NETS Acquire Gerald Wallace, New Starter at the 3
March 15, 2012
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.â€”Thursday, the NETS traded Mehmet Okur, Shawne Williams and a top-three protected 2012 first-round pick to the Portland Trail Blazers for Gerald "Crash" Wallace. The 6-foot-7 forward, a 2010 All-Star, has averaged 13.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.5 steals in 35.8 minutes in 42 games with Portland this season.
Ready to further the goal of winning games rather than continue rebuilding with youth beyond Thursday's trade deadline, Nets general manager Billy King addressed what he felt was a need for a starting-caliber small forward, acquiring forward Gerald Wallace from the Trail Blazers. King sent Mehmet Okur, Shawne Williams and the team's protected 2012 first-round pick to Portland.
Wallace, an 11-year veteran out of Alabama, averaged 13.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.5 steals in 35.8 minutes during 42 games with the Blazers this season. Part of a crowded frontcourt in Portland, the numbers are his lowest since his first season with the expansion Charlotte Bobcats in 2004. During a career-year in 2009-10, when Wallace made the All-Star and All-Defensive First Teams, he averaged 18.2 points, 10.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.1 blocks in 41.0 minutes per game.
"If you try to build a team, we've got a starting point that's pretty good (in Deron Williams); we've got a 5 â€“ (Brook Lopez) has been hurt, but he's pretty good; (Kris Humphries) has done a great job as a 4; and MarShon (Brooks) has done a great job developing as a starting 2," King said, during a conference call with media. "I just felt at the 3 position this year, thus far we've had a lot of injuries; I think DeShawn Stevenson) has done a great job, but it's not his natural position. And looking forward, I think you need to have 3 men in this league, because you're going to face Carmelo (Anthony) and LeBron (James); you're going to face guys that are very talented and you've got to have guys that can guard them."
Nicknamed "Crash" for his hustle and willingness to throw his body around in pursuit of the ball, Wallace provides an immediate, two-way upgrade at small forward that will likely endear himself to Nets" fans much as Kris Humphries has since joining the team two seasons ago. King expects Wallace to offer great defense, versatility, leadership and experience, and said Hall of Fame coach
Data bears out the perception of Wallace as one to get his offense within the flow: according to NBA.COM/Stats, 59.5 percent of Wallace's field-goal attempts this season have come within the restricted area, and 64.5 percent of his makes have been assisted, the majority from point guard Raymond Felton. And though the 30-year-old's rebounding numbers were suppressed playing alongside vacuum cleaner Marcus Camby and 6-foot-11 power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, Wallace's rebounding percentages the last three years (12.8%, 14.8%, 12.7%, respectively) put him on a tier with big men, not the small forwards against whom he most frequently matches up.
"I can understand fan base wanting (more)," King said. "But I think in doing so, I'd rather try building the roster and adding the piece and also keeping cap flexibility, because this still gives us the potential â€“ with Brook's cap hold (as a restricted free agent) â€“ to have $8 million in cap space.
"It's a delicate balance in trying to build a roster, and I look at Gerald: at 30 years old, he's not an old player. I go back to my experience building with Larry Brown in Philadelphia: we traded some young players to add the right pieces that we felt could build the process to try to build the team that got us to the Finals. I'm trying to use a little bit of my experience doing that to do the same thing here."
Sharp-shooting center Okur, acquired just before the start of the season, averaged 7.6 points and 4.8 rebounds in only 17 games for the Nets, missing 27 with a sore lower back. Williams, signed as a free agent on December 15, fell ill during training camp and never fully recovered. The fifth-year veteran â€“ known for his three-point prowess â€“ shot only .241 from long range and missed 19 games due to injury, undergoing season-ending left-foot surgery in February.
King said that the outgoing players were on contracts that allowed the money to match up, though their long-term injury status allowed King to make the acquisition without offering anyone currently in the team's rotation. The protected draft pick conceded by the Nets, however, represents a calculated risk.
After several days of meeting with the team's scouts, running projections and analyzing prospects, King and his team concluded that picks beyond the protection were likely to be multi-year "projects," ones that would slow down a process he feels beginning to speed toward winning more than continuing to rebuild with youth. The team held onto a protected pick from the Rockets that rolls over the same restriction, through 2016, if unused.
"We talked about it, potentially what could be there, who could be there; and everybody's talking: 'It's a deep draft,'" King said. "But a lot of times, you can take guys that'll take two or three years, and we didn't feel that there were guys further down that were franchise guys. So in trying to build, I don't know if we had a chance to wait, to keep building with youth. And we still have the Houston pick in the draft, so it's not like you're completely out of the draft."
Currently slotted sixth in the lottery (were the season to end Thursday), the Nets entered the day trailing the Milwaukee Bucks by 4.5 games for the Eastern Conference's final playoff seed, with three teams â€“ Detroit, Cleveland and the Knicks â€“ in between. Scaling the conference ladder, even while coming up short of a playoff berth, would soften the blow by lowering lottery odds. A few Western Conference teams, notably Golden State, are also within potential range.
And yet if the Nets luck out and earn a top selection via the May 30 NBA Draft Lottery, they'll retain the pick while potentially holding on to Wallace, who wields a player option for 2012-13 that King seems confident the veteran will enact. Essentially staking the trade's cost on his team's success in the final 22 games, King acknowledged that the potential of a playoff run, based on their current positioning and a favorable remaining schedule, also factored into the decision.
King believes that Wallace, after reporting and completing his physical, should be available for Saturday's home game against the New Orleans Hornets. Wallace started all 42 games he's played with Portland, and it would be no surprise to see coach Avery Johnson tab him then.
"Just got off the phone with (Gerald)," King said. "I woke him up from a nap, but he understands and knows what we're trying to do, and he knows Deron, so he's pretty excited."