Yesterday, the Orlando Magic made the biggest trade in recent franchise history, acquiring point guard Rafer Alston from the Houston Rockets. The Magic sent power forward Brian Cook to Houston, while center Adonal Foyle, point guard Mike Wilks, and the Magic's 2009 first-round draft selection are headed to the Memphis Grizzlies, who in turn sent point guard Kyle Lowry to Houston. Alston will bolster a Magic point guard rotation that had been weakened by the loss of All-Star Jameer Nelson to season-ending shoulder surgery. And by "Magic point guard rotation," I mean Anthony Johnson. That's all there was.
Enough preamble. You've read the news and analysis on this site, so let's see what other NBA scribes think about the deal from the Magic's perspective, after the jump. UPDATED with two new links from beat writers who covered Alston in Houston and Toronto.
Kelly Dwyer, Ball Don't Lie:
Rafer Alston headlines this deal. People know who he is, they know Orlando needs a point guard, and all the attention will be focused along those lines.
But the Houston Rockets made a huge move, here. Picking up Lowry, who is younger, better, and comes cheaper than Alston? Big, big move.
Back to Alston. He can help the Magic, make no mistake, but I can't help but think the Magic would have been better served just sending Cook and a pick to Memphis for Lowry. The Grizzlies have the cap space to absorb the difference in salaries, Lowry is contributing more per-minute than Alston is, and he's nowhere near as inconsistent as Rafer can be.
To be able to take three guys who played a combined 176 minutes for your team this year, the potential 27th pick in the Draft, and trade them for a starting point guard? A starting-caliber point guard? Masterstroke.
The issue with Rafer is shot selection. He thinks he's a better player than he is, and he shoots accordingly. His usage rate, which is the ability of a player to create his own shot (three guys named Wade, LeBron, and Kobe lead the league in it) or possession, is 18.8, which is about the same number that Ray Allen and Pau Gasol have. The Magic can't have that. The Rockets barely could.
He needs to rein in his shooting instincts, and it starts at the three-point line. Alston shoots 35 percent from behind the arc, and yet he takes about as many three-pointers per minute as Ray Allen. Can't keep that up.
But because of his familiarity with Stan Van Gundy's system, and the respect he'll likely have for his former coach, his instincts will hopefully improve. This deal won't put the Magic anywhere near where they were before Jameer Nelson's injury, losing your second-best player and replacing him with a below average point guard will do that, but he'll still be an improvement over Anthony Johnson, and it didn't cost Orlando a thing.
Chad Ford, ESPN.com:
Positive Spin: The combination of Tyronn Lue and Anthony Johnson just wasn't going to cut it. Rafer Alston gives Orlando a legit point guard to handle the team while Jameer Nelson sits out the rest of the season after shoulder surgery. Alston's contract is guaranteed for only $2.5 million next year.
Negative Spin: The Magic had to give up a first-round pick, which hurts. It's still highly doubtful that -- even with Alston -- this team can beat the Celtics and/or Cavs in a seven-game series. And I'm told they passed on a deal for a better point guard: Jamaal Tinsley.
Ed. note: two weeks ago, Otis Smith told the Orlando Sentinel that the Indiana Pacers offered Tinsley to the Magic--he did not specify for whom--but he rejected the deal, preferring to trade for Tyronn Lue instead.
John Hollinger, ESPN.com:
A nice save for the Magic, who probably hit the phones in horror as soon as they saw Chris Paul tear through their stopgap point guards Wednesday night. Alston makes a lot for what he produces, but he goes way back with Stan Van Gundy, so he should be able to run the offense from Day 1, and his ability to defend should allow Orlando to hold down the fort at point guard with Jameer Nelson out for the season.
This deal solidifies Orlando's standing as the East's No. 3 team and puts the Magic on a likely course for two playoff rounds. Alston also will upgrade the backup point guard spot next year when Nelson comes back.
Chris Mannix, Sports Illustrated:
[....] Alston, who has started all but two of the games he has played for the Rockets over the last five seasons, is a legitimate point guard who should keep the Magic on course with Nelson out of the lineup.
The cost was minimal: Cook has played only 21 games this season, and Orlando's pick will likely be low in what is perceived as a weak draft. The Magic could end up with an even better pick or another player in the offseason by dangling Alston, whose $5.3 million expiring contract will be attractive.
John Nichols, Basketball-Statistics.com:
Just before the deadline, a deal was agreed to that sent Rafer Alston to the Magic, Kyle Lowry and pieces to the Rockets, and a first round pick to the Grizzlies. This deal shows that Orlando is serious about being a championship contender this season. Clearly Anthony Johnson and Tyronn Lue were not fitting the bill. Alston is a great defender and shooter. For the Rockets, they get a talented young player in Lowry who will form a speedy point guard combination with Aaron Brooks. The Grizzlies traded a surplus player for a draft pick. Overall, not a bad trade for any of the three teams.
Kevin Pelton, Basketball Prospectus:
Johnson is a better three-point shooter than Alston is. Pretty much every other aspect of the game favors Orlando's new point guard. Even creating off the dribble, part of the reason I cited for the Rockets moving Alston, still looks like a strength relative to Johnson. Alston is also an upgrade defensively at this stage of their careers.
Another benefit of this trade is freeing up [Hedo] Turkoglu from having to worry about ballhandling duties in lineups without a true point guard. Over the last three games, Turkoglu had shot 7-of-25 from the field.
Things get more complicated next year. Alston has been a starter for years and surely wouldn't be happy playing 15 minutes a night behind Nelson. Smith may have to make another trade involving Alston once the Magic knows Nelson will be healthy next season. This is where it might have made some sense for Orlando to just acquire Lowry, who could have fit more easily into a backup role behind Nelson.
Rob Peterson, NBA.com:
Alston fills an immediate need at point guard and has worked well with Rockets center Yao Ming. Alston may even be better with Dwight Howard, who is far more mobile than Yao. Pick-and-rolls should be fun. The Magic, who have gone 3-3 since Nelson's injury, may have gotten their mojo back.
Charley Rosen, FOX Sports:
Rafer Alston makes too much money and has an over-inflated opinion of his own skills. Plus, his New York wise-guy attitude didn't mesh with the identical obnoxious qualities in Ron Artest. However, Orlando gets a much-needed substitute for the injured Jameer Nelson.
Bethlehem Shoals, The Sporting Blog:
Rafer Alston is no Jameer Nelson, mostly because he's really streaky and is more than willing to go along with terrible shooting nights. But he's also probably a better passer, which bodes well for a team with a dominant center and a trillion three-point shooters. And he can get to the basket, which means the Magic don't have to totally restructure their offense. Exhale loudly ... now!
Michael White, the Orlando Sentinel
This move also shows [Otis] Smith is willing to take a calculated risk on a guy who has had problems with some of his coaches in the past. We know this is not something Smith does lightly. He's not one to truck with head cases. Which is smart. He can't have any newcomers introducing Dwight Howard to life at the club.
Indeed, the reactions are mostly positive, but I get the impression the Magic might consider trading Alston this summer, lest he become unhappy in a reserve role behind Nelson next season, and become a locker-room distraction. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. For right now, Rafer Alston is the Orlando Magic's starting point guard, and the team hasn't given up on the season.
UPDATE: A few thoughts from the beat writers who covered Alston in Houston and Toronto:
Jonathan Feigen, Houston Chronicle:
Most of all, though, the Rockets were already transitioning toward [Aaron] Brooks rather than Alston. Brooks had already begun finishing games. Alston would not become a headache over that, but when Brooks' minutes increased and the Rockets encouraged him to look for more shots, Alston tended to more often look for his shots, too, especially with [Tracy] McGrady out. This is not a good thing and did not bode well.
Alston really has been playing well, lately. He usually responds well to responsibility. But if he is not going to be the full-time point guard, he did not seem well-suited to the job of an understudy.
Doug Smith, Toronto Star:
Rafer looks like he's grown up (the fact that neither he nor Jeff Van Gundy are in jail for homicide after being player and coach tells me that) and if continues to act that way, he's a huge boost for the Jameer Nelson-free Magic. Not enough to win the East, but certainly enough to give either Cleveland or Boston a tough run in the second round.