Thursday, February 18, 2010

Cavs, Rockets are big winners at trade deadline

By John McMullen,

The NBA made up for last year's lackluster trade deadline in a big way this week, when a plethora of moves reshaped the league in dramatic fashion.

If Kenny Rogers has taught us anything, it's "You got to know when to hold'em, know when to fold'em. Know when to walk away and know when to run."

Danny Ferry already had one of the best hands at the NBA's poker table this year, so holding was certainly an option for the Cavaliers' basketball chief, but folding was assuredly not.

In the end, Ferry didn't hold...he didn't fold. Instead, he threw a curve ball and went in a different direction.

Forget about his team and its fans, Ferry owed it to himself to go all in. The Cavs were obviously already a title contender. They have the game's best player and emerged from the All-Star break with the NBA's top record (43-11) and a 13-game winning streak.

None of that could erase what happened against Orlando in last year's playoffs, however. Postseason basketball is all about matchups and the Magic were able to space the floor vs. Cleveland on the offensive end and force players other than LeBron James to knock down shots in key moments. The result
was a premature exit for a Cavs team expected to meet the LA Lakers in the NBA Finals.

With James able to opt out of his contract this summer and the Big Apple beckoning, this could be the last legitimate Cavaliers run in years so Ferry pushed all of his chips to the middle of the table.

The former Duke star refused to play it safe, acquiring former two-time All-Star forward Antawn Jamison from Washington in a three-team trade on Wednesday night.

What separates the great poker players from the good ones is knowing when to go for the kill and Ferry proved he wasn't shy, making his team the big winner as this year's deadline horn sounded at 3 p.m. (et).

Here's a look at the five teams that helped themselves the most:

1. - CLEVELAND: Along with Jamison the Cavs also got point guard Sebastian Telfair from the Los Angeles Clippers in the complicated deal that sent center Zydrunas Ilgauskas from the Cavs to Washington. The Wizards also received Cleveland's first-round draft pick this year, the draft rights to Emil Preldzic and Al Thornton from Los Angeles, while Drew Gooden went to the Clippers. It's also possible the Wizards, who are looking for cap space, cut "Z" and the veteran will wind up back in Cleveland a month from now.

Jamison is expected to provide the Cavaliers with another consistent scoring option to complement James. The days where Cleveland goes into a four or five minute funk on the offensive end because no one other than James can do the heavy lifting should be over. More importantly, Orlando's Rashard Lewis won't get to rest at the defensive end now when playing the Cavs.

Whether Cleveland has addressed enough of its issues at the defensive end is another matter but one thing is certain, the Cavs are a much tougher team today than they were 48 hours ago.

2. - HOUSTON - I love Carl Landry but I never should have questioned Rockets GM Daryl Morey.

When the dust settled in the Tracy McGrady three-way, the Rockets had lost Landry but acquired high-scoring guard Kevin Martin from Sacramento and former lottery pick Jordan Hill along with versatile forward Jared Jeffries from New York. Houston also has the right to swap first-round picks with New York in 2011 as well as take on the Knicks' 2012 first-round pick, which is protected only if its No. 1 overall.

Landry has certainly had a breakout season but with McGrady's money coming off the books, the Rockets have the cash to afford K-Mart, one of the NBA's best pure scorers.

A projected starting five of Martin, who is in the second year of a 5-year $55 million dollar contract, Aaron Brooks, Trevor Ariza, Luis Scola and Yao Ming along with a sixth man like Shane Battier could turn the Rockets into a championship contender rather quickly next season.

3. - DALLAS - The Mavs started this season very well and were setting a nice pace that kept them at the top of the West for most of the first half. Since Jan. 1, however, Dallas has faltered and is a pedestrian 11-11 in the new year.

Patience is not a virtue in Mark Cuban's world, so after watching his team limp into the break, the Mavs owner went to work on a blockbuster that brought former All-Star forward Caron Butler, center Brendan Haywood, and guard DeShawn Stevenson from the nation's capital to Big D for a package that
included forwards Josh Howard and Gooden.

The deal was clearly designed to inject more toughness in a Mavericks team most feel is soft. Butler was the centerpiece to the deal and is a tough, hard-nosed player that has the strength to at least make things more difficult for Carmelo Anthony. Meanwhile, don't sleep on Haywood. A former first-round pick, Haywood is a 7-foot, 263-pound wide body that can match up better with gifted offensive big men like Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Nene on the blocks in the playoffs.

4. - CHARLOTTE - In search of the franchise's first playoff berth, the Bobcats were able to land a pair of frontcourt pieces in Chicago power forward Tyrus Thomas and San Antonio big man Theo Ratliff.

Charlotte got Thomas for guards Flip Murray, Acie Law and a future first round pick. The veteran Murray was giving Larry Brown some decent minutes off the bench but Law wasn't playing at all. Thomas, meanwhile, is a live body that can rebound, taking some of the pressure off Gerald Wallace.

The veteran Ratliff was acquired from the Spurs in a salary dump for a future conditional draft pick. He was once an All-Star under Brown in Philadelphia and is a natural shot blocker that can offer a few minutes of defense per night and some solid leadership skills in the locker room.

5. - PORTLAND - Decimated by injuries this season, the Blazers are still in a position to make the postseason but Nate McMillan has already lost both his centers, Greg Oden and Joel Pryzbilla, for the entire season. The team needed some help up front to secure a playoff berth. Enter former Defensive Player of
the Year Marcus Camby, who was acquired from the LA Clippers on Tuesday for injured forward Travis Outlaw, guard Steve Blake and cash.

Camby, who will be a free agent this summer, is more of a weakside defender at this point. He doesn't have the strength to hold up on low post and gets wiped off the pick-and-roll far too often. That said, Camby still has enough left in the tank to punch Portland's ticket to the postseason.

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