It's a testament to how inured we've become to the trades in bizarr-o NBA world that this one almost looks like a win-win for the teams involved. Mike Bibby for Anthony Johnson, Tyronn Lue, Lonrenzen Wright, Shelden Williams and a second round pick? Let's face it - from a basketball standpoint, the Hawks just got a quality point guard, who has had his best moments in the playoffs don't forget, for a collection of spare parts. Sure, Johnson and Lue were playing some minutes for them, but that was the problem, if you catch my meaning. It's hard to imagine that the Kings did not have any better offers. I mean, all they wanted for Bibby was some salary relief and a prospect or two, I get it. But Shelden Williams? He's taken 96 shots this SEASON! And it's not because he never got a chance in Atlanta - he was their starter last year. Maybe Reggie Theus can resurrect him, and goodness knows they could use a shot blocker in Sacto. But this is not much of a prospect. As for that second round pick, good luck with that. (If you're wondering why Bibby didn't end up in Cleveland, the Cavs just didn't have the expiring deals to make it happen.)
It's all the more surprising when you consider that Bibby's contract is hardly onerous. Sure, he's making a lot. But for the acquiring team, you're obviously hoping for a lot of help on the basketball court, and it counts you nothing this season (since the outgoing salaries would have to match at any rate, give or take). Next season is the last on his current contract. So that would be the final year of a contract at $14.5M. Can you say Kwame Brown? If you need a point guard for a playoff run, Mike Bibby is practically risk-free. If he works out, then everything's great. If not, you have a MASSIVE trading chip for next season. Where's the downside?
As for the Kings, on one level it doesn't seem like a bad trade. While Bibby was hurt, Beno Udrih (making 1/20th as much money) was playing very well, and the Kings were playing surprisingly well. Since getting Bibby (and Artest and Kevin Martin) back into the lineup, the Kings have played - exactly the same. So, if he's not helping the team any more than Udrih, why not take the money? This is where opportunity cost comes in. Whereas you can make an argument that this Hawks trade is a good one for the Kings (because Bibby had to go, because Udrih was playing well, etc.), that's not the question. The question is did they get as much as they could out of the trade? With only 29 teams to work with, and salary cap rules that limit what is possible, maybe they couldn't. I'll willing to admit that Geoff Petrie might have better information here than I do. But point guards with stellar playoff experience on their resumes are probably the rarest commodity in the NBA - and Petrie just traded one for Shelden Williams.
Which brings me to Sam Cassell. With Bibby gone, and Kidd unlikely to go anywhere other than Dallas at this point (if they can't make that trade happen, as hard as they're trying, there's little chance anyone else can put together a JKidd deal that will work before Thursday), Cassell would seem to be the last available point guard. Any 2008 playoff team that could use some help at the point (and there are a lot of them) will now turn all of their attention toward Cassell. (Hell, Brevin Knight could help some of these guys.) With Devean George being a prick, Dallas would have to use Keith Van Horn to get Cassell, but it could happen (Van Horn could hang out with Mike Smith for the rest of the season). Orlando, Denver and Cleveland all have expiring contracts to offer the Clippers. Whoever offers the best package of picks (or maybe a shooter like JJ Redick) to go with those contracts can rent Sam-I-Am for one playoff run, risk free.
There's another angle on Cassell's situation that I thought about recently. We've mostly ignored Sam's trade value strictly as an expiring contract, focusing mostly on playoff teams that might actually want his services. Partly, fans of Cassell want to see his situation improved - we want to get him off the Clippers and onto a good team, not onto another lottery team. But if the Clippers were to trade Cassell for an asset they actually want, to a team that was only interested in salary relief, that team could in turn waive Cassell, and he could yet end up with the Celtics. So how's this for a dream scenario? Cassell and Aaron Williams and the Minnesota pick to Memphis for Mike Miller - the Grizzlies turn around and waive Cassell and he signs with Boston. Even if it took a little collusion in the form of prior, totally illegal, Stackhousian conversations in advance, surely the NBA would look the other way if it reunited Cassell with Garnett.
Back to opportunity cost; the Clippers have to trade Cassell before Thursday. He has value now, and the Clippers have an opportunity to parlay that value into something - maybe not much, but something. Unless they plan on using him next season at age 39 (a possibility, I suppose), they need to trade him now.