richard Jefferson to the Spurs for Kurt Thomas, Bruce Bowen, Fabricio Oberto.
The Bucks got virtually nothing in return, unless you count Amir Johnson, who despite a lot of hype in Detroit hasn’t lived up to his potential. They traded Oberto to Detroit for Johnson a few days after picking him up. They are looking for someone to take on Bruce Bowen’s partially guaranteed contract before it becomes fully guaranteed Saturday and are considering a buyout for Thomas.
They also picked up payroll savings of $19,358,333, the difference between Jefferson’s $29,200,000 and the $9,841,667 owed Thomas, Bowen, and Johnson, assuming Bowen is bought out at his guarantee of $2,000,000 and Thomas is not. In spite of all that, the Bucks had to renounce the rights to Charlie Villanueva, who signed with division rival Chicago and may lose Ramon Sessions to the Knicks, again for nothing.
Warriors trade guard Jamal Crawford to the Hawks for guards Acie Law and Speedy Claxton.
The Warriors got two disappointing guards. Acie Law was probably taken too high and Speedy Claxton has been injured and is now longer speedy. Crawford can score in bunches and at the end of games, which can make him a fan favorite.
The Warriors did get $9,073,542 in payroll savings, the difference between $19,440,000 they owed Crawford and the $10,366,458 owed Claxton and Law. Those latter numbers could be reduced even more. The Warriors could choose not to exercise Law’s fourth year option in October and buy out Claxton, who says he wants to give it a shot.
Suns trade center Shaquille O'Neal to the Cavaliers for Ben Wallace, Sasha Pavlovic, a 2010 second-round draft pick and cash.
Wallace is being bought out for $10,000,000 and Pavlovic is owed only $1.5 million on his $4,750,000 contract. The value of the cash considerations can’t be greater than $3,000,000 and that is what is believed to have been wired from Cleveland to Phoenix.
Assuming Pavlovic gets his partial guarantee and no more, the Suns will save $6,750,000 in cap space, a relatively small amount because of the buyouts and that all three contracts were expiring. Considering that Shaq will make $20,000,000 this year, it’s a start. The value of the Cleveland pick in 2010 is negligible. No second round contracts are guaranteed and the Cav pick is likely to be among the last.
Then in a whole separate category is this one:
Timberwolves trade guards Randy Foye and Mike Miller to the Wizards for the 2009 No. 5 draft pick (Ricky Rubio), Etan Thomas, Darius Songaila and Oleksiy Pecherov.
At first glance, this really doesn't look like a salary dump. In fact, it doesn't look like much of anything. At best, you can say it's Minnesota so wanted that second pick in the top ten that it was willing to give up two solid if not spectacular guards in Miller and Foye. The problem is that in addition to the pick, they took on some bad contracts. Thomas is recovering from heart surgery and a year off while Songaila and Pecherov are underachievers.
Moreover, the team that wound up with the veterans also wound with the cap space. It's usually the reverse. The Wizards saved as much as $20,476,484--the difference between what is owed Thomas, Songaila, Pecherov and Rubio--and the expiring contracts of Miller and Foye. Songaila still has two years on his deal, as does Pecherov unless the Wolves renounce the last year on his rookie contract.
And now of course, it doesn't look like Rubio will be joining the team anytime soon, like 2012 soon. Assuming they keep him--they will still have Jonny Flynn--and don't dump him after two years, he's owed more than $22 million on his rookie contract.
Doesn't seem like a great plan.
The off-season isn't done of course. Those trade exceptions could turn into players, adjusting Thorn's grade...and Quentin Richardson could get traded a couple more times.