Trades and Signings Impacting Playoffs in NBA

Last year in the NBA was the year of the huge trade. Pau Gasol ended up in Lakerland, a great move that propelled Los Angeles to the Finals. Shaquille O’Neal was traded from Miami to Phoenix for Shawn Marion in a trade that seemed to make both teams worse. Jason Kidd went to Dallas for Devin Harris in midseason, an experiment that has not yielded what it promised – yet.

Cleveland was involved in a three-way trade that opened the door for their great 2009 run. They acquired Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, Ben Wallace and Joe Smith. All four have made important contributions to the team’s success this year.

This year, one of the big bargains of the off-season was Ron Artest. Formerly of Indiana and Sacramento, Artest was known best for two things. He is a great defender. And he is a hothead who went after a fan in the stands and was suspended for almost the entire 2004-05 season. The risk of signing such a player means that Houston was able to get him at a bargain. He is making a relatively paltry $7 million this year. This for a player who is scoring 16 points a game, grabbing five rebounds, handing out 3 assists, and locking down the other teams’ best offensive player on the wing.

Artest was signed to be something of a role player. But he has proven to be much more. Especially since Tracy McGrady has gone down with an injury, Artest has become a focal point of the offense. He handles the ball reasonably well for such a powerful inside player. This is especially important after Houston traded its point guard, Rafer Alston.

And Artest is not afraid to take the big shot, although he sometimes could use better judgment about launching three-pointers. Against Portland in the early going of the playoffs, Artest is proving to be a valuable asset. In game one, he helped Houston beat Portland on its home floor.

He shot 7-12 from the floor and had 17 points along with 4 assists. In game two, he had 19 points and 5 rebounds. As the series heads back to Houston tied at 1-1, Artest seems to be the team leader as much as anyone.

In the Eastern Conference, Orlando was having a terrific year until Jameer Nelson was averaging 16 points and 5.4 assists. He was on his way to the All-Star game when injury took him out for the season.
Orlando seemed devastated, particularly because Nelson had this season become particularly adept at running the offense. His speed was breaking down other teams.

The moment he was done, Orlando was pronounced dead on arrival. Not so fast. They traded for Rafer Alston and he has done a handy job, keeping the Magic on track for a shot at the championship.
Alston isn’t flashy, but he is experienced and dependable. He is a steady hand at the helm with 9 years of NBA experience. He has fit into the Magic offense much earlier than expected and kept them on the winning track. The San Antonio Spurs always seem to quietly pick up a player or two that fits exactly what they need. This year they have done it twice. They signed Roger Mason, Jr. in the off-season. No one else seemed to be too wild about a player who had mostly done his best work in Europe.

In San Antonio, though, Mason has flourished. He season average in points is 11.8, up from 7.4 in his career. He is also averaging twice as many assists and rebounds. Perhaps most importantly, he has become a clutch shooter. He has won several games in the last minute.
Like Robert Horry before him, Mason has found ways to make teams pay for doubling on Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili.
He has raised his level of play again in the playoffs. San Antonio is 1-1 against the Mavericks as the series heads to Dallas. Mason is 6-13 from three-point land in the first two games. He has again raised his scoring average, assists and rebounds. San Antonio also made a nice move late in the season acquiring Drew Gooden. They are paying him only the mid-level exception at a $1 million. They are getting an offensive weapon they desperately need now that Ginobili is out for the year. In the last quarter of the regular season and now in the playoffs, Gooden is quietly giving the Spurs 10 points and five rebounds a game.

Another pleasant surprise comes from the Lakers. In midseason they traded away Vladimir Radmanovic for Adam Morrison and Shannon Brown in a move widely recognized as being a salary-cap saver.
Morrison has not been able to crack the Lakers’ terrific top ten, but Brown has jumped forward. Toward the end of the season, Jackson seemed to be testing out Brown’s abilities. Jackson has long been looking for a point guard to back up or even replace Derek Fisher.
Jordan Farmar had been coming along in that role last year, but took a step back this year.

Now, the first guard off the bench for the Lakers is Shannon Brown. He is playing in important situations, and learning his role quickly.
In the first two playoff games against the Utah Jazz, both wins, Brown has done his part. He is 5-6 from the three-point line.
It’s crucial for the Lakers to be able to stretch the defense, which wants to focus on Gasol, Bynum and Odom down low, along with Kobe wherever he goes. For Brown to rain in threes makes the whole team much more dangerous.

Along with that, Brown is defending well and handing out assists.
As the postseason develops, it will be interesting to see which of the league’s new acquisitions and role players turn into stars under the bright lights of the playoffs.

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