After Spencer was traded, I noticed an interesting trend in the threads that followed. To some here, Spencer was a potential star that had shown flashes of brillance, and this trade was a huge gaffe on Petrie's part as it represented the Kings giving up on 22 year old, 7 footer way too soon (and for the love of Voisin, you never give up on 22 year old, 7 footers).
To others, this trade cemented the belief that Spencer was a huge bust, a weak rebounding big man that was allergic to defense. Petrie finally realized this (i.e., finally saw what they saw a long time ago), and traded him away for a mere pittance (also known as: Samuel Dalembert, a 29 year old that was really just an expiring contract). The fact that we received so little in return only reinforced the belief that Spence was next to worthless.
What is a little surprising is the divergence of views, and the fact that so few seemed to share my view of Spence.
For quite some time, I have felt Spencer was what he was: a quality rotational big. He was never going to be a star, but he was certainly valuable in the right circumstances. This is another way of saying that Spencer would have been great as your first big off the bench, helping your second team run the offense and score points. Against even a good team's backup center, he wouldn't be a liability on defense and he would probably shine on offense.
However, in my mind, Spencer was never going to be a top-flight big. He needed to develop a back-to-the-basket game on offense and become a much better post defender on defense. In the three years he was here, he made modest impovement in these two areas, but I never got the feeling these parts of his game would ever be a strength, and that would ultimately keep him from being an upper-echelon center.
This fact, however, didn't make Spencer a draft bust as some were quick to conclude. When you are drafting in the #10 spot or thereabouts, it is rare to get a top flight big man (for every Brook Lopez, there are a multitude of Robert Swifts or Hilton Armstrongs or Saer Senes or Patrick O'Briens or... you get the picture). Spencer was a decent big man, giving you 10-11 points and 6-7 rebounds a night. Center was definitely an area of need in 2007, and no one picked after Spence, outside of Aaron Brooks (who Petrie was really high on), has proven to be much better than Hawes.
All of which leads us to the trade. If Spencer isn't a draft bust and is a decent, young big man, why trade him for an older big with an expiring contract? As I see it, there are a few reasons. First, you get greater cap flexability right before the new CBA. You you rid yourself of an overpaid (and increasingly malcontent) Nocioni with this deal, and you get Dalembert's large expiring contract. If Dalembert plays well, as an active center that rebounds and defends, he may become extremely attractive trade chip to a team that needs to get under the cap or luxury tax threshold.
Secondly, Spencer was also, in essence, a free agent after this year. If we were to hold on to him this year, we would need to sign him to a long term contract after the season, so we have in essence traded Spencer's production this year for Dalembert's (and, of course, gained the added bonus of riding ourselves of Noce's longer term contract and the trade possibilities that come with Dali's big expiring).
Finally, the prospect of signing Spencer to a big, long term contract was always dicey at best, even if he had proven to be a top flight big man because of his knees. If my memory serves correct, Spencer missed time with knee problems each and every year he played for the Kings. He had his knee scoped in training camp as a rookie, tweaked the knee and missed the final 8 games in his second season, and knocked knees and had a resulting cartilidge problem to end his third year. This is hardly the track record you want to see before signing a player to a long term, guaranteed contract.
Thus, I can't fault Petrie for making the move when he did. Plus, if Spencer really blossoms, we could always go after him in free agency with all of the cap space we now have (although I think this is very unlikely). The end result of the deal is we get better defensively for a year, and we have a great deal more flexibility going into the CBA negotiations. In fact, off the top of my head, I can't think of a team better positioned to take advange of the unknown salary cap than the Kings next season.