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Ball Don't Lie

Phoenix and New Orleans finally sign off on their three-team deal with Minnesota

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Robin Lopez stares straight into the face of an uncertain future. (Getty Images)

There are other sides to this story, two of 'em in fact, to the three-way deal that is helping to put Andrei Kirilenko in Minnesota. The New Orleans Hornets have traded for restricted free agent Robin Lopez at the rate of three years and $15.3 million, while the Timberwolves are sending former lottery flameout Wesley Johnson and a super-protected first round pick (originally culled from Memphis, sent through Houston) to Phoenix. Hakim Warrick will also head to the Hornets.

Seems like a lot of movement, considering this weather. I hope these guys are drinking water.

It also seems like a bit of a head scratcher for the Suns, who apparently are going a bit rudderless after losing out on signing Eric Gordon and retaining Steve Nash. It's also worrying, to me, that these are the sorts of machinations small market teams have to focus on, even with the increased attention on the soon to be super-punitive luxury tax. Clearing up an offseason's worth of cap space to lure Andrei Kirilenko to an eight figure deal? Having to let go of Robin Lopez for a middling first round pick? Watching a summer go to waste because other teams decided to match offers? Ugh.

Of course, we're going to have to be patient with this offseason, reminding ourselves that this was always a seller's market, with so few free agents available to pounce on at appropriate prices. These sorts of fulminations are bound to arise, mainly because the players always had the upper hand in this turn. And the Suns and Wolves, I suppose, are just supposed to grab what's available. A first round pick. An Andrei Kirilenko, to fill the biggest small forward hole we've seen in years, no matter the price.

The Hornets? They get a plugger in Lopez who turned 24 towards the end of last season, paying him below-average market value for a position that is tough to fill. Lopez won't remind you of Jerry Lucas on the boards, or in the boardroom, but he's nowhere near as bad as his twin brother Brook in that regard — managing 8.4 caroms per 36 minutes of play last year, a number in line with his career averages. Not great, but not that much of a problem as rookie Anthony Davis learns his way. And at five million a year? A 7-footer than can walk and chew gum and finishing from inside and out, sometimes? Such a deal.

Hakim Warrick is more Brook-like, if you'll allow, and amongst the worst in the NBA amongst front court defenders. Pulled in just 10 percent of all available rebounds last year, and despite his youthful pangs the high leaper turned 30 in June. Still, he'll play for $4 million next season and add depth and the occasional throwdown — the guy has always been a hard worker and sound scorer who can finish broken plays. He just doesn't have instincts on the other end; not a function of apathy, just an aspect to pro play that doesn't come naturally to some.

And Phoenix? They'll take what they can get. Such is life, when a legend walks (or signs-and-trades) away.

The team failed to grab both Gordon and O.J. Mayo, the draft picks sent from the Los Angeles Lakers for Nash won't do much, and they'll pick up an eventual Memphis Grizzlies selection for taking on Wesley Johnson for over $4 million next year in one last attempt to make him an NBA-level player. We've been rather harsh on Wesley this week, and we're not judging him by his onetime lottery selection status — he just hasn't found a niche on this level yet, and repeated viewings have us wondering if he ever will. Hopefully Wesley, in his new surroundings, proves us all wrong.

And hopefully, as the transactions behind this goofy summer fade into the 2012-13 season and a more balanced give-and-take between GMs and the players they seek, deals like this won't act as some sort of reification on the small market frustration. We'll save that chiding treatise for 2014, or so, when two teams with a dozen city stoplights to their name meet up in the NBA Finals.

Until then, though, it's OK to wonder. And, potentially, worry.

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