The Cavs: Hopefully making your monday less bleak.

June 29th, 2009 by John Krolik

Some thoughts on the VC trade:

-The trade Lee/Battie/Skip for VC is a steal. When you’re a contending team, the objective is always to come away with the best player in the deal. Also, there’s no such thing as a team with championship talent that shouldn’t be in win-now mode in the NBA. Windows are small in the NBA, no matter who you are. If it’s not guys getting old, it’s injuries or contracts running out, or just the wrong group of role players going out or in around the core. There is no next year if a team is good enough to win a championship.

Lee’s going to be a solid shooting guard for almost a decade, Battie is what he is, and Rafer can acquit himself nicely as a guard. But with Rafer not starting, this was a no-brainer for the Magic talent-wise.

The real question becomes this: is the de facto trade of Carter for Turkoglu a good one for the Magic? (Now, I’m not close to the situation and have no idea if the Magic would have been able to retain Hedo if they had not traded for Vince, or even if they still can. I’m not trying to figure out if the Magic front office screwed up; I’m trying to figure out if the Magic will be better or worse with VC filling Turkoglu’s role next season.)

-Unfortunately, there are more questions than answers with this trade.

-Question #1: Did Hedo make the Magic offense go to a much, much greater degree than his numbers suggest?

During the Magic’s series with the Cavaliers, Hedo certainly seemed like the head of the snake for the Magic offensively. He was the guy running the pick-and-rolls, making the entry passes, getting the ball in ISO when the offense broke down.

In Arnovitz’s ClipperBlog post today, he gets into one of the fundamental issues of modern basketball, and one of the two or three main issues that makes APBRmetrics so much murkier than sabermetrics. Simply put, some guys create shots and plays offensively while other guys finish them.

What made the Magic so special in the ECF was that they had 4 guys surrounding Howard who were ready to create a play or finish a play at any given time given the circumstances. But in that Magic lineup, Hedo was really the only true creator-Lewis is really a shooter, Lee is a guy who can finish inside if there’s an open lane or make a spot-up shot, Howard is obviously a finisher, and Rafer’s a scoring guard.

As has been discussed endlessly on this blog, the Magic were not bracket-busters tossing up a ton of contested threes and hoping enough would fall. The Magic were doing something pretty special offensively in terms of how well they were moving the ball, spacing the floor, and punishing late rotations. A big part of that was that the Cavs couldn’t cover Howard straight-up, no doubt. ┬áBut the movement on the perimeter to punish the double-teams is what really killed the Cavs, and that movement was due in large part to how well the Magic played off of Hedo’s wonky point-forward rhythms, like the Rolling Stones playing off of Keith Richards’ timing rather than the drummer’s.

In the playoffs, Hedo was the guy putting together double-digit assist games, and only a third of his shots were assisted by somebody else. On paper, Hedo’s production seems very replaceable, both in terms of output and in efficiency. But like Baron Davis with the Warriors, when that team was at its best Hedo was the one making them go. I could be over-thinking this one, but my worry is that the Magic may have tried to tinker with a very delicate and intricate offensive chemistry by removing Hedo.

Question #2: Does Jameer coming back make losing Hedo’s playmaking a moot point?

Short answer: I have no idea. Jameer was a perfectly serviceable starting point guard until last season, when he suddenly became an absolute scoring beast, the best outside shooter in basketball, as well as a freaky late-game assassin. Then he had a major bicep injury and played limited minutes in the finals. Will he be all the way healthy? Will he be more of a scorer than a playmaker? Will his playmaking from the 1 spot work as well as Hedo’s did from the 3 spot? I have nothing approximating a clue.

(Sidebar: reading back over that testicle dance piece, I decided to give this 82games “last shot” piece yet another read. Paul Pierce was the best assist man in “last shot” situations in the regular season by a significant margin. That came into play in these playoffs, huh?)

Question #3: Who is Vince Carter, really?

He’s been the savior of basketball, a go-to scorer with scary, scary athletic ability and a competent outside shot, a soft me-first player who didn’t really care and settled for jumpers, Jason Kidd’s competent running mate who ran the floor, cut for open lanes, and took open jumpers, and then played essentially the same role with Devin Harris for the last year and a half.

On paper, he’s no worse of a playmaker than Hedo was, but the last time Vince was a featured playmaker he was flying over and around people in Canada. And to compound things, he hasn’t been on a legitimate NBA contender since the day he graduated from college. I think Vince can handle a tough crowd, but it’s been a while since he’s had the car keys on a deep poised to make a deep playoff run.

Here is, I suppose, my bottom line on this: The Magic are/were amazing because they have the most consistently amazing offensive and defensive system in the league. If the system makes the players, than this was a great trade, as there are almost no areas where Hedo out-performs Vince on paper. But if Hedo somehow played an integral part in making that system works and the Magic lose what made them special against the Cavs because of his loss, than they may have serious problems.