When the NBA's trade deadline has passed, teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers who loaded up for a playoff run begin trying to integrate the newcomers and seeing how everything fits together with an eye toward April and beyond. What of the other side of the deal? For teams whose trades signaled looking to the more distant future, the schedule doesn't change over the final two months. That leaves the holdovers and newcomers coveted more for their expiring contracts than their talent to play out the string. It can be an ugly way to finish a season, but two teams who fell into that category this season are showing it need not be so negative.
The Washington Wizards are the more extreme example. Since trading Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood to the Dallas Mavericks during All-Star Weekend, the Wizards have won three of their last four games. That includes two upset wins without not only those two starters but also Antawn Jamison, subsequently dealt to the Cleveland Cavaliers last Wednesday. Washington stunned the Denver Nuggets at the Verizon Center last Friday, then played spoiler again Monday night, knocking off the Chicago Bulls.
The big story has been the development of forward Andray Blatche, who is the centerpiece of the young talent that makes up the Wizards' new core. The trades opened up a starting spot for Blatche, and he has responded by averaging 25.0 points on 59.4 percent shooting and 10.3 rebounds, with double-doubles in all three Washington wins. Blatche has a history of using possessions as an above-average rate, which is why he along with Randy Foye and Josh Howard figured to take on a starring role post-trade. But the efficiency with which Blatche has scored and his dominance on the glass are newer, promising developments.
The other young Wizard who earned a promotion to a starting spot is center JaVale McGee, who had spent most of this season buried on the bench after a reasonably promising rookie campaign. McGee seems to have put on some weight that could help him compete with bigger opponents in the paint. He remains maddeningly inconsistent. McGee had 14 points and 11 boards in the win over the Timberwolves, but has been less of a factor since, totaling 15 points and eight rebounds in the last two outings. Still, the experience McGee is getting now is crucial for a young player with limited high-level experience.
The Jamison deal added Al Thornton to Washington's group of youngsters, and he acquitted himself nicely in his Wizards debut by scoring 21 points on 7-of-12 shooting and battling Carmelo Anthony defensively (he had four blocks in the game). Thornton is capable of providing scoring punch that Washington needs, but his efficiency last night against Chicago (17 points on 8-of-17 shooting, with no free throw attempts and three turnovers) was more typical.
The trade has translated into an opportunity for James Singleton, who played just 211 total minutes this season in Dallas but will be part of the Wizards' frontcourt rotation behind Blatche and McGee. A jumping jack who has rated well on a per-minute basis throughout his NBA career, Singleton has continued that trend in Washington, pulling down 32 rebounds in 90 minutes of action so far--including a game-high 12 against the Bulls.
On the opposite coast, the Los Angeles Clippers knocked off the playoff-contending Charlotte Bobcats 98-94 Monday for their second consecutive win after starting 0-5 under interim head coach Kim Hughes. The Clippers' moves weren't as dramatic, and their core remains intact. Still, dealing Marcus Camby to Portland last Monday seemed to indicate the Clippers were waving the white flag on their season.
The Camby trade did offer a tangible on-court benefit. Newcomers Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw both represent upgrades on the players they replace in the L.A. rotation, Sebastian Telfair and Thornton. And as part of their involvement in the three-team deal that sent Telfair to Cleveland and Thornton to Washington, the Clippers added Drew Gooden to help fill the minutes played by Camby up front.
With Gooden and Outlaw making their Clipper debuts Monday, the team's bench combined for 30 points, 20 rebounds and nine assists and played the Bobcats' second unit to a draw. Since L.A.'s starting unit remains effective even with the loss of Camby, that was enough to translate into a victory.
Blake has appeared to be a different player since joining the Clippers, handing out 28 assists in three games (two of them starts in place of the injured Baron Davis) and generally looking to create more than he did in Portland. Outlaw, meanwhile, scored 10 points in 16 minutes and dropped a pair of three-pointers in his first game action since suffering a stress fracture in his left foot on Nov. 14. Gooden finished the game at power forward and posted 10 points and nine rebounds.
Like the Wizards, the Clippers have moved one of their young prospects into a larger role for the sake of his development. DeAndre Jordan has started two of the four games since the team traded Camby and averaged nearly 25 minutes a night in that span. The fit isn't perfect, since Jordan and Chris Kaman are both 7-footers who belong in the paint on defense. Jordan had a difficult time matching up with Charlotte's versatile Boris Diaw last night, limiting his minutes. Still, Jordan has shown flashes, most notably a 14-point, 11-rebound effort at Portland where he shot 7-of-8 from the field and blocked three shots. The most valuable learning experience for Jordan might be the matter of avoiding foul trouble, something that was less of a concern when he was playing limited minutes off the bench. Jordan fouled out last Wednesday against Atlanta and picked up five fouls in 28 minutes versus Sacramento.
There are still nearly two months left in the regular season, and that's more than enough time for players on these lottery-bound teams to turn their attention to the end of the year and a summer off. For now, however, the Wizards and Clippers are showing that deadline deals for the future do not necessarily mean giving up entirely on the current campaign.
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Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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