Winners and losers: NBA trade deadline

Photo Kobe Bryant
(Nick Laham/Getty Images)

The trade, like most of those made in these scorched-earth times, was a straight salary dump. The Los Angeles Lakers sent backup center Chris Mihm to the Memphis Grizzlies for a conditional second-round pick they almost certainly will never see. They also gave the Grizzlies cash to pay for Mihm’s salary, essentially making a rent payment for room on Memphis’ roster.

And in return?

The Lakers saved more than $2 million in luxury-tax payments.

This is what qualifies as a smart deal in today’s NBA. Thin your bench, pay another team to take your player, get nothing tangible in return and save your owner enough money to remodel the living room in his waterfront home. Apparently, even Jerry Buss can’t sell enough $2,500 courtside seats to hand his GM a blank check in our withering economy.

This is also what makes the Lakers the biggest winner at this season’s trade deadline. Not because of what they did, but because of what everyone else didn’t do. None of the Western Conference’s contenders made a single move to close the gap between them and the Lakers.

The San Antonio Spurs thought they had a deal all but done for Los Angeles Clippers center Marcus Camby, only to see it unravel at the deadline. The Portland Trail Blazers boasted for weeks about how Raef LaFrentz’s “super” expiring contract could land them a top-level player. LaFrentz’s contract was so super, in fact, that Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard decided to put it under his pillow at the deadline.

The New Orleans Hornets tried to make a trade, only to have it voided 24 hours later. If Tyson Chandler can get healthy, they might be better for it. Even Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban didn’t pull the trigger on a move.

Back East, the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers also stood pat. Among the contenders, only the Orlando Magic made a basketball trade, acquiring Houston Rockets point guard Rafer Alston.

Too many teams were too reluctant to take on money. The Mavericks and Spurs both had interest in Sacramento’s John Salmons, but the Kings were unwilling to assume even the partial $2 million guarantees of Jerry Stackhouse and Bruce Bowen.

“It was brutal out there today,” one Western Conference GM said after the deadline passed, sounding as if he had just slogged through a blizzard.

The Lakers, who had earlier chopped into their bench by trading Vladimir Radmanovic to the Charlotte Bobcats in another cost-cutting move, didn’t need to go shopping. If they’re fortunate, they’ll welcome back center Andrew Bynum before the playoffs.

And if they don’t?

Thanks to a weak trade market, thanks to the inactivity of their peers, the Lakers are already looking comfortably down on the rest of the West.

Some of the deadline’s other winners and losers …


WINNERS

Photo Rafer Alston.
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Chris Wilcox

Did any player have a more dizzying week? In less than 48 hours, Wilcox went from the end of Oklahoma City’s bench … to being traded to New Orleans … to being sent back to Oklahoma City … to being traded to New York.

Wilcox’s last stop should fit him best. Mike D’Antoni will ask him to run the floor and dunk and shoot. In his contract year, the 26-year-old center has essentially been given a green light to go get his numbers. And if he plays well enough?

Some team could be foolish enough to hand Wilcox a three-year, $24 million contract. Which is exactly what happened when the Clippers traded him to Seattle midway through the 2005-06 season.

Orlando Magic

It remains to be seen how well Rafer Alston fits with the Magic, but Jeff Van Gundy coached Alston and he probably had at least a couple good things to tell his brother Stan. Besides, who are we to penalize someone for making an actual basketball trade?

With Jameer Nelson lost for the season, Orlando would have entered the stretch run lacking a dependable starting point guard. Alston might not turn out to be the answer. But then neither was Anthony Johnson nor Tyronn Lue.

The first-round pick the Magic surrendered shouldn’t come back to haunt them, given that they likely would be picking late, and given that this year’s draft, in the words of one scout, “sucks.”

Chicago Bulls

The Bulls overturned nearly half their roster, and it doesn’t help that Vinny Del Negro’s coaching both halves. With so many moving parts, I’m not even sure our resident Bulls’ expert, Kelly Dwyer, has figured out how they’ll fit together.

But we do know this much: The Bulls got rid of Larry Hughes, and that seemed to work well for the Cavs.

Danny Ferry

The Cavs GM insists his discussions with the Suns regarding Shaq never reached the serious stage. Serious or not, we’re just glad they talked. In the online world, “T’Wolves trade for Shelden Williams” doesn’t click quite as well as “Shaq joining LeBron?”

Ferry will probably catch heat from some Cavs fans for not using Wally Szczerbiak’s expiring contract to land an upgrade. “BOOOOoooooooooooo, Ferry!” read one post in the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s blog. “So we’re keeping the highest paid scrub off the bench on our books this year? Nice, Danny.”

In truth, the Cavs are deep enough and talented enough to contend for the title, as is. Provided they also stay healthy enough.


LOSERS

Tyson Chandler

Photo Tyson Chandler.
(Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

He hasn’t played in a month; the Hornets traded him to Oklahoma City; the Thunder doctor – the same doctor who operated on him two years earlier – declared him damaged goods; the Thunder shipped him back to New Orleans. Now, Chandler is back on a team he knows will likely look to again move him as soon as the season ends.

Playing with Chris Paul, however, tends to brighten even the bleakest of days.

Marcus Camby

The Spurs offered what the Clippers wanted for Camby, thought they had a deal, then watched as Clippers owner Donald Sterling suddenly had a moment of clarity.

Wait … you mean we’re trading the GOOD center?

Instead of joining a contending team, Camby will continue to share a locker room with Ricky Davis.

Nets owner Bruce Ratner, Bucks owner Herb Kohl, Hornets owner George Shinn and (insert name of any other of a dozen NBA owners whose franchise is bleeding millions)

Dig in, guys. These days, not even Mark Cuban is interested in taking on the overpaid and unwanted.

Kevin Pritchard

We’re actually happy the Blazers GM kept his promising young roster intact. And we think it’s not only understandable, but also smart that he didn’t take on Vince Carter and his bloated contract.

But if you’re going to spend four weeks bragging about Raef LaFrentz’s Super Expiring Contract, please give us a little more bang for the buck than Michael Ruffin.

Photo The Detroit Pistons failed to sell out a game this month for the first time in more than five years.
(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

And when you’re done completing said blockbuster for Mr. Ruffin, please don’t tell the local media how, in the process of exploring your trade options over the past week, you “exchanged more than 1,000 e-mails with team owner Paul Allen.”

We figured KP would have learned by now that mass e-mail doesn’t guarantee great results.

The Thunder

It took more than half the season, but Oklahoma City finally found someone to provide an intimidating presence on the court.

Tyson Chandler?

Nope.

Rumble.

NBA fans

Changing addresses, February 2008: Pau Gasol, Shaquille O’Neal, Jason Kidd, Mike Bibby, Devin Harris, Shawn Marion, Ben Wallace, Wally Szczerbiak.

Changing addresses, February 2009: Shawn Marion, Jermaine O’Neal, Rashad McCants, Rafer Alston, Tim Thomas, Chris Wilcox, Jerome James, Brad Miller, John Salmons, Shelden Williams.