|Friday, February 23
The rumors that did (and didn't) come true
By David Aldridge
Special to ESPN.com
God, I'm exhausted.
There's nothing more maddening, more frustrating, than the week before the NBA trade deadline. Fans, understandably, are excited about potential deals that can help their teams or give them hope. Teams throw out any and all scenarios involving any and all of their players. Most are just idle chat, rotisserie talk. A small percentage turn serious. An even tinier fraction get very serious. And the smallest portion measurable become actual deals.
Think about it. All the rumors you heard, involving most of the 400-plus players in the league, and four actual trades went down. Three of the four trades happened in the last couple of days. So that means 99 and 44/100ths of the rumors you heard, and gassed about on talk radio and via lunatic Internet sites, didn't come to pass.
This is, again, why I don't do rumors. It's a waste of my time, and yours.
But it's time to keep score and see who came out ahead, and behind, in the wake of what did, and didn't, happen.
THE BIG WINNERS
Yes, Theo Ratliff is seven years younger than Dikembe Mutombo, and yes, he may be a little quicker side to side defensively, and yes, the Sixers have the best record in the league, and it's unusual to mess with the chemistry of such a team. But what's different here than when baseball teams rent a big arm for the stretch drive? You trade a proven young prospect (Ratliff) for a proven veteran arm (and at 7-2, Deke has a lot of arm). And if there isn't already a contract in somebody's desk with Mutombo's name on it, and about $15 million a year coming his way (precisely what Ratliff and Toni Kukoc combine to make now), I'd be shocked.
Ratliff leads the league in blocking shots, but defense isn't just about blocking shots. And in the low post, it isn't about blocking shots at all. It's about being able to put a body on a 7-footer and get him out of the lane, make him shoot over a bigger target. The only guy Shaquille O'Neal ever had problems with in the paint was 7-7 Gheorge Muresan. That's what Mutombo brings. It's about bumping cutters who come through with enough heft to throw them off stride. That's what Mutombo brings. And, as my colleague Fred Carter points out, it's about being able to patrol the lane without needing double-team help. That's what Mutombo brings.
This doesn't mean Ratliff isn't becoming a terrific player. He is. But he can't change physics, and he's 6-10, 240, and Mutombo is 7-2, 280.
Some around the league wonder if Philly didn't give up too soon on Toni Kukoc. Well, they waited a year for The Waiter to show up, the bodacious shooter and passer that played for the Bulls, and for whatever reason, he didn't post. We all know that Iverson is the Sixers' primary scorer, but we knew that for 55 games before the trade, and the Sixers still were 41-14. Besides, the playoffs aren't about offense. They're about defense.
They're about the Mutombos of the world.
Here's what the absentee landlord has done since last summer. He exiled the useless Lorenzo Williams and the $5.4 million left on his contract. He moved Ike Austin and the $7.8 million left on his contract. He moved Tracy Murray and the $10.1 million left on his contract. And he moved Juwan Howard and the $38 million left on his contract. He will fire Rod Strickland and relieve the team of its $10 million burden whenever his owner allows him to. By my count, that will be $61.3 million sliced off a bloated payroll in six months. No head hunter on Wall Street has done it faster.
Are the remaining Wizards any good? God, no. But they now have three young, first-round picks who might get better (Richard Hamilton, Courtney Alexander, Etan Thomas). They will most certainly have a top-five lottery pick in the draft (Jason Williams? Eddie Griffin?). And once Mitch Richmond is excised next year, they'll have honest to goodness salary cap room to go after free agents.
Maybe he did it from an office at MCI Center. Maybe he did it from his house in suburban Chicago. Does it matter?
The status quo is good for StocktontoMalone. Utah's margin of error is small, but it still has a margin of error to play with. The Jazz can still ball with the best of the west. And with everybody staying the same, don't sleep on Salt Lake in the playoffs.
THE BIG LOSERS