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Shaq, Carter trades could help Bulls climb higher in East
By Mike McGraw | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 6/29/2009 12:03 AM

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After a busy week of NBA transactions, it's worth asking if the Bulls actually moved closer to the top of the Eastern Conference simply by snaring a couple of low picks in a mediocre draft.

This isn't about what the Bulls did in the draft, but the extreme moves executed by Cleveland and Orlando, the top two teams in the East.

Even though he will turn 38 next March, Shaquille O'Neal being acquired by the Cavaliers is easy to defend because it was low risk. The Cavs sent little of value to Phoenix (Ben Wallace, Sasha Pavlovic and a second-round pick), and Shaq has just one year left on his massive contract.

No doubt Cleveland brought in O'Neal with a playoff rematch against Orlando in mind. But a lumbering center isn't much of an asset against a smaller, faster team like the Bulls.

Since the start of the 2007-08 season, the Bulls are 7-1 in games against O'Neal. Granted, his supporting cast will be stronger this year and it will be an interesting subplot to see if Shaq can win titles with Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.

Orlando's response to Cleveland's Shaq grab was a curious one - trading for Vince Carter.

Most informed observers suspect this means the Magic will not try to re-sign free-agent forward Hedo Turkoglu. General manager Otis Smith even said keeping Turkoglu would be "really hard to do."

Carter brings some star power and grew up nearby in Daytona Beach. For several years, though, Carter has played with little passion in New Jersey.

His stats still look decent (20.8 ppg, .437 field goal percentage last season). But Carter seems to fit right in with a generation of players who joined the NBA in the late 1990s and became stars but never really turned into winners.

That list could include Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury, Tracy McGrady, Steve Francis and probably a few others.

Of course, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce fit with that group, too, until they joined forces to win a championship in Boston. So maybe Carter will respond to the change of scenery.

The thing is, Orlando gave up promising shooting guard Courtney Lee in the trade, and if Turkoglu walks away, it's difficult to see the Magic getting better with this move. On top of that, Carter is very expensive, making $16.3 million this season and $17.3 million next year.

Boston, the third elite team in the East, was all over the rumor mills last week, allegedly offering Rajon Rondo and Allen around the league, even though Rondo played like a future MVP in the playoffs against the Bulls.

Between their aging stars and Garnett's knee injury, it's easy to wonder if the Celtics might see their championship window already closing. So far, though, Boston hasn't done anything.

Another real trade by an Eastern Conference team was Milwaukee's decision to send Richard Jefferson to San Antonio for three expiring contracts. This clearly was a financial move that will shave $15 million off the Bucks' payroll in 2010-11, but why did Milwaukee trade for Jefferson a year ago if they couldn't afford him?

A deal that may get left on the drawing board is Phoenix sending Amare Stoudemire to Golden State. On draft night, there was talk the Suns would get the No. 7 pick, Andris Biedrins and Brandan Wright, which would have been a nice return for Phoenix.

But now that the Warriors landed Davidson guard Stephen Curry in the draft, it appears they don't want to trade him.

With all the rumors in the past six months, it seems likely the Suns will move Stoudemire. But most teams, including the Bulls, are concerned about what they'd have to pay him if he becomes a free agent next summer.