Trade of the Century

Posted on 11/26/2010 by

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In this blog we follow the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule, or ethic of reciprocity, essentially states either of the following:

1. Treat others as one would like others to treat you

I got my start as blogger thanks to Prof. Berri over at Wages of Wins. He very kindly gave me his forum multiple times to use and allowed me to write multiple pieces on it. He gave me advice, he helped me with my writing and he made me think that I might not be completely hopeless as a writer. For that on Thanksgiving , I’d like to give him my thanks. On behalf of myself and the geeks on the WOW network, thanks Dave. Thanks for the time and the effort. Thanks for being open and answering our questions.  Thanks for being a mentor and a teacher.

It’s time for me to pay it forward.

Recently, a reader sent me and idea for a post. I read it, liked it and decided to help him with it (like I was helped) and give him this forum to use. This is a first for this blog but hopefully not a last. Guest post time.

Image courtesy of xkcd.com

David Barranco dreamt hoop dreams of playing D1 basketball until his freshman high school coach, Billy Clyde Gillespie, explained that very few college scouts were clamoring for scrappy, hard-nosed 5’ 8” power forwards.

His post is on what maybe the trade of the century. Not surprisingly, the Lakers are prominently involved (and they did well 😦 ).

On February 1, 2008, the Memphis Grizzlies traded starting center Pau Gasol i Sàez to the Los Angeles Lakers. According to ESPN, Griz owner Michael Heisley ordered GM Chris Wallace to dump Gasol’s salary so the team would be more attractive to potential buyers. When asked, Heisley demurred, saying it was “purely a basketball decision” instead of a cost-cutting move.

This position and the trade were met with much skepticism and chagrin around the league.

When informed of this trade, San Antonio Spurs Head Coach, Gregg Popovich was incensed. He remarked: “What they did in Memphis is beyond comprehension. There should be a trade committee that can scratch all trades that make no sense. I just wish I had been on a trade committee that oversees NBA trades. I’d like to elect myself to that committee. I would have vetoed the trade.” When told that Memphis GM Chris Wallace had challenged executives to criticize the deal publicly, Popovich replied, “Well, there you go. I’m on the record.” These thoughts were echoed by 2 time league MVP Steve Nash, who noted with chagrin that: “The Gasol thing changed everything. Any playoff team that was given Pau Gasol and didn’t really have to give up anything, that would have a big impact.”

Both Popovich and Nash were criticized for making self-serving, “intemperate” remarks and, officially at least, Popovich has recanted. But I wonder how many public critics might agree privately that L.A. got Gasol for nothing — a giveaway that all but handed Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson and the Lakers two more rings. To test this hypothesis, let’s consider the contrary case: that the trade was indeed a pure basketball move.

Pau Gasol is one of the best basketball players on the planet. He was the 2002 rookie of the year. In 2004, 2005, and 2006, he led Memphis to the playoffs. When Gasol departed the Grizzlies, he held twelve franchise records, including games played, minutes played, field goals made and attempted, free throws made and attempted, offensive, defensive, and total rebounds, blocked shots, turnovers, and points. Pau’s L.A. career averages are 19 points, 9 boards, 3 assists, and 1.7 blocks per game. For the last two seasons, Gasol has led the Lakers with 16.2 and 15.7 wins produced, respectively. And this year so far is the best of his career with averages of 23 points, 12 boards, 3 assists, and 1.7 blocks per game and a WP48 of .390 that would put him in very rare air for a center (since 1978 only Robinson,Ben Wallace, Hakeem, Bill Walton, Mutombo, Kareem, and Shaq have done it).

In exchange for this three-time all star center, the Griz received Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie, and the rights to Marc Gasol (Pau’s younger brother). Memphis also got 2 first round picks which eventually produced PF Darrell Arthur and SG Greivis Vasquez.

In 2008, Kwame Brown logged 204 minutes for Memphis, producing 0.2 wins. On July 1, the Grizzlies elected not to re-sign him. McKie was released on May 9 of that year. He never played a minute for Memphis. Crittenton played 508 minutes at SG with a WP48 of 0.030. On December 10, Memphis traded him to Washington for a conditional 1st round pick. Only Marc Gasol, Arthur, and Vasquez remain with the team.

Marc Gasol is a very good player. He contributed 5.1 wins his first year in Memphis and 9.2 wins last season. Currently, his WP48 stands at .177.  Unfortunately, the other players Memphis acquired in the trade do not make up the difference between Marc and his elder brother. In 2009, Arthur played 1464 minutes and produced .2 wins. He’s chalked up .5 wins in 350 minutes this season. Likewise, Vasquez (WP48 -0.124) has yet to make a significant contribution (at least to the positive side of the ledger).

The final damning fact may be the differing fates of the teams involved in this trade. Since trading Gasol, Memphis has won just 35% of their games. Consequently, the Grizzlies have not made the playoffs. Since acquiring Gasol, the Lakers experienced somewhat greater success: three consecutive Western Conference Championships and 2 NBA titles.

While most agree that the Gasol deal was superb for the Lakers, not everyone thinks it was a bust for Memphis. On his ESPN blog, John Ireland lauds the trade, quoting a source within the Grizzlies as saying: “the money we saved on Pau’s deal allowed us to assume the contract of Zach Randolph.” Randolph has indeed been productive, contributing 13.9 wins last year and 2.2 wins so far this year. But it bears noting that, from a “pure basketball” perspective, the Grizzlies could have assumed Randolph’s contract regardless. No rule bars such an arrangement. That the organization felt it could not afford both Zach Randolph at PF and Pau Gasol at C is a matter of economics, not basketball.

Evaluated as “purely a basketball decision,” the Pau Gasol trade appears to have been rather ill advised and, considering the Grizzlies’ performance since Pau departed, some folks out there may owe Nash and Popovich an apology. On the other hand, if Darrell Arthur, Grievis Vasquez, Marc Gasol, and Zach Randolph lead Memphis to the Promised Land, the first to apologize will be yours truly.

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