Now that the NBA trade deadline has passed, rosters across the league look considerably different than they did when the season began.
Perhaps it's my imagination, but it sure seems like there have been more meaningful in-season moves than usual this season. The spate of transactions is no coincidence. With as many as 11 teams harboring title hopes in this wide-open campaign, everyone is trying to strengthen their roster for the postseason. Actually, in the Western Conference, just reaching the postseason is the necessary first goal. Think about it: The Mavericks are only 1.5 games away from dropping into the ninth spot in the conference standings. Somebody really good is going to get left out, and that should make for one of the most spirited regular-season finishes in recent memory.
With so much at stake for so many, it stands to reason that basketball operations offices across the NBA would be buzzing with activity. The contenders are trying to make that one move to put them over the top. The also-rans are trying to exploit the situation by stockpiling draft picks and carving out some payroll flexibility for the future. It all makes for great fun.
There may be one more round of moves depending on how many veterans have their contracts bought out. Sam Cassell is the most prominent name mentioned in this scenario, with Boston his likely destination. There could be others--like Brent Barry, just dealt back to Seattle, who could accept a buyout and return to San Antonio after 30 days...unless he makes the faux paus of telling people that is the plan.
For now, as the dust settles from the deadline frenzy, let's take a look at which teams have improved their postseason hopes the most since the start of the season. Then we'll touch upon the other winners and losers in the player-movement game since the start of the season.
Winners - Contender Division
+ Kyle Korver
- Gordan Giricek
The most glaring weakness for the Jazz was the lack of a three-point specialist. In Korver, they got one of the best. Giricek, who failed at filling that role, had slipped into Jerry Sloan's doghouse. Once that happens, it's over. The Jazz are a nearly-complete team as is and are a genuine title contender, a fact that others have started to notice. Their need for another big man could be filled by picking up Justin Williams, a fair shot blocker and beastly rebounder recently released by the Kings.
+ Damon Stoudamire
+ Kurt Thomas
- Francisco Elson
- Brent Barry
San Antonio added two veteran pieces to a supporting cast in need of an infusion. Stoudamire will be an upgrade over Jacque Vaughn as the primary backup to Tony Parker, who returned from his injured heel on Thursday. Stoudamire has fit seamlessly into the Spurs' system. He helped them survive a long road trip, which preserved a prospective high seed in the West bracket. Thomas is just another dynamite interior defender for the Spurs' defense to funnel opposing players into. Elson hadn't been playing much, and Barry hasn't played since Jan. 24 because of an injury. While it would seem to make sense for Barry to accept a buyout from Seattle and return to the Spurs after the mandatory 30-day waiting period, re-signing Barry could put the Spurs into luxury-tax territory. Is it worth it? Without Barry, the fear is that San Antonio could be short of outside shooters. Either way, the Spurs are nicely positioned for another championship run. Amazingly enough, with these roster tweaks, San Antonio got even older.
+ Trevor Ariza
+ Pau Gasol
+ D.J. Mbenga
- Brian Cook
- Maurice Evans
- Kwame Brown
- Javaris Crittendon
- Aaron McKie
- Marc Gasol
The Lakers are playing so well since they acquired Pau Gasol that it almost makes you uneasy about what will happen if and when Andrew Bynum and Trevor Ariza get back from their respective injuries. There is no doubt that L.A. is weak in the defensive interior, something a healthy Bynum would fix. When that happens, Lamar Odom will be shifted to the three spot. Odom's ability to produce on both ends of the court at that position will be the key to making the new player rotation work. Ariza's return would serve as a much needed hedge against Odom being torched by small forwards. There are still unanswered questions about this bunch, but the Lakers' collective upside is tremendous.
What exactly did you expect them to do? Most observers expect Sam Cassell to wind up in Boston after being bought out by the Clippers. If that happens, the Celtics will be a finished product. Cassell's postseason experience would be a tremendous boost to the psyche of Rajon Rondo, and his ability to knock down that midrange jumper would be a help as well. Danny Ainge could have screwed things up by making a drastic deadline deal. He didn't, and for that, the Celtics score high.
+ Bonzi Wells
+ Mike James
+ Sergei Lishouk
- Adam Haluska
- Bobby Jackson
James is an upgrade over Bobby Jackson as Chris Paul's backup. He should be able to provide enough quality court time to knock a little off of Paul's 37+ minutes per game. Wells offers a skill set that should complement Morris Peterson's, and will give New Orleans more versatility at the shooting guard spot. Wells will also upgrade the backup small forward spot by splitting up his minutes between the two spots. Bobby Jackson's game had slipped, so this was a nice haul for Hornets GM Jeff Bower.
+ Juan Dixon
+ Walter Herrmann
- Primoz Brezec
- Nazr Mohammed
Perhaps I am wrong in thinking that Nazr Mohammed can play a little, so I'm not sure I understand Joe Dumars' thinking in trading the backup center to Charlotte. I'm really not sure what Dumars is thinking in flipping Primoz Brezec to Toronto for Juan Dixon. What can Dixon do that Flip Murray can't? I just don't see his role. Nevertheless, Dumars didn't touch his core, which is playing as well as it has since the Pistons last won the title. The bench has also been solid and remains intact. So while I don't get the Pistons' moves, it's hard to quibble with their standing as the postseason approaches.
+ Ben Wallace
+ Wally Szczerbiak
+ Delonte West
+ Joe Smith
- Drew Gooden
- Larry Hughes
- Cedric Simmons
- Shannon Brown
- Ira Newble
- Donyell Marshall
Danny Ferry really shook things up in Cleveland; going forward, the Cavs will have a much different look. It will be interesting to see how Mike Brown's new rotation shakes out. I'm guessing that Wally Szczerbiak will start at two-guard alongside Daniel Gibson, while Ben Wallace will play alongside Zydrunas Ilgauskas on the front line. Of course, they are all merely sidemen for LeBron James. Szczerbiak will give Cleveland the third scoring threat that Larry Hughes had been unable to provide on a consistent basis. Wallace's time will hopefully be limited, as Anderson Varejao is younger, and better on both ends of the floor. Joe Smith can serve as another big man to run the pick-and-roll with James when Ilgauskas is out of the game, while Gibson, Szczerbiak and Sasha Pavlovic can all load up from the outside. I'm not entirely sure where Delonte West fits into all of this, even though he may now be the Cavs' best all-around guard. This new nine-man rotation essentially leaves Damon Jones and Eric Snow out of the picture, which isn't a bad thing. The interior defense should be fine if Wallace can at least perform at that end as well as Drew Gooden. The offense should be more consistent with better shooters surrounding James. Brown has to get the pieces working together in a pretty short timeframe, but Ferry has upgraded the Cavaliers. One hole created by Hughes' departure is that the Cavs' perimeter defense now looks pretty vulnerable.
+ Chris Webber
- Troy Hudson
The Chris Webber signing looks like a lateral move for Golden State. It's hard to envision them getting out of the first round--if they even make the playoffs. If they do, it's going to be because Webber proves that he has more left than he's shown so far. Chris Mullin did well not to mess with a group that plays well together and is awfully fun to watch, but is there really much upside for this team?
Losers - Contender Division
+ Gerald Green
+ Bobby Jackson
- Kirk Snyder
- Bonzi Wells
- Mike James
The Rockets are minor losers only because I think the turnover in their reserve guards from Mike James and Bonzi Wells to Bobby Jackson and Aaron Brooks is a downgrade, unless Brooks turns out to be a surprise in a more prominent role. Gerald Green won't be asked to do much, as the trade with Minnesota was made more to accommodate a disgruntled Kirk Snyder. Houston is red hot at the moment; the chemistry issues that seemed to plague the Rockets earlier in the season appear to have dissipated. Darryl Morey was probably wise not to make drastic changes to his core rotation. A nine-game winning streak is not the time for a shake-up.
+ Brian Cook
+ Maurice Evans
- Trevor Ariza
The Magic squandered Trevor Ariza, a player whose value they never quite seemed to appreciate. Meanwhile, Otis Smith failed to land the rebounder that the Magic really need to help out Dwight Howard.
+ Jason Kidd
+ Malik Allen
+ Antoine Wright
- Keith Van Horn
- Devin Harris
- Trenton Hassell
- Maurice Ager
- DeSagana Diop
- Nick Fazekas
Any Mavericks fan who wasn't left a bit cold after watching Chris Paul make Jason Kidd look like he was 75 years old in Wednesday's game wasn't paying attention. Kidd will have better games than that, to be sure, but does anyone really think Kidd can keep up with the likes of Paul, Tony Parker or Deron Williams? Perhaps it won't matter. With the game on the line, it will likely be Jason Terry defending those guys. Maybe Kidd will help the Mavericks to a more efficient attack--maybe--but let's not forget that the Mavericks were one of the best offensive teams in the league before the trade. There's not really much room for improvement. Adding injury to insult was Dallas' failure to add a defender to fill DeSagana Diop's role before the trade deadline. Perhaps Dallas can land a buyout player with the midlevel exception that the team still has in its arsenal.
+ Shaquille O'Neal
- Shawn Marion
- Marcus Banks
The Suns were the best team in the conference before trading Shawn Marion for Shaquille O'Neal. Now, who knows?
+ Taurean Green
- Von Wafer
The Nuggets needed to make a move for an upgrade over the Anthony Carter/J.R. Smith combo at two-guard. They didn't. Those who thought Ron Artest could have filled that role overlooked the fact that whereas Artest used to be a guy who swung between the two and three spots, he now alternates between the three and four. He's too big to play guard anymore. The Nuggets are a good team, but in this year's West, a team cannot hide a position as weak as Denver is at shooting guard. Of course, part of the problem is this: just what does a pure shooting guard do playing alongside Allen Iverson? Nevertheless, the pieces are still there to get the Nuggets into the playoffs. George Karl just has to fit them together.
+ Primoz Brezec
- Juan Dixon
The Raptors play a halfcourt style similar to Phoenix, yet they are in the bottom five in the NBA in pace. When you have two elite playmakers like Jose Calderon and T.J. Ford and your best big man, Chris Bosh, excels running the floor, the slowdown just doesn't make any sense. Bryan Colangelo should have traded for a new coach.
The Wizards apparently are just hoping for a return to health by Gilbert Arenas and a miracle run in the playoffs. After the season, the real action begins. Antawn Jamison is a free agent and Arenas could opt out. If that happens, the Wizards will have some dollars to invest in the strong free-agent class to come. Next year's Washington squad could look very different.
- HAWKS: The addition of Mike Bibby should be enough to get Atlanta into the playoffs for the first time in a decade. Sure he can't play defense, but that should just be that many more blocked shots for Josh Smith. The Hawks' collective PER at the point is 12.1. Bibby can do better than that.
- BULLS: Drew Gooden will give Chicago more of an inside scoring threat than they've had in several seasons. Meanwhile, with Ben Wallace and Joe Smith out of the picture, young big men Joakim Noah, Tyrus Thomas and Aaron Gray will get the minutes they deserve. John Paxson has improved a bad situation. But tell me this: Where does Larry Hughes fit?
- HEAT: There were rumblings that Miami was shopping Shawn Marion before the deadline. Pat Riley's efforts should be focused on making Marion happy in Miami. The Heat would not be able to piece together a new foundation with any better starting blocks than Marion and Dwyane Wade.
- NETS: Shedding Vince Carter is still paramount to the Nets' future plans, but New Jersey is better right now because of the Kidd trade, though Devin Harris may not be able to play for a while.
- SUPERSONICS: The Sonics are now on target to be under the cap next season and will have a ton of salary flexibility beyond that. Sam Presti has the Sonics in an excellent position to build around Kevin Durant.
- KINGS: The Kings will remain competitive in the short term, but may be stuck in that not-great-but-not-terrible middle ground that NBA teams can mire in for years. Shedding Mike Bibby's contract helps, especially considering he was not markedly better than Beno Udrih. Do you realize that even if Ron Artest opts out after the season, the Kings are still on the hook for more than $20 million next season for Kenny Thomas, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Mikki Moore?
- TIMBERWOLVES: Kirk Snyder is a prospect and, right now, Kevin McHale will take on anybody that bears that label. Snyder was looking for an opportunity while Gerald Green just was looking to get out.
- TRAIL BLAZERS: Kevin Pritchard recognizes that as heartening as Portland's season has been, they were not going to make the playoffs this season, not in the West. Getting Von Wafer for Taureen Green is pretty much a non-sequitur.
- GRIZZLIES: The Grizzlies probably spared themselves a fan mutiny by deciding against trading Mike Miller. Memphis will spend the next two months sorting out the future of its point guard trio (Mike Conley, Kyle Lowry and Javaris Crittendon). Then it's finger-crossing time until lottery night.
- 76ERS: The Sixers' desire to make the playoffs this season probably trumped any salary-shedding thoughts about trading Andre Miller. Philly has been playing well of late and find themselves in a scramble Washington, New Jersey, Atlanta, Chicago and Indiana for the last three playoffs slots in the East. In that group, only Washington has a better point differential.
- BOBCATS: While acquiring Nazr Mohammed gave Charlotte the true center it lacked, the Bobcats have been getting increasingly worse since Mohammed was inserted into the starting lineup. Earl Boykins was signed to add a spark. He's shooting 28 percent from the field.
TEAMS THAT HAVE MADE NO MOVES: Pacers, Knicks, Bucks, Clippers
Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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