Updated: March 2, 2008, 10:41 AM ET


Both Gasol and Kidd were in huge trades, but only one has paid immediate dividends in the wins column.

Battle Of The Blockbuster Deals

The decision to make a blockbuster trade in the NBA is the type of move that can ultimately define a general manager, player, coach or even an organization. Adding the right player can elevate a team to a championship. Conversely, bringing in the wrong piece can disrupt chemistry and destroy title aspirations.

Either way, signature moves are a necessary part of the strategic landscape in the Western Conference. Status quo won't get it done. The stakes are higher than ever and the road to the NBA Finals is wide open, ready to be claimed by any one of nine teams capable of a deep playoff run.

There is virtually no margin for error. That is precisely why seven of the West's top teams altered their rosters in order to make a push for a postseason run.

Two of those teams meet Sunday when the Lakers take on the Mavericks (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). Pau Gasol and Jason Kidd are still getting comfortable with their new teammates, but the early returns have been impressive. One of them, Gasol, has elevated his team to the top of the West while the other, Kidd, has given the Mavs an element of toughness and leadership that Avery Johnson hopes will prevent the type of meltdown that has ended the past two seasons.

For the Lakers, Gasol has been nothing short of sensational. Although he has averaged 22 pts. and 10 reb. through 10 games, his numbers are not reflective of his true impact. He has been a perfect complement to Kobe Bryant in the triangle offense. He can post up, face up, pass out of double teams and run the floor as well as any big man in the game. In Memphis, Gasol was lost in the shadows of the West's elite, just good enough to be swept three consecutive years in the first round of the playoffs. In L.A., he has elevated the talent level and versatility of the Lakers to the point where they are the most complete offensive team in the NBA.

Most importantly, however, Kobe trusts Gasol. He knows he can catch the ball in traffic and that he will not wilt under the glare of postseason pressure. With Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum (when he returns), the Lakers have the best front line in basketball. Combine that with the consistent play from their two-headed point guard (Derek Fisher and Jordan Farmar) and a coach with nine rings, you've got something special. What Gasol has given the Lakers is a legit chance. That's all Kobe, the game's greatest closer, has asked for since Shaq left town. Now the Lakers will have a great opportunity to add another banner to the illustrious rafters hanging in the Staples Center.

Jason Kidd has a tougher task ahead. So far, he has justified the Mavs' willingness to part with their point guard of the future, Devin Harris. However, the true measure will be how far the Mavs can run in the playoffs. Anything short of the Finals will elicit second guessing from every corner of the NBA universe.

The fact that Kidd is a point guard makes his transition tougher. Not only does he have to impose his will on the game, but he also has to process more information than any other player on the court, and, by the way, create offense for a stable of scorers. Through the first six games I'd say it looks like the Mavs made a smart move.

The position that Kidd occupies has been upgraded. Significantly. He can impact the game in more ways than his predecessor. His activity defensively and his ability to rebound the basketball in order to trigger the break has made the game easier for Dirk Nowitzki. Which is what this trade was all about. Avery Johnson watched helplessly last season as Golden State played small ball and put defenders on Nowitzki that had length and quickness. He was effectively taken out of the first round series and Dallas' 67-win regular season went with him.

Jason Kidd will create offense when the Mavs need it most. He can get into the paint when pressured and he will find scorers at the most critical times. Plus, he will win games with his leadership. The only question remaining is, whether it will be enough?

ESPN analyst Tim Legler is a regular contributor to the Daily Dime.

Dimes Past: February 23-24 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | March 1-2

Trade Returns

By Jon Barry | ESPN.com

The early returns in the Blockbuster 11-man deal between Chicago and Cleveland have shown me that both these teams will be significantly improved because of their depth and flexibility of their personnel.

The Cavs and GM Danny Ferry had two areas of concern: Defense and shooting. Adding Ben Wallace, who seems to be re-energized with a double-double in his debut, will certainly bolster the interior defense. But the loss of Larry Hughes will hurt the perimeter D. Despite the fact that Hughes struggled mightily offensively alongside LeBron James, he was an excellent defender who guarded the opponents best perimeter player.

Now the Cavs need to find someone to fill that role. When you are talking about guys like Ray Allen and Rip Hamilton, two of the best in the business moving without the ball, if I am Coach Mike Brown, I don't want LeBron to be that guy. He needs to focus his energy on being the scorer and primary playmaker on the offensive end.

As for the other three additions, West, Smith and Sczerbiak, the Cavs have finally surrounded LeBron with some big time weapons. It's been a slow start for Wally but there shouldn't be any concern. He can flat out shoot the ball and he will be fine once he is comfortable within the system. West is a playmaking point guard who isn't great in one particular area, but solid in every aspect of the game. He is a capable shooter and on top of that he can pass, rebound and play well on the defensive end. Joe Smith has been the guy who has made the smoothest transition. The former #1 overall pick has shot the ball extremely well and his rebounding has been a pleasant surprise.

The Cavs should be able to get back to playing the defense that got them to the NBA Finals last season, but now they will have some added offensive firepower, something we haven't seen in Cleveland since LeBron James arrived.

In Chicago, the struggling Bulls are still very much in the hunt for a playoff spot at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. This was a move that had to be made. The signing of Ben Wallace just simply wasn't working out and the Bulls fans were becoming restless. Unfortunately for Chicago, they were unable to make a deal for Pau Gasol and that deal would have made this team one of the elite in the East.

GM John Paxson still has yet to find a dominate big man that can score in the low post, thus their struggles in that area continue. What he has decided to do is go with a smaller more athletic team that should get up and down the floor and score a ton of points.

Drew Gooden, a potential double-double guy, can post up at times, but this team will continue to be a perimeter oriented one. The problem with that is the log jam of perimeter players. Someone will be the odd man out, but it won't be Larry Hughes. Hughes exploded for 29 points against Indiana last week and looks very comfortable with the ball in his hands (something we didn't see when he was with LeBron in Cleveland).

When the Bulls trot out a lineup of Noah, Thomas, Deng, Sefolosha, and Hinrich, they are as athletic as any team in the league. Couple that with a bench consisting of Gordon, Nocioni, Gooden and Hughes, who have a combined average of 59 ppg, and you have a deadly combination in Chi-town.

All-in-all, I like the deal for both teams as we head for the stretch run of a season of surprise and intrigue like most of us have never seen. Look for the Bulls to scrap their way into the 8th seed and Cleveland, with just three games remaining against the West, to challenge Toronto for the 4th seed.

ESPN analyst Jon Barry was a first-round pick of the Celtics in 1992 before being dealt along with a second-round draft pick to Milwaukee for Alaa Abdelnaby.

A Script Made For Hollywood

It has been a strange 10 months since the Lakers lost to the Suns in the first round of the 2007 Western Conference playoffs. From that point until now, they have gone from the possibility of trading a disgruntled Kobe Bryant, to perhaps the best team in the Western Conference.

May 30, 2007 - Kobe Bryant publicly states that he wants to be traded from the Lakers, the only team he's played for in his NBA career. He later backed off those statements on an interview with KLAC, only to tell the L.A. Times later on that day that he still wanted to be traded.

June 2007 - Reports surface that an amateur video shows Bryant in a profanity-laced clip denouncing GM Mitch Kupchak and teammate Andrew Bynum. Bryant would later apologize to Kupchak for his public comments.

Oct. 10, 2007 - Lakers owner Jerry Buss tells reporters covering Lakers training camp in Hawaii that he has not shut the door on a Kobe trade saying, "at any time, I think you have to do that with anybody. It's just part of the game ... You can't keep too many loyalties. You've got to look at it as a business. He looks at it the same way I look at it.''

Jan. 13, 2008 - In a 100-99 win over the Grizzlies, the Lakers lose center Andrew Bynum with a knee injury and he is scheduled to be out until the middle of March. Ironically enough, Pau Gasol had 21 points and 18 rebounds in that game for the Grizzlies...

Feb. 1, 2008 - In need of front-court help, the Lakers make a major move, acquiring Gasol from the Grizzlies in a five-player deal.

Feb. 26, 2008 - With an 11-1 record since trading for Gasol (9-1 with Gasol in the lineup), the Lakers stand at 39-17 and currently have the best record in the Western Conference. As for Bryant, he is averaging 27.8 PPG, 2nd in the NBA to LeBron James and is a leading candidate for MVP.



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No Place Like Home

On Sunday, the Chicago Bulls visit the Cleveland Cavaliers (ABC, 1 p.m. ET).

The Bulls are struggling heading into their matchup against the Cavs, losers of three of their past four games.

To make matters worst the Bulls are only 11-20 on the road this season and have dropped three of their past four in Cleveland.

A key reason for their struggles at The Q could be the play of their key man of the bench, Ben Gordon.

Gordon is scoring under 10 points a game in Cleveland since 2005, including two games in which he only scored two points total.

Ben Gordon vs Cavaliers (Since 2005-06)
Home Away
PPG 24.0 9.3
FG Pct. 46.1 28.3
3-PT FG Pct. 45.0 25.0
RPG 2.8 3.5

-- Peter Newmann, ESPN Research

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Shootaround crew previews Sunday's ABC doubleheader, Bulls-Cavs (1:00 p.m. ET) and Mavs-Lakers (3:30 p.m. ET)

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No More Joshing Around

The Mavericks have won three straight and five of their last six games against the Lakers.

An obvious factor has been the emergence of Josh Howard in those games.

Howard has scored at least 20 points in six straight games against the Lakers.

Josh Howard ( Career vs Lakers)
First 10 Games Last 6 Games
PPG 10.2 25.0
FG Pct. 41.0 51.4
RPG 6.5 7.3

-- Peter Newmann, ESPN Research

King's Company

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Playing alongside LeBron could rejuvenize anyone's career, including Big Ben's.

Leaping To The Finals

As if the Lakers' West leading record isn't reason enough to think they could end up in the Finals this year, there is another reason to believe.

The Lakers or Phil Jackson have been in the NBA Finals every leap year since 1980, and have come out victorious in five of those seven years

NBA Champions During Leap Year (since '80)
Year Champion Opponent
2004 Pistons Lakers
2000 Lakers Pacers
1996 Bulls Sonics
1992 Bulls Trail Blazers
1988 Lakers Pistons
1984 Celtics Lakers
1980 Lakers 76ers

-- Lisa Brooks, ESPN Research

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