This is not an indictment of the Mo Williams/Lamar Odom trade. In fact, if you told most Clippers fans that the team would turn Mo Williams into Lamar Odom, they would probably feel pretty good about the situation.
But this isn’t about the fact that the roster has been retooled and, in theory, upgraded. Simply put, the Clippers are not wringing every ounce of value out of each transaction they perform. A reasonable analogy might be paying checking fees at a bank that offers free checking. Or paying full price for an item that is 50% off. And the NBA operates in a new world CBA where it does not matter which teams are wealthy are and which are cost-conscious. The teams that maximize the assets at their disposal are the teams that are afforded the most options. It may be small victories here and there – a second round pick, cash considerations, the right to swap picks – but over time these small assets accumulate to yield a product worthwhile.
So if an arrow goes from red to green, the asset harmed the team on the red side and aids the team on the green side. A violet to green arrow means an asset had no influence on the violet side, but is beneficial to the green side. A full green arrow means the asset was beneficial to both sides.
Conventional wisdom is that the team that gets the best player is the team that wins the trade. And Lamar Odom is the best player in theory, except he had the worst season of his career last year. Additionally, he had publically expressed his desire to play in Los Angeles, making his trade value to other teams exclusively his buyout clause. So despite holding the best player, Dallas was essentially peddling a non-guaranteed, expiring contract.
On the other hand, the Clippers’ asset was a reliably shooting point guard in Mo Williams. Mo was being traded strictly as a product of the lack of minutes and starting role in Los Angeles. And he had displayed reasonable professionalism during the season in a new and unfamiliar role. The Clippers made the awkward roster fit work last season and there were teams willing to rent a reliable point guard, especially if the asking price was not high.
The team looking to unload an unfavorable situation is usually the team that has to pay in a trade to do it. Additionally, a team that facilitates such a transaction is typically given a sweetener for its troubles.
Looking at the infographic, Dallas is the team trying to offload its unfavorable contract (pursing a failed attempt to woo Deron Williams or Dwight Howard). And the Clippers are actually facilitating this transaction by giving Utah a player in a position of need (Utah would trade away Devin Harris promptly afterward).
So then if the Clippers are in a position of power with Dallas AND facilitating the entire transaction, how is it they give up more than any team and only have Odom to show for it? (This is a serious question. If you have ideas, I’m listening.)
Meanwhile, Dallas successfully traded away Odom without having to waste $2.4m in cap space on his buyout, swapped players with Utah (a neutral move) and collected the money from the Clippers 53rd pick sent to Houston (who had no need to really be involved in the trade at all).
When mapping out the movements of the trade, Dallas ends up with most of the arrows pointed towards it. Which leads to the only logical conclusion I can surmise: Dallas was the architect of the entire trade. Once Odom appeased the Clippers’ concerns about his mental state and ability, Dallas likely was the one that found a suitable partner for Mo Williams (Utah). And for the troubles of arranging a trade for their own bad contract? Dallas was given the Clippers’ second round pick as compensation, which they promptly turned around and sold to Houston.
Ultimately, this is a good roster decision by the Clippers – they took a redundant player and turned him into a player of need, a versatile stretch power forward. But the mechanics of the trade is where the Clippers failed to yield its expected return. Dallas should have been the team incentivizing the Clippers to engage in a trade. If the Clippers decided to sell the pick, then Los Angeles should be collecting the financial rewards. And focusing just on the Clippers/Jazz component, if Los Angeles was doing Utah a favor in trading Mo Williams, then the Clippers should have received at least a small compensatory item (cash, a second round pick, etc.)
The Clippers made a sound roster move, especially given the current front office disarray. But the details of the trade left a lot to be desired. And liking the roster adjustment but disliking the parameters of it are not mutually exclusive.