Revisiting the Webber Trade: Wise Move or Colossal Screw-Up?

(From the FanPosts, an excellent post mortem on the Chris Webber trade. - TZ)

There has been much discussion lately about the relative merits/demerits of the second Chris Webber trade. I am of course referring to the February 2005 deadline deal where the Kings sent Chris Webber, Matt Barnes, and the unforgettable Michael Bradley to the Sixers for Kenny Thomas (our current favorite King), Brian Skinner, and Corliss Williamson. All sorts of claims and counterclaims have been made on this site about the deal. So I thought it might behoove us to try to take an objective look at the trade and its still-smoldering aftermath.

Initially, casual Kings fans were utterly perplexed by the deal, and some remain so to this day. The Kings dealt their franchise player plus two minor contracts for three overpriced forwards, one of whom still causes Kings fans everywhere uncounted nights of lost sleep. Some have characterized this trade as the worst deal Geoff Petrie ever made. But I beg to differ, and I think the facts ultimately support my position, as I will attempt to demonstrate.

First of all, there seems to be an ongoing misconception among a minority of StR readers that the trade was about talent, and must therefore be judged solely through that lens. In so doing, those who raise the loudest objections seem to want to compare C-Webb in his Kings career (1999–2005) to K9, Corliss and Skinner post-trade. This logic is itself fallacious, as I hope to show.

But the more important point is that the trade was not primarily about talent, but money. Some have argued that even by that standard, the deal was a failure. After all, the Webber contract would have been up in 2008, and yet we’re still stuck with Kenny through the coming season (barring a trade in the next 4½ months). But I believe that the facts will lead us to the conclusion that the deal was financially advantageous for the Kings to a very significant degree.

Pre-Trade History

Chris Webber’s multitudinous accomplishments as a King are not in dispute. The man made the All-NBA team for five years running (first team 2001; second team 1999, 2002, 2003; third team 2000), and made four consecutive All-Star teams as a King from 2000 to 2003. He was also the Kings spiritual co-leader with Vlade, and was widely revered among most Kings fans not named Grant Napear.

As Webber’s first contract approached its end (the one he brought with him when he joined the team), there was concern in Kings Nation that Webber might opt to leave town. C-Webb seemed to play on this fear by making inconsistent statements about his desire to stay, and sometimes hinting that his future lay elsewhere. But money talks, and given the improving state of the Kings, Webber could not decline the Kings’ generous offer. And generous it was---a max contract for a staggering $127 million over seven years. Kings fans breathed a sigh of relief, and the Kings’ upward trajectory continued. Tyra Banks was impressed.

Although he was only 28 at the time the contract was signed, a couple of red flags were quietly flapping. Webber had shown a propensity for injuries throughout his career, having never played an 80-game season and having averaged 62 games per in his previous seven seasons, excluding the strike-shortened 1998/99 campaign. Moreover, he would be 35 at the time the contract ended. And of course the future of the franchise was wedded to that huge contract. The organization would rise or fall with C-Webb. At the time, virtually no one thought it was a bad idea.

For nearly two seasons the investment seemed sound, as the Kings legitimately challenged for title contention in 2001/02 and 2002/03. Then came Game 2 of the 2003 Western Conference Semifinals against the Dallas Mavericks. And the rest is, as they say, history.

I have made the point before and I maintain now that Webber’s knee injury was in fact inevitable. Let me be very clear on this point: I am NOT saying that the injury was clearly foreseeable two years earlier when the contract was signed. I AM saying that the injury was the result of wear and tear, and not some freak accident. One minute he was running down court, and the next minute he lay crumpled in a heap. No one hit him, he didn’t land badly, and there was no hyperextension at all. Webber later admitted that his knees were killing him prior to the injury. The warranty was simply up on his knees two years into a seven-year mega-contract.

His comeback was controversial (What’s a little criminal contempt among friends?) and many of us still wonder how far that inspired 2003/04 team might have gone without him. Alas, we shall never know.

Meanwhile, three time zones away, something was about to happen that was to give new meaning to the term "head-scratcher". On July 16, 2003 (a date that will live in infamy), the Philadelphia 76ers and their now-unemployed GM Billy King re-signed Kenny Thomas to a 7‑year contract for approximately $50 million. The occasional uninformed StR reader blames Geoff Petrie for giving Kenny Thomas that horrible contract. PLEASE STOP DOING THAT. It’s very irritating to those of us who have been paying attention.

And now on to the trade.

Comparing Stats

As I noted above, there is no logic to comparing K9 et al. post-trade to C-Webb pre-trade. All such comparisons are irrelevant. Moreover, many C-Webb fans stopped paying close attention to his performance once he left. Therein lies the error.

Because they both played the same position (and I use the past tense for Kenny too), let’s start by comparing C-Webb to Kenny Thomas post-trade and see where that leads us. The stats I consider most relevant are games, minutes, FGM-FGA, FG %, rebounds, assists, turnovers, steals, blocks, points, and PER. Here is what happened to finish out the 2004/05 season with their respective new teams:

Webber:  21, 33.4, 6.8-17.4, .391, 7.8, 3.1, 2.3, 1.2, 0.9, 15.6, 13.1
Kenny:    26, 31.7, 5.8-11.7, .492, 8.7, 2.9, 1.8, 1.0, 0.4, 14.5, 18.9

And the winner is….Kenny Thomas. That first partial season, they were statistically either roughly even, or Kenny was much better, most notably on shooting percentage, rebounding, and PER. Of particular note is the number of missed shots per game: 5.9 for Kenny versus 10.6 for Webber. And not showing up in the stat line was the fact that Kenny was a WAY better defender, because he was quick and he hustled. Webber, by contrast, was slow, gimpy, and glued to the floor. In Webber’s first match-up with the Kings at Arco Arena shortly after the trade, ESPN’s Rick Bucher had the following to say:

Chris Webber returned to Arco Arena on Monday night and showed why Kings fans developed such deep-seated feelings about him during a seven-year run that lifted an afterthought of a team to a perennial playoff contender. He also showed why the Kings are better off without him… Webber played nine minutes in the final period and contributed one rebound and three points…To make it all worse, Skinner and Thomas made it look as if they should've been the featured players in the deal. Skinner had 13 points and 19 rebounds, and Thomas chipped in 20 and 15, along with coaxing Webber, single coverage and all, into an 8-for-26 shooting performance…He hit some early jumpers and made a couple of strong fourth-quarter drives to get to the free-throw line for his three points, but otherwise he made GM Geoff Petrie appear to be a freakin' genius.

Regrettably, the story did not end there. So let’s move on to the 2005/06 season:

Webber:  75, 38.6, 8.2-19.0, .434, 9.9, 3.4, 2.4, 1.4, 0.8, 20.2, 18.4
Kenny:    82, 28.0, 3.7-7.4, .505, 7.5, 2.0, 1.6, 0.9, 0.5, 9.1, 15.0

Advantage: Ehh! Webber clearly provided more offense. Rebounding appears to favor Webber until you adjust for minutes, whereupon Kenny comes out ahead. Shooting and missed shots favor Kenny by a large margin. Webber filled the stat line and Kenny didn’t. But at what cost? No defense from Webber, and as co-ball hog with AI, the rest of the team more or less stood around watching. Conclusion: Wash.

Thereafter, they essentially each played one more full season in which both players continued their respective declines. Somewhere along the way, Kenny’s shot completely deserted him, and his most impressive statistic became minutes pining, as it were. Meanwhile, as I’ve noted repeatedly elsewhere, during the 2006/07 season, the Sixers eventually paid Webber somewhere around $30 million to leave town and please don’t come back. (The Kings apparently never had the means to do that with either Webber or Kenny.) Webber signed on with the Pistons around mid-season, improved his offensive numbers slightly, continued to put on nightly Olé defense clinics, finished out the year, and more or less folded the tent and retired to his millions. As for Kenny, well I think George Carlin said it best: "I’m a little bit like herpes, I keep comin’ back."

But the point is that one is hard-pressed to make the case that the Kings actually lost talent in the Webber deal. Add in the moderately respectable performances by Corliss and Skinner, and I call the talent at worst a wash and at best significantly in the Kings’ favor.

Then there is the poison factor. What would have happened in Sacramento had Webber stayed as the Kings’ decline accelerated (as it surely would have)? There is a reason why Philadelphia paid him huge money to get lost. For all of his faults, Kenny has more or less kept quiet about his complete lack of playing time. While he has certainly become expensive baggage, he hasn’t taken the team down with him, as I believe Webber would have.

The Money

Let me open by saying that it is extremely difficult to find reliable past NBA salary information on the internets. As a result, I have been forced to cobble together numbers from a variety of disparate sources, which may not be entirely accurate or consistent. And I’m too lazy to try to document it all. In other words, there is no guarantee that my numbers are remotely accurate. So there’s that.

Let me also point out that I am not an expert on the arcane league salary cap and luxury tax rules. So I may stray off course here, but I am sure that my ever-diligent StR cohorts will quickly set me straight.

Finally, I am initially going to operate on the assumption that if the Kings had kept Webber, nothing else would have been different in terms of roster moves and salaries. As we shall see, however, that assumption is completely unworkable. But we’ll get to that.

Based upon the results of my fishing expedition, I have come up with the following data for the salaries of the players involved in the Webber trade, from 2005 to the present. I’m also including Vitaly Potapenko and Sergey Monya in the calculation, as they were received in exchange for Brian Skinner one year after the Webber trade. The 2005 salaries have been prorated to reflect only the portion of the season following the Webber trade. Similarly, the salaries for Skinner, Potapenko, and Monya have been prorated to reflect their approximate Kings salaries during the 2005/06 season.


































































































According to my calculations, the Kings saved $6.9 million in direct salary payments over the life of the deal. Considering the large sums involved, that number is less than impressive. But wait! There is another factor at work, namely, the luxury tax.

Recall that for every dollar a team exceeds the league luxury tax threshold, that team pays a dollar in tax. So if a team is $2 million over the threshold, they pay an additional $2 million to the league, some of which gets returned to the more budget-conscious teams. Here is a summary of the information that I have obtained on the luxury tax and the Kings salaries since 2006 (there was apparently no league luxury tax in 2005):







Luxury Tax threshold






Team Salary






Salary w/Webber






Luxury Tax w/Webber







My calculations indicate that the Kings would have had to pay $13.5 million in luxury tax in 2006 and 2008 combined, with no payments in other years. I am unclear if the Kings actually received any luxury tax revenue during any of these years by being under the threshold. In any case, the total savings over the life of the contracts associated with the Webber trade appears to be $20.4 million in salary savings and luxury tax payments. That kind of money is chump change for the likes of Mark Cuban or the New York Knicks. For the small market Kings, on the other hand, that is apparently in the range of make-or-break-type money. So in that respect, the Webber trade was immensely important, even if we are stuck with Kenny for another year.

What Might Have Been

All of this raises the question of what would have happened if the trade had never occurred. I maintain that Webber would not have kept quiet as things fell apart, and that things would have gotten downright poisonous. But apart from that, there are a number of interesting possibilities to consider.

The Webber trade freed up resources for a number of subsequent transactions. Unfortunately, many of these transactions have been among Petrie’s worst. They may not have happened at all had Webber stayed. For example, we almost certainly would not have signed Shareef, and probably would not have signed Mikki Moore, not because we didn’t want or need frontcourt help, but simply because we couldn’t afford it. Petrie also probably would not have made his obscenely-bad offer to Bonzi Wells, to whom we should all be writing a thank you letter for not accepting. Finally, the fire sale of Bibby and Miller would likely have happened a lot sooner, which would probably have been the best thing anyway.

A comment that frequently comes up in many StR complaints against Petrie is that the Kings should have gotten young talent and draft picks in exchange for Webber instead of a bunch of (relative) stiffs. But anyone who has read this far should see the fallacy in that thinking. Who exactly wants to give up young prospects for a $70 million albatross with a bum knee? Rhetorical question.

To his credit, on the day of Webber trade, our old friend Peaches made the comment that the deal would ultimately cost Sixers GM Billy King his job. It took a while, but he was eventually proven right, more or less.

In conclusion, it is my assessment that the Webber trade saved the Kings approximately $20 million, did not result in a net loss of talent, and probably avoided a highly toxic implosion of a Webber-led Kings team. A series of ill-advised decisions followed, with names like Reggie Musselnatt, Shareef (and I don’t like it), Bonzi, Mikki, Beno no Bueno, etc. But none of the recent epically bad transactions/inactions can really be blamed on the Webber trade; they were just bad decisions in their own right

We will never know for sure, but it strikes me that the Kings got rid of Webber at the only time they could to the only taker out there for the only players they were willing to give up. That’s how deep a hole the Kings were in with the Webber contract. So on the Webber trade, I give Petrie overall good marks. He made the best of a really horrendous situation. There is plenty of blame to be directed his way, but I don’t see the Webber trade as belonging on that list.

(This is a FanPost from a member of the Sactown Royalty community. The views expressed come from the member, and not Sactown Royalty staff.)

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