By Ian Thomsen
February 21, 2008

Also in this column:Karl wouldn't sign off on Artest deal

A month of big surprises concluded at the Thursday afternoon trade deadline with blockbuster news of an 11-player deal that reinvented the Cavaliers by bringing Ben Wallace and three other rotation players to Cleveland.

The three-team exchange elevated the Cavaliers' overall base of talent, enabled the Bulls to overhaul their front line and provided the SuperSonics with a means of salary relief as they used the trade deadline to continue building for the future.

The Cavaliers gave up Drew Gooden, Larry Hughes (whom they had been trying to move for some time) and prospects Cedric Simmons and Shannon Brown -- all of whom went to Chicago. Cleveland received Wallace, Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West, Joe Smith and a second-round pick from Chicago. Seattle received Donyell Marshall as well as the expiring contracts of Ira Newble and Adrian Griffin.

It wasn't initially clear how Wallace would fit with center Zydrunas Ilgauskas and backup big man Anderson Varejao.

"Wallace and Ilgauskas don't appear to complement each other,'' a rival general manager said. "They'll have to play together at times, but Ben can't go in the post because he can't score down there. On the other hand, they're going to be [great] defensively up front.''

But another executive pointed out that Wallace could benefit from playing alongside the length and offensive skill of Ilgauskas. The Cavaliers ranked only 22nd in field-goal defense (yielding 46 percent) before the trade, and the arrival of Wallace could help enforce a new commitment to the defensive end.

Smith, a 6-10 forward, will provide additional flexibility up front. He was averaging 11.2 points and 5.3 rebounds in 22.9 minutes for Chicago.

The questions of chemistry on the Cavaliers' front line might be offset by the perimeter shooting that will be provided by Szczerbiak and West, who will also help address Cleveland's need at point guard. If the two former Sonics play a prominent role in the offense, it will only help space the floor for LeBron James, who is having an MVP year.

The Cavaliers were the protagonist in this trade, as they increased their long-term financial commitments while declaring their intention to overtake Boston and Detroit in the Eastern Conference playoffs. It's hard to envision how all of the new pieces will fit together, but that's where the versatility of LeBron comes in: His ability to elevate the play of his teammates will be put to good use in making sense of the Cavaliers' roster.

The divorce of Wallace from the Bulls makes sense, as they signed him before last season in hope that his experience would help lead them to contention. But they never complemented him with a frontcourt scorer, and the franchise went south this season amid the decisions by Luol Deng and Ben Gordon to spurn long-term contract offers.

So the Bulls decided to use Wallace in exchange for that long-needed frontcourt scorer in the person of Gooden, who arrives with the most reasonable salary ($6.5 million this season with another year still to go) of the name players in the trade. The Bulls will move forward with a new front line of Gooden and rookie forward-center Joakim Noah, who has made a strong first impression with the coaches in Chicago.

The Bulls took on the overpaid Hughes ($12 million this season, with two additional years remaining), who had grown unpopular with Cleveland's management. But he should have a useful role in Chicago's backcourt, especially if the Bulls part with Gordon when he becomes a restricted free agent this summer.

For Seattle, the trade made perfect sense. The Sonics are not to be judged by their record this season but by the growth of the young players in whom they are investing. The trade of Kurt Thomas on Wednesday gave them a future first-round pick from San Antonio; the inclusion of Szczerbiak (who was due to make $13.3 million next season) provides at least $7 million in payroll relief while creating more minutes for prospects like rookie Jeff Green. The long-term idea in Seattle is to build around the growth of rookie Kevin Durant, as painful as it may be this year. Szczerbiak is expected to be happier playing for a contender in Cleveland than he was with the rebuilding project in Seattle.

The long-rumored trade that would have sent Ron Artest to Denver collapsed Thursday when coach George Karl refused to sign off on the deal.

Reports circulating Wednesday that the Nuggets had lost interest in dealing for Artest turned out to be premature, as owner Stan Kroenke emerged as a proponent of the trade even though a deal for Artest could have added to his already exorbitant payroll. A move for Artest also had the backing of star players Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson. But Karl liked the direction of his team and could not be convinced that the Nuggets would be better off relinquishing a pair of complementary forwards in Linas Kleiza and Eduardo Najera (as well as a draft pick).

This was not seen as a struggle for power within the franchise. My understanding is that Karl held to a sincere and credible position that the Nuggets would be a more promising team with their current makeup. It's to his credit that he didn't abandon his principles, and to the Nuggets' credit that they didn't force a trade upon the coach. A move for someone as high-maintenance as Artest was never going to work if the coaching staff wasn't on board with it.

Also, as reported here, the Nuggets considered making a trade with the Knicks for Zach Randolph, but the two sides couldn't agree on a package that made sense financially. Both franchises are luxury-tax teams that were seeking financial relief from the trade. And so that deal died quietly too.

What's your take on this season's trades?

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