- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 28, 2009

Leading up to Thursday’s draft, a series of trades shifted players all over the NBA. San Antonio, Cleveland, Orlando and Washington all made moves that seemingly bolstered playoff-ready rosters at minimal cost.

The Spurs shipped aging players with expiring contracts (Bruce Bowen, Kurt Thomas and Fabricio Oberto) to get a legitimate scoring threat in Richard Jefferson. Cleveland sent brittle Ben Wallace and little-used Sasha Pavlovic, a second-round pick and $500,000 to Phoenix for Shaquille O’Neal. Orlando shipped second-year guard Courtney Lee along with Rafer Alston and Tony Battie and their expiring contracts to New Jersey for eight-time All-Star Vince Carter and up-and-coming power forward Ryan Anderson.

The Wizards sent the fifth pick and seldom-used players Etan Thomas, Darius Songaila and Oleksiy Pecherov to Minnesota for guard Randy Foye and swingman Mike Miller. Their additions give the All-Star trio of Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison a more potent supporting cast.

The moves provided financial relief for Milwaukee, Phoenix and New Jersey. Minnesota got the No. 5 pick it craved. But will the moves produce the dramatic results that the Spurs, Cavaliers, Magic and Wizards anticipate?

The Spurs may benefit the most. San Antonio was favored to challenge the Lakers for Western Conference supremacy, but its chances took a hit with Manu Ginobili’s injury problems. Adding Jefferson gives the Spurs a perimeter scorer to pair with point guard Tony Parker that will keep them among the contenders despite 33-year-old Tim Duncan’s gradual decline. If Ginobili returns to full health, the Spurs will have a quartet capable of competing with any team in the league.

But for Cleveland and Orlando, it could be a different story.

O’Neal, 37, averaged 17.8 points and 8.4 rebounds last season, which tops incumbent center Zydrunas Ilgauskas’ 12.9 points and 7.5 rebounds. O’Neal provides a hulking presence to contend with Orlando’s Dwight Howard, but the former MVP isn’t the complete answer to the Cavaliers’ deficiencies.

“Cleveland made themselves better, but it’s still not a sure thing they’ll win the East,” ESPN analyst Chris Broussard said. “They still need to re-sign Anderson Varejao and get a long free agent that can play on the perimeter.”

The Magic received a career 20-point scorer in Carter. But in taking on his $16.3 million salary, Orlando is near the luxury tax threshold and likely won’t re-sign Hedo Turkoglu, a free agent seeking $10 million a season.

“Vince Carter is a better player than Courtney Lee, but in signing him, they traded the known for the unknown in what they had in Turkoglu,” Broussard said. “Turkoglu was what made Orlando such a nightmare matchup for teams with two 6-10 guys that could knock down 3-pointers. Now they’ve got more of a conventional lineup because Vince is only 6-7. Howard, Turkoglu, [Rashard] Lewis and [Jameer] Nelson would have all gotten better, you assume through just natural growth progression. Now they might take a step back because this is a chemistry experiment now.”

The Wizards upgraded a backcourt that features DeShawn Stevenson, who is coming off back surgery, and erratic third-year player Nick Young. Foye, who has a strong chance to start at shooting guard, averaged 16.3 points and 4.6 assists last season. Miller also is expected to challenge for the spot. But if he doesn’t start, the 2006 sixth man of the year will be an effective option off the bench at shooting guard and small forward

“I like what we did for our team,” coach Flip Saunders said. “I think the moves that were made by Orlando and Cleveland, they almost had to make those moves because they didn’t really give up a lot to get what they got. Both those teams are going to be good no matter what. … From our standpoint, we feel like we made a drastic improvement to our roster, and it’s going to make it more difficult to guard us. And now if we can commit defensively, we could be right up there.”

The Wizards appear to have improved, but they still have Cleveland, Boston and Orlando ahead of them.

“I think they are now the fourth-best team in the East,” said Eric Musselman, a Pro Basketball News contributor and former NBA coach. “You have to love the fact they added a guy who averaged 16 points in Foye. … Miller stretches out the defense; you can’t leave him open. So with Arenas’ ability to create, Miller causes the game to be four-on-four.”

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