If there is a how-to book to be written about deadline dealing, Rockets G.M. Daryl Morey should get his own chapter. He swapped Tracy McGrady's $22.5 million expiring contract (and backup forward Carl Landry) for a 20-points-per-game scorer (Kings guard Kevin Martin), a promising power forward (rookie Jordan Hill of the Knicks) and a first-round draft pick. And he did it while cutting enough payroll to get Houston below the luxury-tax threshold. "You knew they were going to get something good [for McGrady]," says a Western Conference executive. "But I don't think they could do much better than this."
The Rockets top the list of success stories from last Thursday's trade deadline. While acknowledging that yes, the Cavaliers' acquisition of forward Antawn Jamison from the Wizards was an upgrade (duh), here are the other teams that made out well, along with a couple that didn't.
No bench in the league needed a talent infusion more. Memphis's prolific starting lineup (averaging a league-best 82.9 points at week's end) has been pressed into extended duty by the team's anemic reserves (an NBA-low 19.3). Enter guard Ronnie Brewer, averaging 9.3 points on 49.4% shooting for the Jazz. Acquired for a first-round pick, Brewer, 24, will return in two weeks to help the Grizzlies in their playoff push. He also provides insurance should Rudy Gay leave as a free agent after the season.
Los Angeles made itself a player in this summer's free-agent bonanza by jettisoning underproducing forward Al Thornton (to Washington) and backup point guard Sebastian Telfair (to Cleveland) in a three-way deal that landed Drew Gooden's expiring contract and clears $16.5 million in cap space. Now the trick is finding someone who wants to come play for them.
Stumbling Boston (12 wins in its last 26 games through Sunday) tried to shake up its backcourt but struck out in its bids to land Martin and the Bulls' Kirk Hinrich (who stayed put). Instead, the Celts got 5'9" Nate Robinson, who has six 20-point games off the bench this season. But the price—guard Eddie House—was steep for a player who had worn out his welcome in New York. "Talentwise, Robinson is an upgrade," says an Eastern scout. "But he takes a lot of bad shots and makes too many mistakes to play for a team with eyes on winning a championship."
Miami had a huge trade chip (Jermaine O'Neal's expiring $23 million contract), young assets (Michael Beasley and Mario Chalmers) and a cranky superstar expecting to get some help (Dwyane Wade). But Pat Riley was unable to make a deal. An 11th-hour attempt to pry power forward Carlos Boozer from Utah fell short, and the Heat watched one of its biggest competitors for Wade—the Bulls—clear enough cap room to sign him by unloading John Salmons. "[Miami] blew their chance to lock [Wade] up," says an Eastern executive. "Now they have to cross their fingers and hope one of the big names signs with them quickly this summer."
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On the Knicks' new swingman, Tracy McGrady, who had 26 points, four rebounds and five assists last Saturday in his first action since Dec. 23: "He's in much better shape than I thought he would be. His body is strong enough that he can go hard on every possession. The legs aren't there yet and he's not exploding like he used to, but that's to be expected. You can see that he hasn't lost his skills. His jump shot looks sharp, and he is making that quick first move with his back to the basket. He didn't have a lot of assists [in his debut] but he was getting those hockey assists, where his pass set up the pass that set up the jump shot. The Knicks' shooters are going to get a lot of open looks because he knows where to swing the ball."
PAT SULLIVAN/AP (MARTIN)
KMART SHOPPING Before the Rockets plucked him away from the Kings, Martin was averaging nearly 20 points.
NATHANIEL S. BUTLER/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES) (MCGRADY)