NBA trade deadline more about what didn't happen - NBC Sports

NBA trade deadline more about what didn't happen
Teams handcuffed by uncertainty over looming free-agent decisions this summer
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Josh Smith and Dwight Howard could have been moved on deadline day, but for different reasons, weren't.
February 21, 2013, 6:02 pm

The Lakers would have been far better positioned to deal Pau Gasol if they knew Dwight Howard was staying.

Same with the Clippers moving Eric Bledsoe had they been assured that the 99-percent chance of Chris Paul re-upping was 100 percent.

Part B often manages to take general managers off their A-game at the deadline, with health, playoff prospects, the luxury tax and offseason free agency all tending to get in the way.

It is why the timing of last summer's Dwight deal made more sense for the Lakers, 76ers and Magic, even if it doesn't seem to be making sense for anyone at the moment.

It also is why the Heat has saved the bulk of their offseason moves for offseasons, be it the Big Three signings in July 2010 or the subtle additions of the likes of Mike Miller, Shane Battier and Ray Allen since.

By now, we're well aware of what happened when the clock struck 3 p.m. ET Thursday.

As for what didn't happen:

Lakers kept the status woe: A source close to the Lakers said even before Gasol was sidelined with his foot injury, the concern was that the Lakers would make a value move with Gasol, for a better fit with Mike D'Antoni, and then Howard would leave in the offseason and leave the Lakers with nothing in the middle and no cap recourse.

Despite everything from the Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak camps, concerns about Howard departing persist.

Sure, Dwight is talking reconciliation. That's what he does annually at the trading deadline. Then the offseason arrives.

So, for now, Gasol remains, not that he doesn't remain the round peg in a square hole in D'Antoni's offense, but rather that he's still the preferable option to Robert Sacre in the event Howard departs in the offseason.

In essence, the Lakers were ruled by fear at the deadline of becoming this summer what the Magic decided they had to avoid last summer, the type of scorched earth that the Cavaliers endured when LeBron James left and the similar result in Toronto when Chris Bosh left.

Make no mistake, as soon as Howard should sign on the Lakers' dotted line, Gasol will be moved, with as many suitors in July as there would have been Thursday had the Lakers been fully confident of a Howard return.

The Clippers have nothing palpable with Paul: Ditto.

If the Clippers were without-a-doubt certain about Paul re-upping in July, they could have extracted maximum value for Eric Bledsoe, who is on the verge of emerging as a top-15 point guard in his own right.

At the moment, Paul would appear to have it all: a major market, an All-Star Game MVP and a major endorsement (for both himself and his separated-at-birth twin brother, oddly with the same last name).

But in the Western Conference there are no guarantees, with not only a difficult opening-round series possible, but the possibility of second-round elimination as the road team against the Spurs or Thunder.

Such an outcome certainly could have Paul taking pause before re-upping.

Whether the Kevin Garnett possibilities were real or not, the Clippers had numerous pieces to put into play Thursday, pieces that won't have the same marketability going forward.

While it's not quite the same as the Lakers' limbo with Howard, the Clippers remain stuck in a waiting game with Paul, one that reduced the possibilities at the trading deadline.

No Smoove operators: Josh Smith won't be in Atlanta next season, something the Hawks knew would be the case with or without a deal.

But rather than settle for leftovers, Danny Ferry decided he rather would have the cap space to remold the Hawks in his own image, instead of with castoffs from elsewhere.

The true comeuppance might have be for Smith himself, who tried to back off his deserve-the-max stance too late, at a time when the new CBA makes a maximum contract as logical as Smith on a night when he converts his first 3-pointer.

Pacers to grind with Granger: The Pacers need to have it all and need to have it now, their Eastern Conference success hardly packing them in at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

With Danny Granger returning, they should be a better team.

Should.

Or, they could look a lot like last season's Pacers again, with Granger and emerging Paul George proving an ill fit, Granger stunting George's growth.

The opportunity to provide insurance for a possible David West departure was there with a Granger trade, possibly for the likes of a Paul Millsap.

Still, Indiana's scoring issues just might be solved by Granger.

The constant with Frank Vogel has been living in the moment, making each game a crusade. By not moving Granger, the Pacers opted to live in that moment.

Whether they're better for it will be on display in coming weeks and coming months.

Of course, like many not moved at the deadline, Granger could yet come back into play in the offseason.

The Jazz still have a big problem: Rare is the NBA team that struggles to thin out a power rotation. Even rarer is the team that leaves itself in position to otherwise lose a big man without compensation.

Yet that's where the Jazz stand with Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap still in place and still on course to become free agents in the offseason.

Yes, Derrick Favor and Enes Kanter hold promise, but it's not as if the Jazz have shown an ability to reload through free agency on the wing. Outside of Carlos Boozer worming his way out of his Cleveland rookie-scale contract, free agents simply don't surge to Salt Lake.

In the competitive West, Utah had the opportunity to do more.

Now, more than likely, the Jazz will try to turn their offseason cap space into a landing spot for another team's overpriced contract.

The Raptors still have a big Bargnani issue: Could it be that there simply is no value here, that save for possible Lakers overtures (which could have required Gasol being put into play), interest was minimal?

Or perhaps Bryan Colangelo had a point when he pointed out that without the pressure of having to be a No. 1 option, now that Rudy Gay has been acquired and Kyle Lowry is playing, that perhaps Bargnani finally can develop a comfort zone.

Perhaps.

But it's not as if Bargnani impressed to any degree alongside Chris Bosh.

Take-my-Bargnani-please likely has merely been deferred until a more favorable exchange rate can be found.

Sacto limbo: When a team is about to trade owners and cities, it tends to dampen the urgency to clean up the roster, save for dumping salary with a move such as the Thomas Robinson trade.

Yet is DeMarcus Cousins who the Kings/Sonics want to be the face of a reborn franchise? Or was this the perfect opportunity to do what the Sonics/Thunder did with their move to Oklahoma City and load up on draft picks and stable young talent?

If there truly was direction, this was the perfect opportunity to clean up the roster, even if it meant leaving Sacramento with as little in the way of current talent.

Instead? Instead, the franchise remains an undefined mess, an I-5 headache for another day.

Hey Seattle, caveat emptor.

leftNo freedom for floppers: Had Anderson Varejao not been injured, had Luis Scola not been an amnesty acquisition, each was a perfect short-term answer for a contender. Instead, Varejao is done for the season and Scola, by amnesty rule, cannot be dealt during the season.

Each could have made a contender more of a contender.

No Buck-ing of the trend: From the moment Monta Ellis was brought in at last season's deadline to play alongside of Brandon Jennings, it was enough to drive Scott Skiles to distraction.

Now Skiles is gone and Ellis and Jennings remain, with Ellis free to depart as a free agent in the offseason.

Ellis to Atlanta for Smith would have made a degree of sense, even if it would have been more fun to have Skiles still in place to deal with Smith's erratic swings.

No Grizzly implosion: A Part II to the moves that saw Marreese Speights and Rudy Gay shoved out the door in the name of tax savings would have defined the Grizzlies' new ownership as a cash-first operation.

By retaining Zach Randolph, there at least is playoff-level commitment, if not the championship aspiration that the season's initial roster presented.

Fight to the finish: From the moment Mike Dunlap walked in the door with his college-like drilling, it was clear only winning would prevent a veteran from challenging authority.

The winning lasted about two weeks. And yet, Ben Gordon remains, the Bobcats now with the headache of having to continue to deal with a veteran who challenges authority with minimal consequence.

Finally paying the piper: So the Bulls actually will pay the luxury tax?

For a team that remains uncertain about Derrick Rose prospects, there apparently wasn't a market to unload Rip Hamilton or the courage to deal Carlos Boozer during one of the most productive stretches of his Chicago tenure.

As constructed, the Bulls yet could make the Eastern Conference finals. While that would be a surprise, more of a surprise is Jerry Reinsdorf agreeing to play among the taxpayers, a fate he could have escaped at the deadline.

The irony is Rose's brother being upset about Chicago not making a move, when the most likely moves by the Bulls at the deadline would have weakened the roster.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.

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