In a move sure to send titanic, seismic ripples through the Eastern Conference, the Milwaukee Bucks and Charlotte Bobcats have agreed to a 2-for-2 swap of Luke Ridnour and Gary Neal for Ramon Sessions and Jeff Adrien. The deal was first reported by Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer and confirmed by Marc Stein of ESPN.com:
BREAKING: Bobcats have acquired Gary Neal.
— Rick Bonnell (@rick_bonnell) February 20, 2014
ESPN has learned deal will send Luke Ridnour and Gary Neal to Charlotte for Ramon Sessions and Jeff Adrien
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) February 20, 2014
Do you dare doubt the massive implications of such an earth-shattering transaction? Well, okay. That’s fair. But Charlotte makes this move with an eye on the postseason and the crowded bottom half of the playoff bracket in the Eastern Conference. The Bobcats are 2.5 games ahead of the Pistons for the 8th seed in the East, 3 games ahead of the Cavs, and 3.5 ahead of the Knicks. Charlotte has a nice advantage in the last third of the regular season, but that’s a lot of competition to hold off.
In the other direction, the Bobcats trail the Wizards and Nets by a game and a half for the fifth or sixth seed. Climbing out of one of the last two slots in the Eastern Conference gives a team a new lease on life in the playoffs, since it means avoiding the Heat and Pacers for the opening round. A potential first round matchup between the third-seeded Raptors and sixth-seeded Bobcats, for instance, would give Charlotte a legitimate shot at advancing to the second round. That’s an attractive goal for a franchise that’s made the postseason once in its 10 years of existence, and even then being swept by the Orlando Magic in 2010.
It’s an attainable goal, too, especially after this trade. Among Charlotte’s biggest flaws this season is a lack of three-point shooting; the Bobcats are 28th in the league in the percentage of their field goal attempts that come from beyond the arc, and they convert at a rate below league average. There are two things that Gary Neal does well: he avoids turning the ball over, and he shoots well from deep. The two kind of go hand-in-hand — though Neal averages 2.8 assists per 36 minutes for his career and 2.7 this season, the pass-or-shoot mechanism in his brain leans heavily toward the latter. If Neal catches the ball behind the line, it’s getting hoisted.
That’s a good thing for these Bobcats, since no one outside of Kemba Walker and Josh McRoberts seems keen on launching triples. It’s the biggest contribution Neal can make the Charlotte’s run toward the playoffs, and it’s the heart of this deal. Everything else (sorry, Bucks fans) is more or less filler. Milwaukee saves some money, which is nice. Ridnour’s deal ($4.42 million) expires at the end of the year, but Neal has another season on the books at $3.25 million; both Sessions and Adrien have contracts that expire at season’s close, for a combined $5,916,099. The Sessions-for-Ridnour swap is something of a toss-up; Ridnour might be a better fit in Charlotte, though Sessions has outperformed him on the season.
Either way, the Bobcats did well to acquire Neal without creating a void at backup point guard. Bringing on both Neal and Ridnour affords Charlotte flexibility they didn’t have before the trade. Neal isn’t the type of player to change a franchise, obviously, but his three-point shooting might just be enough to boost the Bobcats out of a first-round collision with the two best teams in the East. At the expense of taking on a bit of future money, Charlotte made a move to shore up its short-term future.
Statistical support courtesy of NBA.com/stats and Basketball-Reference.com. Salary information via ShamSports.com