Which teams make the grade after the trade?
Deals completed before the NBA February trade deadline typically are remedies for insomnia, unless Danny Schayes for a future second-round pick gets your choo-choo chugging.
In the last decade, there haven't been a pair of impact trades at midseason with nearly the ramifications of the ones we saw last month involving Seattle, Milwaukee, Orlando and Memphis.
Let's examine who got what in the two major trades that happened 2 1/2 weeks ago.
Trade one: Milwaukee sends Ray Allen, Kevin Ollie and a No. 1 draft pick to Seattle for Gary Payton and Desmond Mason.
Allen has been MVP material since the trade, even with his 1-for-10 shooting performance in Wednesday's loss at Utah. In his seven games (five straight victories in the middle of two losses), Allen has averaged 26.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and 7.1 assists for the Sonics. He fits in nicely with Brent Barry in the backcourt and isn't as rabid in criticism of his teammates as was Payton. Ollie has averaged 8.0 points and 24 minutes a game off the bench, so coach Nate McMillan clearly considers him a serviceable reserve.
Milwaukee has gone 3-4 since the trade, but the Bucks needed a change. Coach George Karl had worn on Allen, and Payton has brought on-court leadership and his usual forceful play, averaging 20.7 points and 8.0 assists and meshing reasonably well with backcourt mate Sam Cassell. Mason has become a starter and is shooting 50 percent from the field while averaging 13.4 points and 4.6 rebounds.
Says Atlanta coach Terry Stotts, who coached Payton as an assistant with Seattle and Allen as an assistant with Milwaukee: 'I want to say this without it being a slight to Ray, but Gary is such a strong personality and so focused toward winning. I remember what he did in the last year of his contract when he led our Seattle team that didn't have much direction and a lot of different agendas, and we went to the (1996) NBA Finals.'
The winner: Insiders insist Payton, a free agent this summer, has not agreed to sign a new deal with Milwaukee. Karl is hopeful, and if it happens, the Bucks win, because they get an All-Star guard with plenty of value and a 25-year-old small forward who should be productive for the next decade. Seattle didn't make out badly, either, because Payton had alienated some teammates and seemed unlikely to re-sign. Allen, at 27 seven years Payton's junior, is under contract for two years after this season and provides a foundation for Seattle's future.
Trade two: Orlando sends Mike Miller to Memphis for Drew Gooden and Gordon Giricek. This was an amazing trade, involving three young players with big futures. Also because Memphis GM Jerry West was giving up on Gooden, whom he chose fourth in last year's draft.
Orlando, in danger of not making the playoffs and likely to play without Grant Hill the rest of the season, landed a pair of rookie starters in Gooden, 21, and Giricek, 25. Each has been consistently productive as the Magic have won six of seven games since the trade and thrust themselves back into the playoff picture. Each is shooting better than 50 percent from the field; Gooden is averaging 18.4 points and 12.1 rebounds, while Giricek is averaging 17 points and six rebounds since joining the Magic.
Miller, 23, had a great first game with Memphis but missed five games with a back injury. The Grizzlies are 2-6 since the trade.
The winner: Orlando, and not because Miller has been hurt. He is a good talent and will be a cornerstone for the Grizzlies' future along with Pao Gasol. But the Magic acquired what amounts to their second- and third-best players behind Tracy McGrady, and each is contractually obligated for up to four more seasons. It could wind up being the trade of the decade in the NBA.
The West race
With three-quarters of the regular season in the books, plenty remains to be played for in the Western Conference. And it is amazing how many of the contenders are playing well. Over their last 10 games going into Thursday action, Dallas, Sacramento and San Antonio were all 8-2 while Portland, Minnesota, the Lakers, Golden State and Seattle were all 7-3.
Detroit coach Rick Carlisle recently went 0-5 on a West Coast trip that included many of the contenders. His view of what might happen in the playoffs:
'There are five teams that could come out of the West. Portland is very capable, Dallas has had a great year, Sacramento is really deep, San Antonio is clicking better than anybody and I didn't even mention the Lakers. San Antonio is on the hottest streak, but I still believe you have to go through the Lakers to win because of Shaq and Kobe. Their game has been righted over the last month or so. They are very much a factor.'
And the Blazers?
'Portland is very well-equipped for playoff basketball,' Carlisle says. 'It is one of the few West teams that plays a grinding playoff style during the regular season, and that is going to be beneficial to them.'
Portland's goal is to fall no further than fourth, its current position in the West, to provide homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Blazers should finish with 53 or 54 wins, which would make it tough for the teams behind them in the standings Ñ Minnesota, Utah and the Lakers Ñ to move into fourth.
Could the Blazers catch Sacramento to win the Pacific Division and the No. 2 seed in the West? The Kings have 20 games left, 10 at home and 10 on the road, including a six-game, nine-day eastern swing with stops at Detroit, Indiana, Boston and Philadelphia. If Portland gets hot, the Kings are catchable.
NOTES: Washington's March 25 visit to Portland will include more than Michael Jordan's final appearance at the Rose Garden. It also will be a reunion for Wizards veteran Charles Oakley and Blazer guard Jeff McInnis, who haven't gotten along too well in the past. In December 2000, Oakley drew a three-game suspension for punching McInnis at a shootaround, the result of a dispute between the two over a woman while McInnis was with the L.A. Clippers. Two weeks ago in L.A., Oakley got into a heated exchange with then Clipper coach Alvin Gentry, whom he evidently blames for exposing him to the league after the McInnis altercation. 'Oak is Oak,' McInnis says. 'He gets a little carried away sometimes. Don't want to comment on it other than that.' É After facing Portland last month, Cleveland center Chris Mihm questioned the Blazers listing the 7-3 Arvydas Sabonis at 292 pounds. 'He has always been big, but he is gigantic now,' Mihm said. 'He must be closer to 345.' How about it, Arvydas? 'I'm about 320,' the Lithuanian lug said. É Scottie Pippen is on pace for a career-best at the free-throw line. The Blazer veteran entered Thursday play shooting .813 at the line. His previous best was .777 with Chicago in 1997-98, and he began the season with a .740 career percentage. Pippen went into Thursday's game with Philadelphia with 18,778 career points, nine behind Bob McAdoo, who is in 43rd place on the NBA's all-time list. Pippen has 2,279 steals and was 32 shy of Maurice Cheeks, who is in third place on the NBA career list.
Rasheed Wallace's three-year stronghold on the NBA technical fouls championship will end this season. Mr. T, with only seven, isn't even among the top 10 in the league. The leader is Boston's Antoine Walker with 21, followed by Minnesota's Kevin Garnett with 15 and Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal with 13. Dale Davis leads Portland with nine, followed by Wallace and Bonzi Wells with seven. É San Antonio's Steve Kerr, who is likely to retire at the end of the season after 15 years in the league, doesn't want a bunch of sentimental gifts as he makes his final run around the league. Only one request: 'Just beer. Maybe a 12-pack of Bud Light a night. If they want to throw in a bag of peanuts or something, that would be nice. I don't need the rocking chairs and golf clubs or all that stuff.'