In a move that may have some impact on the Mavs season, the LA Clippers traded backup forward Josh Smith, a former All-Star, to their Western Conference rival Houston Rockets for essentially nothing. And in the LEastern Conference, the Cleveland Cavaliers, comfortably ahead in the standings after going to the NBA Finals last season, fired head coach David Blatt and replaced him with assistant Tyronn Lue.
All of this occured alongside OKC 109, Mavs 109 (details and discussion here) ... a game that at least included the participation of Dirk Nowitzki, this lessening our right-knee effusion'' concerns.'' What do we make of these moves? A few observations.
SMITH TO THE ROCKETS
Last season Josh Smith was bought out of his huge Detroit contract and signed for the rest of the season with Houston, joining his childhood buddy Dwight Howard and bolstering the Rockets bench, in a move that cost the Rockets nothing. While he's no longer producing like he did in his years in Atlanta, he was an important cog for the Rockets as they were able to reach the Western Conference Finals.
It was thought he might re-sign with Houston in the summer, but instead he signed with the Clippers. Who knows why, since the deal with LA was only for minimum salary and Houston could have easily offered as much (and perhaps did).
In breaking down the Josh Smith trade back to the Rockets, we see the following:
1) LAC simply gave away Smith to HOU in an NBA-approved sort of way where it's packaged as a trade. The other "draft rights" are simply a swap of nothings, to satisfy those trade-defining concepts.
2) Smith was being paid the NBA minimum on his deal with LAC. Payments for the rest of the year will now be paid by HOU, but LA will reimburse HOU for that amount. Salary-wise, he's a freebie for HOU.
3) At the moment, this potentially has minor tax ramifications for both teams, as both are currently past the tax line. So the tax obligation for Smith and his 947K team-paid salary will be erased from LA, and will be added to HOU. Houston is close enough to the tax line where they might make another move at some point and slip below the tax line, and erase that cost.
4) As LA fills Smith's vacated slot with another player, they will add back some tax plus salary. (They have signed Jeff Ayres to a 10-day deal, which adds a little salary and tax so far.)
5) For the Clippers, while this is a small financial gain perhaps, it's really something different than a money move. Yes they clearly decided they have no use for Smith, and wanted someone to take him off their payroll if they could. But by the end, the savings may prove to be relatively tiny.
But the bigger issue for LA was that apparently they just don't want Smith on their team. Not as a backup in reserve. No desire to find a fit in the lineup. No wish to wait until he improves somehow. No willingness to hold out for a trade where they get some value back. Instead, they paid to have him go away, and do so immediately. That's how they see him, for whatever reason, and don't lose sight of it.
6) It's interesting that apparently the BEST deal the Clippers could make was giving him to a rival and paying his salary. With him getting minimum-salary pay, a trade match was no obstacle with anyone, so any other team could have taken him if they wanted him. Undoubtedly LA looked elsewhere first, and had no luck.
7) LA could have waived him instead, but didn't. If he had been claimed (and since he makes the minimum, all teams would have been eligible to claim him) it would have been better for them since they wouldn't have had to pay the rest of his salary and it might have landed him on a team in the other conference rather than a rival.
8) But putting him on waivers had a negative possibility too. If he had been waived and gone unclaimed, Smith could have signed with anyone, and that road would likely have led to Houston too, with LA still having to pay out his full season salary and tax on that amount, and then HOU paying him also. So the fact they didn't waive him, or trade him elsewhere hints that when LA checked around for alternatives, no one else had any interest.
9) Would he have fit in Dallas? Remember, the Mavs pursued him last spring. Now? He might make some sense to the Mavs as a SmallBall big man (being athletic, converting lobs into dunks, defending in space and being mobile), being athletic, converting lobs into dunks. Somewhat like Jeremy Evans. But he wouldn't fit if he wanted a green light to shoot brick after brick from long range, and he simply can't shoot at all anymore.
10) Smith was not playing much over the last few weeks in LA, even when injuries opened up minutes. Whether it was entirely because his game has become that bad, or whether there was some hidden issue, is not something we know.
11) Considering the fact that he helped HOU last season, this looks to be a plus for them for the last half of the season. They added a possible asset, and it cost them nothing. (But lurking in the background is the question of why he didn't sign there in the summer, and if that has any lingering effect.)
12) This transaction doesn't alter anything for Smith financially. He's still paid his $1.5M minimum salary split between HOU and the NBA, plus his $5.4M buyout from Detroit minus some offset (approx 327K).
BLATT GETS FIRED
Despite the continued team success so far, Blatt - who had an impressive winning record as a coach in Europe before being hired by the Cavs - was given the heave-ho anyhow. What's going on?
There have been reactions of all kinds. Here's our response to what we're seeing and hearing..
1) Do we think this firing is "bizarre" and "an embarrassment to the league" as Rick Carlisle labels it? Nope. That's Carlisle's dutiful response, as president of the NBA Coaches Association, to stick up for any coach placed in a tough setting. But we recall when the Mavs fired Avery Johnson, despite an even better track record as an NBA coach, and understand that sometimes the team record only tells part of the story. If you're not the right guy for the job, ya gotta go.
2) There's no question that LeBron James would have been behind this change. He's the inarguable King of the Cavs, and as such he has the most influential impact on such a decision, even if he's in another room at the moment when the knife is being twisted.
3) Accordingly, we think that the direct claims of some that LeBron had nothing to do with this are laughable. You want to sacrifice your integrity and instead try to cover LeBron's butt from any backlash? Be my guest, but pardon me while I giggle at you.
4) So do we think that LeBron should be faulted for shoving Blatt out the door? No, not at all. It's a stars' league now, and in many cases those are the very ones who know best whether the coach is helping or hurting their quest to excel and win. You can't say Lebron is brilliant when it comes to hoops, without accepting that maybe he's also a great judge of what's going on, and whether it's up to par.
5) BUT ...While we don't think there's anything wrong (and maybe a lot right) with LeBron getting the coach fired, we do think his silly and transparently disingenuous attempts at a "coverup" of his role in it are awful. LeBron is powerful in the NBA arena, and works hard to be in control in every part of it. So why is he hiding behind mouthpieces and disavowing a decision he undoubtedly endorsed, rather than being out front, leading, and owning the change? Like with The Decision, that running scared from his own actions makes him appear to be weak and conniving, rather than a decisive and powerful leader. If he wants to be the big dog, we deserve better from him.
6) Regarding the ability of Blatt, and whether he was really that bad, it's hard to know. But we don't think he's a crucified saint, which means there will soon be a leak or three exposing weaknesses that had previously been hidden, and we can evaluate as we wish. Those weaknesses won't mean he's a bad coach, however, as all coaches have strengths and weaknesses.
7) But no matter what we think of the coming leaks, and whether we come to see them as sizable or not, he had to go. By their actions, the Cavs players (especially the star) had come to see him as one who was clueless in the toughest of times. And you can't be a great leader when the troops refuse to follow. Lue may be no better, but he'll be different, and change was necessary.
8) Are there player changes for CLE looming as well? Our impulse is to doubt it. Yet we recognize that David Griffin is smart and aggressive, and has been able to make some impressive roster-building moves with the Cavs. They now have a lot of talent to bargain with, if they want to change the mix. So maybe this is only the first shoe to drop. We can't forget that during the season last year the Cavs were able to add Shumpert, J R Smith, and Mozgov, while only giving up their leftovers to do so.
9) Somewhere in this whole mix is the thought that this is not what we envisioned when we saw LeBron go to Cleveland in the summer of 2014 and get paired with two young stars alongside in Love and Irving, supported by a whole bevy of good role players. Then, it felt like the Cavs were on the cusp of a glorious run to the top and perhaps years of dominance. Now? Even one title doesn't seem like a slam dunk any longer. Wow.
10) Will this change, with perhaps others to come, maybe vault the Cavs to the top? We doubt it, but that's why they play the games. Ya never know.
THE MAVS OBSERVATIONS
The Blatt situation is a reminder of a Mavs advantage. "Should the Mavs make a move this trade deadline?'' is a DB.com Boards thread started just six days ago. It has 7,000 responses. ... but there isn't much ammunition here to make many changes. Future shuffling? You bet, and you can learn about that by reading here: The Mavs, 5 Big Decisions, And Their Salary-Cap-Based Future.
But for now? The Mavs at 25-20 are something short of a "true contender'' but are a likeable team that likes each other, not wanting to invite a seeming problem like a Josh Smith into the room and not having any problems in regard to Rick Carlisle's strong and stable leadership.