Tuesday, October 24, 2000
Updated: October 25, 9:14 AM ET
Grant, Ewing at center of wild summer
By Peter May
Special to ESPN.com
It was a summer unlike any other. It went counter to just about everyone's
predictions and expectations. Three teams had cap room, but one of those was
the Clippers, which means only two teams had available cap room. There were
maybe a half dozen marquee free agents, which means you didn't need a Trig
degree from MIT to figure out the math.
Executives prepared for a long, dry summer while trying not to chuckle as
they competed against each other with only league-allowed exceptions to
offer. Agents decried the inhumane conditions and prepared their clients for
the worst. Then, Aug. 1 arrived and teams could talk -- legally, that is --
and a landscape thought to be barren and desolate instead turned into a
Garden of Delights.
All of which drove home the point -- again -- that this is indeed a great
Brian Grant willfully, knowingly, and, some thought, idiotically, turned
his back on $40 million. He ended up with more than twice that.
Patrick Ewing decided he'd had enough in New York and asked out. His
"request" instigated two, four-team deals, the first of which was nixed at
the 11th hour when the Pistons discovered they were receiving three players
from Ewing's high school team.
Joe Kleine woke up one morning and said, "OK, what the heck" to a $1
million parachute when he had no intention of playing this season. He
immediately added a gunite pool and tennis court to his new home in Little
Until this summer, there had never been a four-team trade. This summer,
there were two. Until this summer, it was widely presumed that players like
Ewing and Shawn Kemp would not/could not be moved because they made too much
money. Both were traded. For every team trying to cut costs or deal bloated
contracts, there were willing spendthrifts available to bail them out.
Dallas, for goodness sakes, even surfaced as a desirable landing spot.
Panicked execs desperately tried to get something instead of nothing, which
led to a rather startling development: outside of the Clippers (four words,
incidentally, that must be used in every NBA analytical piece) there was no
team that lost someone it really, really wanted without getting something in
return. The converse, of course, is that one team -- Chicago -- got no one it
really, really, wanted.
"At all costs, you wanted to get something," said Celtics GM Chris
Wallace, who was in on one of the four-team deals. "You want to be able to
come away with something so you can live to fight another day."
The NBA champions, who won 67 games last season, upgraded. Their main
competition in the West -- OK, their only competition -- also improved. The
only team to stay intact was the 76ers, which, when you consider the dynamic
there between Gangsta/guard Allen Iverson and coach Larry Brown, makes them
maybe one team that shouldn't have stayed intact.
In the end, the simple addition of Horace Grant to the Lakers or Derek
Anderson to the Spurs may be the difference maker come next June. But they
are cherries on the sundaes.
Three trades stick out as landscape-altering and Red Sea-parting. When it's all said and done, the Lakers may indeed repeat, but it won't be because
the competition stayed pat.
The Orlando Magic borrowed a phrase from the Vietnam War -- we destroyed
the city in order to save it -- and laid the foundation for an Eastern
Conference power (currently an oxymoron) in the near future. Primo free
agent Tim Duncan resisted the Magic's well-rehearsed, well-financed
overtures, but Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady succumbed. In Hill and McGrady,
the Magic have one superstar and a second-in-waiting, both contractually on
board for the next seven years. They have an athletic team in a conference
where athleticism is imperative. They have made Hooterville an attractive
place again for someone other than Waffle House wannabes.
Portland used owner Paul Allen's petty cash to bring on human luxury tax
Kemp as well as Dale Davis. The Blazers lost two reserves in the deal (Brian
Grant, Jermaine O'Neal) and addressed an area which was exposed as Shaq-free
in the conference finals. Again, playing time and egos will have to be
carefully managed by coach Mike Dunleavy, but he now has some serious muscle
to throw at Shaq and the Lakers. The Blazers present themselves again as the
best team money can buy. But all of Allen's millions couldn't buy a basket
down the stretch in Game 7 last season when one or two of them might have
made the difference.
Pat Riley saw his team again implode in the postseason against the hated
Knicks and this time decided he'd seen enough. (Three years, three straight
losses, good move, Riles.) Riley dispatched three starters from last year
and ended up with three rocks: Eddie Jones, Brian Grant and Anthony Mason.
Jones gives them a player the Heat hasn't had, a resolute defender on the
perimeter as well as an accomplished scorer in the backcourt. Brian Grant
and Mason are tough defenders and, with Alonzo Mourning, the Heat
represented the only possible hope in the East. But with Zo likely gone for
the season, Miami drops a notch. The Heat still have Jones and Grant under
lock and key for awhile and both are entering the prime of their careers.
Riley has ensured that the Heat will be a force for years to come with those
deals, but he needs the menacing Mourning to make it all work. This deal,
like Orlando's, may now fall under the heading of 'Delayed Gratification.'
That may not be what Riley had in mind, but that is the way it is going to
We could go on and note a couple other moves. Suddenly chic Dallas traded 10
players, signed four free agents, and might end the longest current playoff
drought in the league (10 years.) Indiana lost three starters and still
might repeat in the junior varsity East. The Sonics will be better with
Ewing, but not good enough. Utah will be better with Donyell Marshall, but
not good enough.
And the Clippers, who lost two free agents without compensation, will still
be Clippers. In that, we can all take comfort knowing that some things never
Peter May, who covers the NBA for the Boston Globe, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.