A late arising this morning was greeted with the news that a deal is in place, pending league approval, to send Toronto Raptors' Jermaine O'Neal, Jamario Moon and a lottery protected first-round draft pick to the Miami Heat for Shawn Marion, Marcus Banks and cash.
My first reaction was good. Second reaction was ... maybe not so good. Third reaction was ... it had to be done. I think it's a heavy price to pay but the future is a lot brighter, even though I think the Raptors have given up the chance to play spring-time ball in Boston.
First, let's assess what the Raptors lost. O'Neal has been like a good $10 million player this year. He's had his injuries woes, not unexpected. He's provided a bit of an edge and has been a decent-to-good defensive presence and has been an offensive presence two out of three nights. He's passed enough to have Joey Graham and Andrea Bargnani eclipse him as black holes, but not enough. He's been good in the locker room with the press and (I hear) with his teammates. The bad news? Well, when he can't hit shots early he hurts the Raptors a lot. They immediately abandon the inside game and turn into a bunch of jump shooters. That's an insidious thing, but I leave it in Jermaine's lap. He still doesn't have his wind back completely and can't play 42 minutes in consecutive games anymore. In fact, You can count on him for between 12-20 good minutes any night. The rest result in diminishing returns. His on-court demeanour, which ranges from sulky to defiant, has also infected the club, especially Chris Bosh. And that's not good. Bitching and complaining to the referees is counter-productive.
And he makes more than 20 mill this year AND next year.
Don't kid yourself, this trade is a multi-million dollar salary dump. I also wish this trade would have been consummated weeks ago. Then it wouldn't have cost us two and a half months of occasionally really good Moon. And the first rounder, even if it's lottery protected, rubs the wound a little rawer. In fact, since Moon's been relegated to the back up unit in favour of surging Graham, Moon's actually been pretty good. He still takes brain-dead jumpers with time (lots) left on the clock with no one in rebounding possession. But Moon's still good for the nightly highlight where you gasp at his athleticism skying for a rebound or an alley-oop pass. He's never going to be much more than a reserve forward in the NBA. He's nearing 30 afterall. But for that one play a night, the occasional all-round game and for the sheer joy of watching a really happy guy play a game for a living, I'll miss him for the rest of the season. Note that as an impending free agent, his Toronto career was measured in weeks anyway.
Marion, in some ways, makes Toronto a better team. It's long been my contention that Toronto's small forward should slash to the basket on EVERY Toronto shot. The team misses enough of them. I think Marion, or a similarly-mindful small forward could get five, six offensive rebounds a game, if they were simply in the right place more often. Watching Raptors shoot with nary a fellow teammate in rebounding position is too commonplace to even mention these days. And Marion's actually a power forward in a small forward's body. He won't shoot appreciably worse than Moon from distance, but will draw more fouls and be in position for rebounds WAAAAY more often. On the other hand, Marion isn't the defender Moon is, even with Moon's mental fugues, so there is that to consider.
Banks either stays and takes over Will Solomon's forgotten man role next year, or gets bought out by the Raptors (not that that doesn't obviate the cap hit). Assuming Jose Calderon and a fast-improving Roko Ukic handle all the guard duties next season, the slop over could fall to Banks if he's still around. Much better is the idea to bring back Anthony Parker and ask him to be shooting guard and point guard backups. The Miami money COULD be going to that plan, buying Banks out.
Haven't made a great case for the trade, have I. It gets worse. The Toronto big man rotation is now (the currently injured) Chris Bosh, Bargnani and Jake Voskuhl. Graham and Marion both can play power forward. In fact, Graham's best minutes MIGHT be power forward. And Kris Humphries is due back before hell freezes over, although not much before. That's a real height deficit. And, unless Bosh comes back guns a-blazin', it might be a playoff hope killer. Even with the soft schedule now ahead of Toronto.
On the other hand, Toronto gets to play in the 2009 free agent pool, which will have fewer other sharks swimming in it (especially with the talent Toronto already possesses) while most of the clubs in the league are trying to buy entry to the 2010 free agent lottery. There will be some bargains, NONE of whom will cost the Raptors anything close to 21 million dollars individually.
I've already stated my belief that Rip Hamilton will opt out in Detroit. I think his game would fit the Raptors perfectly. My real dream would be to bring in Ron Artest, because he would exhibit the meanness this team needs (and now loses with O'Neal). He also plays defence and has a complimentary offensive game. But what team HASN'T regretted Artest's presence by the end of his tenure? Marion has a too-high regard for his own self-worth and I can't see him re-signing here for next year. But stranger things have happened. Players CAN fall in love in the right circumstance, and Marion WILL enjoy playing with Calderon after enduring a cadre of not-so-good point guards in Miami over the last year.
Of course, there's that lottery pick in this year's draft after the Raptors miss the playoffs. That could be a benefit. A reasonable projection would see the Raptors with shots at Stephen Curry or the guy I really like, Gerald Henderson. The draft is heavy in power-guy rotation candidates, but the team will need somebody complimentary to Bosh and Bargnani. Still, somebody like Patrick Patterson wouldn't hurt to see in Raptor togs. And getting lucky in the draft would result in even better candidates. Or a trade.
The Raptors of 2009-10: Calderon, Ukic, Parker, Henderson, Banks, Artest, Carlos Delfino (back from Russia and earning the part of the O'Neal money Artest doesn't get), Kapono, Graham, Rasho Nesterovic (back on vet's minimum 1-year contract in his adopted NA city), Nathan Jawai, Bargnani and Bosh. And rather than being up tight to the cap, I can see the team still being 2-3 million below the luxury tax threshold. And that might become important at NEXT year's trade deadline when the club will be looking for that key piece to clinch first place in the Atlantic Division.
I can dream can't I?