The deal with the Draft
The BIG move on Draft Day didn’t involve a big-time draft pick. In fact, the only pick moved was a 2010 second-rounder headed to Phoenix from Cleveland. Instead, the trade involved the biggest personality in the game, Shaquille O’Neal, heading to Cleveland to team up with LeBron James. Or so some in the media-and especially the Cavaliers marketing department-will say. The truth is a bit different.
Shaq, in his prime, would have all but guaranteed Cleveland a title next year. The current version, perhaps appropriately dubbed "Shaq 4.0," is really only needed for one thing: defending Dwight. Funny then that Shaq’s defense has slipped to the point where he’s a liability on most nights. But in this case, the Cavs needed a guy who can trouble the best center in the game, and Shaq can still do that. He won’t dominate Dwight, but he can get the youngster in some foul trouble and do a better job of containing "Superman" than anyone else on the roster. Shaq’s gargantuan personality is outsized only by his contract-hence the fire sale price in terms of talent heading back to Phoenix-but in this case that’s a good thing for Boston’s toughest competitor. If Shaq doesn’t work out during the regular season for whatever reason, he’s 20 million big ones of an expiring contract, and should the Cavs merely allow his contract to evaporate at the end of the season, they’ll have a decent chunk of change to throw at LeBron and whomever he chooses as his sidekick in the heralded summer of 2010 free agent class should their superstar decided to stay in his hometown-professionally, he’s already flown the coup to San Diego on a "camp" level.
But, perhaps the most important move of the day came in a salary dump between Orlando and New Jersey. The deal essentially comes down to promising shooting guard Courtney Lee for quasi-superstar Vince Carter. Since the Magic hope to have a healthy Jameer Nelson back next year, the deal could give them the best top 6 in the entire league if they can manage to re-sign Hedo Turkoglu. Nelson, Carter, Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, and Dwight Howard in the starting five with Mickael Pietrus off the bench is scary.
Meanwhile, the team that very well may finish third in the Eastern Conference after failing to improve on Draft Day (other than with health, hopefully), the Celtics, took a guy who will be 25 at the start of his rookie year at the end of the second round, Lester Hudson. Color me underwhelmed. Nothing against Lester, but I don’t really see him fitting much of a need next year. He could help in a year or two, but I’m not particularly worried about a guy coming off the bench as a solid backup in a couple years while our title window slowly creeps shut. This means the C’s will have to make serious moves in free agency, netting at least one top reserve with their mid-level exception, and re-sign "Big Baby" Davis. Should they add either a Chris Andersen or Trevor Ariza type, they’ll pull even with the Magic and Cavs; if not, they’ll likely not be able to add Green 18 to the rafters next spring.
Elsewhere, the team with perhaps the most connections to the Celtics, the Minnesota Timberwolves, formerly known as the Minny C’s, appeared to have blown it. After top point guard prospect Ricky Rubio fell into their laps at number 5, the Wolves decided to take another lead guard in Jonny Flynn with the very next pick, rather than the ideal complement to Rubio in the backcourt, super-shooter Stephen Curry. Pairing the taller playmaker in Rubio with the scoring machine with unlimited range and passing skills in Curry would have set up Minnesota to take a nice wing player with their next pick in the first round and the best available player with the rest of their ample picks in last night’s draft. Instead, they rode the point guard train to the tune of four (!) selections (although they eventually traded the latter two, Nick Calathes and Ty Lawson), and apparently plan to play Flynn alongside Rubio. They already have two big men in Al Jefferson and Kevin Love, so the Wolves missed a real opportunity. Trades will likely come later (perhaps of the forced variety), but I’m skeptical that things will work out as they should have. Too bad.