If there’s one thing that a lot of NBA fans are guilty of it’s what I like to call “GM Worship”. This happens when a fan thinks that every move that their team’s GM makes is brilliant.
I remember Raptors fans in the summer of 2008 who couldn’t shut up about the brilliance of Bryan Colangelo. They couldn’t have been any giddier about Hassan Adams, Roko Ukic, and Nathan Jawai.
A year later and none of the three are still members of the Raptors. Adams is playing in Serbia, Ukic was traded to the Bucks, and Jawai was traded to the Mavericks, who subsequently traded him to the Timberwolves for a 2012 second round pick.
The funny thing is that even the league’s most respected GMs are wrong a surprising percentage of the time.
Even Jerry West, considered by many as the greatest GM in the history of the league, signed Brian Cardinal to a 6-year, $38 million contract.
Having said that (that’s for all you Curb Your Enthusiasm fans), it’s time to look back on this past off-season and see which moves have turned out to be the best additions and which haven’t looked as good as initially expected.
Keep in mind, that were a number of draft picks or free agent signings that I’m deeming ineligible for the lists because it’s too soon to tell.
For example, Blake Griffin has yet to play a minute due to a knee injury. That doesn’t mean the Clippers screwed up. It just means we’ll reserve judgment until Griffin gets a few games under his belt.
Other moves, like the Raptors re-acquisition of Rasho Nesterovic, are ineligible because they weren’t considered seismic to begin with.
My criteria when compiling the list was simple. I took into account the risk involved, what teams gave up to acquire the player (either in dollars or outgoing players), and whether that move has exceeded or fallen well-short of expectations.
Players who re-signed with their current teams were ineligible.
The Top Ten
10. Ron Artest, Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers have a league-best 22-4 record. With Pau Gasol sidelined with a hamstring injury for the first 11 games of the season, Artest did everything necessary for the Lakers to continue to dominate with the Spaniard out of the lineup.
The Lakers gave up an average of 99.3 points per game during their championship run last season. This season they are giving up only 94.5.
Lost in all of the outrageous comments that Artest has given the media was a quote about his role on his new team.
Artest recently told the Sporting News , “It’s weird because people don’t think about the whole basketball game. There’s offense: Kobe averages 30 and is a great offensive player. Then you have defense. So on defense, now I have my supporting cast. … I’m one of the best defenders to ever play basketball, so I’m still the first option on defense.”
Anybody who watched the Lakers hold the Utah Jazz to six fourth-quarter points a couple weeks back knows exactly what Artest was talking about.
Artest is taking nearly five fewer shots and scoring nearly five fewer points than he did in Houston last season and he hasn’t complained once.
As well as Trevor Ariza is playing for the Houston Rockets (see No. 7 on this list) it’s hard to imagine him accepting a continuance of his reduced role considering his desire for a bigger role in the offense given his age.
9. Ryan Anderson, Orlando Magic
Many viewed Anderson as a throw-in when the Magic acquired Vince Carter from the New Jersey Nets last June.
Instead, Anderson has been a perfect fit for the three-point heavy Orlando Magic. He has already scored in double-figures 10 times this season, including two 20-point games—as many as he had in 66 games for the Nets last season.
Considering that another of the Magic’s off-season acquisitions has been a bust (more on that later), Anderson has helped maintain GM Otis Smith’s reputation for making shrewd moves since drafting Fran Vazquez and watching Billy Donovan quit as Magic head coach six days after he was hired.
8. Arron Afflalo, Denver Nuggets
The NBA’s most underrated GM, the Nuggets’ Mark Warkentien, continues to impress despite the fact that every year he’s told to keep the team’s payroll below the luxury tax.
Most people couldn’t even tell you what Warkentien looks like and I’m sure he likes it that way.
After Dahntay Jones signed a 4-year, $11 million contract with the Indiana Pacers, Warkentien used a future second round pick to acquire Arron Afflalo from the Detroit Pistons.
The Nuggets knew that Afflalo would be a great addition on the defensive side of the court. What they didn’t know was that he would also replace another departed Nugget, Linas Kleiza, on the offensive side.
If Afflalo continues to improve, his career could follow the same trajectory of another former UCLA Bruin who was drafted in the second round and built his reputation with defense and the ability to hit open three-pointers—the next guy on the list.
7. Trevor Ariza, Houston Rockets
When Rockets GM Darryl Morey met with Ariza in Las Vegas to offer him a contract, he told Ariza that he envisioned him as the centerpiece of a team and not just a supporting player.
After 26 games we can see that Morey wasn’t just blowing smoke.
After averaging less than seven points per game through the first five seasons of his career, Ariza is averaging 17.4 ppg for the Rockets this season.
The Rockets, 16-11, are one of the NBA’s biggest early-season surprises. A lot of that is due to Ariza’s often-stellar play and ability to seamlessly fit in.
6. Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets
Another Warkentien move makes the list and this one only cost him a protected first-round pick that might not get cashed in until 2014.
Lawson, the 18th pick of the draft, is averaging eight points per game and has given the Nuggets a much-needed spark off the bench to compliment fan-favorite, Chris Andersen.
With Chauncey Billups missing time due to a groin injury, Lawson has provided the Nuggets with a better back up than veteran Anthony Carter.
Lawson’s quickness and freakish athletic ability has become a major topic of conversation—including one of the season’s best dunks so far.
5. Channing Frye, Phoenix Suns
After the Suns traded Shaquille O’Neal to the Cleveland Cavaliers for the right to buy out both Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic everybody just assumed that the team would roll with sophomore Robin Lopez at center.
Instead, they went out and signed the free agent Frye to a 2-year, $4 million contract. Frye has responded by giving his hometown Suns one of the off-season’s greatest bargains.
Frye had only connected on 20 three-pointers through the first four seasons of his career.
This season he already has 71 and that’s out of only 157 attempts (45 percent).
The Suns are 18-10 and Frye deserves a nice share of the credit.
The second year of Frye’s contract is a player option that he’s sure to opt out of should he continue to produce the way he has so far this season.
4. Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies
Randolph is on his fourth team in as many seasons. His reputation as a troublemaker has been well-chronicled and deservedly so.
But what hasn’t been nearly as talked about is that when he’s focused Randolph is one of the best low-post players in the game.
Grizzlies fans waited almost two years for GM Chris Wallace to do something with the cap space the team acquired when they gave..err, traded Pau Gasol to the Lakers in 2008.
Wallace finally acted when he traded Quentin Richardson to the Clippers for Randolph and Randolph has responded by averaging 16.8 points and a career-best 10.7 rebounds per game (including an NBA season-high of 24 in an upset of the Nuggets on Sunday).
Considering how little the Grizzlies gave up to get Randolph, this move cracks the top-five. Team is 12-15 but 11-7 in their last 18 games. Randolph is a big reason why this team is only three-and-a-half games out of the last playoff spot in the Western Conference.
3. Tyreke Evans, Sacramento Kings
The 2009 Draft Class wasn’t supposed to be considered a great one. So far they have more than exceeded expectations.
Evans, the fourth-overall pick out of Memphis, has turned the Rookie of the Year race from a one-man show to a two-man battle.
Anybody who saw what Evans did Monday night in helping the Kings overcome a 35-point deficit to beat the Bulls in Chicago knows exactly what I’m talking about.
Evans scored 23 points and had eight rebounds, including outscoring the entire Bulls team 9-3 in the final 2:28 of the game.
The biggest reason why Evans is so high on the list is because of who the Kings could have drafted with their pick. After Griffin, Hasheem Thabeet, and James Harden were taken with the first three picks, Kings’ GM, Geoff Petrie, could have selected anyone from a group that included Evans, Ricky Rubio, Jonny Flynn, and Stephen Curry.
By taking Evans, Petrie not only saved a season but may have also saved a team for the city of Sacramento. While rumors will continue to swirl that the team could move if they don’t get a new arena, Evans will help drum up interest from a once-loyal fan-base who might finally be willing to use tax dollars to build it.
2. Jamal Crawford, Atlanta Hawks
If I were making a list of the top-10 least talked about off-season moves of impact this one would be at the top of the list.
Perhaps it’s because Crawford has played in over 600 career regular season games and as many playoff games as I have.
The Hawks gave up Speedy Claxton and Acie Law for Crawford and now the Eastern Conference is no longer a three-team race but a four-team race.
Crawford is averaging 16 points per game off the bench and has given head coach, Mike Woodson the type of X-Factor that all championship teams seem to have (see Horry, Robert or Posey, James).
Many NBA writers used to point out that the battle for the top-seed in the Eastern Conference was such a big deal because the team that finished second would have to play either Orlando, Boston, or Cleveland in the second round.
Now it’s looking as if the top-seed in the east will also have a second-round dogfight on their hands.
1. Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks
Consider all of the reasons why Jennings is number one on my list. The Bucks traded away their best player from last season, Richard Jefferson, for Kurt Thomas and two players who will never play for them—Fabricio Oberto, who they traded again, and the retired Bruce Bowen.
You can make the case that if the draft was held today that Jennings, who was taken 10th overall, would probably be the first, second, or third player picked.
There are rumors that the team’s owner, Sen. Herb Kohl, is planning to sell the team.
They were expected by many, including myself, to be the worst team in the league this season. Instead, the Bucks are 12-14 and would be the sixth-seed in the east if the playoffs started today.
Jennings is averaging over 20 points, six assists, and close to four rebounds per game.
New York Knicks’ GM Donnie Walsh has to be kicking himself every time he sees Jennings go off on the same night that Jordan Hill, the player he took with the eighth overall pick, registers another DNP–COACH’S DECISION.
Think about how much more attractive the Knicks would be to prospective 2010 free agents if Jennings was on the team.
Now remember that the Knicks don’t have a first-round pick in next summer’s draft because Isiah Thomas traded the pick to get Stephon Marbury.
If Jennings wins the Rookie of the Year Award he will be the lowest-picked ROY winner since Mark Jackson, drafted 18th, won the award in 1988 for—wait for it—the New York Knicks.
Look out for The Bottom 10 on Wednesday.
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