Take my contracts … please.
That would be the Henny Youngman way of evaluating this year's trade deadline. With the stumbling economy and expected declines in the salary-cap and luxury-tax levels for the next two seasons, most of the league's teams were anxious to shed salary.
That created a buyer's market for those teams willing to take on additional money instead of shed it. Alas, that's the rub. Precious few teams were in a position to increase their payrolls, and even the ones that were had to contend with the constraints of the salary cap and the need to produce ample expiring contracts for their trade partners.
As a result, we had surprisingly few blockbusters, even with several huge names being thrown around in the days leading up to the deadline. What we got instead were a couple of deals of middling importance and a whole lot of cost cutting from Sacramento.
Although grading these deals is sometimes a messy, imprecise exercise (is dumping Alex Acker worth a C or a B?), it gives you some idea about how each team fared in each trade conducted in the last week, at least in this scribe's opinion.
Without further ado, my report cards:
Houston sends Rafer Alston to Orlando
Memphis sends Kyle Lowry to Houston
Houston: Once Tracy McGrady went down, it became clear that the Rockets needed to put their title hopes on hold for another year, which immediately made Alston more expendable. Alston is 32 and makes nearly $5 million, so he was a good candidate to be moved to a contender for some youth.
Now, Houston will try to groom 22-year-old Lowry as his successor. He's a defensive dynamo who is quick and tough and can push it in transition. The question is whether he can run a half-court offense. He's a little erratic as a driver, and his 24.6 percent 3-point percentage tells you about his shooting prowess. But he's young and he'll be on an inexpensive rookie contract next season, freeing up money for the Rockets.
Anything they get from Cook is gravy. He's 6-9 and can really shoot it, but has been out of shape and needs to hit the gym to get his career back on track. Grade: B
Orlando: A nice save for the Magic, who probably hit the phones in horror as soon as they saw Chris Paul tear through their stopgap point guards Wednesday night. Alston makes a lot for what he produces, but he goes way back with Stan Van Gundy, so he should be able to run the offense from Day 1, and his ability to defend should allow Orlando to hold down the fort at point guard with Jameer Nelson out for the season.
This deal solidifies Orlando's standing as the East's No. 3 team and puts the Magic on a likely course for two playoff rounds. Alston also will upgrade the backup point guard spot next year when Nelson comes back.
Foyle and Wilks had to go to make the cap math work. Only their friends and families will notice. Grade: B
Memphis: I didn't like seeing the Grizzlies give up Lowry for a first-rounder, especially the late pick they'll be getting from Orlando.
At the same time, I understand the logic. First, this settles the Conley-or-Lowry question -- as well as Mike Conley has played the past few weeks, he's clearly the team's point guard of the future. And the Griz probably weren't going to get any more than this for Lowry at this stage in his career, so it makes sense to get a pick they can use to address other needs.
That said, I just can't shake the feeling that he's worth more than this. Grade: C
Chicago sends Thabo Sefolosha to Oklahoma City
Oklahoma City sends the lesser of Denver's and San Antonio's 2009 first-round picks to Chicago
Chicago: I don't like the idea of the Bulls dumping Sefolosha, but in the big picture, it made a lot of sense. Chicago's deals left it with a five-man smalls rotation of Derrick Rose, Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich, John Salmons and Luol Deng; Sefolosha was totally superfluous in that arrangement.
So the Bulls converted him into a first-round pick they can use to supplement the frontcourt. Chicago would have preferred to have offloaded Hinrich for expiring deals but couldn't get that to work. Grade: B
Oklahoma City: I love this deal for the Thunder. They've needed a shooting guard all season, especially one who will defend and doesn't need the ball much. Sefolosha pretty much fits the description on all counts, and he should be a perfect fit as their starting 2 going forward. He doesn't have great offensive gifts, but he could become an elite defensive stopper in time.
The Thunder traded away one of their three 2009 first-rounders, giving up one of their cherished assets, but the draft is shaping up to be fairly lame this year, and the pick (the lesser of Denver's and San Antonio's) isn't likely to be very high.
In a related move, the Thunder waived Mouhamed Sene, one of their recent lottery picks to try to fill the center spot for the franchise. I'm guessing you won't hear that name again unless you're a big fan of FIBA qualifying tournaments. Grade: A-
Boston sends Patrick O'Bryant to Toronto; and sends cash to Sacramento
Toronto sends Will Solomon to Sacramento
Sacramento sends a conditional second-round pick to Boston
Boston: The Celtics didn't have much stomach for paying O'Bryant, especially as they're a tax team, and were looking for somebody to take his second guaranteed year. This deal also opens up one of the roster spots Boston will need for whatever veterans pile on its playoff bus in the next few weeks.
The "conditional second-rounder from Sacramento" is code for "We had to receive something in the trade for the league to approve it" and has almost no chance of ever being conveyed to the Celtics. Grade: B
Toronto: Raptors get a free look at O'Bryant, but he's guaranteed money next year and Solomon isn't. That makes it a bit unusual, especially as O'Bryant cuts into next year's cap space.
But he is a big guy with at least a modicum of potential, so maybe he intrigues them. Grade: C
Sacramento: Kings get paid to take Solomon and indirectly lower the Celtics' luxury-tax bill. Here's the punch line: Sacramento's point guards are so bad that he might actually play. Grade: $
New York sends Malik Rose and cash to Oklahoma City
Oklahoma City sends Chris Wilcox to New York
New York: A nifty little move for New York, and it's the type of trade you can make when you're the Knicks -- here's some money, give us a player.
The cash part of the equation is somewhat offset by the $1 million in luxury tax savings for the Knicks, so no harm done there (the exact amount of cash going to the Thunder hasn't been reported, but we can safely assume it's at least $1 million, the difference between the two salaries, and no more than $3 million, the maximum allowed by the league). Meanwhile, both players have expiring deals, and Wilcox obviously is better than Rose, so it works for New York that way.
The only weird part is that Wilcox doesn't fit New York's system -- Mike D'Antoni worships shooting above all else, and Wilcox's only shot is the dunk. One wonders whether the Knicks could have done the same deal with a different partner and gotten themselves a player who fits their system better. Grade: B-minus
Oklahoma City: This is a bit of a come-down from Tyson Chandler. But the Thunder got some payola out of it for agreeing to take Rose, and I'm sure Clay Bennett appreciates that.
The Thunder might get a few more ducats out of it if Rose agrees to a buyout so he can sign with a contender -- perhaps returning to San Antonio. Grade: C-plus
Chicago sends Larry Hughes to New York
New York: The Knicks fill a hole in the roster with a deal that's nearly cap neutral -- it will cost them a little more than $1 million next season, once you factor in the luxury tax.
The good news is that the trade gives them a true 2-guard for the first time since they traded Jamal Crawford, so that will help balance out the roster. The bad news is that it's Larry Hughes.
Parts of this move feel just like the old days -- New York picks up a me-first guy with an exorbitant salary who's a questionable fit in its system, all in hopes of making a big playoff push (um, y'all know you're in 11th, right?) whose absolute ceiling appears to be a 37-45 final record and a four-game ambush in the first round.
Given Hughes' inability to shoot or pass, I also question his fit in Mike D'Antoni's shooter-friendly offensive scheme. Despite my misgivings, however, this trade does make the Knicks slightly better in the short term, as James was useless and Thomas was utterly redundant with Al Harrington. Grade: C-minus
Chicago: Once I recovered from the shock of the Bulls reacquiring Thomas, I realized it was a pretty good move by Chicago to create some wiggle room beneath the luxury tax for next season and unload an unhappy camper.
Thomas replaces much of what the Bulls lost by trading Andres Nocioni -- as a 4 who can space the floor, he should get plenty of opportunity in the Bulls' system.
They'll also hope that James' troublesome Achilles' heel can be picked up by insurance and save them several million in 2009-10. Clearly, he's not going to help them on the court. Grade: B-minus
Sacramento: One man's trash is another's treasure, and that's the theme of this deal: one that sends three players with expiring contracts and a fourth on a minimum deal on a cross-country journey in search of a team that actually might want to keep them.
I like it better for the Kings, because McCants is easily the most talented of the four. He can shoot, attack off the dribble and score on the block. Unfortunately, he's also been a knucklehead with an aversion to defense, and doesn't seem to have figured out that the other four guys on the court are available as a resource if he finds three defenders in his path. That's why the Wolves soured on him. But he's still young; the rebuilding Kings might be able to re-sign him on the cheap as a restricted free agent and see if he mends his ways.
The Kings also potentially save $736,420 by dumping Brown, who had a player option for next season. For these guys right now, every dollar counts. Grade: B-plus
Minnesota: The Wolves went sorting through Sacramento's scrap heap looking for a halfway decent big man to supplement their rotation, and if Williams can get in shape he could be an answer. He showed up 20 pounds heavy to Sacramento and never quite shed the extra baggage, but even so, he's put up decent numbers in his limited minutes. He'll audition for his next contract over the season's final two months; Minnesota would be able to keep him on the cheap if it likes what it sees.
Brown, who has had a rough rookie season, could potentially help answer Minnesota's need at the point. Plus, the Wolves exponentially increased their odds of a Marc Stein visit by adding the Fullerton alum. Grade: B-minus
Lakers: You know things are bad when even the Lakers are cutting money. In the past two weeks, they've trimmed their payroll by shipping out Vladimir Radmanovic and now Mihm. The Lakers sent the Griz enough cash to pay Mihm's salary and a little extra something for playing nice, but still save themselves $2 million in luxury tax.
It's also a sign that the Lakers are reasonably confident that Andrew Bynum will return before the end of the season, making 7-foot Mihm expendable as a fourth center after Bynum, Pau Gasol and Josh Powell. Grade: C
Memphis: The Grizzlies get paid to keep Chris Mihm on their roster for two months. What a country.
Memphis might reap further savings if it can reach a buyout deal that allows Mihm to sign with a contender. Grade: B-plus
" Insider: For further Hollinger analysis of recent trades, click here.
John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.