In the end, it turned out to be weeks of wasted cell minutes and conversations – late-night general manager conversations on the Las Vegas Strip during All-Star weekend that would lead to nothing.
The NBA trade deadline passed Thursday without one significant transaction.
One of the factors that left so many general managers cautious was the reluctance to part with No. 1 draft picks in one of the most talented pools of talent in years. No G.M. with a lottery pick wants to be remembered as the executive whose traded pick was used to take franchise stars Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. More than that, excellent prospects are expected to be available throughout the lottery.
Nevertheless, Mitch Kupchak didn't want to part with Andrew Bynum to acquire Jason Kidd, and John Paxson wouldn't let Luol Deng or Ben Gordon leave Chicago to bring on Pau Gasol. Everyone kept waiting for those general managers to get weak knees by the 3 p.m. ET deadline, but it never happened.
So, here are the winners and losers.
Dallas Mavericks. Out west, no one made the move to challenge the deep roster of the defending conference champions. The Phoenix Suns made a late bid for Jason Kidd, sources said, offering a package that made Nets president Rod Thorn pause, but the bid was ultimately rebuffed.
With an improbable Kidd return to the desert, the Suns would've had a secondary plan for Steve Nash's troublesome back and an opportunity to play two of the game's greatest point guards together in that 94-foot offense.
What's more, Dallas' foil, Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade, didn't make it to town on Thursday night for his showdown with Dirk Nowitzki. The two had been talking trash back and forth for a few weeks, but Wade's dislocated shoulder now makes an NBA finals rematch a remote possibility.
"They're the deepest, most versatile team in the NBA," Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said of the Mavs. "They have an answer to every question. They can play super big, and they can play super fast. They're always long and they always put a great shooting team on the floor."
"Right now, Phoenix is really, really good and I think San Antonio will have a great final 28, 29 games. Those three are a cut above everyone else now."
Luol Deng and Ben Gordon. As unfavorable NBA destinations go, the Memphis Grizzlies have risen to the top of most players' lists. The owner wants to sell the team, the Hall of Fame G.M. is on the way to retirement and the roster has been gutted of veteran talent and salary. Otherwise, the barbeque is still great.
Chicago Bulls G.M. John Paxson ultimately chose the promise of his own core over the uncertainty of center Pau Gasol's impact in making the Bulls a championship contender. Gordon and Deng never wanted to leave Chicago; now, they get to stay together and make a run in the Eastern Conference this season.
It wasn't too long ago, two league sources said, when the Bulls had a players-only meeting at the team hotel on a pre-All-Star break road trip where they ultimately decided expectations were too low. Whatever those in the organization thought, they were in agreement that the talent was there to be a part of the conference's elite. And most of all, they wanted a chance to stay together and make it happen. Now, they get it.
Detroit Pistons. As it turned out, the Eastern Conference deal with the biggest impact this season has been Detroit's signing of free agent Chris Webber in January. His addition has elevated the Pistons offensively, his passing and scoring touch transforming them into a more formidable force in the East.
So far, Webber has shown that there's much more left in those knees than some suspected.
"Chris has been everything we hoped he would be and more," Joe Dumars said Thursday. "We feel fortunate that the move to get him has helped us this much."
What's more, with Dwyane Wade dislocating his shoulder on Wednesday night and the Cleveland Cavaliers unable to cut a deal for Mike Bibby, the Pistons must be considered the undeniable favorites in the East.
Jason Kidd. With the New Jersey Nets no longer a contender in the East – never mind a franchise with championship aspirations – Kidd was deeply disappointed, sources say, that president Rod Thorn didn't find a way to move him to the Los Angeles Lakers.
While publicly indifferent to a proposed trade out of Jersey, Kidd, who turns 34 next month, was privately eager to take a shot in Los Angeles with Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson. Besides the injuries that have gutted Kidd's Nets, divorce proceedings with his wife Joumana have been playing out nastily in the New York tabloids. All in all, Kidd knows his trade value will never be higher than it was prior to the deadline and still Thorn couldn't find a suitable deal.
Danny Ferry. The Cavaliers' general manager tried desperately to give LeBron James a point guard, but his bids for Bibby and Kidd were futile. Ferry tried everything in the final 48 hours to get Bibby, but nothing worked. Around the league, he searched for a trade partner to get the Sacramento Kings the young players, picks and expiring contracts they wanted.
Suddenly, James is under fire this year for looking a little lethargic and a little less motivated, and his ego is too massive to ever agree with that truth. Count on this: When the Cavs flame out in the playoffs, James won't be looking at himself but rather a front office that didn't get him the help he needed.
Mitch Kupchak and Phil Jackson. Under no circumstances should the Lakers ever have traded Andrew Bynum for Kidd, but the Lakers needed something to happen at the trade deadline. On a six-game losing streak, the longest of Jackson's career, it was incumbent on Kupchak to find a bench player – perhaps a rebounder, a perimeter defender – who could give this team a lift.
Talks with the Portland Trail Blazers about center Jamaal Magloire never reached consummation, league sources said. Once, the Lakers were considered in that second tier of Western Conference teams with the Houston Rockets (with Yao Ming) and Utah Jazz, but you have to wonder now if the Lakers have slid down into the Denver Nuggets' shaky neighborhood.
- Jason Kidd
- Mitch Kupchak