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Kelly Dwyer

A look at each side of the Hornets/Rockets/Nets/Pacers deal

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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When it comes to newly-hired personnel bosses, those who haven't earned a top gig before, we usually go glass half-full and give the hire some credit by association. It's the fair thing to do, especially when you're dealing with someone like Dell Demps, who spent his formative years working with quite a few San Antonio Spurs basketball minds that we admire deeply.

So while we'll never know if Demps was the force behind trading Luis Scola(notes) or pulling in Jackie Butler, or splurging on Tiago Splitter(notes) and making a grab for DaJuan Blair, we do know that he came from the Spurs. And that we can't really have anything but rosy expectations.

Until his first move, that is.

Maybe this is his second move, after telling Chris Paul(notes) to can it following CP3's embarrassing non-trade request/trade request. But on paper, Demps made his first deal for the Hornets; taking part in that four-team cul de sac-buster that tossed Darren Collison(notes) and James Posey(notes) out of New Orleans for Trevor Ariza(notes).

I don't like this deal for New Orleans. At all.

I appreciate the way Demps and the Hornets quieted the Paul noise very effectively. The Monty Williams hire was appropriate enough, the Jeff Bower firing (and usual embarrassing noise you get from ownership and front office types that I'm not going to even deign to name) was business as usual for fans that deserve so much more. And Demps seemed like a good, young guy to run with.

But Ariza just isn't as nearly as good as teams keep making him out to be. There's a reason Houston was ready to dump the guy with only the suddenly-looking-much-older Shane Battier(notes) in reserve at small forward along with Chase Budinger(notes), only picking up a shooting guard that will have to find spot minutes behind Kevin Martin(notes). There's a reason Mitch Kupchak told Ariza to stick it, following his agent's laughable attempt at playing hardball with the Lakers last summer.

He's a great defender and purely a spot-up shooter that has shot 32 percent from long range over his career, 33 percent last year, 32 percent the year before that, and (wait for it) 47. 6 percent from behind the three-point during the 2009 playoffs; the lasting image before his free agent turn. Ariza is a fantastic athlete that can finish on the break, but he can't dribble, can't set up a good shot from inside the arc, and didn't really seem to understand this last season.

I'm having a hard time thinking of a person whose shot selection was as poor as Ariza's last year. Maybe Kobe Bryant(notes), for some bad stretches, but then Kobe more than made up for that during the other 75 percent of the time by being Kobe. Ariza just shot and shot and shot and shot and never seemed to realize that players shooting a below-average 33.4 percent from deep shouldn't be taking 5.7 attempts a game, and players shooting 39.4 percent from the field shouldn't be shooting nearly 14 times a game.

Which is why the Rockets had no issues dumping the guy for merely the relief of getting out from his contract; one that will pay him about $28 million total over the next four years.

And Demps traded Darren Collison for the rights to acquire this guy? This is absurdity.

I had Collison ranked as the league's third-best rookie last year. We have no idea how the scoring-starved Hornets could work with Collison and Paul out there for long stretches of play under Williams (who paired Andre Miller(notes) and Steve Blake(notes) quite effectively last season), and in a worst-case scenario, Collison is a nice fallback option, rife with leverage, should Paul push this trade "demand" to even more ridiculous lengths.

Really, all I'm ranking Ariza as is a sound upgrade over James Posey, who the Hornets also traded, at this point. He can start, and you have to look forward to a perimeter attack featuring Paul, Marcus Thornton(notes), and Ariza; but at this price? Such a diamond in the rough in Collison, and this is all you're getting for him?

Clearly, it bothers me. Mainly because I want Paul to work in New Orleans, and I want the Hornets to win in spite of their ownership.

Trades in August and September? Those are the ones you talk yourselves into. Usually uncalled for, and nothing that wouldn't be worth waiting to February for. I've no doubt that Dell Demps figured out more about running an NBA team in his few years with San Antonio than I'll ever learn in a lifetime, but I can't help but feel that he stormed out of the gate with a big, fat miss.

***

If 2009 was all about the plaudits, and 2009-10 was all about a plucky team of his creation keeping it competitive despite losing the services of their two highest-paid players, then the summer of 2010 has been all about admitting to mistakes for Rockets GM Daryl Morey.

Not huge mistakes - both David Andersen(notes) and Trevor Ariza contributed to a team that stayed tough all season without a healthy Yao Ming(notes) or Tracy McGrady(notes) around to help - and the Rockets weren't really put out to pasture asset-wise in pulling in Andersen and Ariza. Andersen came cheap, for picks, and played cheaply. Ariza essentially filled in the mid-level role Ron Artest(notes) used to work in. But if either remained on the roster beyond this year, than they would have spiraled into bigger mistakes. Both had to split.

And this week, Ariza split. For New Orleans, and as a result of Houston's role in the four-team deal, the Rockets get Courtney Lee(notes) from New Jersey as a result. And, again, the downturn in talent from Ariza to Lee is all about making up for a mistake.

Because Lee just isn't a starter at this level, and the point of this transaction was to clear Ariza's shot-happy ways from the Houston rotation, and clear off the guaranteed $28 million and four years Trevor has left on his contract. If the Rockets aren't quite smitten with Lee's game, they could just have him around for the last guaranteed year of his rookie contract, paying him over $1.3 million this year before letting the former Magic and Net defender go.

More than likely, though, they'll keep him around for 2011-12 with a team option at over $2.25 million, and take in good-enough production for that rate. He's a defender who can back up Kevin Martin, while occasionally hitting the outside shot. Lee is going to be 25 this fall, so he is what he is despite it just being his third year in the NBA; and it's a nice asset to have in a deal that was all about losing Ariza's contract.

Not an easy move to dump a starting small forward, especially with Shane Battier looking every bit of his 31 years last season (he turns 32 next month). But in Martin, Battier, Lee and Chase Budinger the Rockets have a good wing rotation, alongside a scoring point in Aaron Brooks(notes) and what will at times look like (though it won't consistently be) the best center and power forward tandem in the NBA next season.

The Rockets are lucky to get out of Ariza's deal before he shoots himself into every other team finally realizing what sort of player he actually is, but it should be noted they needed a little of what he brought last year. As bad as Ariza's shots were, they needed someone to put those shots up and send people to the glass last year, and while this sounds like damning with faint praise, understand just what a weird year that was for Houston last year; going from a 7-6 to 6-6 center and wondering just how in the hell they were going to get to 75 points on some nights (or stop other teams from scoring 175 on others).

Houston dodged a bullet with Ariza, so they save a little face in this situation. Artest-to-Ariza-to-Lee isn't exactly selling high, but the Rockets are still full of assets and Lee will fit in.

Ariza's contract is a poor deal, to be sure, because he failed to realize his limitations and shot away like a franchise player. But Houston got rid of him before the Hornets got wise, and they should at least be credited for that.

***

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Because New Jersey is run by Billy King, I had to double-check to see if what I thought was Troy Murphy's(notes) expiring contract was, in actuality, a deal with four years and $42 million remaining on it. Just had to follow-up. It turns out that King, the much-beleaguered former Philadelphia 76ers boss, actually ran out of the gate with a fantastic move for his new team.

Murphy isn't the answer at power forward for New Jersey. He's 30 years old, and while his last season with a career-year, that may have been his peak.

But the man can play, and he's everything that the Nets hoped for when they brought Yi Jianlian(notes) in to play alongside Brook Lopez(notes). He'll space the floor and hit for a high percentage from behind the three-point arc (39.4 percent, career), which Yi could never do consistently. And while Yi was one of the worst rebounding big men in the NBA, Murphy just hoards caroms.

Stick this guy in a pick and roll game with Devin Harris(notes)? With a coach that doesn't mind a big power forward launching from deep?

Sounds too good to be true. Somebody stop Billy from extending his contract for four years, and $42 million.

The Nets gave up Courtney Lee in the deal, which is probably good news for Lee and New Jersey. The former Magic guard really never recovered from going to the penthouse to the outhouse last season, and he was revealed a bit (at least to those who weren't ardent Orlando-watchers during his rookie season) as a borderline-offensive liability at times alongside his good defense. Sort of a step up from Trenton Hassell(notes), but don't step too far.

New Jersey doesn't have a ton of depth behind him. Newly-signed Anthony Morrow(notes) always seemed like more of a small forward than a shooting guard (despite his deficiencies in all areas beyond shooting), but this perception could have been tainted by his role in Don Nelson's offense, which tends to push everyone down four positions. Quinton Ross(notes) can more than ably cover Lee's role of defending well and not being very good on offense.

And Murphy fits right in. Something to learn from, as Derrick Favors(notes) figures it out. And even if he plays beyond expectations, that expiring contract (and it will remain an expiring contract, right Billy?) will look awfully nice as trade bait to teams looking to clear room this February in anticipation of labor struggles and possible hard cap ramifications as a result of those struggles this time next year.

So a win-win, all-around. It might not put New Jersey in the playoffs, but they took one of the league's worst starters last year and traded him for a need position, working heavy minutes at a well above average-rate. With an expiring contract, no less.

You sure Rod Thorn didn't set this one up last month? Like one of those checks you write, but set the date to three weeks from now?

**

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The Pacers? They won this deal, clearly.

Right now, after tossing away Troy Murphy, Tyler Hansbrough(notes) is the hopeful power forward to be, if he can lose the Lucille Austero impersonation. James Posey could swing up here, as could Danny Granger(notes), or Paul George(notes). In Jim O'Brien's offense, it hardly matters.

This season hardly matters, also, which is why the deal works. Lockout or not, Larry Bird has been looking toward 2011 as a time to cut salary and start this thing over; though we submit he's about six summers too late in that regard. Any team that comes out with the most valuable asset in a deal - in this case, that would be Darren Collison - has to be regarded as a winner sometimes regardless of cost. And Indiana's cost? The valuable trading chip that is Troy Murphy? That's worth it.

Collison can play, he can find others, and if O'Brien allows him the ball he'll win games. The team doesn't need to buy out T.J. Ford(notes) (just sit the guy, and let him stew away on the bench while he fantasizes about shooting his team out of a game), and Posey (despite all that Indiana wing depth) can still help in spot minutes.

Bird was always going to get a stay of execution because of the 2011 plan, so it's not as if this deal saved his job. But this deal does mean Pacer fans can feel slightly optimistic about the job he's doing, a feeling they haven't been allowed to enjoy much in the last half-decade.

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