Well that didn’t take long.
One day after I said Houston would stand pat at least for two days, they are back in the trade market, reportedly agreeing to trade Samuel Dalembert and the No. 14 pick to Milwaukee in exchange for the No. 12 pick, Shaun Livingston, Jon Brockman and Jon Leuer.
It is of the utmost importance to state that Samuel Dalembert is the best player in this deal, and by quite a long way. It is also of the utmost importance to establish that, one way or another, Houston wasn’t keeping him beyond this summer. Dalembert was signed to a two-year deal that had less than 25 percent guaranteed this season for a reason: to make him tradeable at this time of the season. It is not a surprise, therefore, that he was traded this week.
What is a surprise is what he was dealt for. Dalembert, a legitimately decent starting center in the NBA, was just traded for two backups, one spare part, and a move-up of two spots in tomorrow’s draft. Considering his production (8/7/2 in 22 minutes per game) and relative contract value (signed for $6,698,565 next year, only $1.5 million of which is guaranteed), you’d think he’d garner more than that, be it as a player or as a contract. Alas, it seems that he has not.
What Houston absolutely and totally did not need was more fringe players. What they got was more fringe players. Shaun Livingston’s sporadic career has crescendoed with a couple of solid years of bench play. However, he only has value to this Houston team if Goran Dragic is not retained. (And since Dragic is better than Livingston, Shaun’s arrival should not prevent this.) Meanwhile, Leuer is coming off the back of a pretty good rookie campaign, yet still only projects to be somewhere between Eduardo Najera and Jared Jeffries, a solid rotational player with little projectability. He too is a “he’s not bad” caliber player, the kind of player you wouldn’t mind having on your team, but feel no envy at not having them either. As we’ve seen, Houston pretty much only has players like that.
As we’ve also seen, it’s all for a purpose. It’s all about seeking out these players, stockpiling them, and then seeing where they can go from there. With this in mind, it is also of note that Livingston may have value as a contract as well. His $3.5 million contract for next season is guaranteed for only $1 million, a conveniently Chris Duhon-sized piece of possible salary cap relief.
However, Livingston has less value as both a player and a contract than Dalembert, and the inclusion of Leuer is surely not enough to offset this. Nor is the moving up of two spots, which seemingly was the most important item returned in the package. None of that is likely to sway Orlando into giving up Dwight Howard. It is tough to understand how Dalembert and the 14th pick is any less desirable to the Magic than Livingston and the twelfth, unless Orlando explicitly stated such. And if the deal is not designed to sway Orlando, what was it for?
[Brockman may be kept around for one year of a Joey Dorsey impression. Or he may not. Thus ends his relevance here. Sorry, Jon.]
For their troubles, Milwaukee turns a bunch of spare parts into a starting center. Livingston’s role, inevitably marginalized by a full year of the Brandon Jennings/Monta Ellis experiment, can be fulfilled by the perennially average Beno Udrih, while whatever niche Leuer was carving himself in Milwaukee can be suitably easily filled by the comparable, higher-upside Tobias Harris. For the loss of very little, they gain the exact thing they didn’t have — semi-consistent, productive, good quality center play, rebounding help, and a starting caliber center. If they can retain Turk Nowitzki, then, despite the incredibly methodology they have used to get there, they have built a pretty solid playoff-caliber team on the right side of 30.
Meanwhile, Houston have taken a series of options and … turned them into a series of different options. As ever, nothing is finalized. They’re roaming the grounds, peeing up lampposts, marking their territory, showing their intent, circling their prey, and yet not getting any nearer to it. This was justifiable (and subsequently justified by me) only yesterday, and thus it cannot be said to be a bad strategy merely one day later. However, the Budinger trade represented good value and a possible best case return for an expendable part. It is difficult to say the same of the Dalembert trade.
The Rockets still want a super duper star. It still hasn’t happened. Tomorrow might be the day that it does. If it isn’t, this was pointless.
And if it is, this was GENIUS.