Cohen: Grading Team Decisions

By Josh Cohen
April 2, 2012

ORLANDO -- There are three outlets NBA teams use to build for success: The Draft, Free Agency and Trades.

I figured it would be interesting to examine several NBA teams, particularly some of the Orlando Magic’s chief competitors in the East, and assess their recent team constructing history.

In this edition, I inspect the Celtics, Knicks, Heat and Hawks.



Some insinuate Kevin McHale deliberately catered to the Celtics in 2007 when he delivered Kevin Garnett to Beantown. It’s controversial whether that deal was the best option for Minnesota, but history has shown that if a team possesses a young, promising talent (Al Jefferson) and a large expiring contract (Theo Ratliff) you have the parts to acquire a superstar.

Boston should also be credited for not draft rebuilding and instead utilized its lottery pick in 2007 to attain Ray Allen from Seattle. One-year prior, the Celtics obtained Rajon Rondo’s draft rights from the Suns in a draft-day trade.

Danny Ainge may have gotten a little boastful in his decision-making when he decided to send Kendrick Perkins to OKC for Jeff Green last season. That has obviously not worked out as planned for the Celtics.

While it didn’t come back to really haunt them, the C’s dealt Joe Johnson to the Suns during his rookie season in 2002 for Rodney Rogers and Tony Delk.


Signing the O’Neal’s in the summer of 2010 backfired as injuries denied both Shaq and Jermaine from providing major contributions.

At the time it seemed not re-signing James Posey after he helped Boston win the NBA championship in 2008 would be a pitiable decision, but the former defensive specialist is already out of the league after dismal stints with the Hornets and Pacers.

Also, as a result of not forcing any significant moves, the Celtics will have plenty of cap flexibility this summer.


There probably isn’t a day that goes by that the Celtics don’t reminisce their glorious draft decision in 1998. Let’s put it this way, Paul Pierce, who Boston chose with the 10th overall pick that year, is a 10-time NBA All-Star. Every player picked after him in the First Round of that draft never was named an All-Star.

Acquiring Rondo from Phoenix in the 2006 NBA Draft turned out to be a brilliant move as well. Chauncey Billups (1997) and Johnson (2001) evolved into perennial All-Stars, just not during their brief stints with Boston. Jefferson was a solid choice as well in 2004.

Aside from that, some serious First Round misses: Jerome Moiso (2000), Kedrick Brown (2001), Troy Bell (2003), J.R. Giddens (2008).

What grade do you give the Celtics for their front office basketball decisions over the last 10-15 years?
What grade do you give the Celtics for their front office basketball decisions over the last 10-15 years?
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Since the conclusion of the Patrick Ewing era in 2000, the Knicks have made 4.367 trades (exaggerating, of course, but there have been a lot).

Most of the transactions transpired during the discordant Isiah Thomas tenure. They include acquiring Stephon Marbury, Eddy Curry, Steve Francis, Jalen Rose and Zach Randolph. Basically, the Knicks attained a slew of players with a world of talent that either had injury or behavioral problems.

After Thomas’ departure in 2008, the franchise decided it would try to free up salary cap space to make a run for LeBron James or any of the marquee free agents that would be available in 2010.

But after striking out on James and Dwyane Wade, particularly, the Knicks figured it would make a push for Carmelo Anthony, who was slated to be a free agent in 2011.

They decided to not wait to sign Melo and instead traded for him last season. While New York has a prime attraction, some feel it gave up too much for someone who would have likely fell in its lap regardless if it had waited.


As a result of being well over the salary cap for so many years, the Knicks were unable to make offers to any superstar talent until 2010.

It sure seemed last season when Amar’e Stoudemire was enjoying a spectacular season that the Knicks made an intelligent decision to give him a max contract. But already back problems have limited his potential and some are criticizing the Knicks for committing to STAT for so many years.

NY, however, snagged a diamond in the ruff when it claimed Jeremy Lin off waivers on Dec. 27. Linsanity became a worldwide sensation in February when he was placed in the starting lineup and instantly evolved into an elite point guard. Lin, who is presumed to be out for the season with a knee injury, will be a restricted free agent this summer.


As a result of the Knicks always making drastic moves, most of their draft picks never stayed long enough for us to find out if they were good decisions or not.

For instance, Nene was immediately traded to Denver after NY picked him with the seventh overall pick in 2002 and Channing Frye played just one season with the Knicks before he was dealt to Portland in the Randolph trade.

The Knicks, however, did land a gem when they chose David Lee with the last pick of the First Round in 2005. Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler were also great selections but ultimately were used to acquire Anthony last year.

What grade do you give the Knicks for their front office basketball decisions over the last 10-15 years?
What grade do you give the Knicks for their front office basketball decisions over the last 10-15 years?
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Both of the Shaquille O’Neal trades – the one that brought the big man to South Beach in 2004 and the one that sent him out to the dry heat in Phoenix – were both respectable decisions. O’Neal helped Miami win their first NBA championship in 2006. The Heat, though they didn’t get much in return in 2008 (Shawn Marion, Marcus Banks), were able to alleviate cap room when they shipped Shaq out to the Suns.

The Marion for Jermaine O’Neal trade in 2009 was essentially a wash since neither player became much of a contributor for the team they were sent to and they both were near the end of their long-term, massive contracts.


Bravo to Pat Riley and the Heat organization for figuring out a way to convince LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to unite in South Beach in 2010. With so many big market franchises, including New York and Chicago, with a ton of salary cap space to also sign any of these three, Miami was able to team up three of the best players in the NBA and two future Hall of Famers in their prime.

While it may have been controversial and it obligated him to be a villain to many NBA fans, LeBron’s unforgettable decision has allowed the Heat to be championship favorites for at least the next few years.


The Heat should probably send a thank you card to Detroit for taking Darko Milicic in the 2003 NBA Draft. If the Pistons had not rolled the dice on Milicic and instead chose Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade, there is a strong chance Miami would have been in the cellar for at least several more years. Wade was still available when the Heat picked at No. 5 and that’s all she wrote.

Otherwise, the draft has not been all that friendly to Miami over the last 10 years. It, for example, selected one of the decade’s biggest busts in Michael Beasley with the second overall pick in 2008.

What grade do you give the Heat for their front office basketball decisions over the last 10-15 years?
What grade do you give the Heat for their front office basketball decisions over the last 10-15 years?
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Landing Joe Johnson from Phoenix in 2005 turned out to be one of the most lopsided trades of the decade. Atlanta acquired the eventual six-time NBA All-Star for Boris Diaw and two future first-round picks.

Acquiring Mike Bibby at the trade deadline in 2008 from Sacramento helped Atlanta reach the playoffs that season for the first time since 1999.

The Hawks also made intelligent decisions regarding Jamal Crawford and Kirk Hinrich. Crawford, for one who Atlanta got from Golden State in 2009, eventually was named the Sixth Man of the Year award in 2010. Hinrich, meanwhile, was pivotal in Atlanta’s First Round victory over Orlando before suffering a season-ending injury.

Some regret, on the other hand, must still weigh on the Hawks franchise from their 2001 decision to trade Pau Gasol, whom they chose third overall in the draft, to the Grizzlies. They also must be kicking themselves in the foot for trading Jason Terry in 2004 to the Mavericks.


One thing the Hawks have never really done over the last 10 years was make any major free agent signings. Johnson was a free agent in 2005 when Atlanta got him but essentially that was via a sign and trade. It also decided to re-sign Johnson to a somewhat controversial six-year max contract in 2010.


Josh Smith and Al Horford, despite his shoulder injury this season, have proven to be outstanding draft choices. Jeff Teague is starting to show that he wasn’t such a shabby pick either.

But the chief draft-day regret was in 2005 when the Hawks chose Marvin Williams over Deron Williams or Chris Paul. At the time, Atlanta was desperate for a point guard but it bought into all the hype that Williams would eventually evolve into a superstar talent.

What grade do you give the Hawks for their front office basketball decisions over the last 10-15 years?
What grade do you give the Hawks for their front office basketball decisions over the last 10-15 years?
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