The Western Conference was extremely competitive up until February 1, 2008.
That's when things just got ridiculous.
For years, the East has been viewed as the weaker of the two conferences and any strides made by the Celtics or Pistons this season to disprove that claim were erased on this day.
The Los Angeles Lakers—who were the top seed in the West before losing their center, Andrew Bynum, to injury—decided to make a very surprising move that would set off a chain reaction of blockbuster trades.
They dealt Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Marc Gasol, and two first round draft picks to the Memphis Grizzlies for star forward Pau Gasol.
Soon after, the Phoenix Suns would trade Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks to the Heat for Shaquille O'Neal.
Dallas countered with their own trade, sending Devin Harris, DeSagana Diop, Trenton Hassell, Maurice Ager, Keith Van Horn, $3 million, and first round picks in 2008 and 2010, to New Jersey for Jason Kidd, Malik Allen, and Antoine Wright.
The defending champions also struck a deal. The Spurs acquired Kurt Thomas from Seattle for Brent Barry, Franciso Elson, and a 2009 first round pick.
Wow. Shaquille O'Neal is back in the Pacific division, Jason Kidd is back in Dallas, Kobe Bryant now has a partner in crime, and the already deep Spurs have added yet another valuable role player. The Wild Wild West just got even wilder.
So that's four contenders who all made deals that help their title chances. What about the rest of the teams out West? You still have Utah, New Orleans, Houston, Denver, and Golden State. How did they respond as the trade deadline approached? Let's take a glimpse at each team:
Expiring Contracts: Jason Hart, C.J. Miles, Paul Millsap
The Breakdown: While last year's Western Conference runners up are leading their division, the Denver Nuggets are only 1.5 games back and could be one trade away from taking control over the Northwest.
While Utah did have some expiring contracts that they could move, Andrei Kirilenko has cooled down and is now happy in Utah.
They stuck with the players they have, but are they missing one more key bench player to help their playoff push come April?
New Orleans Hornets
Expiring Contracts: Ryan Bowen, Melvin Ely, Jannero Pargo, Bernard Robinson, Marcus Vinicius
The Breakdown: The Hornets have been one of the league's biggest surprises this season thanks to the development of their young stars, Chris Paul and David West, and the improvement of center Tyson Chandler.
They are in the same situation as Utah, however—a good team that barely leads their division.
The bad news doesn't end there for the Hornets because two of the teams trailing them, Dallas and San Antonio, both made significant trades to help strengthen their rosters.
Other than their mediocre expiring contracts, they don't have many expendable pieces to offer and much like Utah, I haven't heard their name mentioned in any trade talks. Usually if a team is shopping around, you hear about it before the final day trades can be made.
It seemed unlikely the Hornets will make a trade, as it seems they think they can continue their impressive first half of the season.
But at the last minute, the New Orleans Hornets acquired Bonzi Wells and Mike James from the Houston Rockets in exchange for guard Bobby Jackson. I guess the Hornets know how to get deals done in silence and sting to the surprise of the media!
Expiring Contracts: Steve Francis, Carl Landry, Dikembe Mutombo, Steve Novak, Kirk Snyder, Bonzi Wells
The Breakdown: Finally, we get to a team that has quality pieces to offer and hasn't been completely silent while approaching the deadline.
Kirk Snyder has voiced that he would welcome a trade and the Rockets continue to try to find a home for him.
Ron Artest and Mike Miller have been mentioned as players that Houston have showed interest in. By adding one of those two, the Rockets would have their own Big Three since they already have two stars in Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming.
With a 33-20 record, they are now tied for the seventh seed in the West, but that could all change with just a few games.
Houston needed to make a trade more than anybody to keep their playoff hopes alive and had several pieces to do so—and as this article was hitting the press, Houston acquired Bobby Jackson from the New Orleans Hornets for Bonzi Wells and Mike James.
The Rockets also picked up Gerald Green from Minnesota, in exchange for Kirk Snyder, a 2010 second-rounder, and cash.
Expiring Contracts: Anthony Carter, Yakhouba Diawara, Eduardo Najera, J.R. Smith, Von Wafer
The Breakdown: I've heard several rumored deals that involve the Nuggets and there is no doubt they're in discussions with several teams.
With Denver nipping at Utah's heels in the Northwest division, they are likely to make a deal. They've showed a lot of interest in Kings' forward Ron Artest and the main holdup has been the Nuggets wanting to hold onto Linas Kleiza, their young sixth man, while Sacramento wants him included in the deal.
Another deal I've heard some talk about has Yakhouba Diawara going to the Phoenix Suns. I'm not sure who Denver would receive in return but it's something to watch for.
Finally, I've heard that the Nuggets have made calls regarding the following players: Jermaine O'Neal, Jamaal Tinsley, and Zach Randolph. With that many players on their radar, I'd have been surprised if all of that work was for nothing and they didn't make a deal come Thursday night.
In the end, the Nuggets did make a deal, but not a blockbuster, acquiring Taurean Green from Portland in exchange for Von Wafer.
Golden State Warriors
Expiring Contracts: Kelenna Azubuike, Matt Barnes, Andris Biedrins, Austin Croshere, Monta Ellis, Troy Hudson, Patrick O'Bryant, Mickael Pietrus
The Breakdown: The Warriors are just outside of the playoff picture at this point, but with how close all of the teams are out West, they're still very much in the race for the playoffs.
Mickael Pietrus has wanted out of Golden State for awhile so I wouldn't be surprised to see him dealt—maybe to a team like Phoenix who is looking for a wing player.
Also, I've heard some interesting rumors regarding Jermaine O'Neal that also involve Pietrus. Apparently, the deal would be Pietrus, Patrick O'Bryant, Al Harrington, a pick, and cash.
They have also contacted the Los Angeles Clippers about acquiring Elton Brand. But in the end, Golden State didn't make ant moves to boost their chances at making the playoffs.
Will any more Western Conference teams feel the need to bring in new faces? As this article was being written, New Orleans and Houston decided to make a deal.
That just goes to show you, the West never stops getting wilder.
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