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

When players get paid a lot, the default commentary position switches from pointing out their strengths to emphasizing their failings. Rudy Gay fell victim to this the day he signed a maximum value contract.

It is inevitable — he is being paid the max, but he doesn’t perform like a max player, and nor will he ever. This isn’t just true of fans’ perspectives, but of teams as well. Memphis, unashamedly and understandably on a budget, figured they don’t get enough from Rudy at that cost to make him worth keeping. Conversely, Toronto figure he’s worth the financial commitment. So who’s right?

In light of respective circumstances, possibly both.

Toronto’s small forward rotation has been one of the weakest positional rotations in the league. Landry Fields and Linas Kleiza have been hurt and underwhelming, while Mickael Pietrus has been just plain underwhelming. The position has been manned by out-of-position two guards who can’t defend the spot and shoot too much. Now the Raptors have a two-way fringe star of a player at the spot, for only the cost of two players whose usefulness they couldn’t maximize anyway.

Rudy’s performance this year has been frankly poor, but such is the very nature of apathy — a return to his usual career numbers is certainly plausible. At his best, Gay contributes in every facet of the game. Of course, even at his career apex, Gay’s contract is worryingly close to double the size it should be for a man of his impact. But the amount spent is only of importance if it prohibits future spending. The Raptors’s salary situation is sufficient that this should not be a factor going forward — as such, Gay’s contract, a big issue for Memphis, isn’t the same issue in Toronto. The issue is the impact of the team’s play going forward, and what value was achieved in the deal.

If you concede Jose Calderon couldn’t return to the Raptors next season — and, if you value Kyle Lowry, he couldn’t — he had to be dealt while his value was high. If Jose stays, he and Lowry negate each others value and create a expensive, if talented, logjam that’s destined to end in a ruckus. And, even though Calderon betters any team he is on, there weren’t many suitable suitors. Those who needed him the most didn’t have the pieces. And those who had the pieces didn’t really need him.

Toronto loses this deal if Gay doesn’t return to his best, and if they go forward with a trio of DeRozan, Gay and Bargnani, a highly paid trio that duplicates itself too much and doesn’t defend nearly as well as it should. But considering that Bargnani’s days are increasingly numbered, and in light of the intriguing play of Terrence Ross, there is no reason to believe that is the plan going forward. This trade completes phase one of a multi-part plan for the Raptors to return to the playoffs without tanking. Without pieces two or three in place, it’s hard to judge phase one accurately. In theory, however, Toronto takes forward a core of Lowry, Ross, Gay, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas, with Landry Fields and whatever they get for Bargnani and DeRozan also in the mix. That’s a low-seeded playoff team. For now, that’s a good start.

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In addition to the recent list of possible D-League call-ups, there exist many other veteran free agents who could help an NBA team as a midseason pick-up. In light of 10-day contracts becoming available to use as of next week, here’s an unnecessary, emphatic list of some possible ones.

It’s important to note that only free agents are listed here, not all non-NBA players. So as much fun as it would be to list the likes of Eddy Curry and Quincy Douby — who this week combined for 95 points in a Chinese league game — they’re taken.

Guards

Carlos Arroyo – Out of the league for nearly two years, Arroyo is no less of an NBA player now than when he was in it. However, having declined steadily since 2005, his place within it was already tenuous. Arroyo is reportedly about to sign to Turkish team Galatasaray, where he’ll need to show improvement to be seriously considered in the NBA again.

Mike Bibby – Having fallen away dramatically in the last three seasons, Bibby achieved something difficult last season when he made the Knicks roster as a shooting specialist who couldn’t shoot. His career numbers suggest this was an outlier, yet after back to back poor seasons, Bibby will find it tough to make it back to the league.

Earl Boykins – Boykins was a rare veteran presence on a young Rockets team last season, where he showed the usual Boykins package: no fear, plenty of long twos, and a desperate need to prove himself as a scorer. He was adequate in his backup role, and was a good NBA player as recently as the 2010-11 season, but his age (36) might be the death knell.

Anthony Carter – Carter will inevitably go on to coach, yet he still believes he can contribute as an NBA player. The statistics do not reconcile with this belief, and haven’t done since 2008, yet perception is a much more important resource. “Coach on the floor,” et cetera.

Antonio Daniels – In 2011, Daniels proved you’re never too old to use the D-League as a gateway back to the NBA, getting a late call-up to the 76ers from the Texas Legends. In 2012, he posted 8.7 apg for the Legends, but couldn’t do the same again. And in 2013, Daniels is trying to lose 10,000 lbs.

Baron Davis – Davis tore his ACL last year, the latest in a decade’s worth of serious injuries. But he showed enough before the injury to warrant another look when he’s healthy again.

Derek Fisher – Fisher asked to be released by the Mavericks so that he could be nearer his family in Los Angeles. So he’s pretty much only an option for the Clippers and Lakers. Or the Sparks.

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Starting January 5th, NBA teams can sign free agents to 10-day contracts. And while there’s nothing that demands those 10-day contract signees need come from the NBA D-League, it logically follows that it’s a good place to start looking. Whether a team is struggling and looking for new blood, or just looking for injury cover, the seamless call-up system allows them to plunder the D-League for reinforcements for a week and a half, as an extended midseason tryout. Here’s a list of the top call-up candidates, in no order other than when they were thought of.

Point Guards

Courtney Fortson – 18.8ppg, 6.2 apg, 5.5 rpg: Fortson’s decision to declare early for the draft looked especially ridiculous after he wasn’t able to progress beyond the Romanian league in his first season. Since then, however, he’s turned his career around and managed a few NBA looks. Fortson’s speed, aggression and handle haven’t changed, and now come with a much improved jumpshot and better decision making. But he’s still not a proven halfcourt point guard, and he’s still only 5-foot-11.

Justin Dentmon – 19.7 ppg, 4.0 apg, 5.0 rpg: Unashamedly a scorer as well, Dentmon is the leading scorer on the D-League’s second-highest scoring team. He too cracked the NBA on multiple occasions last season, on account of the quality of his jumpshot (432 from three in his D-League career) and his ability to create them. To stick in the league in any more than a peripheral role, though, he’ll need to be as lucky as Eddie House.

Walker Russell – 14.2 ppg, 5.5 apg, 3.9 rpg: Russell played his way from D-League benches to the NBA within five years, a working demonstration of the league’s developmental qualities. The purest point on this list, Russell played almost all of last season with the Pistons, but struggled at the NBA level. He is unspectacular, unathletic and undersized, without three-point range on his shot and now with 30 years on the clock. But his knack for finding open players and controlling the offense puts him ahead of the rest, should those be the desired qualities.

Chris Quinn – 18.0 ppg, 7.0 apg, 3.0 spg: Knocking on 30′s door, Quinn has returned to the D-League to play two games, after beginning the season in Spain. This is possibly his last chance to make the NBA, and even if he can’t defend his position, he can certainly contribute as both a playmaker and shooter.

Ben Uzoh – 16.1ppg, 5.5 apg, 5.9 rpg: The most athletic player listed, Uzoh thrives in transition, and has the size to project as a quality defense player. However, he isn’t at this point, and as he’s not a pure point and is a sub-par shooter, his usefulness in the halfcourt is limited.

Chris Wright – 16.3 ppg, 7.7 apg, 5.5 rpg: Reports last year that Wright’s career was in jeopardy after a diagnosis of MS were clearly premature, as Wright is performing to a high standard. His all-around game is very solid, and although he still lacks for consistent three-point range, his game management and pick-and-roll abilities stand him in good stead.

Troy Hudson – 11.8 ppg, 4.2 apg, 2.8 rpg: Hudson’s comeback started well with some good shooting performances. However, it soon tapered off, and by this time, he is a fairly average soon-to-be-37 year old D-Leaguer. The speed has gone, as has the hair.

Orien Greene – 15.9 ppg, 2.5 apg, 4.1 rpg: Former Celtic Greene is mostly playing two guard alongide Fortson. In the process, he is proving that he can still defend both spots. He’s also improved his jumpshot over the years, and is shooting 40 percent from three on the season.

Stefon Hannah – 14.3 ppg, 4.4 apg, 4.3 rpg: Perennial nearly-man Hannah is slowly becoming more and more of a three-point shooter offensively, taking eight of them a game and hitting 41 percent last season. He’s also the reigning D-League Defensive Player of the Year; however, neither big nor quick, it’s unclear as to how well this effort may translate.

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Irrespective of whether we believe he is truly worthy of it or not, it has surely always been known that it will take a maximum contract to lock up James Harden. If Eric Gordon can get the max on the open market, Harden certainly can. And it seems he now will. But not from the Thunder.

Reportedly, Oklahoma City went as high as $54 million in their offer to Harden. With a maximum salary of as-near-as-$60 million, the Thunder’s final offer left them a comparatively meager $6 million short of the maximum, $1.5 million per annum less to spend elsewhere on the roster should they yield and tender the maximum. That’s one less Lazar Hayward or Hasheem Thabeet type per season. That’s nothing, no hardship at all. And it’s therefore easy to find fault with Oklahoma City’s budgetary constraints, which had thus far allowed for spending as much as it took.

Similarly, though, Harden could be faulted for letting what is a trivial amount of money (in extremely, extremely relative terms) become an immovable obstacle that has broken up the league’s best young trio. Especially since he had previously spoken of the need for sacrifice. You can go either way on that one. Ultimately then, perhaps apportioning any blame is needless. It’s all too easy and helps nothing going forward. Both teams gave the others their instructions, and it seem the gap wasn’t bridgeable. Probably should have been, but it wasn’t.

Typically ballsy, Oklahoma City decided not to let the chips fall where they may. They dictated their terms, didn’t get what they wanted and acted fast. Whether they acted correctly or not, however, is a separate matter. Having not done much to upgrade the roster over the summer, save for the drafting of Perry Jones, the Thunder unequivocally and emphatically downgraded their roster with this deal. Even if Kevin Martin were to experience a career resurgence, he hasn’t the effect Harden does, and even if Jeremy Lamb realizes the best possible prognosis for his career, he’s not the half court weapon Harden already is.

They chose between Westbrook and Harden and chose Westbrook; they chose between Ibaka and Harden, and chose Ibaka. In a super teams era where it is demonstrably proven that teams need multiple consistent half court scoring options to succeed, Oklahoma City just lost a high quality one without gaining the means to replace him. They won’t have cap space, won’t pick from the top of the draft again, and now rely a great deal on the development of Lamb and the knees of Jones and Eric Maynor. They’re still good, very good, but they took a backwards step when they needed a final forward one. If an expiring contract doesn’t equal cap space, it doesn’t really matter how large it is. Not unless you’re going to use it in trade, as Houston just did.

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It’s finally over. But it shouldn’t be.

Orlando have finally traded Dwight Howard today, sending him to the Lakers in a four team deal that sees them get in return Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington from Denver, Mo Harkless and Nikola Vucevic from Philadelphia, and three protected first round picks from each of the other three teams. In addition to this, the reported deal sees Andrew Bynum go to the Sixers, Andre Iguodala to the Nuggets, and a few other contracts thrown in that frankly do not matter.

It takes only a moment to understand quite how ridiculously good a Lakers team of Nash, Kobe, anybody, Pau and Dwight should be. It’s a team that has everything, and even if Kobe continues to play the Black Mamba way that means the unit produces at less than its optimum capacity, the lineup is so good that it just shouldn’t matter. The same guy who built the Smush Parker-Chris Mihm team has now built arguably the strongest on-paper team in NBA history, and it’s frankly brilliant. All those teams who had been maneuvering to sign him as a free agent next summer need to now change their plan, for Dwight has no incentive to leave.

Denver, meanwhile, does it again. Just as they previously overpaid to re-sign Nene without ever really wanting to, they have done something similar with Afflalo, re-signing the player to a long term contract without intending to have him long-term. The Nuggets stockpiled players always with an eye to move them on later, as evidenced by the subsequent Wilson Chandler signing, and sought to get younger, more athletic, and better. They’ve done that while also managing to get cheaper; the approximately $45 million outstanding to Afflalo and Harrington dwarfs the $30.6 mil still owed to Iggy. With Ty Lawson about to command eight figures annually, this is not to be overlooked.

Philly remains a confused, ill-fitting question mark, but upgraded their best player, which is never a bad thing. Their offseason hasn’t made a whole lot of sense to date, and the players they did bring in are now even more awkward of a fit with Bynum in play. Then again, they probably never thought this was possible. And while they had to give up their best player, a huge cog of their impressive defense and three decent young assets to do it, they got an elite offensive player at his position, something they haven’t had since Allen Iverson. In downgrading their defense slightly, they should upgrade their offense significantly, a move they simply needed to make. Now, they just need a Lou Williams type. Whoops.

But all of that is secondary. Tertiary, even. This is all about Orlando, and quite what on Earth they have done.

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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.

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Ben Gordon left Chicago for Detroit three summers ago in rather bitter circumstances. After two summers of failed contract negotiations, while on his way out the door, Gordon unsubtly stated that he was leaving to join an organization “where winning is the number one priority.”

This has been the exact opposite of what has actually transpired, and last night, he found himself in a trade that proved it. Gordon was traded to Charlotte, along with a protected first round pick, to Charlotte in exchange for Corey Maggette. More pertinently, Gordon and the pick were traded for Maggette’s expiring $10.9 million contract. With all due respect to Corey Maggette, he’s otherwise irrelevant here.

Perhaps Gordon thought that Detroit spending big, on him and Charlie Villanueva, was synonymous with prioritizing winning. If so, he was wrong. Since that summer of expenditure, the Pistons have been a moribund franchise, hamstrung by a lack of cohesiveness, submarined by infighting, and unable to do much about it due to the payroll inflexibility they saddled themselves with. Indeed, despite not winning more than 30 games in any season since signing the duo, the Pistons have been the least active team in recent years with regards to roster turnover, sticking with what they had even while knowing it wasn’t working. With so many big, underperforming contracts, they hadn’t the flexibility to do anything else. Last summer’s business was spent on re-signing a team that had just lost 52 games. The Pistons have been stranded in a wilderness of their own making.

The only salvation since that time has been some success in the draft. Greg Monroe is well on his way to a maximum value contract, Jonas Jerebko has made Villanueva completely obsolete, and Brandon Knight pretty much matches Gordon’s production already while being only 20. There’s another top 10 pick coming. The only thing missing from quite a nice situation going forward has been financial flexibility.

With this trade, they now have it. Gordon’s contract runs for two more years for a total of $25.6 million, whereas Maggette expires after this year. The financial savings in the upcoming year are negligible to the point of irrelevancy. In the summer of 2013, however, the Pistons can finally start again. Between Maggette, Jason Maxiell, Will Bynum, Austin Daye and the remainder of Rip Hamilton’s bought-out deal, the Pistons will see over $28 million of expiring (and largely dead) salary fall off their cap. If the amnesty clause is used on Villanueva at some point between now and then, that figure rises to $37 million. Waiving Rodney Stuckey — whose final season is not fully guaranteed — could add an extra $4.5 million if needs be. And the young talent will still be there.

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