In the end, it was an O’Neal for O’Neal trade. Shaq for Jermaine. Ironically, their contracts are almost exactly the same (even expiring at the same time) both are centers who play inside, are on the downsides of their careers and have struggled with injuries in recent years. Neither have found much team success this year, either.
When Miami traded Shaq a year ago, they did what many felt they would never be able to do, find someone to take on Shaq’s massive contract despite his declining game. Plus, they got an All-Star in return in Shawn Marion. A great trade for the Heat, in my opinion. For Phoenix it looked like a panic move that turned out being the beginning of the end for a great team that never quite had what it took to win it all.
A year later, Miami ends up trading the exact same players (Marion and Marcus Banks) for another ONeal- Jermaine. It shows that Miami still sorely misses Shaq’s presence in the paint, but does this mean that Miami regrets trading away Shaq? Probably not. Shaq is still a fearsome force in the paint and is an All-Star this year, but he’s not nearly as mobile as Jermaine is, he’s often a liability on defense, especially pick and rolls, and despite his claims to the contrary, he demands the ball on offense. Jermaine gives the Heat everything that Shaq would, at this point, but few of the negatives. Plus, there’s a half decent chance that Jermaine will be just as productive when his contract expires in a year and a half as he is now, whereas Shaq is definitely on the decline.
While the Heat add salary for next season, they really didn’t have cap room this summer anyway, and they open up even more room for the vaunted 2010 free agent class. I’m guessing they won’t have much trouble convincing a top tier free agent to move to tax-free Miami and play with Dwayne Wade, especially if they continue to win.
Moving Marion also allows Michael Beasley to move into the starting lineup. I think Beasley will eventually find his place at the small forward position where he will be able to overwhelm opponents with his strength. I think he’s got the athleticism and skills, but needs to be able to defend the position.
Moon is a throw-in who has great athleticism but a low basketball IQ. If he sticks to defending and rebounding, and less on shooting, he may find himself in the rotation.
Miami also was somehow able to finagle a conditional first round pick out of Toronto, as well, which never hurts.
Miami tried and failed to get Amare, so they had to get something for Marion while they could. They still got someone who is going to help them more than Marion would this season, and still could end up getting Amare or another top free agent in 2010. They look good in the present and their future looks very bright.
When Toronto traded for Jermaine O’Neal last summer, the hope was that O’Neal would be the missing piece. The Raptors were coming off a difficult year but still finished with the sixth best record in the East. Then they ran into, and were demolished by, Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic. Two things became evident from last season. The Raptors needed to trade away one of their PG’s and needed toughness in the middle. TJ Ford and Jose Calderon were two starting PG’s fighting for one position. Ford’s move to the bench was not something he relished he was the best option to be moved. Former #1 pick Andrea Bargnani had been given a great chance at center, but struggled mightily and was moved back to the bench. Bargnani was on the verge of being a bust. The Raptors couldn’t depend on him at center, and Rasho Nesterovic was not an ideal solution.
On draft day, the Raptors traded for what they hoped would be the best center to ever play for the Raptors (there’s not much of a selection). And while O’Neal played well when he was on the court, the team struggled and O’Neal missed nearly a month after hurting his knee. While O’Neal did give the Raptors what they lacked when he was on the court, it became evident that there were other problems. While Jose Calderon was performing beyond expectations, he also struggled with an injury and the team couldn’t seem to figure out how to play together. One of the few bright spots to the season was the much improved play of Bargnani, who ended up averaging nearly 20 ppg for the month of January as he started in place of the injured O’Neal. Of course, that caused a problem when O’Neal came back. Bargnani moved to SF, but is simply not a very good fit there. For the sake of the team, they needed to move him back to center, which meant getting rid of O’Neal.
Bargnani’s initial move to SF was easy due to the fact that the Raptors were so lacking at that position. Jamario Moon, a borderline NBA player who would have trouble making the rotation on any other team, had been the de facto starter at SF.
Trading for Marion seems, on the surface, like a perfect fit. Marion is the athletic SF the Raptors lack and his rebounding makes up for Bargnani’s weakness in that area. He is reunited with Bryan Colangelo, who was his GM in Phoenix and where he has been at his best. There are a couple of problems, though. The Raptors are not the 05-06 Suns. And Marion is also not the same player. A player who depends on athleticism tends to decline quickly once they hit 30, which is how old Marion is right now. He should help the Raptors this season, as he isn’t a long term solution. Of course, he probably won’t be with the Raptors next season, as his contract expires after this season. There’s a slight chance he might re-sign, but it’s very slight.
So obviously this move was made for financial reasons for the Raptors. Marion’s expiring contract means they will be approximately $10 million under the cap this summer, depending on what it ends up being. That’s good, but it’s not enough to sign a top tier free agent. Then again, there aren’t really any top tier free agents available this summer anyway. In fact, the only player I’d pay more than $10 per season for this summer is Carlos Boozer, who plays the same position as Bosh and Bargnani, so that probably wouldn’t be a good option. Besides, having cap room for free agents in Toronto is kind of like having a Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in Utah. It’s kind of pointless. When Jason Kapono is possibly your franchise’s biggest free agent signing ever, you know that’s not a strong suit.
The Raptors plan seems to be to use their cap room, combined with their draft pick, to trade for a player another team wants to dump to save money. To me, not the best strategy. Looking for players other teams would rather give away than pay. I’m guessing we’re looking at best case Corey Maggette, and worst case Nazr Mohammed. Personally, I’d rather have O’Neal and his expiring contract back.
Speaking of contracts, the Raptors also take on Marcus Banks, who probably will be the third PG, and his contract that doesn’t expire until 2011. So if the Raptors decide not to use their cap space this summer, they now have $4.75 million less to spend in 2010.
In the short term, I think it helps the Raptors. They can move Bargnani back to center and have a legitimate starting SF in Marion. Unfortunately, I think in the long term, it really only helps the owners. I don’t think they can get much with their cap space and without surrounding Bosh with some real talent, he’s in real danger of leaving. If the team struggles again next season, then Colangelo is done in Toronto, Bosh will probably leave, and Toronto becomes a basketball wasteland again. While the team is not in danger of leaving (as some ignorant people have suggested), I would hate to be a fan of the team if it falls apart. Bargnani is not the franchise player some fans hope and Calderon is in his prime right now.
It would have been better for the Raptors to hold onto O’Neal and possibly deal him this summer. Now, everything hinges on what they can do this summer. However, I may be wrong and Colangelo might be out ahead of the curve on this. With the economy and what is almost definitely going to be a smaller cap this summer (as well as lower luxury tax threshold), this may be an incredibly brilliant move. Personally, however, I think it’s just too risky.