Should the Hornets have Traded Peja Stojakovic?

Published: September 26, 2008

I'm going to try and throw sentiment to the wind today, and address something I've seen suggested in a few quarters, and I'll admit, considered briefly myself when I was throwing out posts earlier this summer about what I'd like to see in the off-season.

Should the Hornets have traded Peja Stojakovic?

This particular question was raised most often during the last five games of the Spurs series, when Peja struggled to get free and provide his typical offense.  The idea is that trading Peja this off-season, after a season where his value has been increased, is the best time to do it.  I can understand the thinking:  Peja is in his thirties, he has a massive contract, his value is probably at it's highest it has been in three years, so trade him and get what you can.

As you probably can tell, I disagree.  I recognize Peja has his limitations, but I think there are some pretty compelling reasons to not ship him out.  Here they are:

1) Peja's reputation has taken a beating.  He's assumed to be an old, soft, overpaid and injury-prone player who can't defend and is only good at one thing.  I'd quibble with the degree of many of these(except the overpaid one), but it's still the reputation he's gotten around the league.  One fairly good year isn't really going to rehabilitate his value.

2) Peja has three years, 42.6 Million left on his contract, averaging 14.2 million a year.  Big contracts can be a good thing for trades, but only in their final year or two.  Where he is in this contract only leaves three types of realistic trades for the Hornets:

Our Flawed, Overpaid Veteran for Your Flawed Overpaid Veteran: For recent examples see Larry Hughes, Ben Wallace, Jermaine O'Neal, TJ Ford, Luke Ridnour, Stephen Jackson, Troy Murphy, Al Harrington, and Mike Dunleavy. These trades are almost always meaningless in the end – and are usually made by GMs who feel like they need to make a move, any move.  Does anyone think the Hornets would really, honestly improve trading Peja Stojakovic for Raja Bell, Al Harrington, Mike Dunleavy, Wally Szczerbiak or someone similar?  Maybe Jason Richardson?  Would his increased athleticism but earnest but ineffective defense make the Hornets better?  This is always a a guessing game.

Our Flawed, Overpaid Veteran to a Contender for Draft Picks and Young Prospects: This is for those bubble playoff/rebuilding teams who have a veteran they don't need and are willing to trade them to a contending team for their draft picks/young players with promise not getting off the bench.  So the Hornets are the contending team in this situation.  Is a rebuilding team going to ask for 31-year old Peja in return for their solid veteran?  Right.

Salary Dump:  Think Baron Davis for Speedy/Dale Davis.  Marcus Camby for a potentially better 2nd round Pick.  I'm confident Peja is more valuable than this.  Thanks.

3) Peja's talents perfectly compliment the rest of the starting five.  The player who would replace Peja would have to be able to knock down the wing three with regularity, as well as showcase a dozen ways of using pumpfakes and sidesteps to free himself if a defender does recover out to him.  Peja drilled wing threes at a blistering 45% rate last year.    With Morris drawing players to the corner and forcing them to stay home on him(42% from the corner last year), Peja holding defenders home at the wing(45% from there), West a threat from midrange on the left elbow extended or in the key(55%!! combined), and Tyson setting the high pick and sprinting hard to the front of the rim for alley-oops or to get position for offensive putbacks, this team runs a high pick and roll better than anyone in the league.  Who do you cheat off of?  (Oh wait, I'm supposed to be talking about Peja, not our glorious offense we'll get to start watching in only ONE MONTH!)

4) Peja is 31 this season.  Players usually have their prime years from 27-31.  So Peja is starting his decline years but I can see no reason not to expect 70-75 games a year from him this year and the next with near the same sort of production he produced last year.  When he turns 33?  He's in the last year of his contract.  That means he becomes one of two things: 

  • A great trade chip to use in trades with teams looking to get below the salary cap the following year.
  • A valuable expiring contract that can come off the Hornet's books.  His contract expires the same summer that David West can opt out of a contract worth only 7.5 million dollars AND the summer Tyson Chandler's existing contract expires(if he doesn't opt out the year before).  Would be nice to suddenly have an extra $15 million worth of salary come off your books just in time for that, wouldn't it?  That's part of the genius of Jeff Bower that I need to write about.  Soon.

In the end, I couldn't really think of a talent we'd be able to trade for that provides the same – or more – of what Peja provides despite his reputation: Skilled perimeter shooting, intelligent, fundamental man-to-man perimeter defense, one of the most deadly transition deep shots in the game, few mistakes, and several dozen highly entertaining heads on sticks that run around New Orleans Arena.

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