Denver Nuggets guard Earl Watson, arguably mentioned in more trade scenarios this season than any other player in the league, is headed back to the team that drafted him.
The Seattle SuperSonics, desperate for a defensive-minded point guard as an alternative to Luke Ridnour, will receive Watson, swingman Bryon Russell and a future second-round pick from Denver in a four-team deal.
The Trail Blazers confirmed the deal later Thursday afternoon.
Watson was considered a trade possibility for months and Seattle
was in need of a backup point guard. Shortly before the All-Star
break, Seattle coach Bob Hill pleaded to the press for Sonics'
management to acquire a backup to Ridnour, who has become worn
down at times while playing a career-high 34 minutes per game.
But teams were hesitant to take on Watson's five-year, $29
million deal he signed with the Nuggets before the start of this
The Sonics finally relented and agreed to take Watson, and in
turn were able to rid themselves of some disgruntled pieces.
The Nuggets, after unsuccessful bids to make a splashier move for Ron Artest and then Steve Francis, will instead import Sonics rebounding specialist Reggie Evans, Portland swingman Ruben Patterson and the Blazers' Charles Smith as a salary-cap throw in.
The Blazers joined in on the Seattle-Denver talks in its ongoing quest for salary-cap relief and receive Nuggets guard Voshon Lenard and Sacramento Kings forward Brian Skinner. Lenard carries an expiring contract ($3.5 million this season). With Patterson due next $7 million next season, Portland saves just over $3 million in salary.
The Kings will receive Sonics center Vitaly Potapenko and Blazers forward Sergei Monia. Potapenko has only one season left on his deal at $3.7 million in 2006-07.
Portland, though, was hoping for much more significant savings before Thursday's deadline by sending center Theo Ratliff and swingman Darius Miles to New York for a Knicks package built around the expiring contract of Penny Hardaway. Denver was likewise interested in the financial relief attached to acquiring Hardaway and was prepared to part with Martin, who's in the second season of a seven-year deal worth $90-plus million. The Knicks were interested in bringing Martin back to the Atlantic Division in spite of the former New Jersey All-Star's slow recovery from offseason knee surgery.
Yet those scenarios evaporated when the Orlando Magic held out for Hardaway's expiring contract in Wednesday's Francis deal. No other trades with the Knicks could provide the financial relief Portland and Denver were seeking.
Watson was drafted No. 40 overall by Seattle in 2001 but has struggled for playing time behind Andre Miller and Earl Boykins in Denver despite his five-year, $29 million contract. He has been mentioned in numerous trade scenarios since becoming eligible to be dealt on Dec. 15.
Watson was originally a second-round draft pick of the Sonics in
2001 out of UCLA. He played in Memphis for three seasons, averaging
7.7 points and 4.5 assists last year.
In a rotation with Andre Miller and Earl Boykins this season,
Watson has played in 46 games and averaged 7.5 points and 3.5
"He's a competitor defensively and we can definitely use the
help there," Sonics general manager Rick Sund said. "We really liked him as a rookie and
didn't want to lose him. We're glad to have him back."
Denver wants Evans to solidify its injury-plagued frontcourt rotation, with Kenyon Martin, Marcus Camby and Eduardo Najera all in and out of the lineup and Nene lost for the season on opening night to a knee tear. Nuggets coach George Karl, meanwhile, has been pushing hard for Patterson, overlooking the eight-year veteran's stormy history in Portland because he craves Patterson's perimeter defense.
Patterson got his wish to leave Portland after scoring a
season-high 25 points on Wednesday night against Charlotte. After
the game, Patterson sounded like he was headed out the door.
Patterson exclaimed to those gathered outside the Blazers'
locker room, "Bang, bang! What a way to go out, hey?"
"Ruben has made it clear that he didn't want to be here,"
Portland general manager John Nash said. "It was probably not a
good fit for Ruben to be here right now."
Patterson was averaging 11.4 points in 45 games for Portland
this season. He butted heads with Portland coach Nate McMillan, but
Karl was awaiting Patterson's arrival in Denver.
"He's an attack dog," Karl said. "I am a coach that believes
that playing hard is the key to success in the NBA. And intensity
and pride of playing hard has to developed on the team. And for
some reason this year we lost that. That characteristic."
Evans previously requested a trade after his playing time
dwindled under Hill. Evans started 79 games last year for the
Sonics and 23 of the first 30 this season for coach Bob Weiss.
Since Hill took over on Jan. 3, Evans has played more than 15
minutes only three times and hasn't played in 12 of Seattle's last
25 games, including Wednesday night in Atlanta.
A strong defender and rebounder, Evans should help a Denver
frontcourt that's been plagued by injuries.
"Rebounding is a fundamental that in the last six weeks we have
lost control over," Karl said. "Evans gives us another option."
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.