With the Nuggets surging into the second round of the playoffs with their complete dismantling of the New Orleans Hornets, there's a lot of talk of how lopsided a deal the Iverson for Billups trade was. I've gone over the Pau for Kwame/Marc Gasol/Darrell Arthur/J Critt deal many times before in this blog and my others, so I'll just briefly recount why that wasn't such a bad deal for the Grizz.
The Grizz freed themselves of Pau's huge contract saving over $30 million, got back their conditional first round pick from the Wizards by trading Crittenton and added two starters in Marc Gasol, one of the best most consistent rookies in a deep rookie class, as well as the upside of Darrell Arthur. Depending on who they draft with their conditional first round pick, in a couple of years, the trade could look nearly even.
The same can be said about Iverson for Billups. Has Mr. Big Shot been Big for the Nugs? Of course he has. Is he the sole reason for their ascension (which, in all honesty was only four games better than last year in a conference riddled with key injuries: Chandler, Ginobili, Parker, Bynum, TMac, Boozer, Williams, Amare, Monta Ellis, Terry, Howard etc.)?
No way in hell.
A healthy Nene is just as big. The more than pleasant surprises of Dahntay Jones and Chris Anderson (who was second in the league in blocked shots despite only playing 21 minutes a game) and the continued health of Kenyon Martin have also been major contributing factors.
Everyone talks about how much better Billups has made this team, but few mention how Melo had his worst shooting percentage (44 percent) since his sophomore campaign after having a career year in that area (49 percent) last season playing alongside Iverson.
Also, the thing about trades is that year one only tells a fraction of the story. Shaq for Odom/Grant/Butler looked horrible at first, but it turned into Odom and Gasol which, from the way the Lakers are playing, looks to be even better than anything Shaq would be giving the Lakers right now. Similarly, Kidd for Harris is looking more and more like a pretty decent, as opposed to a horrifically awful, deal.
If the Pistons get Chris Bosh or Dywane Wade or Amare Stoudemire this off season or the next, they'd look pretty damn smart for trading for Iverson this season, in a year when they had little hope of beating the Celtics or Cavs. After Sunday's (May 26) inevitable thrashing, all that delicious AI salary, all $21 million of it, is no longer on their books.
On the flipside, the Nugs will have a hard time keeping this group together seeing as how Kleiza might be snagged away and Dahntay Jones and Chris Anderson are unrestricted free agents who were both making $750 grand. Those salaries are sure to at least triple, and for a team that was doing everything it could to get under the salary cap, those two vital cogs might not be back, especially if the Nugs get manhandled by the Lakers, if they even make it that far to begin with.
Let's not get it twisted. For all this new hype surrounding the Nugs, people are forgetting that they faced a hobbled New Orleans team that had absolutely no bench, and maybe 2/5ths of a starting five worth a damn.
The Mavs, meanwhile, faced a hobbled Spurs team, who was similarly without a bench (though, I'd take the Spurs bench in a heartbeat over the Hornets bench) and with or without key injured players. The Mavs, in their four convincing victories, won by an average margin of 13 points. That's against the 4-time champion Spurs, the best team of the new century.
I mean, if the Spurs had matched up against the Hornets, who would have been favored in that series? It would have been close, but I'm still picking the Spurs. I mean, what have the Hornets even really done? They have never made it past the second round. Parker is not quite Chris Paul, but he's close and even a hobbled Duncan is better than West. I'd also go with Pop over Scott.
All that to say that the Mavs played and beat a tougher opponent than the Nuggets and aren't getting nearly the hype the Nugs are because they only beat blew out the Spurs by 21 in their most lopsided victory.
So, for the Nugs to cruise through their first round series is a good sign of a team gelling at the right time, but a 58-point beating of an already beaten team does not convince me that the Nuggets are a vastly superior squad to the Mavericks (as Charles Barkley continued to state during last night's Inside the NBA). In fact, this Nuggets team could very much lose to an equally hot Mavericks squad.
And, if that's the case, then is this Denver team really worth $70 plus million? And if it isn't worth $70 million and doesn't have true championship aspirations, then wouldn't it have been better served to keep AI for one last season and aggressively pursue a player that could put them over the top in the West with the extra $21 million?
Don't judge the trades in their first season. I'd give them at least three years. Being a GM is about patience and planning as much as it is about being in the moment.
Round 2, as much as round 1 did, will show everyone how much influence the blockbuster trades of the past two seasons have had.