Sometimes midseason moves and late additions to rosters smack of desperation and the urge for a team to do something, anything.
But there are those occasions when they make their presence felt.
A trade deadline deal sent sweet shooting Lou Williams from the lowly Lakers to a Houston team trying to crack the upper echelon of contenders and wasted no time making an impact, nailing 7-for-11 behind the 3-point line in his first game with the Rockets. He’s shooting 21-for-42 and averaging 24 points per game as the Rockets enter Wednesday night’s game at L.A. against the Clippers (10:30 ET, ESPN). The former Sixth Man of the Year joins this season’s likely leader for the award, Eric Gordon, to make a Rockets team that was already difficult to guard more potent.
Will the additions have an impact? A look back shows seven top players that definitely made a difference:
Rasheed Wallace, Pistons, 2004: Perhaps no late-season addition was a better fit than Wallace in Detroit. After being a big wheel on a Portland team that mostly underachieved for 7 1/2 seasons, Wallace was traded to Atlanta on Feb. 9, 2004, played just one game for the Hawks, scoring 20 points in just three quarters, then was moved to Motown. A team that already included Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton and Ben Wallace found Rasheed to be the last piece they need to turn into champions. The Pistons knocked off the Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals after Wallace guaranteed “We will win Game 2.” Then they became giant-killers in the Finals, taking down Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson in a shocking 4-1 triumph. He then bought replica WWE World Heavyweight Championship belts for each of his teammates. In his six seasons in Detroit, the Pistons went to the NBA Finals twice and the East finals five times.
Clyde Drexler, Rockets, 1995: It was the perfect match and it fittingly came together on Valentine’s Day. The defending champion Rockets had struggled with injuries and a lack of chemistry all through the first half of the season, but coach Rudy Tomjanovich was reluctant to break up the roster that had delivered the Rockets’ first championship in franchise history. That is, until the hometown legend became available from the Trail Blazers. The Rockets sent power forward Otis Thorpe to Portland and brought Drexler back to Houston and the rest of the story is a living fairy tale. Drexler was a clutch performer in every round of the playoffs and, reunited with his old college teammate Hakeem Olajuwon, led the Rockets to a 4-0 sweep of the Magic in the Finals to make it back-to-back titles in Houston.
Bob McAdoo, Lakers, 1982: A brilliant scorer, McAdoo had achieved all of the individual honors early in his career as Rookie of the Year, All-Star, MVP and scoring champion. But his teams had won only two playoff series in nine NBA seasons until he was traded to the Lakers on Christmas Eve 1981. He went from the New Jersey Nets to L.A. for a second-round draft pick and cash and fit right into the Showtime Lakers of Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become a potent sixth man that helped L.A. to the title in 1982. The Hall of Famer won two championships in four years with the Lakers.
Mychal Thompson, Lakers, 1987: The top pick in the 1978 draft spent eight years in Portland and a half-season with the Spurs, then was traded to the Lakers on Feb. 13 when L.A. needed a scorer and defender on its front line to back up Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The Lakers sent a first- and second-round draft pick to San Antonio and in return got a key piece for Pat Riley’s lineup that won back-to-back championships in 1987 and 1988, the last two of the Showtime Era.
Pau Gasol, Lakers, 2008: When the Lakers landed Gasol from the Grizzlies on Feb. 1, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich went ballistic. “There should be a trade committee that can scratch all trades that make no sense,” Popovich fumed. The slender center with many talents helped L.A. get to the Finals, but lost to Boston with the title on the line. However Gasol and the Lakers and certainly Kobe Bryant came right back and won back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010. Of course, the poetic justice is that nine years after his trade to L.A., Gasol is now playing for none other than Popovich in San Antonio.
J.R. Smith, Cavaliers, 2015: After 11 1/2 mercurial seasons of mixing high-level talent with a high-level lack of discipline in New Orleans, Denver and New York, Smith finally found his comfort zone when he joined the Cavs on Jan. 5, 2015 as part of a three-team trade that included the Knicks and Thunder. He became a key part of the rotation and wild-card in the Cleveland offense. He was suspended for the first two games of the East semifinals for catching Boston’s Jae Crowder in the head with an elbow in the clincher of the first-round series. Then Smith knocked down eight 3-pointers in the opener of the Eastern Conference finals against the Hawks and helped the Cavs get to the NBA Finals for only the second time in franchise history and won their first championship in 2016.
Boris Diaw, Spurs, 2013: Wasting away on the Charlotte bench in a place where he didn’t want to play, Diaw was waived by the Bobcats on March 21 and signed two days later with the Spurs. His versatility at both ends of the floor and outstanding passing skills were a perfect fit with the share-the-ball Spurs, who advanced to the Western Conference finals before falling to the Thunder. Diaw remained a valuable member of the front line as the Spurs went to the NBA Finals the next two seasons and won their fifth championship in 2014.
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