Making in-season trades in the NBA was supposed to be a difficult proposition. Many obstacles, especially salary cap and salary match considerations, had made deals rare in recent seasons.

But this year was different. Three Western Conference contenders were able to trade for All-Stars. Last year's Eastern Conference finalist sent 60 percent of its starting lineup packing. The Chicago Bulls gave up on the prized free agent they signed less than two years earlier. Even the defending NBA champion Spurs got into the act, acquiring a veteran big man who can shoot from the outside.

It has been crazy.

It takes time, even years to see if trades were successful or not, particularly when young players and draft picks are concerned. Still, here is a quick look at how this year's playoff contenders — the teams making moves hoping to improve immediately — fared with their recent transactions (from best to worst):

LOS ANGELES LAKERS: Got veteran big man Pau Gasol from Memphis for, well, not much. They gave up underachieving big man Kwame Brown, rookie point guard Javaris Crittenton and the draft rights to Gasol's less talented brother, Marc.

This is the trade that started the firestorm. Other teams in the West saw the Lakers were serious about winning right now and started dealing. Gasol, meanwhile, has fit right in with Kobe and Co. This was not only the first of the recent big trades but also the most lopsided one.

Grade: A+

UTAH JAZZ: Acquired swingman Kyle Korver for Gordan Giricek and a future first-round draft pick.

This deal was the first one back on Dec. 29 and has been largely overlooked nationally due to the bigger names being swapped later. Still, it has been instantly successful for the Jazz. Korver helps spread the court out due to his being a legitimate 3-point shooting threat, and the Jazz have been red-hot ever since he got to town.

Grade: A

SAN ANTONIO SPURS: The champs landed Kurt Thomas from Seattle for shooter Brent Barry and center Francisco Elson and a 2009 draft pick.

Thomas is a tough, 6-9 center/forward who will be a complementary player for the Spurs' top trio of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Sure, San Antonio may miss the 3-point shooting of Barry, but he's been hobbled by injury. Plus, the Sonics have released him, meaning Barry may end up re-signing with the Spurs again for the playoff push anyway.

Grade: A-

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS: In a huge, three-team deal with the Sonics and Bulls the Cavs traded Larry Hughes, Donyell Marshall, Drew Gooden, Cedric Simmons, Shannon Brown and Ira Newble and got back Ben Wallace, Wally Szczerbiak, Joe Smith and Delonte West.

Put it this way — it may take some time for all the pieces to fit, but LeBron James just got a much better supporting cast. Wallace didn't end up putting the Bulls over the top as a contender, as was hoped, but the change of scenery may do the former All-Star Piston much good.

Grade: A-

PHOENIX SUNS: Sent All-Star forward Shawn Marion and point guard Marcus Banks to the struggling Miami Heat for veteran center Shaquille O'Neal.

O'Neal has been the NBA's most dominating force for a generation, but at first glance he seems an odd fit for the run-and-gun Suns. Phoenix exec Steve Kerr took a big risk in pulling off this deal, but it was a risk he was willing to take since he didn't think the Suns, a team that has been so close the past several season, could get out of the West without another strong inside presence. Shaq looks good in a Suns uniform and looks to prove the critics of the deal wrong. That makes this the most intriguing of all the recent trades.

Grade: B

NEW ORLEANS HORNETS/HOUSTON ROCKETS: New Orleans landed Bonzi Wells and Mike James from Houston for Bobby Jackson and Adam Haluska.

Wells and James will help with the Hornets' depth, which was their biggest question mark. Jackson, who used to play for Rockets coach Rick Adelman in Sacramento, was expendable in New Orleans since Jannero Pargo can back up Chris Paul. Jackson will be a better fit in Houston.

New Orleans grade: B

Houston grade: C+

DALLAS MAVERICKS: Added veteran star point guard Jason Kidd along with Malik Allen and Antoine Wright from New Jersey for Devin Harris, Trenton Hassell, Maurice Ager, DeSagana Diop, two first-round draft choices and the retired Keith Van Horn.

What were the Mavs thinking? Kidd was one of the best point guards of all time, no question about it, but he's well past his prime. He can't shoot and will struggle to defend the younger, quicker point guards in the West such as Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Steve Nash, Baron Davis and Deron Williams. He may not even be an improvement over Devin Harris. Maybe Kidd's leadership, passing and rebounding will make up for all those things and will improve Dallas' chances at a title. But it's doubtful.

Grade: D


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