With most teams at or near the 50-game mark and the All-Star Game just a week away, it's a good time to evaluate how the league's most significant player acquisitions from last offseason are panning out. Teams have had enough time to get adjusted to the new personnel, and the flurry of player movement likely to occur closer to the Feb. 18 trade deadline has yet to shuffle the rosters.
Here's a look at the top 10 acquisitions from last summer (which eliminates early-season deals such as the November trade that sent Stephen Jackson to Charlotte and Oklahoma City's December pickup of Eric Maynor). To protect the reputation of Pistons president Joe Dumars, we've decided to restrict the choices to teams with winning records -- Detroit's Ben Gordon and CharlieVillanueva are the only team-jumpers among the top 15 logging time for losers. And to hide the fact that some idiot once thought Charlotte's acquisition of Tyson Chandlerwas a worthy gamble, we've also decided to leave the Chandler-for-Emeka Okafor deal out of the discussion.
That leaves only two notable roster additions nudged out of the chosen 10: Channing Frye in Phoenix and Aaron Afflalo in Denver. For the record, both were shrewd, cost-effective moves that added a valuable dimension to the affected teams (three-point shooting from the center position for the Suns, solid wing defense for the Nuggets).
Now, on to the others, listed alphabetically. (All stats are through Feb. 3.)
HOW ACQUIRED: Free agent
CONTRACT: Five years, $33 million
PROGRESS: When Ron Artest jumped to the Lakers, the Rockets pivoted to L.A.'s Ariza, essentially swapping the free agents. The gambit has worked on defense, where Ariza has paired with Shane Battier to once again give Houston a couple of staunch, versatile defenders on the wings. But on offense, Ariza has emulated Artest's shoddy shot selection from last year, and is hurting the Rockets by being even less accurate than Ron-Ron. Nobody has missed more three-pointers this season (he's third in the league in three-point attempts but is hitting only 30.1 percent), which, coupled with his lousy 42.7 percent shooting from two-point territory, is a major reason why Houston scores nearly 10 fewer points per 100 possessions when Ariza is on the court, according to 82games.com.
VERDICT: Ariza is six years younger than Artest and has obvious defensive prowess and athleticism, and it's not surprising he's still finding his way in this YaoMing-less season in Houston. Signing a fat, long-term contract, despite never averaging more than 8.9 points in a season, has likely had him feeling pressure to produce offensively. But if he's going to continue to be an iron man (he leads Houston in minutes), he needs to shoot much less and/or more accurately.
HOW ACQUIRED: Free agent
CONTRACT: Five years, $33 million
PROGRESS: Given the early injuries to Pau Gasol, the Lakers would not have the best record in the West without Artest. He's been a compliant role player, shooting and scoring less than ever before in his 11-year career, yet hitting a respectable 39 percent of his three-pointers to help space the floor. Defensively, he can still throttle most forwards (but not jackrabbit guards any more) with a combination of guile, quickness and physicality. The Lakers allow 6½ fewer points per 100 possessions when Artest plays.
VERDICT: Artest said he came to L.A. to win a ring, and he has played true to his word. With his checkered history and the upcoming pressure cooker of a deep playoff run, it'd be foolish to assume he'll stay reliable. But as of right now, this has been a superb, high-value pickup for the Lakers.
HOW ACQUIRED: Traded from New Jersey with forward Ryan Anderson for RaferAlston, Courtney Lee and Tony Battie
CONTRACT: $33 million over this season and next
PROGRESS: Carter's damage is clear: He shoots more than anyone on the Magic and has the team's worst field-goal percentage, effective field-goal percentage (which factors in the extra productivity of three-pointers) and true shooting percentage (which even takes into account his gaudy 84.2 percent from the free-throw line). Oh, and his assist average (2.9) is the lowest of his 12-year career, despite having the league's second-most-accurate shooter -- Dwight Howard at 60.1 percent -- camped out in the low block. The silver lining is that the Magic allow six fewer points per 100 possessions when he plays.
VERDICT: Carter, whose teams have never gone beyond the second round of the playoffs, has a chance to bolster his reputation by adequately replacing the departed HedoTurkoglu. But for that to happen, the 33-year-old guard, who long thrived on his athleticism, will have to get healthy, play smarter and take advantage of his opportunities in the clutch.
HOW ACQUIRED: Traded by Golden State for Acie Law and SpeedyClaxton
CONTRACT: $19.4 million over this season and next
PROGRESS: A viable candidate for the Sixth Man Award (I'd vote for Cleveland's Anderson Varejao right now), Crawford has been a godsend for capably manning both backcourt positions, enabling Atlanta to rest aging Mike Bibby or go small by pushing Joe Johnson to small forward. Crawford not only is posting career highs in points per minute and true shooting percentage, but he's also adjusted his game to the demands of the point, averaging 5.1 assists against 2.8 turnovers per 48 minutes.
VERDICT: Coming into this season, Crawford was dogged by a reputation for being a gunner whose teams have never made the playoffs. But he looks smoother and more confident in his new role, and he deserves a lot of credit for Atlanta's ability to hang with the East's elite. That's a huge payback for Law and Claxton.
HOW ACQUIRED: Traded from Milwaukee for Bruce Bowen, Fabricio Oberto and Kurt Thomas
CONTRACT: $29.2 million over this season and next
PROGRESS: It's been an unsatisfying campaign for Jefferson, whose skills have yet to mesh with the Spurs' Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Even accounting for the four fewer minutes per game he is playing (31.3) compared to his career average (35.5), his field-goal and free-throw attempts are way down -- bad news for a natural slasher. His "usage percentage" (how often he is statistically involved in the team's possessions) is at a career low, and his points, rebounds and assists have declined from month to month, even as Parker and Ginobili continue to battle minor injuries.
VERDICT: Jefferson was seen by many as the shrewdest pickup of the offseason, the insurance policy for the injury-prone Ginobili and a quality performer who has always flourished while being his team's second or third option. Instead, he has been disappointing, and almost the opposite of a catalyst. Being deferential hasn't helped Jefferson or his teammates. Maybe it's time for a little more ego and signature drives to the basket.
HOW ACQUIRED: Four-team trade that also involved Toronto, Orlando and Memphis
CONTRACT: Five years, $39 million as part of sign-and-trade
PROGRESS: There are fewer facets of the Matrix than there used to be -- he's 1-of-12 from three-point territory this season, compared to 141-for-364 in 2002-03, for example -- but he's provided most of the things Dallas was hoping for, including lineup flexibility, more speed, athleticism and defensive intensity, as well as an ability to score points without plays being run for him. Most of his numbers are down slightly, but he's chipping in 11.8 points on 51.3 percent shooting via transition baskets, putbacks and occasional post-ups, ensuring there are enough touches for the likes of Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and JoshHoward. Most important, Marion has helped coach Rick Carlisle emphasize a defensive identity, as the Mavs permit only 104 points per 100 possessions when he plays compared to 110.1 points per 100 possessions when he sits.
VERDICT:Mark Cuban is one of the few owners willing to lavish nearly $40 million on a versatile, 31-year-old role player like Marion in these tough economic times. But Dallas' season-long standing among the top three teams in the West, a success built on defense, makes it a good, if pricey, investment.
HOW ACQUIRED: Traded by Phoenix for Ben Wallace, Sasha Pavlovic and a 2010 second-round pick
CONTRACT: $21 million contract expires after season
PROGRESS: As a longtime admirer and defender of Shaq, it feels weird to be harsh, but age has robbed the man of some pretty fundamental skills, like lateral movement. The Cavs were 66-16 without him last year, and they are 39-11 (23-4 since Dec. 11) with him this season, so he certainly hasn't gummed up the works too much. Statistically, the Cavs are much better when Varejao and/or Zydrunas Ilgauskus are on the floor instead -- Shaq has played 30 minutes or more only five times and Cleveland is 2-3 in those games. But the intangibles are intriguing. For the first time in his career, Shaq has embraced a role more than a couple of notches down in the pecking order, and Cleveland's defense is slightly better when Shaq is on the court. The downside is on offense: The Cavs score eight more points per 100 possessions when Shaq is on the bench. And yet, though his shooting percentage remains at a career low, Shaq's game is coming around, as his 64.8 percent shooting in January attests.
VERDICT: The jury will be hung and the pundits will squabble over the wisdom of getting Shaq until the Cavs face Howard and the Magic or AndrewBynum and the Lakers (or both) in the playoffs and resolve the matter.
HOW ACQUIRED: Traded by Clippers for Quentin Richardson
CONTRACT: $33 million over this season and next
PROGRESS: The on-court production hasn't been that different this season for the nomadic Randolph, who was traded three times in a two-year span. Yes, his 50.1 percent shooting is his most accurate since the 2002-03 season, the 11.6 rebounds are a career high and the 32 double-doubles are third most in the league. But Randolph has always been able to score and board -- it's the indifferent defense, the punching of teammates and opponents and the run-ins with the law that have plagued him (and his employers) in the past. This season, Randolph has added a new element to his game -- leadership. He has paired with center Marc Gasol to establish Memphis as a team that dominates the glass (Randolph is the league's top offensive rebounder) and racks up points in the paint. His defense is still no better than mediocre, but he has maintained an infectiously positive attitude, produced at crunch time and, in the most important statistic of all, helped the Grizzlies to 26 wins, already more than the team's total in each of the previous seasons.
VERDICT: Almost everybody, myself included, mocked Grizzlies owner MichaelHeisley for taking on such a renowned head case like Randolph. I figured Randolph would improve Memphis just enough to derail its development by denying touches to young swingmen O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay and depriving the franchise of a higher draft choice. But the Grizzlies are legitimately thinking playoffs, Randolph is on the All-Star team and Heisley just may deserve the last laugh. Ladies and gents, your top player acquisition of the 2009-10 season -- so far.
HOW ACQUIRED: Same four-team trade that sent Marion to Dallas
CONTRACT: Five years, $53 million as part of sign-and-trade
PROGRESS: As with Jefferson in San Antonio, Turkoglu has produced as much ennui as energy in Toronto; nothing embarrassing but not much spark. Even more than Jefferson, his skill set -- he's especially adept at gauging pace and fostering ball movement, and sporadic at best on the defensive end -- mirrors the Raptors' strengths and weaknesses. The Raptors are last in the league in defensive efficiency, and they're slightly worse at that end of the court when Turkoglu is playing. His history with Sacramento and Orlando shows that Turkoglu is a more valuable contributor once he contextualizes his role. A recent minor fracture of the orbital bone beneath his right eye doesn't help. Neither does a career-worst shooting percentage of 40.3.
VERDICT: Turkoglu's playmaking skills, which were on full display during Orlando's run to the Finals last season, will probably increase his value as the Raptors square off against one of the East's elite in the first round. But his ho-hum impact to date enhances the belief that, in basketball terms at least, he erred in choosing the cosmopolitan culture of Toronto over the complementary talent on the roster in Portland, his other major suitor.
HOW ACQUIRED: Free agent
CONTRACT: Three years, $18 million
PROGRESS: How does a 35-year-old joining three stars who are likewise all over 30 show up out of shape? Wallace knew he was supposed to be the missing link for a last-hurrah championship run, the guy who could ease the burden on Kevin Garnett's knees, space the floor with accurate three-point shooting and provide his customary lockdown defense in the paint. It hasn't happened. Wallace keeps chucking up treys -- he's sixth on the team in minutes and second in three-point attempts -- but has made only 30 percent. On defense, the Celtics allow five more points per 100 possessions with him on the court than when he's off it -- worse than Shelden Williams and Glen Davis, let alone Garnett or Kendrick Perkins.
VERDICT: Remember when people were bestowing Boston the mantle of Eastern Conference favorites after this signing? Remember when Wallace himself opined that the Celtics could challenge the Bulls' record 72-win season in 1995-96? Instead, Ray Allen trade rumors are rampant, Paul Pierce and Garnett are nursing various aches and pains and the Celtics look at least as old as their birth certificates. It's not all Wallace's fault, of course, but his lackluster play from the start set the tone for what has been a treacherous season in Boston.