This past weekend's All-Star Game and associated activities in Dallas were just fun and games. But the league's best team (at least record-wise) isn't messing around.
Reports surfaced on late Saturday night, as most NBA and even sports fans know by now, that the Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns were advancing very far in their talks that could send five-time NBA All-Star Amar'e Stoudemire to the Cavs in return for rising star J.J. Hickson and veteran Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
The Cavaliers, as you know, possess the league's best record (43-11) and player (LeBron James), and this would be a classic case of the rich getting richer.
But in a classic example of why fans should just let the guys getting paid do their job, one of the pieces that Memphis acquired in that deal (Pau's little brother, Marc Gasol) has blossomed into one of the best young big men in the game and could possibly be better than his brother ever was.
At the time of the Gasol trade, the deal was seen as primarily being for Kwame Brown's expiring contract and salary cap relief. The two first-round draft picks were looked at as trivial. Seeing Marc Gasol's name in the trade seemed cute since Pau's little brother was involved.
Plus, the phrase "and the draft rights to Marc Gasol" was widely being reported at the end, as if it was some sort of insignificant throw-in instead of the centerpiece of the package the Grizzlies were receiving.
While the trade between the Cavs and Suns could be seen as a one-sided affair that has the Cavs just plucking Stoudemire (who is only 27 and in the prime of his career) off the Suns like some September minor league call-up in baseball, remember the name J.J. Hickson.
Hickson has many of the same qualities as Marc Gasol had back in '08. Although Gasol was 23 at the time, Hickson is just 21.
Because of the Cavs' plethora of national television games, many NBA fans have actually been able to see Hickson. After being selected by the Lakers in the second round of the 2007 draft, Gasol played in the Spanish League, where he was named Most Valuable Player.
So far, Hickson's claim to fame is clowning Dwyane Wade on both ends of the floor in a TNT game a few weeks ago. He also had a highlight-reel block of Orlando's Dwight Howard right before All-Star Weekend and is generally regarded as an extremely athletic young player who still has plenty of room to grow.
In a system such as the one in Phoenix, Hickson could realize his potential (at least on the offensive end) much sooner rather than later. Based on how he has been able to play off LeBron James in Cleveland, playing with Steve Nash will be an easy transition.
And if there is any doubt about what playing with Nash and the offensive system in Phoenix can do for a player, just take a look at forward Channing Frye, who went from bouncing around the league to becoming one of the best three-point shooting big men in the game. Literally overnight.
Although the Lakers won a championship with Pau Gasol playing the role of Kobe Bryant's sidekick, the Grizzlies are seen as one of the best young up-and-coming teams in the league.
Marc Gasol plays a large part in that, as the sophomore seven-footer entered the break averaging 14.9 points and 9.5 boards on a staggering 58.8 percent shooting from the field.
There are questions about whether or not a small market team like the Grizzlies can keep Gasol, O.J. Mayo, and Rudy Gay while still paying a huge salary to Zach Randolph, but that is ownership's problem.
The front office did a great job turning Pau's massive contract into a young piece that could grow with the rest of their nucleus.
With Hickson, the Suns may be able to look back at this trade deadline as a critical week in which they traded a high-profile player with a big contract for a younger piece to jump-start their on-the-fly rebuilding project.
On top of that, Phoenix isn't even sure if Stoudemire, who is an unrestricted free agent this summer, will stay with them beyond the remainder of this season.
Ilgauskas serves the same purpose as Kwame Brown did back in 2008: just a means for the Suns to clear salary. Combine that with a possible buyout that could be coming Big Z's way, and the Suns would be able to get under the luxury tax immediately.
Such a deal could seal the 2010 NBA championship for the Cavs. It may even make them an impending dynasty if both Stoudemire and LeBron James re-sign this summer.
But just as the Grizzlies were more concerned about themselves and their future rather than the implications for their trading partner, Phoenix should realize that they are getting more than a capable piece in return with Hickson.
Most fans made the mistake of dismissing Marc Gasol just two years ago. That's "fool me once, shame on you." But "fool me twice, shame on me" would be doing the same thing with 21-year old J.J. Hickson.
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