Thursday, June 25, 2009 Updated: June 27, 2:41 AM ET
Reviewing the week that was
By Marc Stein ESPN.com
Is the addition of Richard Jefferson enough to get the Spurs to the top of the West?
NEW YORK -- You certainly can join the chorus and mock the overall quality of the talent in this draft, as executives around the league have been doing privately for weeks. Or you can lament the corresponding lack of suspense it generated.
What you can't do is claim NBA draft week wasn't sufficiently entertaining.
Forgettable as many of the 60 picks seemed, along with the accompanying flurry of lower-level transactions that consumed some four hours of your evening, it's been a pretty memorable few days.
You've seen San Antonio, Cleveland and Orlando pull the trigger on go-for-it deals in that window. You've also seen Boston open itself up to the possibility of moving its best young building block -- point guard Rajon Rondo -- to keep up.
So we better slalom through the four biggest developments, despite the fact that the first on our list can be classified only as a concept. For now.
AMARE STOUDEMIRE TO GOLDEN STATE
Getting greedy after the trade run we've just witnessed is understandable. You undoubtedly expected and wanted to hear that the Amare Stoudemire deal was going to go through Thursday night, lest we be forced to settle for the Vince Carter deal hours earlier as the last landscape-changer connected to a draft completely overshadowed by the manuevering that proceeded it.
The good news? The Warriors still might wind up with Stoudemire, whom they've coveted since February when the Suns first made him available as part of what is looking like a full-scale roster disassembly. Our tap-the-brakes disclaimer? Sources with certified knowledge of the teams' negotiations say the deal is "still a maybe" and "not anywhere close" to completion. For a variety of reasons.
The Warriors would love to keep No. 7 pick Stephen Curry out of the exchange, and the Suns naturally are pushing for Curry's inclusion. The Warriors also have to be sure Stoudemire's eye and microfracture-repaired knee check out and hammer out the framework of a contract with him before completing the swap, or else they're surrendering the likes of Andris Biedrins, Brandan Wright and Marco Belinelli (and/or Kelenna Azubuike) for someone who can leave them in free agency in 2010.
The motivation, though, is believed to be there on both sides to push this through in July. With new general manager Larry Riley launching his tenure as aggressively as David Kahn's in Minnesota, Golden State is convinced it has a face-of-the-franchise opening that will appeal to Amare's superstar longings as well as a coach in Don Nelson who has been waiting his whole coaching life (or at least since Chris Webber's youth) for a power player with Stoudemire's mobility and elbow jumper.
Suns president Steve Kerr, meanwhile, clearly is driven to swing a talent-based deal for Stoudemire -- bringing back the best firm offer that materializes, from the Warriors or otherwise -- after the financially motivated shedding of Shaquille O'Neal. If he also can parlay Ben Wallace's expiring contract into Tyson Chandler, perhaps Kerr will have taken enough steps to convince Steve Nash to recommit his long-term future to Phoenix.
VINCE CARTER TO ORLANDO
One of my favorite execs in the league has been telling me for months that the Magic are set up for the next three to five years better than any other team in the league provided they find the finances to re-sign Hedo Turkoglu this summer.
In a step up from what Atlanta did with its deal for Jamal Crawford -- which should allow the Hawks to cope just fine if re-signing Mike Bibby gets too pricey -- Orlando didn't just protect itself against Turkoglu's departure. The Magic have potentially upgraded even if he leaves.
I've always believed Turkoglu is supremely underrated in terms of his importance to the Magic, but Carter's arrival -- as so neatly laid out by Professor John Hollinger -- gives them an accomplished driver and defender whose homecoming to central Florida will enable Stan Van Gundy to flank Dwight Howard with three All-Stars (Rashard Lewis, Jameer Nelson and Carter) and defensive specialist Mickael Pietrus. Orlando can focus its free-agent business on hanging onto Marcin Gortat, which also is bound to be a bidding war but on a more palatable scale.
Selling off what was left from the Jason Kidd era will ensure an undeniable level of prominence for New Jersey in 2010 free agency, but the Magic's ambition has to grab you. The newly minted champions from Los Angeles are the first team since Detroit in 1989 to win it all one year after losing in the Finals. The Magic obviously don't want to wait another 20 years, so they boldly struck less than two weeks removed from their Game 5 elimination, taking on the remaining $40-ish million on Carter's contract.
SHAQUILLE O'NEAL TO CLEVELAND
The initial reaction here was the worst thing you could say about importing Shaq as the counter to Dwight Howard was the Cavs were four months late. After some deeper thought, it turns out Cleveland's timing isn't the only question mark.
The Cavs finally consented to an O'Neal deal because they think it's the best one-year play to get them to the championship they presumably need next season to placate a certain free-agent-to-be named LeBron James. Once James backed the idea, after the 66-win Cavs were pounded out of the East finals by Howard's Magic in six games, Cleveland couldn't back out, even after a days-long fruitless search to recruit a third team to the table.
Truth is, though, Shaq -- not James -- is the one positioned to come away from Cleveland's gamble as the overwhelming winner, assuming that: (A) Shaq and James manage to co-exist famously; (B) Cleveland goes on to find a 4-man with a jumper who can stretch the floor; and (C) Orlando doesn't torture Shaq with pick-and-rolls in the 2010 Eastern Conference finals as so many of us know-it-alls are forecasting.
Think about it. If the Cavs dethrone the Lakers in June, James will be subjected to some of same "couldn't do it without Shaq" stuff Kobe Bryant has been hearing for years. At the Finals, furthermore, LeBron versus Kobe or even LeBron and Shaq versus Kobe are bound to be secondary storylines behind the unavoidable focus on Shaq and Kobe finally squaring off on the biggest stage of them all to break their four-ring deadlock.
I don't see Shaq and James coexisting as a huge worry, even if James has never had to share the spotlight with a sidekick anywhere close to Shaq's stature, since Cleveland is on the short list of NBA outposts where Shaq has no choice but to accept second spot in the pecking order. Yet I don't see anything in the preceding paragraph that will make staying with his hometown team for the long term more enticing to James. That doesn't mean James won't decide to remain with the Cavs in 2010, but winning a ring with Shaq? Can't imagine that being some sort of clincher, irresistible as tracking this improbable celebrity marriage will be.
RICHARD JEFFERSON TO SAN ANTONIO
In a week of blockbusters -- or at least marquee names getting pilfered from cost-conscious teams like Milwaukee by the few remaining free-spenders in the league -- this probably was my favorite.
Richard Jefferson might have played in zero All-Star Games in his eight seasons and generally would be described as no better than solid in any of the various NBA disciplines. But this was the week's first domino of its kind, so it gets extra credit on this scorecard for getting us started and leading us to ponder what's next. Especially when the list of teams willing to take on a non-expiring fat contract is ever dwindling.
The Spurs took on Jefferson knowing he is unlikely to opt out of his contract in a year, which almost certainly takes San Antonio out of the 2010 free-agent bonanza. The Spurs likewise made the move knowing they still are likely one frontcourt player away from being able to unseat the Lakers, even if Manu Ginobili heals fully and Jefferson slots in as nicely as a fourth wheel as his new team projects.
That's two admirable gambles in tough times.
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.