With competition at an all-time high this year in the Western Conference, every team was looking for a way to help their team rise above the rest late in the season. The big moves came from the Lakers, Suns, and Mavericks. The Lakers made the first move to acquire Pau Gasol, and what a move it turned out to be. The Lakers started off 10-1 with Gasol, soaring to the top of the Western Conference standings immediately. Now the Lakers are 31-9 overall with Gasol, hold the #1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs, and have advanced to the second round after a 4-0 sweep of the Nuggets.
While the Lakers are riding high, the Mavericks and Suns are on their way home, questioning if their acquisitions were the right choice. The Suns acquired Shaquille O'Neal from Miami in exchange for 4-time all-star Shawn Marion, shortly after the Lakers picked up Gasol. The addition of Shaq was due in part to the Suns inabiltity to play defense. Since 2004, the Suns have been one of the NBA's premiere teams, known for their Run n' Gun style of offense. Although the Suns were considered the NBA's most exciting team over the past few years, they could never win the big playoff series.
In the last three years, the Suns have reached the Conference Finals twice, both times being ousted (Spurs 4-1, Mavericks 4-2). Last year, they lost a controversial series to the Spurs (4-2) on account of the unfortunate suspensions of star players, Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw, for barely leaving the bench when teammate Steve Nash was flagrantly fouled by the Spurs Robert Horry. Stoudemire had been a huge factor in the series and the NBA's 2006 most improved player, Diaw, was a huge loss as well, seeing as he was Stoudemire's backup.
Scoring points has never been a problem for the Suns in recent years, it has been the points their defense has allowed in the playoffs that has cost them. And while making the playoffs and being considered the NBA's most exciting team was an accomplishment for the Suns, to them and their fans, it wasn't enough. They want what every team wants, an NBA title. The question for the Suns this year was: What can we do to improve this team and get past the defending champion Spurs? Their answer: trade some offense for defense by letting go of Marion and picking up Shaq. The result: failure. The Suns were eliminated Wednesday night at the expense of the Spurs once again (4-1). The Spurs are the one wall the Suns just cannot seem to break through. The Spurs have eliminated the Suns from the playoffs in three of the last four seasons and four of the last five playoff appearances for the Suns. Talk about a hump the Suns just cannot seem to get over.
The Mavericks talked about picking up Jason Kidd for most of the season. They were finally able to do so late in the year. The Mavericks philosophy was that they needed to win now. They had been a disappointing franchise over the last few years, always underachieving in the playoffs and demonstrating that they were incapable of closing a series. This year, the Mavericks had some young talent to go along with the experience of Nowitzki and Stackhouse, but owner Mark Cuban and the Mavs felt they didn't have the components to win a title in the stacked Western Conference. Their answer: Jason Kidd. The result: Like the Suns, failure. After the trade the Mavericks dropped to 7th in the Western Conference standings, barely making the playoffs. In the playoffs, Chris Paul and New Orleans were too much for the Mavs, sending them packing in five games (4-1).
So what can be said about these moves? Well, the numbers seem to speak for themselves. With Shaq, the Suns finished off their season 18-11 (19-15 including the playoffs), and were eliminated in the playoffs, just as they had been in previous years, by the Spurs. As for the Mavericks, with Kidd they finished off their season 16-13 (17-17 including the playoffs), and were also easily eliminated in the first round by the Hornets. The Mavericks started off 0-10 against teams with winning records after the acquisition as well. It sounds to me like Kidd wasn't doing what they wanted him to do. Both these trades leave the Mavericks and Suns at home watching the remainder of the playoffs on their big screens. Was it really worth giving up the young and talented Devin Harris for the Mavs or the 4-time all-star Shawn Marion for the Suns? You be the judge of that. As for me, I know where I stand. Maybe next year boys. As for the Lakers...well played. Let's see if Kobe and Gasol can bring another title back to LA.
Image taken from Yahoo! Sports