Mark Deeks

markdeeks

Mark Deeks owns and operates ShamSports, and doesn’t do much else with his time. He is even more not-Canadian than Trey Kerby, being born, raised and stuck in England. When not writing about basketball, he can be found either appearing on game shows, inventing character names for non-existent sitcoms, or Googling his own name.

Recent Posts

eric-bledsoe-warming-up

Aside from the perennially underpaid and underappreciated Matt Barnes, and the usual brand of streaky offense from Jamal Crawford, the Clippers lacked sorely for production from the wing positions last season. This would have been their single biggest weakness if it wasn’t for their complete absence of an offensive playbook. Caron Butler has declined to the point that he is scant little more than a spot-up shooter at this point, and despite finally adding three point range, Willie Green is much the same. Compounding the problem is the fact that, Barnes, seemingly the only player who knew how to cut and get open for the league’s best passer, is an unrestricted free agent with mere non-Bird rights.

Without cap room and yet also without all that much wiggle room under the tax, the Clippers needed to rebuild this rotation. Their lack of wing quality was exposed against the Grizzlies, and notwithstanding the lack of a backup center (and the less-than-reliable nature of the starter), it was a priority on a roster entirely set at two positions. And in Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick, the Clippers have achieved exactly that in one fell swoop.

Dudley and Redick aren’t athletic. They aren’t dynamic, they aren’t brilliant at any one thing (except perhaps Redick’s shooting), and they aren’t primary options you turn to on either end. But they’re just … good. They get it. The two are high IQ players with no distinct holes in their game, who defend with guile rather than physical tools, and who fit every great-teammate, great-role-player cliché going. They move the ball, make few mistakes, and, along with Reggie Bullock, provide the spacing lost in Butler along with bringing more well-rounded games and better perimeter defense.

It cost them their two best assets to do it, but the Clippers improved their team in what was almost a financial wash. Moving Bledsoe for players who aren’t and never will be stars may feel deflating to those with higher aspirations, yet the value of the returning duo must not be overlooked. The Clippers got what they needed. Without having a single star in it, L.A. has assembled a wing rotation with good depth and few holes, exactly the kind of thing you want to flank a superstar point guard with. If they can convince Matt Barnes to sign for far below his market value for the seventh straight season, even better. Combining this with the enormous coaching upgrade from Del Negro to Rivers, and the biggest news of all in getting Chris Paul to re-sign, has significantly improved the Clippers’s fortunes for the foreseeable future. Now, they just need some depth.

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andrea-bargnani-shot-clock

If the contracts for Rashard Lewis and Gilbert Arenas taught us anything, it’s that there isn’t a player in this league who cannot be traded once they have entered the final two years of their contract. Bulls fans yelping with excitement at this thought can find plenty of evidence to support that notion, and this week, we just got a little bit more.

There is no reason why Andrea Bargnani should have been tradable. His promise burned out long ago — his talents, such as they are, no longer constitute potential. This should have been an albatross contract, residual scorched earth from the previous regime, an unwanted anchor of a contract attached to a player who can neither help, nor stay on, his current team. Toronto should be preparing to use the amnesty clause on him rather than choosing which future assets they can get for him.

Into the breach, however, stepped New York. Channeling the Isiah Thomas era, New York were determined to outbid seemingly nobody, and ended up giving what few assets they actually have for a player who only helps if this is fantasy basketball. In reality, Bargnani takes so much off the table that it is hard to justify acquiring him at any price.

Bargnani’s skill set may be rarer and thus more enticing than, say, Amir Johnson’s, but a comparison of their relative impacts reveals a result that frankly isn’t even that close. The reality is that Johnson has been outplaying the man ahead of him for years, and only politicization and asset management has prevented their roles from being reversed. While this is partly an endorsement of the highly underrated Johnson, it is also more than a mildly pejorative thing to say of Bargnani. Blessed with talent and size, and given every opportunity to succeed, he simply hasn’t for anything more than fleeting stretches.

For a player they could have easily justified amnestying, Toronto landed a first round pick, a second round pick, a useful role player on a reasonable contract, and significant savings. If Camby sticks around with the team, his 2014/15 contract — which calls for $4,177,208 but of which only $1,025,890 is guaranteed — will be a useful trade chip either at the next deadline or next summer. However, if he is bought out on terms favourable to Toronto before then — which seems likely — then he may only count on the cap this season for a nominal amount. This, combined with a concurrent amnesty of Linas Kleiza, will see Toronto expunge several million from their cap in each of the next two seasons, while gaining draft picks and losing bad memories. All this for a famously dispassionate player coming off of a terrible season. The justifications for the deal from Toronto’s perspective are indisputably apparent.

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jason-collins-rebounding

Yesterday was a great day because someone announced they were gay.

It shouldn’t have been news, but it was. This is news, big news. This is the first out active male athlete in the major American team sports. For anyone interested in sports, this was a giant step towards the end of its last great discriminatory boundary. For anyone concerned with gay rights, the accursed world of sports became an accessible arena for discussion. And so for any of us concerned with both, this day was special.

The truly special day will be the one in which announcements such as this are no longer considered special. This ideal, perhaps far-fetched, is still the goal for anyone concerned with the freedom and protection of human dignity. And it is steps such as this, ones which take a sledgehammer to a social stigma that has long needed it, that give us a chance of realizing this.

Therein lies the enormity of Collins’s announcement. He is a veteran, and a widely respected one, who brought an overdue and highly sought-after resolution to the question of who was going to be first, and did so completely out of the blue. More pertinently, he did so correctly. In the Sports Illustrated article that announced his news, Collins speaks from a place of candor and depth of feeling, without the chip on his shoulder that could so readily be developed in light of his situation. His nuanced introspection gives no one any reason to think less of him, to judge his character and the words it brings forth with anything less than sincerity and respect. If you don’t believe homosexuality is right, and/or you think less of homosexuals, Collins is challenging your belief with the very delivery of the words.

Context is needed to temper any overreactions, however. The world hasn’t been changed; indeed, the world of sport might not even recognize any palpable change for a while. Collins’ announcement is but a blip on the global problem of discrimination against homosexuality. We live in a world in which homosexuality remains illegal in 76 countries, and punishable by death in nine of them. Homosexuality remains an unacceptable reality in much of the world and many walks of life. One gay sportsman isn’t stopping this.

However, in the context of team sports, we’re seeing history made. And, with only the rarest of exceptions, we’re seeing this history accepted. In recent years, the likes of Orlando Cruz, Gareth Thomas, John Amaechi, Steven Davies and Brittney Griner have come out, pushing back the barrier slightly further each time. Major American team sports were one of the few hurdles remaining. With this announcement, we get one step closer to normalcy. And normalcy is the aim.

This, then is a plea. A plea then for everyone to both recognize this statement for what it is and for what it isn’t. A plea for everyone to treat Collins the same as they did yesterday, which is a plea he himself rose above making. A plea to other players not to believe Collins isn’t going to start jumping their bones every time he sees them naked (which he’s managed to avoid doing so far), and to dispense with the idea that locker room sanctity is threatened by the realization that people are different. And a plea to us all — if Collins isn’t in the NBA next year, let’s not assume this is why. If we’re willing to believe that being a gay NBA player is no big thing, we must also be willing to believe that being a gay free agent is no big deal, either. If we want to develop a society whereby people do not judge or treat others on their sexuality, we mustn’t look for instances of it happening.

If Jason Collins has already played his last NBA game, let us not forget that he can’t score, rebound, shoot, pass or defend the rim. He contributes very little as a player — even the one tangible strength he does have, his man-to-man defensive versatility on opposing bigs, is mitigated by his foul rates. Indeed, Collins himself lauds his own ability as being good at fouling. That doesn’t cut it for anyone else.

If we want to realize this ideal, whereby coming out means nothing, recognition of Collins as a player must come before any recognition of him as a person. Whatever happens in his career now, Collins’ homosexuality can and will be cited as a reason, be it being left on the shelf (“discrimination!”) or signing with a new team (“great PR move!”). If this happens, the good work will be all for naught. It is up to us to prevent that.

The world is a slightly better place for Collins’ announcement. He’s done his bit. Let’s do our bit to keep it that way.

tracy-mcgrady-quentin-richardson

It’s not uncommon for teams to sign players in the last couple of days of the season. Good teams do it in order to have them available as depth in the playoffs — all players are playoff eligible, regardless of when they are signed, as long as they weren’t on a different NBA roster at close of business on March 1st. Bad teams do it, almost always with an unguaranteed contract through the following season, as an extended tryout of sorts, as a means of locking in a future piece they want to get an extended look at. That player might only ever be a future piece of their summer league team, but still. No risk, and a potentially mediocre reward.

Rare is the day, though, that this happens with “name” players. Yet it just did — the Knicks bringing back Quentin Richardson, and the Spurs bringing in Tracy McGrady, is largely unprecedented in terms of name recognition. These late signings are normally for the Marqus Blakely, Lawrence Funderburke, Larry Owens types, not players with a combined 27 years and $219 million in NBA salary between them. It hasn’t really happened before, and we shouldn’t really have been expecting it to either.

Fresh from starting small forward Chris Copeland as a de facto center two games ago, and with journeyman power forward Solomon Jones there last game, the Knicks have now apparently decided they’re absolutely fine for big man depth, and cut Jones, their sole healthy big, for some more wing mediocrity. This, at the risk of sounding harsh, is all Richardson provides. It’s been six years since he was a good NBA player; the athleticism has gone, the defense isn’t remarkable, and, if it’s not too ridiculous of a thing to say of the man with the 44th most three-point makes of all-time, the jumpshot was only ever average. Richardson will not provide any more for this Knicks team that Copeland or even James White could not already have done. If you’re going to sign some mediocre depth as emergency depth for the playoffs, shouldn’t you at least sign someone that plays your most needed position?

McGrady, at least, does that. By waiving Stephen Jackson for concerns about his attitude, after many months of assuaging doubters by saying, “it’s all right, it’s only because he cares so much about winning!,” San Antonio’s incredibly deep roster has the smallest of small holes. It lacks an extra small forward with size, experience, and some defensive versatility, and it lacks a quality passing forward in light of Boris Diaw’s injury. McGrady is those things, and he further brings a streaky jump shot and some experience. It’s mostly experience of underachieving and first round playoff exits, but perhaps even that counts for something.

Neither signing changes much. There’s no one you can sign on April 16th that can change much. In theory, however, they may have at least one useful night. It’s entirely possible that Richardson hits three threes in a playoff game, writing his own feel-good comeback story, and continuing the myth that he’s a shooter. It’s equally entirely possible that McGrady, despite probably being twelfth on the depth chart, fills a small but useful role in all games. He brings a versatile enough skill set to do that. That’s the theory, at least, and it costs only two unwanted players and a few thousand dollars to find out.

No risks, and potentially mediocre rewards.

tobias-harris-holding-ball

By default, the biggest move of trade deadline day was J.J. Redick to Milwaukee. He was the best player moved on the day, and while that feels weird to type, it’s not a pejorative.

Indisputably, and importantly, Milwaukee got a good quality player. This shouldn’t be overlooked. In the Dwight Howard-era, Redick was beginning to win praise as a much improved role player, a one-time specialist shooter who’s added a floor game and sufficient defense to remove the biggest holes in his game. And this year, while under the radar on the lottery-bound Magic, he’s taken that to an extra level. Without ever being a star, or especially close to it, Redick betters any team he is on, more so than any other player in the deal. His attraction and usage to Milwaukee is easily determinable.

Yet to fully maximize that price and win the deal, they need to re-sign him. They also need to do so without overpaying, something that they’ve done too often in recent years. But it won’t be easy. Redick is not eligible for an extension and will be an unrestricted free agent when he hits the open market this summer, in a market with scant few quality two guards in it. One of the other few who might be on the market will be the guy likely ahead of Redick in the Bucks depth chart, Monta Ellis. This, then, presents Milwaukee with a self-imposed problem. More than likely, they’ll have to choose between them. They already had to choose between Ellis and Brandon Jennings, and were starting to realize it. This trade merely gives them an option for afterwards.

In theory, with Ellis considering opting out and with Jennings not getting an extension, all three will hit the market this summer and Milwaukee will need to choose two. It won’t be coincidental that, in the same week Ellis was nearly traded and word leaked he may opt out, a quality player was brought in at his position. The Bucks are planning for life without him, and Redick seems to be a part of it.

Of course, this would mean the initial Ellis trade was a waste of time and assets. That smarts. But that’s a pill that needed swallowing long ago. When evaluated in isolation, this trade sees Milwaukee land the best player (if only as a rental), and exchange a couple of prospects, taking in Gustavo Ayon for Tobias Harris. This latter part makes a difference.

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jordan-crawford-laughing-it-up

There’s not going to be a big deal this trade deadline. Not again, anyway — we’ve already had it. No, instead, there are just teams taking free part-season looks at backups. Looks, they believe, are worth taking. Are they right? Perhaps.

To set the tone, Miami traded Dexter Pittman and a second round pick to Memphis, whose 12-man roster and available trade exception made them prime salary-dumping candidates. In Big Pitt, however, they see more than just a salary. Are they right? Perhaps not.

Pittman is one of those enticing prospects who entices without doing much to truly justify it. His combination of being a nice guy with great size, terrific footwork and decent touch is a rare one — when interspersed with an easy feel-good narrative about his weight loss, the attraction is obvious. But the less alluring part of the story is that Pittman just isn’t that impactful, and nor was he ever. He wasn’t at Texas, he hasn’t been in the D-League, and he definitely hasn’t been in the NBA. Pittman can’t defend without fouling, turns it over an excessively large amount, and doesn’t defensive rebound. The potential of Pittman, or the perceived potential of Pittman, far outweighs the production.

Nevertheless, he’s free. And he comes with a pick, which could bag another fringe prospect, who is also free. That, truly, is a look worth taking.

Miami, for their troubles, open up a roster spot without having to waste dollars in eating Pittman’s contract to do so. Since he had no role on the team, he was nothing more than a tax burden. As a matter of bookkeeping, Memphis — obliged by NBA rules to send out something in a trade, however trivial — sent Miami the draft rights to Ricky Sanchez, rights they had previously acquired in the deal that sent Sam Young to Philadelphia. Essentially, then, they traded Sam Young for Dexter Pittman and a pick, saving on some luxury tax dollars in the process. They also got to call Ricky Sanchez their own for a year. The real winner here is Ricky Sanchez, whose name gets splashed over the American basketball media all over again. (Without wishing to be callous, however, Ricky Sanchez is not a look worth taking.)

In a similar deal, Toronto traded the recently acquired contract of Hamed Haddadi (who never reported to Toronto, due to visa issues and general redundancy) along with a protected second round pick for Sebastian Telfair. After trading Jose Calderon in the Rudy Gay deal, the Raptors were down to two point guards and a cursory search of the waiver wire and the D-League turned up little. With no incentive to turn to retreads like Allen Iverson, Mike Bibby or Carlos Arroyo, and with little in the D-League point guard pool other than Ben Uzoh (whom they’ve already danced a merry dance with), Toronto turned their attention to the trade market, where Telfair could be found stealing Kendall Marshall’s minutes. Telfair’s legend blew out long before his candle ever will, but he’s proven himself to be a sufficiently mediocre backup NBA point guard to merit a look from a team that needs exactly that going forward. For the cost of a man who couldn’t even get into the country, it’s a look worth taking.

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thomas-robinson-patrick-patterson

Within months of passing on Damian Lillard, Sacramento have decided to give away the player they picked instead of him. Seemingly already disenfranchised with their big man out of Kansas, they traded him for another one, and a jump-shooting backup big man, rather than wait it out. This accords with Sacramento’s grand plan, that of dumping valuable young assets to open up negligible amounts of financial flexibility, then spending it on backups. At the very least, they got Patrick Patterson this time.

Patterson broke out this year as a scorer, scoring 11 points in 25 minutes per game, and doing so at just short of 52 percent shooting with a mostly face-up game. He has occasional three-point range and a fantastic mid-range jumper — it’s not hard to project those two things being the inverse of each other some day soon, as that is the way the jump-shooting big man tends to go. Channing Frye was in a similar situation once. Patterson scores, and scores efficiently, without needing much of the playbook to do so. For this reason, he projects as a useful role player for several years. However, Sacramento’s unimpressive recent record on player development isn’t the place for someone with such big holes in his game. Patterson doesn’t box out, doesn’t defend any position, and isn’t tough enough to rectify those problems. He’ll make some jumpers, some fast break dunks, and occasionally carry the team for a quarter, but there’s an awful lot to do.

The rest of the deal has little bearing on Sacramento’s end product. Francisco Garcia will be a mildly useful defender and shooter for a year, but is essentially irrelevant, robbed of his talent by multiple injuries. So are likely to be Tyler Honeycutt (a once tantalizing prospect who hasn’t gotten anywhere, not helped by injuries), Cole Aldrich (same, except with the injuries) and Toney Douglas (whose offensive game still hasn’t recovered from whatever it was that caused him to lose it). Everyone else is a backup, only ever going to be backups, and either expiring or unguaranteed.

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