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Columnist
Don't say Paxson was asleep during Garnett, Gasol deals
By Mike McGraw | Daily Herald Columnist

Most people originally thought Minnesota got nothing in return for trading Kevin Garnett to the Boston Celtics, but Al Jefferson (25), shooting here over Houston's Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, is averaging a double-double for the Timberwolves.

 

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Published: 2/10/2008 5:51 PM

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Charles Barkley joined the chorus of critics lobbing water balloons at Bulls general manager John Paxson for failing to execute a blockbuster trade.

Barkley has been venting about the team's inability to make a deal. Here's a sample from an interview last week on WMVP radio (1000-AM):

"They should've traded for (Kevin) Garnett; they'd have the best record in the East," Barkley said. "If they traded for (Pau) Gasol, they'd probably still have the best record in the East."

Barkley is one of the best sports analysts on television, so surely he realizes these two important facts:

• No one can snap their fingers and make a trade. There's always another party involved.

• Garnett and Gasol spent two seasons on awful teams before being moved. Doing whatever it took to acquire one of the two wouldn't automatically make the Bulls instant title contenders.

Please stop griping about Kobe Bryant, as well. The Lakers never had any interest in trading their star and felt confident he would back off his trade demand once the season got going. Good call, Mitch Kupchak.

Paxson has made mistakes. As of today, the biggest would be passing on Brandon Roy in the 2006 draft. He would have given the Bulls the creator they lack and allowed the team to offer Kirk Hinrich or Ben Gordon in a trade for a veteran big man.

It's ridiculous to suggest Paxson was asleep on the job when Garnett and Gasol changed uniforms. The Bulls worked Minnesota for at least two years without success.

The Timberwolves had several options with the Bulls: Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry; Chandler, Luol Deng and a first-round pick in '06; or they could have taken one of the Bulls' top-line players, plus Tyrus Thomas or Joakim Noah last summer.

Minnesota general manager Kevin McHale chose to go with his old team and sent Garnett to Boston for young players with no history of NBA team success.

When Minnesota was 4-35, there seemed to be little doubt that McHale made the most lopsided NBA trade since Red Auerbach landed McHale and Robert Parish by sending the draft rights to Joe Barry Carroll to Golden State.

Now the centerpiece of that deal with the Celtics, power forward Al Jefferson, is averaging 21.5 points and 12.2 rebounds. Whether Jefferson can turn them into winners is debatable, but it's no player the Bulls could send to Minnesota is capable of posting those big numbers.

In Gasol's case, the Bulls were willing to give up anyone but Hinrich, Gordon and Deng last year at the trade deadline. Last summer, Memphis heavily recruited Andres Nocioni as a free agent, then refused a trade for him six months later.

This winter, Memphis wanted payroll relief, which the Bulls would have given a season ago, but not now.

Should they have gone into luxury-tax territory to acquire Gasol? That's difficult to say. If Gasol led the Bulls to the Finals, then yes. If his presence didn't help much, the Bulls would have been stuck with another bad contract (Gasol is due $17.8 million in 2010-11) and be in worse shape than they are now. In many ways, Gasol is a younger, healthier version of Joe Smith.

Another obvious argument is often overlooked. The Bulls were, in effect, one game from reaching the conference finals last year. One more win in the regular season and they would have had Cleveland's cakewalk playoff path of Washington and New Jersey in the first two rounds.

What reason did Paxson have to destroy his young and improving nucleus last summer? It's easy to say now that they should have sent the house to Minnesota for Garnett, but it didn't make much sense at the time.

Let's face it, Paxson already made his big move, which was signing Ben Wallace as a free agent. Last season, that transaction turned out fine. Now, it doesn't look so good.

Wallace's big contract is why the Bulls worry so much about avoiding the luxury tax. We've said for weeks that the Bulls are interested in trading Wallace, but not at all costs. Big Ben doesn't figure to go anywhere until his contract is closer to expiration.

Kerr's gigantic gamble

During the press conference announcing Shaquille O'Neal had been traded to Phoenix, two lines by Suns general manager Steve Kerr stood out.

Kerr suggested that if a 40-year-old Kareem Abdul-Jabbar could succeed with the "Showtime" Lakers, then why couldn't a 36-year-old O'Neal play in an up-tempo offense with Steve Nash? The problem is Abdul-Jabbar was, by all appearances, a fitness fanatic with low body fat. O'Neal has a recent history of being out of shape, coasting through the regular season and, perhaps not coincidentally, prone to nagging injuries.

Kerr also suggested O'Neal's greatest contribution would be on defense. Maybe I'm seeing things, but Shaq appeared to be a defensive liability for Miami the past two seasons. If the Suns needed 20 points in the paint, I'm sure O'Neal could deliver. But keeping up with younger opponents should probably be erased from his resume.

O'Neal said he can't wait to prove his critics wrong. But I recall him saying something similar before the season, how he would show everyone that he still had plenty left in the tank, then he played the worst basketball of his pro career for the Heat before the trade.

Maybe this gamble will pay off from Kerr, but I'd have to say game tape speaks louder than words in this case. O'Neal's decline isn't likely to end with a change of uniforms.

Brown wants back in

It's possible Larry Brown could be a candidate to coach the Bulls next season. For now, the 67-year-old is consulting for the 76ers and admitted to the Philadelphia Inquirer last week that he's anxious to coach again, not wanting the 23-59 debacle with the Knicks in 2005-06 to be the final entry in his ledger.

"I love coaching, I love being in the gym, being around coaches," Brown said. "I never had any friends other than people I worked with. I am pretty confident I will (coach) in some capacity, whether it's an assistant coach, or involved in a franchise in some way, or possibly get back to (head) coaching."

Brown said he considered an offer to join Doc Rivers' staff with the Celtics and interviewed for the head job at Princeton.

"I don't feel really good about the way it ended (in New York)," he added. "I really miss coaching and teaching. If I didn't look in the mirror, I feel pretty young and energetic. When I look in the mirror, I kind of think I'm 67."

Quotable

"What they were thinking in Memphis is beyond comprehension. There should be a law, a trade committee that can scratch off trades that make no sense. I'd like to elect myself to that committee. And I would have voted 'nay' on the L.A. trade."

-- San Antonio coach Greg Popovich on the Lakers acquiring Pau Gasol for little in return.