Dead Deadline: A Look at the NBA Trade Deadline

Mike Ketcham

The NBA trade deadline has in the past been ridiculed for its lack of activity. The inactivity has disappointed so frequently that nicknames like the “No Balls Association” have been generated in response to the hesitance of general managers to make significant moves. Last year, however, that changed. With the likes of Shaquille O’Neal, Jason Kidd, Pau Gasol and Shawn Marion all changing addresses, it was clear that NBA general mangers decided to take some risks. At this year’s trade deadline there were plenty of rumors, most notably the hints that Phoenix Sun’s superstar Amare Stoudemire would be on the move. Unfortunately for fans, the NBA trade deadline came and passed with little resemblance of the excitement that took place last year. This is not to say that the moves made were insignificant. Rather, general managers were very calculated with any moves they made so as not to take on the burden of a large contract that could flounder a franchise given the expected decrease in salary cap with the struggling economy and the numerous big name free agents that will become available in the next couple years. In addition, some of the “big moves” made last year ended up being devastating busts (e.g. Kidd for Harris). With that said, here is a look at the most noteworthy outcomes from the NBA trade deadline.

Chicago Bulls: Best Upgrade

In the past, the Bulls have been heavily criticized for their resistance to making a big move. First they missed out on Kevin Garnett. Then they missed out on Coach Mike D’Antoni. And now, recently they were rumored to be interested in Amare Stoudemire. However, despite their shortcomings, the Bulls actually did the most mid-season to improve their chances of making the playoffs and maybe even more than that. Brad Miller has certainly lost a step from his prime years as a Sacramento King, but he does provide an inside presence for a team that has lacked a skilled big man. The Bulls also added John Salmons, an on-the- rise swingman who extends the depth of their bench. The Bulls got rid of the enigma known as Larry Hughes and dumped Andres Nocioni’s unnecessarily large contract. Furthermore, Miller’s contract expires in 2010 meaning the Bulls will have some flexibility. Other additions included Tim Thomas, Jerome James and Anthony Roberson.

Overall the Bulls upgraded and created flexibility in the short-term, which has to be viewed as a success. Perhaps they should have pushed harder for Stoudemire but given his recent eye injury, the Bulls more cautious approach looks better and better.

Miami Heat: Contenders?

It is safe to say that the Shawn Marion experiment was officially unsuccessful. Marion is an excellent defender and strong rebounder , but without the scoring-friendly Sun’s system, Marion saw his points per game average drop from about 19 per game with Phoenix, to less than 13 per game. The Heat have returned to respectability though thanks almost entirely to the MVP caliber play of Dwyane Wade. With that said, trading for Jermaine O’Neal does provide a strong inside presence offensively, and defensively O’Neal is certainly an upgrade over the likes of Mark Blount and Joel Anthony. Adding Jamario Moon is another upgrade from the Heat’s deadline activity that adds depth to the bench. The gamble for the Heat is that O’Neal is locked up for this year and next, meaning the Heat will not be able to make any significant changes to their current roster until both Wade and O’Neal become free agents in 2010.

The real question is whether O’Neal make the Heat contenders. Orlando, Boston, and Cleveland have been in a class of their own thus far, but injuries to the Magic’s Jameer Nelson, and uncertainty about the long-term health of Celtic’s Kevin Garnett have left the door slightly open. It is a realistic possibility that the Heat may put together a late season run that would earn them the fourth overall spot in the Eastern Conference and push them to the second round of the playoffs. However, despite the playoff experience of Wade, the Heat will most likely hit a wall in the second round where their lack of depth and need for an established point guard will prove insurmountable in the face of Boston or Cleveland.

New York Knicks: Playoffs?

The Knicks were involved in a variety of rumors before the trade deadline but like almost every team, they ended up doing less than predicted. The Knicks successfully improved their chances of winning this year with the additions of Larry Hughes and Chris Wilcox. Wilcox was swapped for Malik Rose, and with each player having expiring contracts at the end of this year, this trade was purely made to add talent. Wilcox is still in his prime and is an active big man, but his inability to shoot might limit D’Antoni’s use of him given the up-tempo, shooter dependent offense the Knick run.

Hughes has had his fair share of struggles in recent years, but again the Knicks did no damage to their plan of creating cap space in 2010, and adding Hughes gives the Knicks a legitimate 2-guard. The trades made by the Knicks can be described as low-risk, low-reward, which leads to the question of whether these moves translate into a playoff spot. It is certainly feasible given the weaknesses of the Eastern Conference, but given the number of teams the Knicks will be competing with for that last spot (The Knicks are one of seven teams within five games of the eighth seed) it would be hard to give the Knicks more than a puncher’s chance. The Knicks also failed to move heavy contracts (read: Jared Jeffries) that would free up more cap space in 2010 and will still have to decide what to do with Nate Robinson and David Lee at the end of the year. However, the Knicks have shown flashes of brilliance this year, and if Hughes and Wilcox respond well to the new scenery, it is not impossible to imagine an intriguing Boston-New York first-round playoff matchup.