Deadline fallout: Who's on hot seat
The trade deadline has created pressure situations for certain players and GMs
Rafer Alston and Aaron Brooks are among those under fire to perform
More topics: Lamar Odom delivering for Lakers; fading Pistons; Suns' smart move
With the All-Star break and the trading deadline now history, the NBA hits a reset button of sorts. Front offices now retreat to the obscurity of scouting college players while those on the floor steam toward the playoffs or the lottery. Let's take a look at a handful of figures who have been placed on the hot seat after last week's action -- or inaction as the case may be.
Rafer Alston, Magic: Before his acquisition, Orlando had gone 3-3 without Jameer Nelson, who underwent season-ending shoulder surgery Thursday. Clearly, Anthony Johnson and Tyronn Lue weren't carrying the water for the Magic's All-Star point guard. Can Alston? Never an accurate shooter, the 32-year-old former playground legend does bring a willingness to take clutch shots and acceptable three-point range. He also has the type of sticky hands on defense that should please coach Stan Van Gundy.
Aaron Brooks, Rockets: He was given the starting job after Alston's move to Orlando. Brooks proved to be a capable distributor and defense-stretching scorer as a reserve, but how will he fare matched up more regularly against the opponent's top point guard?
Tyson Chandler, Hornets: His return after flunking a physical with Oklahoma City will make for an awkward situation with the Hornets' management. But on the floor, teammates need Chandler to play more like the board-hungry, $11 million center who helped the Hornets within a game of last year's Western Conference finals. That may not stop the Hornets from trying to deal him again this summer, but it could salvage a season that began with such high expectations.
Bryan Colangelo, Raptors: While Jermaine O'Neal has joined former coach Sam Mitchell in the discard pile in Toronto's Keep Chris Bosh Happy game, GM Colangelo will have to do much more to persuade his franchise player to stay. Shawn Marion might be a good start, given his desire to play the up-tempo game Colangelo wants, but making a run at the East's eight seed isn't much of a selling point. On the bright side, there are 12 months until next season's trade deadline, at which point Colangelo and the Raptors will have to decide Bosh's fate if they hope to remain a competitive entity in the years to come.
Ernie Grunfeld, Wizards: Like Ahab chasing the white whale, the Washington president keeps chasing those elusive days in the middle of the 2006-07 season, when the Wizards were 27-17 and had designs on a deep playoff run. Though that was three Gilbert Arenas knee surgeries ago, Grunfeld remains convinced that a healthy Wizards team is a contender. Hence his unwillingness to deal Antawn Jamison or Caron Butler at the deadline, meaning the Wizards' payroll for next season is already in luxury-tax territory without factoring in a high lottery pick. With a 13-43 record, the hoped-for return of both Arenas and center Brendan Haywood won't save this season. But this offseason and the 2009-2010 season will be telling for Grunfeld and the organization.
Roger Mason, Spurs: Mason was part of a rumored deal for Vince Carter before the trade deadline. By last Thursday night, however, Carter was still a Net and the Spurs had lost Manu Ginobili for 2-3 weeks with a stress reaction in his right ankle. Caught in a tight race for the West's No. 2 seed, and with a potential playoff fight against the Lakers looming, the Spurs could have used the scoring boost that Carter would have provided. Instead, that job will remain in part with Mason, who has filled a valuable niche as a three-point threat and offensive option beyond the Big Three. The Spurs will need him to continue to hit big shots and deliver consistent production down the stretch.
Wally Szczerbiak, Cavaliers: Thought before the season to be little more than a trade chip, Szczerbiak has been a productive part of the Cavs' bench, shooting 40.1 percent from the three-point line and averaging 7.5 points in 21.5 minutes. Szczerbiak's value clearly was a factor in the chemistry that GM Danny Ferry cited as part of his reluctance to make a deal last week. If Szczerbiak is good for a couple of key threes in the playoffs, there won't be many Cleveland fans wringing their hands over what could have been; if not, and the Cavs fail to win a championship, those LeBron James-to-elsewhere rumors will get just a little louder.
Shaquille O'Neal, Suns: In playing at a Shaq-friendly pace (i.e. slower) and resting the 36-year-old, 325-pound center on the second end of back-to-back games, Phoenix coaxed an All-Star first half from the big man. But with new coach Alvin Gentry hitting the accelerator on the offense and Amar'e Stoudemire likely out for the rest of the regular season, Shaq won't get the benefit of a slower pace or rest anymore. If the Suns are to make the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season, Shaq, who was dangled at the trade deadline, will have to stay healthy and engaged.
Jermaine O'Neal, Heat: Sunday's game at Orlando underscored the Heat's difficulty in finding consistent help for Dwyane Wade. While Wade scored 50 points on 17-of-30 shooting, the rest of the team combined for 49 points on 20-of-59 shooting in Miami's 122-99 loss. O'Neal, who was acquired from Toronto for Shawn Marion on Feb. 14, is the most proven secondary scoring option. The Heat's chances of overtaking Atlanta for the No. 4 seed in the East could hinge on O'Neal's ability to remain healthy and productive.
Joe Smith, Thunder: Funny how a guy playing 19.2 minutes a game for a 13-43 team could become the most wanted man in the NBA this week. If Oklahoma City buys out his contract, Smith would instantly be targeted by multiple contenders looking for this season's version of P.J. Brown, a late-February pickup who helped the Celtics win the championship.