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Charles Barkley, battling with Dennis Rodman in 1996, helped change the Suns' fortunes.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Summer shuffling, done right, can turn a team around

By Jeff Case,
Posted Aug 17 2009 11:58AM

In what was supposed to be a summer of contenders standing pat, it didn't take long for the first move of the summer. Only nine days after the Lakers' 99-86 championship-clinching win over the Magic, the offseason's first deal happened. The Spurs landed Richard Jefferson from the Bucks on June 23 in exchange for Kurt Thomas, Bruce Bowen and Fabricio Oberto.

In the next three days, two big-name players (Vince Carter and Shaquille O'Neal) were dealt to contenders (Orlando and Cleveland, respectively). Before too long, Rasheed Wallace, Hedo Turkoglu, Shawn Marion, Jarrett Jack, Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva had changed addresses via free agency. Even solid rotation players such as Drew Gooden, Brandon Bass, Antonio McDyess and Channing Frye found themselves in new locales.

While this offseason clearly has had its share of major moves, it got us thinking: How important are they? Will landing O'Neal, Carter and Jefferson (or Turkoglu, Gordon, et al) push a team to a Finals appearance? Or will these signings just put players in new laundry and not much else?

Here are some offseason moves (starting with the summer of 1989-90) that dramatically changed a team's fortunes for the better.

June 17, 1992 -- Suns trade Jeff Hornacek, Tim Perry and Andrew Lang to Sixers for Charles Barkley

The buzz: The Suns were hardly a team in need of a dramatic makeover in 1992. They had won 53 games in 1991-92 (their fourth straight 50-win season) and had made it out of the first round of the Playoffs in three of the previous four seasons. Yet Phoenix never had enough muscle to last through the West Playoffs until it added Barkley. Behind him, the 1992-93 Suns posted the first 62-win season in team history, won their first division title since 1981 and reached their first NBA Finals since 1976.

The aftermath: After falling 4-2 to the Bulls in the 1993 Finals, Phoenix kept Barkley around for another three seasons. It won the Pacific Division again in 1995, but never got past the West Finals in Barkley's final three years, often falling victim to the Houston Rockets. The Suns' Barkley era ended when he was dealt to Houston on Aug. 19, 1996.

Sept. 19 & Sept. 22, 1994 -- Magic sign Horace Grant and Brian Shaw

The buzz: Orlando was fresh off its first 50-win season, had a budding star tandem in Shaquille O'Neal and Anfernee Hardaway but had yet to win a playoff game. With some cash in hand, the Magic signed veterans Grant and Shaw, who helped Orlando to 57 wins in 1994-95 and the team's first Finals appearance.

The aftermath: The youthful Magic were swept by the Rockets in the 1995 Finals. The 1995-96 Magic won 60 games, a franchise first, but were swept in the conference finals by the Bulls. From there, Shaq left town for L.A., Penny started to break down and the Magic suddenly fell off the title-contending map. Grant was traded to the Sonics on June 30, 1999 while Shaw was traded to the Warriors on Oct. 28, 1997.

Oct. 2, 1995 -- Spurs trade Dennis Rodman to Bulls for Will Purdue

The buzz: Chicago dominated the early 1990s with its championship three-peat, but from 1993-95, the Bulls were knocked from the Playoffs by the Knicks and Magic. The return of Michael Jordan in the middle of the 1994-95 season helped the Bulls, and smaller moves (such as trading for Luc Longley and Ron Harper in 1994) set up Chicago's next three-peat. Perhaps the crowning jewel of those moves was trading for rebounding and defensive menace Dennis Rodman before the 1995-96 season. He led the league in offensive rebounds and rebounds per game that season as the Bulls won an NBA-record 72 games and their fourth championship.

The aftermath: Rodman led the league in rebounds per game the next two seasons as the Bulls finished off their second three-peat. After Jordan retired (again), the Bulls blew up the title team, which included releasing Rodman on Jan. 21, 1999. From there, Rodman had forgettable stints with the Mavs and Lakers before officially calling it a career.

June 18, 1996 -- Lakers sign free agent center Shaquille O'Neal

The buzz: By the time Shaq was a free agent in 1996, he was easily the biggest free agent name of the summer. By that stage in his career, O'Neal was a three-time All-Star, led the league in field goals for two straight seasons, had amassed 700-plus blocks and taken the Orlando Magic from doormat to contender. Once he landed in L.A., it was time for the Lakers to prepare for their next dynasty.

In the 1996 Draft, the Lakers sent Vlade Divac to Charlotte for the rights to Kobe Bryant, who would team with Shaq on the team's three-peat from 2000-02. The '96 Lakers finished 56-26, just three wins better than in 1995, and bowed out in the West semis. But with the exception of the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, L.A. never won fewer than 50 games with Shaq and got to at least the second round of the Playoffs every year Shaq was around.

The aftermath: It took three seasons in L.A., but O'Neal led the Lakers to their sought after championship. In fact, he led the Lakers on their first-ever three-peat and along the way established himself as the league's most dominant force. His time in L.A. didn't end swell, though. Constant bickering between O'Neal and Bryant marred the Lakers' hopes at a four-peat in 2003-04 and, after a Finals loss to the Pistons, O'Neal was shipped to Miami.

June 24, 1998 -- Suns trade Steve Nash to Mavericks for Pat Garrity, Martin Muursepp, Bubba Wells and a 1999 draft pick (Shawn Marion)

The buzz: In his first two seasons in Phoenix, Steve Nash was a change-of-pace point guard who started 11 games in two seasons while backing up Rex Chapman, Jason Kidd and Kevin Johnson. Once he landed in Dallas, Nash played more, but didn't blossom into a star until 2000-01. His third season was big for Nash and proved to be a big one for the Mavs' franchise overall, too. Dirk Nowitzki emerged as a star and Dallas won 50 games and a playoff series for the first time since 1988 as the Mavs went from NBA doormat to perennial contender. Nash would make two All-Star teams and emerge as one of the league's top point guards during his stint with Dallas. The Mavs grew in stature, too, as they won more games in Nash's six seasons (281) than they did from 1988-98 (265).

The aftermath: Avert your eyes, Mavs fans. When Mavs owner Mark Cuban balked at re-signing Nash to the deal he wanted in the summer of 2004, the Suns swooped in with a five-year, $65 million deal. From there, Nash has secured his place in the Hall of Fame. He won back-to-back MVPs with the Suns in 2005 and 2006, led the NBA in assists from 2004-07 and is in the discussion of all-time great point guards.

July 18, 2001 -- Suns trade Jason Kidd and Chris Dudley to Nets for Stephon Marbury, Johnny Newman and Soumalia Samake

The buzz: After realizing the Marbury-in-New Jersey experiment had failed, the Nets were looking for the right point guard to pair with Draft-day acquisition Richard Jefferson and second-year power forward Kenyon Martin. The deal for Kidd paid off immediately when the Nets won 50 games for the first time since they were an ABA team, won their first-ever Atlantic Division crown and reached the 2001 NBA Finals. Kidd, who led the league in assists in 2001-02, was named to the All-NBA first team and finished second to Tim Duncan for the MVP that season.

The aftermath: In all, Kidd led the Nets to two Finals appearances, four Atlantic Division titles and spearheaded New Jersey's most successful era in the NBA. The Nets traded Kidd to the Mavs on Feb. 19, 2008 for Devin Harris (among others). Although he played just 6 seasons in New Jersey, Kidd ranks among New Jersey's all-time leaders in several categories and is the team's all-time leader in assists, steals and 3-pointers made.

July 17, 2002 -- Pistons sign Chauncey Billups

Sept. 11, 2002 -- Wizards trade Richard Hamilton, Hubert Davis and Bobby Simmons to Pistons for Jerry Stackhouse, Brian Cardinal and Ratko Varda

The buzz: Detroit was fresh off a 50-win season and Central Division title before it signed Billups and traded for Hamilton. Those two moves set up a run of excellence not seen by the Pistons since the late 1980s. Billups, who was mostly a spot starter before signing with Detroit, quickly won the Pistons starting point guard spot and made the most of his minutes. He averaged a then-career-best 16.2 ppg in 2002-03 as the Pistons won a second straight Central Division title and reached their first East Finals since 1991. Hamilton, who was a major scoring threat while with Washington, became one of the league's most effective shooters coming off screens once he reached Detroit. His solid mid-range shooting, combined with Billups' rise, gave the Pistons a formidable combination when paired with Clifford Robinson, Corliss Williamson and defensive whiz Ben Wallace.

The aftermath: With Billups, Hamilton and Wallace as the core of their team, the Pistons made minor moves until they reached the right combination. A mid-season trade for Rasheed Wallace in 2004-05 helped spark the franchise to its third NBA title when Detroit upset the Lakers in the Finals. Billups earned Finals MVP honors and was a three-time All-Star with Detroit before he was traded early last season to Denver for Allen Iverson. Hamilton is still a key figure with the Pistons and has developed into a potent scorer (and solid 3-point shooter) while with Detroit. The three-time All-Star is a key piece of the puzzle as the Pistons try to reclaim the glory of the Billups-Hamilton-Wallace days.

June 24, 2004 -- Mavericks trade Antawn Jamison to Wizards for Devin Harris, Christian Laettner and Jerry Stackhouse

The buzz: The Wizards, fresh off a second straight 37-45 finish in the summer of 2004, had a budding star backcourt in Gilbert Arenas and Larry Hughes. That left Stackhouse, who played in only 26 games in 2003-04, as the odd man out. The Wizards were also in need of some bulk in the post (especially after realizing Kwame Brown wouldn't fill that role), so they swung a Draft day trade for Jamison. With him in place, things quickly started looking up for the Wizards. They won 45 games in 2004-05 for the first time since the 1970s, Arenas and Jamison were both named to the All-Star team and they made it to the East semis for the first time since 1982.

The aftermath: The Hughes-Jamison-Arenas combination lasted only one season as Hughes, a free agent in 2005, signed with the Cavs. A shrewd trade in the summer of 2005 with the Lakers landed Caron Butler in D.C., who fit in perfectly with Arenas and Jamison. While that trio is still intact for the Wizards, injuries have slowed Arenas of late. The Wizards, who went 19-63 last season, are hoping a healthy Arenas (as well as new faces Randy Foye and Mike Miller) will lift Washington back to playoff contender status and beyond.

July 14, 2004 -- Lakers trade Shaquille O'Neal to Heat for Brian Grant, Lamar Odom, a 2006 first-round draft pick and a 2007 second-round draft pick

The buzz: By the time the 2004 NBA Finals ended, the Lakers had lost 4-1 to the Pistons and the relationship between O'Neal and Kobe Bryant seemed fractured. In addition, Lakers owner Jerry Buss wasn't willing to offer O'Neal the contract extension he craved. So he dealt the three-time Finals MVP to Miami, where the big man put together two stellar seasons that lifted the Heat to new heights. In 2004-05, O'Neal paired with rising star Dwyane Wade to lift Miami's win total from 43 to 59 and a spot in the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 1997. O'Neal played in 73 games that season (his most since 2000-01), led the league in field-goal percentage (60.1 pct) and had more blocks that season (171) than he had posted in any of the previous three seasons with L.A.

The aftermath: As great as O'Neal's debut was in Miami, his second season was the one to truly remember. The Heat signed veteran Gary Payton and traded for James Posey, Antoine Walker and Jason Williams to bolster their title hopes. O'Neal played in just 59 games that season, but with the maturation of Wade and his own solid play, the Heat reached the Finals, defeating the Mavs 4-2. O'Neal played 1 more seasons in Miami before being traded to Phoenix on Feb. 6, 2008. After a season-and-a-half in Arizona, O'Neal was dealt this summer to the Cavs, where he hopes to help LeBron James to his first title.

June 28, 2007 -- Sonics trade Ray Allen and Glen Davis to Celtics for Jeff Green, Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West and a 2008 second-round draft pick

July 31, 2007 -- Timberwolves trade Kevin Garnett to Celtics for Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Al Jefferson, Theo Ratliff, Sebastian Telfair, and two 2009 first-round draft picks

The buzz: The Celtics had been mired in mediocrity (or worse) since winning their last championship in 1986. In desperate need of a roster shake-up (and viable stars to pair with Paul Pierce), new general manager Danny Ainge wasn't hesitant to put Boston back into championship form. In fact, these two trades are often linked, despite happening four days apart. The Draft-day deal that landed Allen gave Boston a career 20 ppg scorer and outside shooting threat to pair with Pierce. That deal helped convince Garnett, who was on the fence about leaving his beloved Timberwolves, to accept a deal to Boston. Behind that combination (as well as key free agent additions like James Posey), the Celtics tore through the NBA in 2007-08, amassing 66 wins (their most since 1986) and were fueled by Garnett, who spearheaded a tenacious defense. The addition of Garnett and Allen also allowed Pierce a new opportunity to shine, and he took advantage, capping off the season with Finals MVP honors as Boston claimed its 17th championship.

The aftermath: The second season of the KG-Allen-Pierce combo didn't go quite as expected. Although the Celtics won a team-record 19 straight games last season, Garnett was essentially shut down for the season after straining his knee in Utah. Boston fell in the East semis to the Magic, but the Celtics hope to make one last title run this season. Rasheed Wallace, another savvy veteran, signed a two-year deal with Boston in the offseason to help the Celtics make one last championship push.

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