Economic climate limits big trades
Deadline day was more satisfying to NBA accountants than general managers
Only the Bulls, Knicks, Magic and Rockets significantly improved their outllook
The Kings dealt six players in exchange for seven expiring contracts and cash
Like so many businesses that can't find the money to expand or break even, NBA teams were unable to make trades at the deadline Thursday that will make sense to their fans. "We're no different than the rest of the world," says Cavaliers GM Danny Ferry. "The economy is having an effect on how teams are looking at trades and free agency."
Four teams appeared to improve themselves. The Bulls have a better shot at the playoffs after acquiring John Salmons and Brad Miller from Sacramento, and the Knicks were more optimistic for the short term after landing Larry Hughes from Chicago and Chris Wilcox from Oklahoma City. The Magic acquired point guard Rafer Alston from Houston to prevent a second-half collapse in the absence of Jameer Nelson, and the Rockets believe they invested in their backcourt by dealing for young point guard Kyle Lowry from the Grizzlies.
Growing skepticism and shrinking revenues combined to make the Kings the leading dealmaker. They reduced their obligations by dispatching six players and a second-round draft choice (a pick so heavily protected that it likely will never be used) in exchange for seven expiring contracts, cash and Andres Nocioni. They also waived Mikki Moore, concluding a deadline day that accountants throughout the NBA found far more satisfying than general managers.
The two contenders positioned to make trades that might have influenced the playoffs' upper bracket were Cleveland and Portland. Both were active, both zeroed in on Richard Jefferson of the Bucks in the hours before the deadline, and neither came away with a deal.
The Trail Blazers can afford to take the long-term view because they have a young team that is ahead of schedule. Why make a move now unless it's a no-brainer? No matter what kind of deal they might have consummated at the deadline, the Blazers still would have been a year or two away from a deep playoff run because Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden lack the necessary postseason experience.
The Cavaliers were playing a more cutthroat game. Their ambition to win a championship now is heightened by speculation that LeBron James may leave as a free agent in 2010. They were willing to pay the luxury tax next season in order to bring on a player to help them celebrate this spring.
But they also couldn't afford to gamble on a trade that might set them back in the short term. For all they know, they already have a deep, experienced team that might have everything needed to win it all right now. Which meant that Ferry had to push the market for all possible opportunities, yet know when to pull back -- a difficult call to make under the duress of constant negotiations with so many rivals.
"You're always trying to get better," says Ferry. "Balancing that is that we like our team. There is a real good chemistry to what we're doing, so you balance both. It's also a matter of what opportunities are out there, and we didn't feel like there was anything worth doing.
"We never really got close to anything. A lot of discussions, but at the end of the day we never really got close."
Much was made of the talks with Phoenix that might have delivered Shaquille O'Neal to Cleveland, but that deal would have changed the Cavs' style of play and forced coach Mike Brown to reinvent the team in two months. The Wizards were in no mood to relinquish Antawn Jamison because he is crucial to them bouncing back into contention next season, and the Bucks wanted more than mere payroll relief for Jefferson -- especially in negotiations with a divisional rival seeking to win a championship. At the very least, they've let LeBron know that they searched everywhere to improve his chances this year.
So now Cleveland joins the Celtics in seeking possible buy-out opportunities, whether it means signing Moore or Joe Smith, should he be released by the Thunder. (Free agents like Moore or Smith must be signed by March 1 in order to be eligible for the playoffs with their new teams; there is no sign from New York that Stephon Marbury will negotiate a buyout with the Knicks by then.)
The Cavs will see how far this team takes them this spring, realizing that they'll go into the summer with the expiring contract of Ben Wallace and another first-round draft pick that can be dangled over the months ahead. This is not their last shot at making a big move, and there may be more talent available after the season as the recession deepens and losing teams grow more desperate.
"We have a very good team right now of young guys, experienced guys, and flexibility going forward," says Ferry. "We did our due diligence overall -- which is what we do -- and we explored all of the options at the end. With the trade possibilities we were looking at, we didn't want to put our franchise in bad shape today and in bad shape going forward."
So they live to trade another day.