For the record, I would have preferred to hold off on trading O'Neal until the offseason. However, in this economy, saving some money for a rainy day is important too. Having cap space is important for many reasons.
For instance, if the Raptors don't re-sign Marion and Parker, they have the opportunity to trade a first rounder to a team for a disgruntled player whose team is feeling the pocket pinch.
Tyson Chandler is on the the market for that very reason right now. What's better than an expiring contract like Jermaine O'Neal? No contract. Ultimately, you can do far more with 15 million dollars cap space in terms of a trade than you could with a 23-million dollar expiring contract.
But Raptor fans seem to be quite unhappy with this trade for some reason.
Before you throw Bryan Colangelo under the bus for trading away Jermaine O'Neal, Jarmario Moon's bargain contract and a conditional first rounder to the Miami Heat in exchange for Shawn Marion, Marcus Banks, and about 3 million dollars in cash, why not evaluate which direction the Raptors are headed?
Rumors are that the New Jersey Nets offered Vince Carter and an expiring contract to the Heat in exchange for Marion alone. Why is that significant? The Heat chose the Raptors offer. It should be a telling tale about the state of the economy. It should also say something about trading for need.
Is Carter a better player than O'Neal at this stage? Yes. But what did the Heat need? More importantly, what did the Raptors need? The Raptors needed to shed O'Neal's mammoth contract and in the process saved about 34 million dollars which the Heat now owe the oft-injured forward.
Furthermore, the Raptors now become players in free agency this coming season. The most important factor however, is that Shawn Marion is a far better fit for the Raptors than O'Neal ever was.
Marion and O'Neal is pretty much a wash in terms of talent level. Both are former all-stars, but Marion is less injury prone, makes almost 5 million less, is going to expire at the end of the season, and is younger. He's the better rebounder, and essentially he brings toughness to the wing position for the Raptors.
The Heat are biting the bullet on O'Neal's contract for the sake of contending for a championship, but in reality O'Neal does very little for them. His value is inflated because of past accomplishments. Truth be told, he does less per dollar than any player in the league.
He's likely to miss at least 25-30 games in any season, is offensively inefficient, demands to be the focal point of an offense yet happens to be a horribly incapable finisher around the rim and a fairly bad passer to boot.
Furthermore, as he's aged, he's been less and less likely to go to the rim. As a Raptor, a large portion of his shots have been mid range jump shots and wild turn arounds. While his defensive game is a tremendous asset for any team, his offense is average at best.
If both players became free agents tomorrow, Marion would be worth at least 3 million more, and yet as it stands he earns almost 5 million dollars less. In this economy, there is no room to blow 8 million dollars and do it for a guy who's one big injury away from retirement.
Let us evaluate the Raptors per position:
Point Guard: B+
Between Jose Calderon, Roko Ukic, Will Solomon, and now Marcus Banks, the Raptors have four point guards on a 13-man roster. This would naturally mean trouble, but I doubt Colangelo doesn't see a way around this.
Between Ukic and Banks you have a speedy, defensively sound back court which truly compliments each other. At 6'5, Ukic is a point guard in a shooting guard's body, while at 6'2 Banks is a shooting guard in the body of a point guard.
By taking the ball out of Banks' hands on offense and giving it to either Anthony Parker or Roko Ukic, the Raptors could turn Banks' career around much like Colangelo and D'Antoni did for Boris Diaw in Phoenix.
Thus, at this point, the Raptors have a solid point guard rotation, and with Banks and Ukic, they can really look to run a lot. If Marion is on the court with those two, it could be a real treat to watch with Ukic possibly being the most talented and creative passer on the team.
Shooting Guard: C+
This would now be the weakest position on the Raptors roster, and if Parker can play a little above his head, they can mask it. With Ukic, Banks, Joey Graham, Jason Kapono, the Raptors have a plethora of guys who can play the position in spurts. All four players have their problems, and therefore it'd be very important for Parker to stay healthy if the Raptors have any chance at the playoffs.
The Raptors certainly didn't trade for Anthony, James, or Durant, but they did get a guy who compliments their front court duo very well. Marion is an excellent rebounder, an above average defender, and most importantly, a tough competitor. Hopefully, playing with passers like Calderon, Ukic, and Bargnani can really resurrect his career.
Behind Marion, the Raptors have Joey Graham and Jason Kapono. While Joey may be asked to play a little back-up power forward, Kapono is far from a scrub. While he may not be good value at his contract, the Raptors have a very special shooter in him, and if he can find his groove either for the remainder of this season or under their new coach next season, he might live up to his contract yet.
When he's aggressive, he's still a player who keeps defenses honest. With guys like Bargnani and Bosh up front, players like Kapono are needed.
Behind Bosh, the Raptors could seriously use a gritty veteran. Instead they have young players like Kris Humphries, Joey Graham, and Nathan Jawai. Bosh is an All-star, and hopefully the rest does him some good. At some point, this team will need to address their lack of back up big men.
However, with an up-tempo style, the Raptors may be able to get away with Graham and even Marion at times here. At this point, the Raptors have Chris Bosh, Andrea Bargnani, Shawn Marion, Joey Graham, Kris Humphries, and Nathan Jawai who can all play this position. Talk about versatility.
They turned their best position into their worst by trading O'Neal, but again in an uptempo offense, Bosh can be hidden at this position as well. Bargnani has come into his own this season, and I feel that if the Raptors are going to be successful, they'll need a lot more of what they got from him in January.
With Marion, the Raptors become a vastly superior rebounding team as well, because Marion can play on the court at the same time as Bosh and Bargnani—which is something the Raptors couldn't manage to do with much success while O'Neal was in town.
Overall, the deal balances out both rosters. Moon and O'Neal are simply not as good as most fans think they were, and in Miami, Heat fans along with Riley will have to find that out the hard way.
While it's certainly possible that O'Neal will play his heart out with the Heat, I'll shave my head if he lives up to even half of his contract.
Again, if the Raptors like Marion, they can keep him after this season. If not, they can use the cap space they have to take contracts off of some other teams' hands.
As a team which is feeling the pinch financially, what would be better than giving off $15 million in salary to a team in exchange for a second rounder? Some teams may be desperate to shed salary for the 2010 free agent frenzy, and this might be something Colangelo can capitalize on by making his moves one year in advance.