Posted by: Kingsguru21 | March 30, 2010

The plight/value/conundrum that is Chapu

A few days ago, TZ linked to an interview Andres “Chapu” Nocioni made in Spanish to ESPN Deportes. In it, basically Noc says that he wants playing time, naturally, but that he can’t control his circumstances. He knows what he is, and he’s not a star. Not right now anyway. I think the whole thing is funny truthfully. Noc is in a no win position. Either he said he’s a star in the NBA and gets blasted for not being realistic with regards for his talent. Or he gets blasted for being TOO honest and realistic. It’s a lose-lose there. And thus the conundrum. (Or one of several anyway.)

When I first moved up to Seattle, I looked at a room. (In Georgetown. Don’t ask.) I told the guy who was renting the house that I would have liked to shoot George W Bush. He really disapproved of the sentiment (he was a gay Republican–talk about a conundrum) in the sense that he didn’t agree. (Obviously.) But, in a way, his point was made even though I don’t think it was the point he would have preferred I’m going to make. The point that came to me later it isn’t that I would want to shoot GWB so much as I would like to make him work a minimum wage job for a year and live off those earnings. Find out what it was like to be on the other side for once.

Let’s be realistic though. This is George W Bush. He’s made a living his entire life off being part of the Bush family. It’s the way it is. The reason the guy was so good at politics is because he’s a slimeball douchebag. Only Bush could find a way to act like he was pro-miliitary even though he was essentially caught sniffing lines off a strippers ass in a Houston apartment complex. That’s America for you. Only here could you sleep around, sniff lines like your nose was going out of style, get out of Vietnam while doing so because you serve in the softest military duty known to man (which was what Bush’s Air Force reserve unit was at that time), and then become Born-Again and the Christian Right believes you.

As I say, only in America. Only here are our success stories truly damning. (Okay, not true. Not only here. But, I don’t care if success stories are damning in China or India or Sudan.) Thus, I knew there was something else going on. But what you ask?

There’s a great line from John Malkovich delivered to Danny Trejo in Con Air about rapists: “You rank somewhere between a cockroach and the white stuff that accumulates at the corner of your mouth. But in your case I’ll make an exception.” And what does Trejo do? He nods to himself in satisfaction. (Trejo is a great actor in his own right. And I’m pretty sure he’s not a rapist.) Like most things, appearances can be deceiving and Trejo is no exception.

Anyway, the point, I think, is that the solution I would have liked to GWB being in office as president was not necessarily the BEST solution. Shooting GWB would have made me, and some other folks (probably), pretty happy. But, it’s not the best solution. I know that. I also know that any likelihood of GWB becoming accustomed to that there is a world outside of his bullshit is not going to happen.

There is a good thing that did stem, or maybe not (who knows?), from the GWB years in office as Prez. More young people got out to vote. More people became active (on both sides truthfully) in the elections in 2008. Any time more involvement is had in a political process called democracy, that’s a good thing. This is especially true when you live in a voluntary democracy (as the US does) and people CHOOSE to participate. Nothing is more powerful than that choice.

******

I get it. You’re going: Guh? What the fuck does this have to do with Andres Nocioni. Hold your horses. If I ever wrote something short, I’d probably go for a walk a bit too long and end up in Oregon or something.

Anyway, the point about Andres Nocioni is one of value but a bit more important, one of value to the Kings in relation to the rest of the teams in the NBA.

That’s the important part that people quite often forget. The NBA isn’t a fantasy league. You can’t just trade a guy to trade him. (Well you can, but that’s how you end up with Noc in the first place. The Kings realistically were trading Miller & Salmons to trade them and nothing more.) Teams are in a competitive business. (I know you know this.) A team will only agree to take on Noc assuming they have a compelling reason. The Kings compelling reason was to move Salmons and Miller off the team.

There is only 2 things you will likely see as the next 2 years unfold with regards to Noc. A), Either the Kings trade Noc and move his contract off the books by taking a shorter contract/less unsavory contract than Noc’s. Or B), the Kings Front Office don’t trade Noc at all.

Given how many teams would likely want Noc and his 13.5 mill guaranteed, I don’t see it very likely the Kings trade Noc under any circumstance.

So how will the Kings be able to trade Noc? Well it will be they trade him with another asset (Donte Greene, Jason Thompson, Spencer Hawes, Carl Landry) to get a better player but taking more money back.

This is a hypothetical, but let’s say the Kings work out a S&T for Chris Bosh. In return, the Kings ALSO agree to take on Hedo Turkoglu’s contract using Noc’s contract as the primary means to do so. (Obviously not the only way to do that, but it’s one way.) I don’t think that will happen because A) Hedo is badly overpaid, and B) Chris Bosh is not likely to want to come to Sac. (I see Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh being New York Knicks.)

Another is that the Kings use Noc’s contract coupled with a player like Donte Greene to get a player of value. Since the Kings biggest need is generally up front, and the fact that Greene would be eligible for a new contract at the same time would diminish any financial return that the team would be giving up. (In all likelihood.)

I said this a few days ago, but a strong possibility could be the Hornets deciding to move Peja Stojakovic in return for Noc. (I’m also not the first to mention this either.) They pay 2 years of Noc at less salary and the Kings move the total salary off their books a year early. It saves the Hornets luxury tax next year (or saves them a lot of luxury tax). But that’s assuming the Kings don’t use their cap space first. I would not be betting on any type of Stojakovic deal to the Kings in that scenario if the Hornets can dump all of that salary in one fell swoop.

This is probably not news or something many of you didn’t already know. But that’s pretty much what’s out there. (And it didn’t take a GWB analogy to make the point either.) The only other option is keeping Noc and living with the occasional story that he wants more minutes. It is pretty much what it is.

******

So, you’re wondering why all the hub-bub about GWB and all the nonsense about options and Noc, and you’re wondering why all that nonsense to get to this. Well, I won’t tell you. Figure it out. So here we go…..

One of the dirty little secrets about the NBA is that you can only have so many stars, and players getting minutes in a rotation. At some point you have too many players getting many minutes, too many ego’s to manage, too much bloat to manage. So at some point you have 12 guys all vying for minutes all grinding at each other. Which fans seem to love, but franchises hate. Hate it I tell you. The last time I can remember the Kings having a 12 deep team was the 2002-03 season. They were deep everywhere and had a great bench. The depth was important, and people even cited it as a strength after Chris Webber went down in the Dallas series.

The problem is depth doesn’t replace a top 10 player. As Jerry Reynolds said, there isn’t a number of players whom you can name that would have replaced the production of one top ten player. Especially when that guy was Chris Webber.

It’s fun to play fantasy or have a 12 man roto league. When you’re a head coach in the association, it’s a problem that can break a quality team apart. 7 seconds or less described an All-Star player in Shawn Marion consistently jealous of Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire because they got more attention than he did. Not more money (Marion was the highest paid player), but just more attention. And Shawn Marion was an All-Star!

The trick is to have enough talent so that you can survive an injury or two for a prescribed period of time. The trick is to have enough balls to tell that player once he’s no longer needed as often for him to understand you only need him for spot minutes. Most players don’t get that part. Remember Tony Massenburg? At the time I couldn’t figure out why Massenburg didn’t get more minutes when Webber came back that season. Now I know why. The Kings wanted to see if Webber was the same player, and they needed to give him those minutes. He did well at times and in spurts, but he just wasn’t the same player. We know that now, but I thought it was as simple as playing Webber less and Massenburg more. I was really that stupid and naive. Chris Webber thought he was a star, and thought he was a franchise player even though he quite wasn’t the same player. This lasted into the next season, and we know what happened next.

Kenny Thomas, Corliss Williamson and Brian Skinner all came in that earth-shattering deal for many fans who simply though Webber was a star even though he wasn’t. At the time, I thought it was a good deal because I thought Kenny Thomas and Brian Skinner (and maybe Corliss too) all could give things in smaller doses and not demand the things that Webb was still demanding. It wasn’t Chris Webber’s fault. He had been an All-Star player most of his career, and suddenly he wasn’t the same and in his mind he still was. That happens.

The problem was that contract and all the myriad problems that came with it. You’ve seen since, subsequently, that the Kings would have been better off keeping the contract and letting it expire. The problem? You would have had to play Webber minutes and buy him out. At the money Webber was making, I’m not sure the Kings could afford an expensive buyout. The Sacramento Kings are not the Philadelphia 76ers. They don’t have the resources that a team playing in Philly does. Philly could afford to buy Webber out at that time. The Kings probably couldn’t and stay competitive financially.

A buyout of Webber wouldn’t have JUST cost the Maloof’s money, but profit too. Even though that seems stupid, that’s one reason the Kings probably have remained profitable. Despite the trade of a very popular player in Chris Webber, the Kings managed to remain profitable several years after moving Webber. If you’re ever wondering why the Maloof’s remain interested in this market, that has to remain the biggest reason why. If they move the Kings, they are not guaranteed to have a team in a one horse town that makes up a large portion of the entertainment let alone sports.

At any rate, we know what happens next. The Kings sign Shareef Abdur Rahim, trade Peja Stojakovic for Ron Artest, and Kenny Thomas still plays in the rotation despite not always being happy. The Kings make the playoffs because Ron Artest plays some of the best ball to date over his very mercurial career. Yet when you notice compared to his career averages, Artest did not always play at his best. Many of his career numbers up to date were actually lower in Sac than they had been up to that point, or afterward for that matter.

Then came the firing of Rick Adelman. (Technically his contract wasn’t renewed. But that’s not the reality.) And that’s where I think the Kings came at a watershed mark. By the deadline, the Kings were trying to move Mike Bibby (and it was rumored the Maloof’s wanted Eric Musselman gone by that point), and they were trying to attach Kenny Thomas to every deal they made. With Bibby, or Artest. It never happened as we all know.

The Kenny Thomas era ended ingloriously after he was waived to make room for Dominic McGuire so the Kings could make some cash off the Wizards at the deadline. (Who managed to get under the luxury tax despite being 10 million at the start of the season. A big part of that was due to the suspensions of Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton. That saved more than half of the total dollars that got the Wiz under the tax.)

The reason I re-hash all of that is to make my point. When the Kings traded Chris Webber, he was damaged goods and the only reason Philly really took on his contract was to appease Allen Iverson (didn’t work) and move Kenny Thomas’ contract. The line at the time from GP & Co. was to move the contracts then in smaller chunks so the Kings could save money.

Which, was sort of true, but not really. The Kings only traded one of the 3 players, Brian Skinner, in 2006 and even then was mostly to get under the luxury tax. But even then that meant taking back Vitaly Potapenko’s salary which didn’t expire until 2007. That was the cost.

Then the Kings traded Mike Bibby mostly for financial relief. Shelden Williams was the one player who came back of any note, and even then he was traded with Bobby Brown the next trade deadline in 2009. And, the Kings declined the option for Shel’s 4th season. Most will remember that trade as a financial deal to sign Beno Udrih, but the reality was that it also allowed the Kings to absorb a hefty increase in Kevin Martin’s salary too. Things are never just one reality.

By Summer 2008, the Kings moved Ron Artest in the trade that brought Donte Greene and Bobby Jackson for his final season before ultimately retiring. It also included the draft pick that became Omri Casspi. Most people praise this deal as being a good deal for the Kings now. However, I question whether or not this deal would have been had if the Bibby deal had not taken place. In fact, the financial flexibility that the Bibby deal gave the Kings allowed them to not trade Artest away in another financial deal. So in a way, the deal that people felt the Kings gave Bibby away allowed the Kings to maximize the Artest deal. (I definitely missed that at the time.)

But at every point they tried to move Kenny Thomas. They couldn’t. Not once. His contract was too much of a stinker. So, the Kings held onto him. The only legitimate rumor I heard Kenny Thomas was the one that included T-Mac to the Kings. And, that was only until the trade changed in a 3 way that included the Knicks. (I shouldn’t have been surprised by that on Wed night. Yet I was. God I’m dumb.)

At the same time, one reason Bibby wasn’t moved because the Kings were not clear who would be the player that would replace him. If you remember, the Kings DID try Orien Greene at the start of the 2007-08 season. It was a disaster. Greene was so bad at handling the ball that any net he brought defensively was totally overshadowed by the fact that he was completely negating his defensive worth with his lack of any offensive skill necessary to succeed in the NBA. Thus, the Orien Greene experiment ended rather quickly.

The reason it ended because the Kings got Beno Udrih on the very cheap in a test run before the MLE disaster/lucky moment.

If for nothing else, the presence of Kenny Thomas kept the Kings from trading away Bibby earlier because the necessary return (a PG or taking Thomas’ contract) wasn’t met.

As the Kings move forward with Tyreke Evans, it’s the bi-product of this unusual, quirky, and totally unrelated events that led to the signing of Beno Udrih, and the re-signing of Beno using the MLE (which was required because Beno was a non-bird FA).

This is what I mean by protection. The Kings don’t need to make a move with Nocioni. They don’t need to make a move because they aren’t going to benefit by doing so. For any prospective deal involving a young player solely (especially Donte Greene or Omri Casspi), it will almost be automatically required that the receiving team also take Nocioni as well.

That means unless the Kings are saying No to every deal, it comes at a price. I also don’t think the Kings have any express desire to trade Donte or Omri after the seasons they’ve had (especially Omri), but you never know. As Dave of The Dream Shake pointed out to me after the Kevin Martin deal, there’s always a price to deal for a player. I then asked: “Even for LeBron James?” Dave simply responded: “Of course.”

Don’t think of this is delusional. Think of it as reality. What would you trade to take LeBron James? Is there any way Cleveland would do that trade? The answer is no. But to say that a player CAN’T be traded is pretty dumb. Anybody can be traded, but the realistic possibilities of a player the caliber of LBJ being traded is pretty slim to none. From any real POV, you’re not ever going to see LBJ traded unless he’s well past his prime. (Or, you mouth off a lot like Shaquille O’Neal does. Even then he wasn’t in his prime-prime at the point the Lakers traded him to Miami.)

No matter what people argue, the reality is that Andres “Chapu” Nocioni is a player that is convenient for the Kings in that they don’t have to take a bad contract back, don’t have to worry about finding ways to find value in matching salary for deals, or have issue’s in motivating him. He is all of those things. Unlike Kenny Thomas, his contract is not a pure poison pill to either the Kings or another team that may take him on.

It will also give people like me another chance, if the Kings keep Noc for another season, or another 2 seasons for that matter, to scoff at those who say that expiring contracts have “value” to other teams. That’s true if you’re talking about taking significant money in return. If the Kings were to do the Emeka Okafor deal, that would have made Kenny Thomas significant. But the problem is that the Kings clearly didn’t believe that Okafor was worth taking on salary wise for the long term. Among other things. (I’ve seen it argued that the Kenny Thomas for Okafor deal was not realistic for the Kings to acquire Okafor. I disagree with that if only because the amount of investment in Okafor made him a significant risk. That, in turn, drives down Okafor’s trade value significantly.)

******

That is not all that Noc represents though. It says something about fans that the recent interview was somewhat met with skepticism that could have easily been met with derision. I thought the translation that Jason Jones posted on the Bee Blog was a reasonable way of looking at it. In context, what Noc said made sense. There were those who complained that Noc didn’t have delusions of grandeur. If you want to complain about a guy being unrealistic, that guy is not Noc. Having veterans that know their roles and will do what’s asked of them is something that coaches always value. It’s hard to have those guys around, and Paul Westphal knows that Noc will always play hard. He doesn’t know any other way.

At the end of the day, it won’t matter how you view Noc. Either you appreciate the guy for what he is, what he isn’t, and move on. Or you hate him because you don’t like the fact he jacks up shots or you see his salary being used in another way.

Every franchise knows there is going to be a guy (or two or three) that fans will automatically hate. Sometimes you have a roster like the Cavs where the fans got their eyes fixated on the prize that is a ring there really isn’t players they hate. Sure, they wish JJ Hickson would be an All-Star, or something. That’s just fans being fans. (Every fanbase has that. Well, if only Spence did this, or if JT did that….)

I think people would be surprised that most franchises don’t really care if fans hate a particular player. As Jerry Reynolds famously put it: “Sports teams aren’t like other businesses because teams have fans who get emotional and demanding.” Yuh.

So even though it seems counter-intuitive to how Geoff Petrie would operate in this day & age, having players who do not necessarily inspire confidence or resonate as players that fans want to keep around is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes franchises use these players who have less value to one team and use them as a way to extort value out of another franchise. That’s sort of what the Wizards did when they moved Brendan Haywood, Deshawn Stevenson, and Caron Butler. Stevenson had no real value to the Mavs, but part of the deal was to take him. To get Butler, the Wiz wanted to give up Stevenson too. To take on Stevenson, the Mavs also insisted on Brendan Haywood.

Here’s the point. Stevenson had no value despite the fact that his contract expired next season. But unless the Wiz were willing to take back money (they weren’t), than the problem became how do they get the most value out of Haywood and/or Butler? Taking DeShawn Stevenson off the roster. Wiz fans felt the Wiz got screwed, but Mark Cuban knew he had the Wiz under the gun. He knew that few teams would A) help them get under the tax and B) also help them shed more salary beyond taking Butler’s salary off their hands. The Wiz were stuck, and he knew that. Most Wiz fans were mad that Ernie Grunfeld didn’t trade away Antawn Jamison first instead of moving Butler. The problem for the Wiz at that point was they had little leverage over the Cavs. It was funny in a way, but there was a lot gained by trading Butler/Stevenson/Haywood when they did. It forced the Cavs to meet the Wiz criteria when moving Jamison that they get something more than financial relief. You either take a bad contract back (whoops none of those remaining unless you count Arenas) or a draft pick.

Since the Kings don’t have a veteran player really to move out the door (bye Salmons & Miller), that leaves the option of keeping Noc for nothing or a team wanting him despite his contract.

******

I wrote this in the hopes of making several points. The first was that Noc’s contract gives the reason for the Kings to be hesitant in what long term money they bring aboard. Between Noc’s, Cisco’s and Beno’s contracts, that’s a lot of money tied up in role players that may or may not being giving the Kings a valuable return. After the salary dump of Kevin Martin’s contract combined with Carl Landry, it’s important to note that plenty of franchises who get desperate to make a move end up screwing themselves the longest. Look at Toronto or Detroit. They were anxious to make a move last summer and it cost them dearly. Portland got lucky that Hedo Turkoglu turned them down. Or they’d be in the same boat as Toronto, and what not.

Like it or not, even though its not fashionable to say it, it’s hard to find role players who fit well with your young stars of the team (Tyreke Evans and, yeah we’re waiting for another star). Only time will usually give you that answer. Patience, and willingness, to let the string play out is one area where Geoff Petrie has always excelled at. Another way to look at it is that GP made his move to make his move when he moved BradBaby & the Salmons to Chi-Town during the 2009 trade deadline. Yes, that resulted in Nocioni’s longer contract, but at lesser money for this season than the Miller/Salmons salaries would have cost the Kings. It’s really hard to imagine how the Kings remained competitive with Miller/Salmons around.

With so many young players now populating the roster, GP doesn’t have to worry about paying them until a few years down the road. When teams have hit the luxury tax in this current era, it’s a team like the Magic where they bring in high salary players AND pay their young players at the same time. Just as Jameer Nelson and Dwight Howard got hefty extensions over what they were paid as rookies, the Magic also signed RAshard Lewis, Mickeal Pietrus and traded for Vince Carter in the last 3 years. That is the single reason why the payroll has swelled the way it has. (Well that and the signing of the contracts of Brandon Bass and matching the offer made to Marcin Gortat by Dallas.)

One area this team doesn’t have to worry about is figuring out whether they can stay competitive without paying luxury tax. Given the teams salary situation, and that Noc’s salary expires in 2012, and Beno’s/Cisco’s salary will expire in 2013, it gives the Kings plenty of financial flexibility to re-sign their young talent and fill in the gaps using the 3 methods. (Free Agency, Trades and Draft.)

Simply the amount of flexibility this team has without big money contracts (Noc will be the highest paid player at 6.85 mill next year) barring a trade of a higher paid player from outside the team, it makes it easy for Geoff Petrie to pick and choose the roster he wants moving forward. Any time you have a combination of expendable contracts and young players, that always gives you more opportunities (as opposed to less) to improve your team through trades. Since trades are often the best way to get NBA ready players who will fit into your rotation and make your team better, having flexibility to trade players that teams want (expiring contracts and young players are often what NBA teams ask for with coveted assets), the Kings will have plenty of those as the team moves forward.

No matter how you look at Andres Nocioni going forward, it’s easy to assume he doesn’t have value to the Kings. If you let yourself fall into the trap, it’s because you simply care more about the perceptions you choose to have and not the reality that exists with the Kings roster as it moves forward. It’s always easy to assume that a player like Beno Udrih is overpaid and has less value than Kevin Martin (which ironically on this Kings roster isn’t true), or that Andres Nocioni is keeping this roster from going where GP wants it to go.

To that end, I’d suggest following 2 different teams at different levels of success. One is the Blazers and the other is the Magic. The Magic have a championship roster, but some backup big’s (Brandon Bass & Marcin Gortat) vying for more minutes in the rotation than they are currently getting, and the Blazers have young players like Jerry Bayless, Rudy Fernandez, Nicholas Batum among others who all want more time and shots.

Don’t be surprised if either team essentially moves away one of these players simply because the headache of trying to satisfy all of them with minutes is simply not feasible. This is where having a young roster balanced with minutes like the Kings works well. I suggest keeping it in mind before you run away with the idea that trading Andres Nocioni would actually improve the Kings roster. A perceived fact does not always make it a realistic one. This is especially true in the NBA where money, ego’s, and attitudes are always a looming force in how any GM/Coach handles their roster moving forward.

I ask again: Is Andres Nocioni an asset or a liability?

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