Posted Jan 7 2011 10:02AM
The midseason is about a week away, providing the first chance to take a semi-honest appraisal of last summer's deals.
This isn't about LeBron James and Carlos Boozer and Amar'e Stoudemire. We know how those are turning out. Instead, this is about Amir Johnson, with career averages of less than five points and five rebounds a game, getting five years and $34 million from the Raptors. And Darko Milicic, once a league punch line, actually being productive for the Wolves.
Those two barely missed the cut for the top five best and worst values, which we admittedly wrote in pencil because players can remove themselves from either list depending on the second half of the season.
Raymond Felton, Knicks. If point guards are so hard to find, then how did the Knicks get one who's averaging 18 points, almost nine assists and two steals and has quickly developed a bond with Amar'e Stoudemire that, while not Nash-like, is good enough? You could thank Michael Jordan for letting a 26-year-old leave the Bobcats for nothing, and credit the Knicks for paying a reasonable amount ($7 million a year) to fill a tough position. Felton went for 28 points and seven assists against Tony Parker, 20 and 12 vs. Derrick Rose, 26 and 14 vs. Rajon Rondo, 35 and 11 against Monta Ellis, etc. You can say he isn't elite. But he's playing well against the elite.
Wesley Matthews, Blazers. And to think, folks in NBA circles thought Matthews would be a terrible value at five years and $34 million. You could see why, because Matthews was never a starter or a star in Utah, and the Blazers threw big money his way, discouraging the Jazz from matching it to retain Matthews. But look at him now. Wasn't he supposed to be a sixth man? Essentially, he has saved the Blazers' season, given the injury issues with Brandon Roy, who might be done for the season (if not for good). Portland needed some good luck for a change, and such luck arrived in a smart deal disguised as an overplayed hand.
Dorell Wright, Warriors. For three years and $11 million, he's a better bargain than David Lee ($80 million), the Warriors' big offseason move. While Lee has dealt with a gnarly elbow injury and fewer touches on a team with Monta Ellis and Steph Curry, Wright fought his way up through the rotation and made himself a dangerous 3-point shooter and third option. He's long and athletic and now confident, too. After spending six mostly mild seasons in Miami, Wright knows he can be a good player in this league.
Michael Beasley, Wolves. A pair of second-round picks for someone who's averaging 22 points a game? If David Kahn swung a few more deals like this, nobody would throw darts at his blueprint anymore. Sure, Beasley came in a distressed deal, because Miami had to dump his salary for LeBron and Co. Still, a good pickup for the Wolves, who figure Beasley is shedding his immature past and ready to be a productive player, maybe even a star. He's not totally disciplined enough for that right now, and may never be. But this is a start.
Shaquille O'Neal, Celtics. The Big Red Tag Special has given whatever he has left (admittedly, not much) to a Celtics' team that needed a big body to replace Kendrick Perkins. Shaq formed a low-post bond with Kevin Garnett and helps lighten up the locker room. Of course, the playoffs are what counts in Boston, and whether Shaq can spare 15 quality minutes against Dwight Howard. We'll see.
Josh Childress, Suns. Allow us to raise a pair of legitimate excuses as to why Chills is chilling on the bench: He fractured the fingertip on his shooting hand in preseason and played much of November and December in a soft splint. And he's one of 534 swingmen on the Suns' roster. That said, the $33 million over five years given to Chills (17 minutes a night) looks like one of those many real estate deals gone bad in Phoenix. Perhaps in the right situation, he may show some of the skills that made him a decent player in Atlanta (before he bolted overseas in a snit over money). We should know in another year or two, when the Suns either trim enough small forwards to give him playing time, or send him to another team where he can get some time. Or maybe he can just beat out the players ahead of him. That would be a start.
Hedo Turkoglu, Suns. Yeah, we know he's in Orlando now. But the guy was awful in Phoenix almost from the start (No. 4 or 5 option on offense, so-so defense). The Suns gave up a decent scorer in Leandro Barbosa for a player who flamed out for his second straight team. At least the Suns recognized as much right away when they jettisoned him to Orlando a few weeks ago. But still, it's never a good sign when you trade for a player and then, just two short months later, conclude that you're better off without him.
Steve Blake, Lakers. Kobe Bryant says the right time to judge Blake will be in the postseason. Good thing, because Blake hasn't made much of an impact so far, failing to distinguish himself from the mild competition at point guard offered by Derek Fisher and Shannon Brown. If you want to compare Blake to Jordan Farmar, who was booted to make room for Blake, then fine, but Blake was supposed to be an upgrade. Blake is shooting 38 percent overall; his main contribution is the 3-pointer (41 percent). The best Laker guard at breaking down the defense, getting inside the lane and creating shots for teammates is Kobe, which says something.
Drew Gooden, Bucks. You could say Corey Maggette is more qualified to belong here, but the Bucks didn't give up anything to get him from the Warriors. They did give Gooden five years and $32 million and then watched him limp through injuries the first few months and give unspectacular results when healthy. That contract looks clunky right now, especially for a small-market team that can't afford financial mistakes, and a team that has underachieved so far. Can't blame Gooden for everything that has gone wrong for the Bucks, but is he part of the solution? Not at this point, he isn't.
Darren Collison, Pacers. He hasn't been a disaster, or even a bad addition, and he's one of the few Pacers worth keeping around after this summer, when the salary purge begins. But honestly, now: Didn't you expect more? Collison became a man in demand last summer after he filled in for Chris Paul and averaged 18 points and nine assists (with an 18-assist game) for the Hornets. But he's been more of a scoring point guard for the Pacers (only 4.2 assists). Maybe Collison will recapture that New Orleans touch once the Pacers surround him with better players and a different system.
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