CLEVELAND -- At 2:59 p.m., one minute before the deadline expired, Cavaliers general manager Danny Ferry called NBA officials in New York to say he was making a major trade. Two, actually.
They must have been surprised.
Ferry was dismantling his team.
In a complex, 11-player swap involving Cleveland, Chicago and Seattle, Ferry dealt half his active roster to acquire center Ben Wallace and forward Joe Smith from the Bulls, and forward Wally Szczerbiak and guard Delonte West from the SuperSonics.
LeBron James wanted help to win an NBA title. Ferry got it for him.
"I didn't think we were good enough to win the championship," Ferry said, explaining his motives for the move. "I thought we had a very good team. But I do believe if we have a chance to make ourselves better we should try.
"Was it a risk in doing so? Yes, it was a risk. But we're going to have to make some decisions that have some risk in them if we want to continue to build and grow."
Unable to finalize major deals in the past, Ferry pulled off a colossal one at the 3 p.m. buzzer. He sent guard Larry Hughes, forwards Drew Gooden and Cedric Simmons, and guard Shannon Brown to Chicago for Wallace, one of the game's top inside enforcers, and Smith, a versatile veteran.
Cleveland also acquired the sharpshooting Szczerbiak and West from Seattle for forwards Ira Newble and Donyell Marshall, two expendable parts. In addition, the Cavs will get Chicago's second-round pick in 2009. The Sonics will receive guard Adrian Griffin from the Bulls.
While giving the Cavaliers a new core to surround James, Ferry didn't hurt his team's long-term salary cap flexibility. He did create one short-term problem, however. Because their new players have to take physicals, the Cavaliers could be very short-handed for Friday's game against Washington.
"I think Mike Brown might be a player/coach," Ferry joked.
He's dead serious, though, about getting the Cavaliers an NBA championship. James, who led them to their first Finals last season, had publicly campaigned for Ferry to do something before the deadline.
James got his wish. Ferry overhauled the Cavs, trading 60 percent of the starting lineup Brown had Wednesday night.
The deal caps a busy month of trades as several stars, including Shaquille O'Neal, Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion and Pau Gasol, all were dealt to new teams. The Gasol swap triggered an arms race of sorts among the Western Conference's top squads, while this one could have a major impact atop the East.
In the 33-year-old Wallace, the Cavaliers are getting a defensive intimidator. Big Ben will give them next to nothing on offense, but that's not what the defending Eastern Conference champs need.
"Ben Wallace is tough," Ferry said. "He'll bring an energy, a toughness, a presence to what we are doing."
Wallace was a major disappointment for the underachieving Bulls, who are 17½ games out of first in the Central. Chicago signed Wallace to a four-year, $60 million contract in 2006.
At the time, the Bulls thought he was the missing piece to get them back into contention for an NBA title, something they haven't sniffed since Michael Jordan retired.
Wallace got the Bulls into the second round in last year's playoffs. But the team hasn't recovered from a slow start this season and Wallace is averaging 5.1 points and 8.8 rebounds -- his worst season statistically since 1999-00.
Bulls GM John Paxson defended the decision to sign Wallace.
"When we made the deal for Ben, we did it for the right reasons," he said. "He helped us become a better team last year and advance in the playoffs. I'm still as surprised as anyone that this year, we weren't better than we played."
Much like Wallace, Hughes didn't deliver as the Cavs had hoped. They signed him to a five-year, $60 million free agent deal in 2005, but he struggled with injuries and his jump shot. Recently, though, Hughes had found his touch, which could help the Bulls climb back in the playoff picture.
Hughes, who is making $12.8 million this season, had become a target of abuse at Cleveland home games as fans grumbled with every miss and every mention of a contract that seemed untradeable.
Paxson said bringing in Hughes doesn't mean they're preparing for Ben Gordon's departure. Gordon is eligible to be a restricted free agent this summer.
"It gives us an issue in the backcourt, but it's a good issue to have," Paxson said. "This has nothing to do with Ben Gordon's future."
The Cavaliers will be the eighth team for the well-traveled Smith, a 32-year-old veteran averaging 11.2 points and 5.3 rebounds. Smith brings the Cavaliers experience and versatility up front.
Gooden, too, can boost Chicago's inside game. The 26-year-old is averaging 11.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per season.
It's unusual for two teams in the same division to swap key players and the Cavaliers and Bulls haven't played yet this season. They'll meet for the first of four games on March 1 in Cleveland.
He averaged 13.1 points, second behind rookie sensation Kevin Durant, and consistently showed he was fully recovered from offseason ankle surgery. In his final game with Seattle on Tuesday, Szczerbiak scored 24 points, including the go-ahead basket with 31 seconds remaining in a victory over Memphis.
Szczerbiak should get plenty of open looks in Cleveland. With more and more defenses double- and triple-teaming James, the club needs perimeter players capable of making outside shots consistently -- something Hughes couldn't do.
"When you have a superstar like LeBron James, it's important to be able to put shooters around him," Ferry said. "When you have guys who make the extra passes, having somebody to knock down that shot is big."
West never found a spot in Seattle's rotation. Nagging foot injuries shuffled him farther down the bench, and when coach P.J. Carlesimo finally settled on a rotation, West was often the odd man out.
The 24-year-old could develop into the quality point guard the Cavs have coveted since James arrived.
The dealing by young GM Sam Presti only adds to the flexibility the Sonics will have in their rebuilding. Combined with the trade of Kurt Thomas to San Antonio for Brent Barry, Francisco Elson and a 2009 first-round pick, the Sonics now have 13 picks in the next three drafts and have acquired three players with contracts expiring after this season.