Sunday, February 15, 2009

Old and In The News

A fairly intriguing trade in the Association this week, as the Heat moved past-his-prime energy player extraordinaire Shawn Marion to the Raptors for perpetually injured under-performing center Jermaine O'Neal. Also involved: Forward Jamario Moon, aka the only Globetrotter to play in the Association in years, and guard Marcus Banks, who is on his fifth team in five years, mostly because he has a hideously overpriced contract and the kind of physical gifts that have led several organizations to think that They Can Mold Him. This is where teams in the Association resemble MLB teams with left-handed pitchers that can throw the ball 90 miles an hour, regardless of the actual results.

Anyway, we're going to ignore Moon and Banks, even though Jamario probably deserves better than that, because I'm Just That Way.

For the Raptors, Shawn Marion gets reunited with GM Bryan Colangelo, who had him during his glory years in the desert. Unfortunately, he's now 30, and a hard 30 given the minutes and way he plays the game, and it's a very open question as to whether he can be anything meaningful without Steve Nash feeding him 5 dunks a game. Fantasy guys love him because he provides good across the board numbers, especially on defense, and in reality, he doesn't demand the ball much, or hurt you in any category.

He's also probably a better fit in Toronto with Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani on the front line, and the Raps do try to play up-tempo, so there's a chance that point guard Jose Calderon could bring him back a little. He was available because he didn't sign a long-term deal with the Heat last year, probably because someone told him how valued he was in fantasy basketball, and he took that to heart.

The Raps may be a better team with Marion, but it's hard to see their end of this as being more than the $3 million they got back in the deal (the most you can get in a trade under Association rules), or just trying to make Bosh happier for when he becomes a free agent in the fabled 2010 free agent class.

And oh, by the way? Lots of luck with that one. I get that it's rare for a top guy to leave, but the plain and simple fact is that Toronto should be like Utah; a less-than-ideal destination for African-American stars to play, with the rare exception of a franchise guy. When you have the fun of customs and cold weather, it just seems more likely for you to retain international talent that doesn't want/need to be involved in big commercial off-the-court deals. Of all of the guys in the 2010 class, I still think that Bosh is the most likely to move, unless the Raps catch lightning with this trade and go deep in the playoffs. Anyway, let's move on to the Heat's part of the deal.

Jermaine O'Neal, when healthy and motivated, is one of the top six or so options at center in the Association, especially on the defensive end, where he'll give you a couple of blocks a game without trying to pad his numbers. He's also a reasonable passer out of the block than most of the black holes that play 5, and this year, he's even managed to get his free throw percentage above 80%, which is a historical weakness. The problem, of course, is the health.

O'Neal hasn't ever played over 70 games in a year since 2003-04. Whether that was because he was making a ridiculous amount of money for a Pacers team that was going nowhere fast (his salary for this year is over $21 million, which is more than a little insane, even by Association big man standards), or because he had legit injuries is pretty meaningless; he didn't show up. Like Marion, he's also 30, and also older than that in mileage terms, due to the injuries and his lack of a college career. When he's the best player you have on your team, as the Pacer Experience showed, you aren't going anywhere. It's also suspected that he might miss Calderon, as the best Heat passer is non-point guard Dwayne Wade, with 7 a game.

And now we get to the truly most important player in the trade, in that he's the best player on either the Heat or the Raps -- Wade. What Miami is trying to do here is to recreate the Wade-Shaq duo that led them to their championship by giving D-Wade an inside scorer and defensive stopper. But the trouble is that the rest of the lineup are kids who have no concept or inclination towards defense, with the exception of eternal Boxer-like power forward Udonis Haslem. In crunch time, the Heat are going to go with Wade-Haslem-O'Neal and whoever is having a reasonable game from the platter of Michael Beasley, Daequan Cook, Mario Chalmers and eight other guys (!) that are somehow averaging over 10 minutes a game. It's a far cry from the days when they'd trot out vets like Alonzo Mourning, Antoine Walker (who, for the record, tried when he was in Miami), Eddie Jones and Brian Grant.

If O'Neal and Wade can stay healthy, and maybe help to reign in Beasley (quietly terrible, especially in comparison to OJ Mayo in Memphis, who would have been outstanding here next to Wade), the Heat could surprise in the playoffs. If nothing else, betting against D-Wade in a short series is less than advisable. But in the long run, the biggest trade in the Association this year is unlikely to change the balance of power in the East, either this year or the next... because you just don't do that by moving 30-year-old guys whose best days are behind them.

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