by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

As far as trade deadlines go, this past Thursday's NBA version for the 2011-12 season had the potential of being one of the most meaningful in memory, thanks to the possibility that Orlando's Dwight Howard could have been on the move. But with such a big fish potentially "in play," Howard was also effectively going to be the first in a domino chain that could have had repercussions across the league.

Conversely, the longer the Magic waited to pull the trigger on a deal involving Howard, the less likely other teams would be to move. Thus, the deadline was effectively held hostage by not only Superman but also the Magic, which believed it could at least convince Howard to stay in the fold for the time being and try to win a title in Orlando.

In the end, the Magic and GM Otis Smith proved quite persuasive, as Howard (after considerable back and forth) decided to stay right where he is with the Magic and waive his contract option, effectively postponing any future free agency until after next season (2012-13). Which means that we might be going through all of this with Howard again a year from now...or, we might not, if Orlando makes a trade involving big Dwight in the offseason, or Howard decides to make a long-term commitment to the Magic. Stay tuned for further developments.

Our sources tell us that Howard would really prefer to stay in Orlando if at all possible. A low-key sort who would rather fly under the radar, Howard has embraced the community and would like to simply play basketball and (hopefully) compete for titles with the Magic. Howard is also reportedly being pulled in multiple directions, not the least of which by shoe sponsor Adidas, which reportedly would like Dwight in New York (the Nets would be fine) or Los Angeles. Adidas also reportedly has a clause in its contract with Howard for a healthy bonus to be paid as long as Howard's team participates in the playoffs. Some believe the Magic used this leverage to get Howard off of the idea of a deadline deal with the Nets, who almost assuredly appear to miss the postseason and thus cost Howard a considerable amount of change.

Word also has it that Adidas is not keen on Howard joining forces with Chicago, one of Dwight's rumored preferences, because Bulls' star Derrick Rose is another Adidas guy, and the company would not prefer two of its biggest endorsers to be on the same team. (See what we mean about Howard being pulled in multiple directions?)

Sources also inform that Howard is also having some misgivings about a move to the Big Apple and its voracious press corps, which is far far different than the idyllic setting in central Florida, which has embraced Howard and overlooks some of his faults on the basketball court that would surely not be ignored in New York.

The domino effect of Howard's decision to stay (for the moment) in Orlando figures to be felt around the league and into the summer months, with some free agents to-be monitoring Howard closely. Especially Nets G Deron Williams, who would reportedly love to be on Howard's team but is less and less sure that team will be the Nets. Many expected D-Will to re-up with the Nets as long as Howard would be New Jersey-bound, but that scenario isn't happening (at least not yet). In the meantime, Williams could make a pre-emptive move on his own this summer, perhaps to hometown Dallas, in the hopes that Howard might want to follow him next year.

We suspect we haven't heard the last of Dwight Howard contemplating future destinations, although that chatter will at least quiet down for the rest of this season. In the meantime, there were some moves at the deadline that could have some immediate repercussions in the playoff races and the chase for the title. We size up what transpired, with letter grades affixed.

Los Angeles Lakers...Of course, the Lake Show was dreaming about adding Howard to the mix. That didn't happen, but Mitch Kupchak nonetheless ended the week better than he began it by acquiring G Ramon Sessions from the Cavaliers in a three-way deal that sent Derek Fisher to the Rockets. Although Sessions is not quite Chris Paul, he does give Mike Brown an upgrade on the perimeter from the aging Fisher, who could no longer stay in front of anyone on the stop end and whose offensive contributions were decreasing. Fisher's clubhouse presence and leadership could be missed, but the Lakers got younger and more explosive with Sessions, who has been a useful contributor in Milwaukee and Cleveland. Moreover, the Lakers didn't have to move Pau Gasol, as had been rumored since the aborted deal with the Rockets and Hornets in December. In the end, sources tell us Gasol would only have been packaged in a deal for Howard. Gasol thus stays in tandem with Andrew Bynum, and Kobe gets new playmate (Sessions) who figures to make life a tad bit easier for him on both ends of the court. Grade: A-

Boston Celtics...How do you get graded when you don't do anything? In Boston's case, it means that Danny Ainge believes his veteran core might have one more run at the title left in it before it invariably begins to disassemble itself in the offseason when Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen will be free agents. All of the talk about the "big three" and Rajon Rondo being on the move turned out to be idle chatter. With eight wins in their last ten games up to the deadline, the Celtics decided to simply stand pat. Short term, this at least keeps the Celtics in the playoff conversation until the spring, but it doesn't make them any stronger of a threat to unseat the Heat or contest the Bulls in the East. Grade: C

Orlando Magic...The Magic, like the Celtics, did nothing, but in their case that meant holding on to franchise player Howard and whatever chance Orlando has to be relevant in the near future. We don't know if Howard is eventually going to make a long-term commitment to the Magic, but for the moment they remain a force (if not the top force) in the East. Besides, Howard and Orlando have always seemed close to a perfect fit. Grade: A

Golden State Warriors...On the surface it might look like the Warriors got the short end of the stick in the Andrew Bogut-for-Monta Ellis deal with the Bucks. That trade caught more than a few observers by surprise because 1) the Warriors had maintained they were unlikely to deal Ellis at the deadline if they still had a look at the playoffs, and 2) Bogut remains out for the rest of this season as he mends a broken ankle. But upon inspection this could turn out to be a smashing good deal for Golden State, which had come to realize its Ellis-Stephen Curry backcourt was too small to be effective on the defensive end, and the perimeter would be better-served if 6-6 Washington State rookie Klay Thompson, making increasing contributions lately, would be paired with Curry instead. The Warriors have also long craved a legit center, and Bogut should eventually provide them with one, although Mark Jackson will have to wait until next season before the Warriors get the full benefit of this deal. Golden State also added Richard Jefferson, who could become invigorated by his new locale, and avoided taking on Stephen Jackson (part of the Bogut deal) by immediately sending him on to the Spurs (for Jefferson) rather than risk wrecking emerging chemistry on the roster. Grade: B (for now); maybe an A (next year)

Portland Trailblazers...It was black Thursday in Portland as the Blazers went into major overhaul mode. The team itself had collapsed, tuning out HC Nate McMillan and losing 8 of its last 10 to fade from the playoff race. The final straw was a 121-79 loss at the Knicks last Wednesday, in the game after New York parted ways with HC Mike D'Antoni. McMillan was gone the next day, and the housecleaning was only beginning, as Marcus Camby (to Houston) and Gerald Wallace (to New Jersey) were shipped out in salary dumps, while ill-fated, oft-injured C Greg Oden was given his release. Sources also suggest the team tried to move Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford (rumored to be Sacto-bound in a deal for Tyreke Evans that never materialized) but was unsuccessful in doing so. In return the Blazers got two former first-round draft busts (Hasheem Thabeet and Jonny Flynn for Camby) and a first-round pick (for Wallace), which might turn out to be the only saving grace of the entire scenario. Another overhaul looks likely in the offseason while interim HC Kaleb Canales seeks to keep things afloat for the rest of this campaign. Grade: D+

Denver Nuggets...Denver is never afraid to wheel and deal, but we're not sure where the Nuggets helped themselves at the deadline. Other, perhaps, than shedding Nene's huge contract ($65 mill over five years) when the post player was dealt away to Washington. Nene has long had durability issues, so the practical implications of his departure might not be too damaging, especially with Morehead State rookie PF Kenneth Faried maturing into a force. But adding noted head case JaVale McGee from the Wizards will do nothing but test George Karl's patience before McGee likely opts for free agency in the summer. Not to mention likely wrecking whatever chance Karl has of his current team developing necessary cohesion. Grade: D

Los Angeles Clippers...The Clips haven't been the same since Chauncey Billups went down with his Achilles tendon injury early last month. Adding some backcourt reinforcement was thus key, and explosive (but a bit immature) Wizards G Nick Young, a local product who was scoring better than 16 ppg this season and who played his college ball in town at Southern Cal, could be the answer. Under the circumstances it was probably the best the Clips could do, and the team looks stronger after the deadline. Grade: B

New Orleans Hornets...Again, we're grading a team for not doing anything, but in the Hornets' case they qualify in the winners and losers discussion on the side of the latter. By not moving C Chris Kaman, the Hornets will get nothing when he surely is lost to free agency in the summer, along with F Carl Landry and another piece in the Chris Paul trade to the Clippers, now-injured G Eric Gordon. Which means all that the Hornets are likely going to end up with after this season for trading their franchise player is a first-round pick that might not even be in the lottery, and underachieving ex-Wake Forest F Al-Farouq Aminu. All a far cry from the aborted Paul trade with the Lakers and Rockets that would have netted New Orleans a solid core of contributors (G Kevin Martin, F Luis Scola, F Lamar Odom, and G Goran Dragic). Thanks a lot, NBA. Grade: D-

Houston Rockets...There isn't much tread left on Derek Fisher's tires, but we suspect Kevin McHale will be counting upon Fisher (added from the Lakers in three-way deal with the Cavs) only for spot duty, where he can still be reasonably effective, and for clubhouse leadership. Picking up C Marcus Camby from the Blazers could be a boon, however, as the ex-U Mass star can provide some presence in the paint that McHale has been searching for all season. All that these new pieces cost were spare parts Hasheem Thabeet and Jonny Flynn (two former Big East first-round busts) and a draft pick. Short-term, the Rockets will do well from this deal. Grade: A-

New Jersey Nets...Gerald Wallace (added from Portland for a first-round draft pick) is only a consolation prize after the Nets missed out, for the time being at least, on Dwight Howard. The bigger question is whether Wallace will be enough to keep Deron Williams in the fold after this season as the Nets wait for Howard to change his mind a year from now. We know if Howard would have arrived that D-Will would have stayed long-term. Now, most believe Williams bolts, likely to hometown Dallas, after the season, and waits for Howard to join him on a championship contender (unlike the Nets) next year. Grade: C-

Washington Wizards...Getting rid of JaVale McGee and his accompanying maturity issues are a short-term plus for the Wizards, although they would have liked to have discarded another noted chemistry-wrecker, F Andray Blatche, if they could have found any takers. Nene, acquired from Denver for McGee, provides some stability, but there have been health issues involving Nene for several years, so we're not sure how much mileage the Wizards get from him. If he's healthy he does provide a nice foundation piece on the blocks, with "healthy" the key word. Dealing G Nick Young, who was likely going to be pursuing free agency in the summer, to the Clippers in the three-way deal with Denver that landed Brian Cook and a second-round draft pick in D.C. was damage control, but it will not help the Wizards in the short term. Grade: B

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