The Washington Wizards and New Orleans Hornets played Thursday night, and John Wall dominated in an electric performance with 26 points and 12 assists to headline a 99-89 road win, but most minds wandered to more important events from earlier in the day or dreamed about the not-too-distant future.
Here's why: as the 2012 NBA Trade Deadline passed at 3 p.m. ET on Thursday, it initially looked like Washington would not make waves. As it turns out, they engineered a last-minute deal with the Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets in which Washington sent JaVale McGee and Ronny Turiaf to the Nuggets and Nick Young to the Clippers in exchange for Nene Hilario and Brian Cook and a second-round pick from LA.
Nene is a 29-year-old big man with a history of solid production, who is in the first year of a five-year, $67 million contract he signed with Denver in the offseason, while McGee and Young are impending free agents that the Wizards would have been wise to avoid overpaying anyways. John Wall will finally get the chance to play with a savvy veteran who understands the finer point of the pick-and-roll offense and scores very efficiently, but on Thursday he had to rough it out for one more game along with everyone else.
If Wall's play is any indication, the franchise PG approves of the move. He darted around the floor and played with an energetic flow that defied defensive efforts by the Hornets, propelling him to a very efficient night with 26 points on 11-16 shooting, 12 assists and a game-high three steals. He used his left hand well to finish at the ram, made fairly good decisions moving at top speed and looked ready for the next step in his evolution.
People around the NBA are patiently waiting to see Wall and Nene take the court together, but the whole trade process undercuts the meaning of Wall's individual effort. The Nene-era will look different that this did, to be sure. Even so, the floor looked better-spaced in the half court without Young and McGee, as Jordan Crawford (17 points on 6-16 shooting, two assists, two turnovers) and Kevin Seraphin (12 points on 5-7 shooting, nine rebounds, two blocks) made spot starts. Roger Mason, Jr. also moved up the ladder for a day and served as the primary closer in the second half, by scoring 17 points on 6-7 accuracy after the intermission and 14 in the final period.
Everything links back to the Hornets and their plan for the rest of the season, too. Center Chris Kaman somehow dodged the constant barrage of trade rumors aimed in his direction, and a crisp 20-point, seven-rebound and four-assist performance made it seem as if he enjoyed that particular development. Kaman severely front-loaded his output and dominated in the first half -- 16 points on 8-10 shooting -- only to fade late. Who the Hornets will look to for inspiration in the final 21 games of the season is still unlclear, which makes the analysis a bit less fun.
When Kaman hit his second half swoon, Jarrett Jack and Gustavo Ayon did most of the best work for New Orleans. Jarrett Jack tallied all 11 of his points in the second half after recording all five of his assists before the break. Ayon saved his best for the back-end of the game as well, but none of it could prevent the Hornets from shooting 34.2 percent as a team from the floor in final two quarters.
As lottery-bound franchises in 2012, neither team really wanted the win. Watching the players, though, it sure looked like Wall wanted it. Washington fans still have their eyes fixated a few years into the future, but the addition of Nene will make it easier to watch critical developments now. John Wall just got a head start on the fun in the win. The 99-89 victory pushed Washington's record to 10-32, while New Orleans dropped to 10-34 overall.
For more on the three teams involved in the trade, head over to Washington Wizards blog Bullets Forever, Los Angeles Clippers blog Clips Nation and Denver Nuggets blog Denver Stiffs. Hornets news and analysis is available on At The Hive. All your NBA trade deadline needs can be found at our NBA trade rumors StoryStream.