A Costanza Trade for Joe Dumars

Posted on December 29, 2009 by


Patrick Hayes at MLive.com (my favorites site for Detroit sports) points our attention to a trade suggestion from Bill Simmons:

I know that ESPN’s Bill Simmons columns are meant for entertainment and that his trade suggestions have no real basis in reality. ….His latest effort looks at teams that, because of the economy, need to make trades and shed salary. While he doesn’t include the Pistons in the “desperate to shed payroll” group, he does believe they need to make a move:

Tayshaun and DaJuan Summers (cap throw-in) to Boston for the Tony Allen/Brian Scalabrine/J.R. Giddens expirings plus Big Baby and $3 million. Imagine the Celts tossing out a defensive quintet of Pierce, Rondo, Prince (if healthy), KG and Perkins? Now that’s a championship quintet! Worth the risk, I say.

Hayes was not impressed by this suggestion.  Simmons, though, is a fan of the Celtics. And from Boston’s perspective, this is a pretty good deal. Unfortunately, I think Simmons is channeling his inner Costanza.

Defining the “Costanza Trade” 

For those who are not fans of Seinfeld (all two of you)… in 1996 Seinfeld had an episode where George Costanza is considered a candidate for the job of assistant general manager with the New York Yankees.  Such a job would give George input into possible trades (rather like the job Simmons imagines he should have in his columns). As George thinks about this job he imagines some trade scenarios.  Here is an example of George’s thinking:

I think I got it. How ’bout this? How ’bout this? We trade Jim Leyritz and Bernie Williams, for Barry Bonds, huh? Whadda ya think? That way you have Griffey and Bonds, in the same outfield! Now you got a team! Ha ha ha.

Essentially, George – as a Yankee employee and fan – supports trades where the Yankees clearly get the better end of the deal.  Certainly one can imagine the Yankees easily acquiring Bonds and Ken Griffey today. But in 1996, it’s hard to see how the trades Costanza envisions happening (and that’s why this is funny).

This is essentially the same approach offered by Simmons. The players in this proposed trade really haven’t played much this year (none of these players has played 200 minutes this year).  But here is what these players did last year [WP48 = Wins Produced per 48 minutes]:

Glen Davis: -2.5 Wins Produced, -0.074 WP48

Tony Allen: 1.6 Wins Produced, 0.088 WP48

Brian Scalabrine: -1.1 Wins Produced, -0.108 WP48

Tayshaun Prince: 7.8 Wins Produced, 0.122 WP48

An average NBA player posts a 0.100 WP48.  Of these four players (Summers is a rookie this year and Giddens only played eight minutes last year), only Prince is above par.  And Davis and Scalabrine are in the negative range. Again, what Simmons proposes is a “Costanza trade.” One can just hear Simmons as he writes his proposal: “I think the Celtics can acquire Tayshaun Prince and not really give up much at all.  Imagine the Celtics with Prince. Now you got a team. Ha ha ha.”

The Odd Moves of Joe Dumars

Clearly if such a trade were offered, Joe Dumars (the Pistons GM) should say no.  Then again, Dumars has said “yes” to some very suspicious moves lately.  In the draft the Pistons selected Austin Daye and Jonas Jerebko.  Both players are above average as rookies, so one can’t argue much with either selection. Sandwiched between these two picks, though, Joe Dumars selected a player named DaJuan.  When I heard “DaJuan” on draft day I fully expected to hear the word “Blair” next.  But much to my disappointment, the next word was “Summers”.  As the following table reveals, DaJuan Summers was the least productive player selected out of college in 2009.  And DeJuan Blair – selected two slots later by the San Antonio Spurs – was the most productive.

Table One: Ranking the Players Selected from College in the 2009 NBA Draft

Thus far this season the college numbers seem quite prophetic.  Summers has posted a -0.141 WP48.  Meanwhile, Blair is posting a 0.296 WP48 and has now moved into the starting line-up for the San Antonio Spurs. Yes, I know.  Blair had some injury concerns. But Blair has already produced 2.8 wins in his career.  Given what we saw from Summers in college and briefly in the NBA, there’s a real possibility that Summers will never produce 2.8 wins in his entire NBA career.

After missing on the NBA draft, Dumars then turned to the free agent market.  Blessed with an abundance of cap space, Dumars made a quick splash by signing both Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva.  As I noted when these signings were announced, the words “above average” are not often mentioned when it comes to these two players. Certainly both player sport career marks that are below par.  And as Table Two notes, neither player has been above average after 30 games in Detroit.

Table Two: The Detroit Pistons after 30 games in 2009-10

Gordon and Villanueva are not the only members of the “below average” club in Detroit.  Currently, only two players – Ben Wallace and Jerebko – are above average.  Consequently, we shouldn’t be surprised that this team is on pace to win only 30 games this year.

The poor performance of the Pistons in 2009-10 could also have been expected given what these players did last year.  As Table Two indicates, if the Pistons’ players maintained what they did in 2008-09 this season, Detroit would only be on pace to win 35 games. Yes, Detroit has suffered some injuries.  And if everyone was healthy this team would be better than a 30 win team. But even if Tayshaun Prince, Rip Hamilton, and Ben Gordon had been available the entire season the Pistons would still not be a serious contender in the Eastern Conference.

In sum, Detroit – the team I follow – is simply not very good.  And it’s not very good because Joe Dumars has recently been choosing below average players.

Given such behavior, maybe Dumars would agree to the Simmons proposal.  Again, Dumars didn’t know that the word “Blair” comes after “DeJuan.” So maybe he would agree to a classic “Costanza trade.” And Pistons fans could then start crying about Big Baby.

– DJ

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Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at wagesofwins.com provides substantially more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.