NBA Trade Deadline: Ghosts of Deadlines Past
No event in sports is as consistently anticlimactic as the NBA trade deadline. Every year dozens of stars are floated about in trade rumors, and every year those guys stay put while we're treated to a slew of Fred Jones for Juan Dixon-type deals.
This year, the trade deadline will pass with Dwight Howard wearing Magic blue while a grand total of 845,681,234 hours will have been wasted by the Internet on phony "Superman" trades.
Just because the trades didn't happen, though, doesn't mean that we can't wonder "what if." Could titles have been swung? Could legacies have been redefined? Could I stop asking rhetorical questions? The answer is an emphatic "Yes."
We're going to go back to look at the biggest deals of each of the past five trade deadlines that didn't happen.
2007: Jason Kidd to the Lakers
The trade: Jason Kidd to the Lakers for Kwame Brown, Andrew Bynum and two first-round picks.
What it meant: As you may recall, Kobe Bryant was absolutely livid that this trade didn't go down. The Lakers were floundering toward another seventh seed, which would have meant a first-round date with Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns and likely a quick exit from the playoffs.
What would Kidd have done about that? Well, to be honest... Not that much.
The Western Conference was absolutely loaded in 2007. Dallas won 67 games, and five teams won more than 50. While Kidd may have allowed the Lakers to jump ahead of Denver for the sixth seed, he wouldn't have gotten them to the 53 wins necessary to pass Houston for fifth. This means the Lakers would have met eventual champion San Antonio in Round 1 and probably would have lost fairly quickly.
Where this really gets interesting, though, is what happened next.
With Brown's expiring contract gone, the Lakers would have no longer had any trade assets left to chase Pau Gasol. This means that the Lakers don't contend for a championship in 2008 or beyond without other moves, but without Bynum they wouldn't have the assets to chase any of the stars who would later come on the market.
Fast forward to 2010. Kidd may have bought the Lakers some time, but ultimately Bryant wouldn't have been satisfied with the direction of the Lakers and he would have demanded a trade, just as he did in '08.
Where would the most logical destination be?
The New York Knicks.
With many of the same assets the Knicks used to acquire Carmelo Anthony, New York would have aggressively chased Kobe. When a deal is eventually consummated, Carmelo has no choice but to accept a trade to the Nets if he wants to get to New York.
With the Nets off of the table, Deron Williams stays with Utah through the end of the 2011 season. He is aggressively shopped alongside Chris Paul, and both are eventually traded after the lockout as their original teams know they can't keep their stars.
And to think, all of this was avoided simply because the Lakers didn't want to trade Bynum.
2008: Ron Artest To...
You know how I called the trade deadline "anticlimactic?"
Well, 2008 was the exception.
Stars were traded left and right. It was a mad dash to scoop up the last few, available pieces before your team fell out of contention. The one difference-maker who wasn't traded was Ron Artest.
Allow me to take you back to a simpler time, a time when Metta World Peace didn't exist and Artest was actually a useful basketball player. He was by far the league's best perimeter defender and still managed to put up over 20 points per game.
Yet no contender bit on him.
This one has confused me for years. We know the asking price couldn't have been too high, since he was traded the next summer for the Donte Green-Bobby Jackson pu-pu platter.
Why didn't the Cavaliers bite with draft picks and one of their menagerie of expiring contracts? Nobody came closer than the Cavs to taking down Boston in '08. You can't tell me that having Artest to guard Paul Pierce during his classic Game 7 duel with LeBron James wouldn't have helped.
What about the Lakers? They still had promising point guard Jordan Farmar to dangle as a trade piece, and they definitely had a need since they were starting Luke Walton at the time. Even without Andrew Bynum, a team with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Artest and Lamar Odom could have taken down the Celtics. How do I know this? Because that group actually did it in 2010.
The point is several contenders missed opportunities to acquire the very available Artest. While he was one of the league's best players, his volatile personality held him back from becoming a perennial All-Star.
2009: Cleveland Whiffs on Shaq
The 2009 trade deadline was Cleveland's golden opportunity to give LeBron the help he needed to finally win a championship. And what did it do?
Cleveland was loaded with expiring contracts, namely Wally Szczerbiak's, but chose to stand pat at the deadline and go forward with what it had. It would go on to win 66 games and lose to Orlando in the Eastern Conference finals.
Who could have put the Cavs over the top? Shaq.
Shaq, unlike in 2010, was actually healthy enough for a playoff run in 2009. He would have given Cleveland someone to contain Dwight Howard in its series with Orlando. And considering he was an All-Star in '09, Shaq may also have been able to take some of the scoring burden off LeBron.
What else would a Szczerbiak-Shaq trade have done for the Cavs? It would have kept Szczerbiak off the floor. The Cavs were absolutely torched by Orlando's forward combination of Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu. LeBron guarded one of them, but whoever he didn't guard was a huge threat. Checking that guy with Szczerbiak only made things worse.
There are long-term effects here as well. What if Cleveland wins the title with LeBron and Shaq? Does James stay in Cleveland knowing that it's possible for him to win there? I say yes.
The bottom line here is that Cleveland could have secured the '09 title with a trade but didn't. Many players were out there, but none would have helped more than the big diesel.
2010: Cleveland Can't Get Amare
Showing just how inept its front office really is, Cleveland once again fails to help LeBron. Its indecisiveness in parting with forward J.J. Hickson may very well have cost it a shot at Phoenix's Amare Stoudemire.
Stoudemire was very much available in 2010. The Suns knew he was leaving after the season, so it wanted to recoup some value for him before the deadline. Cleveland chased Stoudemire harder than anyone, but negotiations stalled because Cleveland didn't want to give up Hickson. This didn't make sense because of the simple fact that Cleveland had nobody else to trade.
Apparently Danny Ferry thought the Suns were going to hand him Stoudemire on a silver platter. He thought wrong, and by the time he was willing to give up Hickson the Suns had decided to hold onto their All-Star forward.
We know the rest of the story. Cleveland won 61 games and made it to the second round before LeBron "quit" against Boston, leading to his decision to go to Miami.
But what if the Cavs had been able to bring in Amare? The answer is that they may have won the 2010 title. Though Boston was definitely equipped to contain Stoudemire with Kevin Garnett, containing two superstars at the height of their powers is nearly impossible. Stoudemire's presence may also have invoked a greater effort from LeBron. While we can't say it for sure, I think Cleveland would have beaten the Celtics with Amare.
Even if the Cavs are still knocked out by Boston, LeBron finally has the help he needs. He and Stoudemire both would have signed extensions with Cleveland that summer. While Stoudemire has fallen off a bit this year, Cleveland would have happily paid that price for the chance to keep James.
2011: Chicago Fails to Bring in a Shooting Guard
2011 was a slow deadline. You know, except for the Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams and Kendrick Perkins blockbusters.
One deal (or rather, set of deals) that was rumored was Chicago chasing a shooting guard.
The Bulls called Memphis for OJ Mayo, Detroit for Rip Hamilton and Houston for Courtney Lee. They were rejected on all fronts because of their refusal to include young center Omer Asik.
Despite their lack of a shooting guard (and yes, Keith Bogans is synonymous with "lack"), Chicago managed to win 62 games en route to an Eastern Conference finals decimation at the hands of Miami. Chicago's biggest weakness (a scorer next to Derrick Rose) was exposed when LeBron James locked the league MVP down.
None of the players on that list were All-Stars, but all of them can hit open shots and play defense. Games 2 through 5 were all close enough that a couple shots could have changed the series. In other words, replace Bogans on the floor with Mayo and maybe the Bulls can avoid overtime in Game 4 and take home court back in Game 5.
We can't say it for sure, but it's very possible that a legitimate shooting guard could have allowed the Bulls to beat the Heat.
In the case of most trades that don't go down, we never actually get to see what would have happened if they had. Lucky for us, this is the rare exception. Miami and Chicago are going to play in the playoffs again this spring, and this time Rip Hamilton will be suiting up for the Bulls. If Hamilton is who the Bulls thought he would be, his addition could swing the Eastern Conference for a few years.
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