Upfront disclaimer: This post is NOT about whether our future Hall of Fame duo of Pierce and Garnett should or should not be traded. Later in the post, there will be a hypothetical trade involving one, but it is solely to demonstrate/ support the idea of value if it were to happen.
Last year's lockout and the resulting new Collective Bargaining Agreement were ostensibly about one thing, parity. With only eight teams out of 30 making money, how do you keep only three or four teams from collecting all the big name talent and pricing everyone else out. The imperfect answer is the upcoming harsher luxury tax provisions. A team like the the Lakers can still spend all they want, but the penalties for doing so is redistributed among the other teams. At the same time though, it makes it even more difficult for the other teams to attract supposed superstar talent since they can ill afford the tax or the incredible salaries these players command.
As evidence, the top 20 highest paid players range this season from $15M for Carlos Boozer and Al Jefferson to $27.8M for Kobe Bryant. It should be no surprise then that of these top 20 paid, four are in Los Angeles (3 Lakers, 1 Clipper), four are in New York (2 Knicks, 2 Nets), three are in Miami, two in Chicago, and only one each in Dallas, Philly, Boston, OKC, Memphis, Toronto, and Utah. If we assume that players are paid exactly what they are worth then only 11 cities (10 before the Rudy Gay trade) roughly one third of the league, have all the best players. Conventional wisdom says that a team needs three superstars to compete for a title. If this theory is true and the pay for what they are worth is correct, then only two teams have a shot at the title - the Lakers and the Heat. However, some inconvenient truths get in the way. Injuries and missteps have the Lakers in serious doubt of even making the playoffs let alone competing for a title. Much like the old adage of putting all of your eggs in one basket, pursuing a three superstar roster eats up so much cap space that the supporting cast is inferior and therefore the Achilles heel. And if anything goes wrong, such as an injury to a key player, there can be no plan B because there is no cap space left to maneuver.
So is there a better way or at least an alternative? Well, yeah. I would suggest that a roster of 10 or 12 A- and B players is the way going forward rather than two or three A+ players and eight or nine C and D players. Let me explain. Player A has stats of 33 minutes per game and averages 13 points, 8 rebounds, 3.6 assists, .47 steals, and 1.3 blocks. For player B the numbers are 25 min., 8.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, .9 assists, .73 steals, and 3.16 blocks. Points per play for A is .87 offense and .82 defense. For B it is .92 and .69. The averages are similar and the ppp gives the edge to player B. So based on the similarities, maybe it doesn't matter which player you choose. But when you consider that player A is Pau Gasol, is 32 years old, is hurt regularly, and will be paid $19M this season and player B is 24 year old Larry Sanders and will make less than $2M this season, the difference becomes huge. And this is what I mean by value. Yes there is chemistry and intangibles and making the players around you better, but these are all things you can't know for sure ahead of time anyway.
Returning to the hypothetical trades, conventional wisdom would say that if you were going to trade a future Hall of Famer, you would need to get at least an All-Star in return. I say the above player comparisons show why this needs to be turned on its head. The problem is, how do you get these diamonds in the rough when the new CBA says you have to trade for at least similar salaries? The answer is by going the long way around the barn. Suppose you were to trade Pierce. The smart way would be to send him to Indiana which would make them legitimate title contenders this year. Because of the breakout of Paul George, they send Danny Granger to Denver which could well be their missing piece to a title shot. In return Boston gets Javale McGee, Julyan Stone, and Kenneth Faried. On the surface one automatically thinks there is no way that McGee is worth Pierce which is true. But the key here is Faried. He won't bring a title to Boston this year, but would be an integral piece in several titles over the next five -ten years. If he were to not work out or if there are injuries, you would be enough below cap to have the flexibility to change on the fly.
if this sounds far fetched, consider this; would you rather have Avery Bradley for roughly $2M a year or Dwayne Wade for $17M? Now that he is showing what he really has, would you rather have Jeff Green for $8.3M or Carmelo Anthony for $20.4M?
A similar trade example could be shown for Garnett, but this post is getting long and hopefully you have the idea. The point is not that we should trade either of KG or PP. The point is that we need to look at and evaluate differently the targets for the team going forward, whether that be by trade, free agency, or whatever. If you make a mistake evaluating the possible contributions of a two million dollar player, it is an inconvenience. If you make a mistake in evaluating a high dollar contract "superstar," they quickly become a crippling albatross. Just ask the Lakers.