Reading between the lines, the league is now dominated by the haves, the have-nots, and a group of teams hoping to catch a star player this summer.
Cavs and Bulls are the trade winners
The NBA trade deadline has passed and much has changed. There are now even more teams with the salary cap space to sign free agents this summer. At the same time, some teams added players and are now much better. One trade featured the Houston Rockets, the Sacramento Kings and the New York Knicks. In short, the Rockets gave away a decent player in Carl Landry and one who no longer played for them, Tracy McGrady.
What came back to Houston was a veritable motherlode. The Rockets received the Kings' All-Star shooting guard Kevin Martin, the Knicks' power forward Jordan Hill (a top 10 draft pick in 2009), as well as the Kings' centre Hilton Armstrong, plus a first-round draft pick in 2012 and the right for Houston to swap first-round picks with New York in 2011. Houston will probably be great and the Knicks an abomination, so the Rockets should get a prize draft pick in exchange for a late first-rounder in 2011.
The Rockets received all these assets because they also took on the onerous contract of the former Knick Jared Jeffries. That is textbook fleecing. The Knicks' only excuse is that these moves allow them to pursue two top players this summer. Not to be outdone, the Cleveland Cavaliers traded their aging centre Zydrunas Ilgauskas, a European league player named Emir Preldzic and a 2010 first-round pick, and received in return the Washington Wizards' All-Star forward Antawn Jamison.
The trades have several repercussions. While the Knicks now have plenty of cap space to lure LeBron James, they also emptied their cupboards of most of their assets to get to that point. Will James want to play with the Knicks, now that they have next to no one on their roster and have forsaken future first-round picks? In essence, the Cavs acquired an All-Star and gave up the last pick of the first round (which might as well be considered a second-round pick).
How did Washington get to the point that they decided to gift-wrap a trade for Cleveland? Some have suggested that the Washington GM, Ernie Grunfeld, was getting back at his ex-employer, the Knicks, by giving James a legitimate reason to chose Cleveland over New York in the upcoming free agent bonanza. Hoops fans will recall that the Knicks unceremoniously dismissed Grunfeld from his GM post even though he had built the team into an Eastern Conference power in the late 1990s. The Knicks have never been the same.
Last but not least, the Chicago Bulls made moves to clear cap space and now figure to be a significant player this summer. Unlike the Knicks, the Bulls have a terrific core of young talent in Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng. I have long believed the Bulls will do everything possible to sign the Miami Heat's superstar Dwyane Wade. In fact, a deal may already be in place. Wade grew up in Chicago in the shadow of one of the most respected franchises in the NBA. He would be in the position to play in the backcourt with fellow Chicagoan Rose. Without question, they have the talent to be the greatest backcourt in recent memory.
Reading between the lines, the league is now dominated by the haves, the have-nots, and a group of teams hoping to catch a star player this summer. The Knicks are banking on someone signing on to their sinking ship. Knowing the way things work, perhaps the fix is already in. Either way, the big winners are the Cavs, who focused on the present and did what they could to build a winner today, followed by the Bulls, who have got to be any free agent's first choice come July.