Perhaps it was admitting a rookie GM mistake. Perhaps it was a chance to cut salary and regain cap space. Perhaps it was just a matter of getting a player who was a better fit for the team. And perhaps it was all three. Whatever the main reason, the Toronto Raptors traded point guard Rafer Alston yesterday to the Houston Rockets for point guard Mike James. James will be expected to bring key three point shooting, improved defence and playoff experience to the team and steady the point guard position.
While Alston is probably more talented then James and slightly younger, the big advantage of this trade comes down to contracts. James is only under contract for 2 more years whereas Alston still had a remaining 5 years on his deal. At a minimum this deal saves the Raptors $18 million US over the length of the deal. Not to mention the fact that James has an opt out option at the end of this season and if the Raptors' fulfill ESPN.com's last place expectations...he may indeed decide to do just that thereby saving the club even more.
Perhaps the dominant school of thought regarding this trade however is that Babcock is righting a wrong and acknowledging the fact that he made a mistake signing Alston a year ago to a six year contract. Alston was a serious distraction to the team last season and while Babcock claimed this was not the reason for the trade, most insiders believe that it played a huge part in it.
The interesting part of this trade is that Mike James is viewed more as a scorer and almost "combo-guard" type and therefore one has to wonder who will start? Does this mean that the Jose Calderon era is being pushed into full swing? And does it also mean that Babcock seems pretty certain that Roko Leni Ukic will be joining the club within the next two years? James in his role with the 2004 NBA Champion Detroit Pistons, was more of an off the bench change of pace scoring guard. A great two-way player James will be expected to ease some of the scoring load off of Chris Bosh and Jalen Rose while adding to Sam Mitchell's improved perimeter defense.
Speaking of Mitchell, whose clashes with Alston last season were well documented, he was ready to give Alston the reins to the team again and refused to admit that he had "won the battle of wills" but did say that he hoped the trade would improve team chemistry.
And what about Houston? It's interesting that a team who's already had issues taking the ball out of Tracy McGrady's hands to distribute to other teammates, would go out and get a player like Alston. Not to mention a coach like Jeff Van Gundy who's fire and temper probably makes Sam Mitchell look like Yogi Stewart. Perhaps Houston never payed any attention to the situation in Toronto last year because they are trumpeting Alston's arrival like he was the second coming of Kenny "The Jet" Smith. In fact Rockets GM Carroll Dawson stated that they liked the fact that they were getting "a more traditional" point guard, "one who passes first and shoots second..." I don't know about you but I can't wait to see T-Mac's face after he comes off a screen expecting to get the rock only to see Rafer waltz the ball up the court and jack a three...
Really this deal comes back to our headline...Mr. Bobby Sura. Sura was a key player for the Rockets last year being a combo guard himself who could handle the ball, and it now seems that the Rockets might have their own version of Alvin Williams on their hands as Sura is trying to come back from his second knee surgery. The doubt surrounding his return probably forced this deal from the Rockets perspective. In fact, Dawson was quoted as saying that "the Rockets would not have considered the move had Sura not been coming back from his second knee surgery."
Bottom line on this deal is that it's impossible to not view this as a great move by Rob Babcock. Even if Rafer excells under Jeff Van Grumpy in Houston the possibility of him doing so this season with the Raptors' was slim. And now Toronto is in a great position financially when both Jalen Rose's contract comes off the books and Chris Bosh is up for being re-signed. And coincidentally, Jamal Magloire will be a free agent that same summer...not even Dave Feschuk can hate on this deal folks.