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Friday, February 23
The rumors that did (and didn't) come true

By David Aldridge
Special to ESPN.com

God, I'm exhausted.
Dikembe Mutombo
Nothing against Theo Ratliff, but Mutombo is the premier defender of the two.

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.


  • 1. Philadelphia. You have a chance at the ring, you pull the trigger. There are no guarantees. Who knows if Allen Iverson's maturity or Larry Brown's desire to stay and coach is permanent? The Sixers were close to breaking through before they pulled the trigger. They're closer now.


    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.

  • 2. Michael Jordan. I heard a lot last year about how Jordan was in over his head as an executive, how he didn't know the cap, how nobody would trade with him. I've heard a lot this year about how Jordan should spend more time in Washington, how he's an absentee landlord, how much the fans in D.C. need to be able to touch the hem of his garment and gaze upon him in his box, like he's Patton reviewing the troops.


    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?


  • 3. Utah. The Jazz didn't do a blessed thing before the deadline. And they came out like bandits. Because the Blazers, Lakers, Spurs and Kings didn't do anything before the deadline, either. Even though the talk about Portland being in on the Mutombo Sweepstakes was garbage, and even though the Spurs really wanted to pry Brian Skinner from the Clippers, and even though the Lakers talked about acquiring Alan Henderson from Atlanta, at the end of the day, none of those contenders did anything.

    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.

  • 4. David Falk. Do you think I enjoy writing this? But at the end of the day, whatever his role in the negotiations, one of his clients, Mutombo, went to the best team in the East (with a 10-figure contract extension sure to follow next summer), and another, Howard, got out of jail in Washington and on one of the true up and comers out West. He did not get Mike Bibby freed up from Vancouver, though, as long as we're keeping score.


  • 5. Jason Kidd. The Suns never considered moving him, but JKidd has to realize that he doesn't have to be in Phoenix forever. Ask Mookie Blaylock how nice it is to be the floor general of a 15-win unit.

  • 6. Kukoc. Gets a 15-percent trade kicker on the remainder of his four-year, $28 million deal. A nice hunk of change to move to a nice city. Though he won't be buying a house there.



  • 1. Riles. He couldn't keep Mutombo out of the clutches of an East rival (at least it wasn't the Knicks, huh, Riles?). Miami tried to broker a three-way deal with Denver and Atlanta to get Mutombo into the Mountain Time Zone, far away from Brian Grant. Didn't happen. Riles couldn't, or wouldn't, pull the trigger on a deal to bring another point guard (Rod Strickland, Gary Payton, Bibby) to help the willing but often unable Tim Hardaway. Even Brad Miller stayed in Chicago. His Atlantic foes got stronger. Riles stayed put and lost ground. Unless 'Zo has a scheme to suit up for the playoffs.

  • 2. Nate McMillan. I suspect Payton was hoping to be out of Seattle and onto a true title contender by the end of the week. His 30-point, 12-assist effort Wednesday was an open audition for teams that need his skillz. But the Sonics couldn't get anything they liked for Payton. Mac-10 is going to have one ornery PG in GP the rest of the year.


  • 3. Vince Carter. The Raptors don't seem to be going in any particular direction. Even though picking up the Junkyard Dog, Jerome Williams, is a strong move, they've gone from Damon Stoudamire to Muggsy Bogues to Alvin Williams to Mark Jackson to Chris Childs at the point over the last five years. I'm not sure that's progress. I guess the real test for Toronto will be in the offseason, when Antonio Davis will opt out of his contract. The Jurassics better come correct with the money -- read, maximum -- or Davis will bolt. And Vinsanity will be one step closer to the Lower 48.

  •  More from ESPN...
    Want to take a look back at ...

    Mutombo goes to Sixers for Ratliff, Kukoc, two others

    Trade breakdown: Mutombo to Philly

    May: Philly makes a really bold move
    The Sixers' trade of Theo ...

    Dr. Jack: Philly wins in Mutombo deal
    Dr. Jack Ramsay discusses ...

    Nuggets were interested in bringing Mutombo back

    Back in the Big Apple: Jackson heads back to Knicks

    Trade breakdown: Jackson to Knicks

    Jordan, Wizards send Howard to Mavericks

    Trade breakdown: Howard to Mavs

    Pistons deal Williams, Montross for Williamson, others

    Trade breakdown: Williamson to Pistons

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