For a while yesterday, as the NBA's mid-afternoon trading deadline approached, it appeared the day would pass without significant movement, as many league observers had predicted.
But just under the wire, the Seattle SuperSonics and Milwaukee Bucks pulled off a blockbuster deal, swapping All-Star guards.
Gary Payton moved East and Ray Allen went West in a five-player trade that also sent forward Desmond Mason to the Bucks, while the Sonics also received guard Ronald Murray and point guard Kevin Ollie.
And Seattle wasn't done dealing, clearing out its point-guard stable by sending Kenny Anderson to the New Orleans Hornets for center Elden Campbell.
The Boston Celtics moved former Sonics guard Shammond Williams to the Denver Nuggets for center Mark Blount and forward Mark Bryant, as well as cash and a second-round draft choice.
Yesterday's trades followed Wednesday's deal, which sent former NBA Rookie of the Year forward Mike Miller and rookie Ryan Humphrey from the Orlando Magic to the Memphis Grizzlies for rookies Drew Gooden and Gordan Giricek.
By far, though, the biggest deal of the day was the one ending Payton's 12 1/2 -year career with the Sonics, the only NBA team for which he had played.
Payton, nicknamed "The Glove" because of his stifling man-to-man defensive skills, is a nine-time All-Star, a nine-time member of the All-Defensive team and the 1996 Defensive Player of the Year. He earned gold medals as a member of the 1996 and 2000 U.S. Olympic men's basketball teams, and is leading the NBA in assists at 8.8 a game. He has averaged at least 20 points a game for the past five seasons, including this season.
However, Payton, who will be a free agent at the end of this season, had bitterly complained that Seattle management, which declined to extend his contract earlier, no longer respected him. Although Payton, who played in college at Oregon State, had expressed interest in staying with the Sonics, team officials feared he would leave this summer and they would receive nothing in return.
Allen, a three-time All-Star in his sixth season out of Connecticut, is one of the best pure shooters in the league, ranking second in three-pointers made and third in free-throw percentage this season, while averaging 21.3 points a game.
However, Allen had a public falling-out with former teammate Glenn Robinson after last season, and after the Bucks re-signed emerging third-year guard Michael Redd, Allen was thought to be expendable.
The presence of Payton in Milwaukee, where he will be reunited with former Seattle coach George Karl, may mean that former Dunbar star Sam Cassell will be bounced out of the Milwaukee starting lineup.
With a knee injury to point guard Baron Davis, the Hornets were thought to be interested in obtaining a quality floor leader, and Anderson, who helped lead the Celtics to the Eastern Conference finals last season before he was dealt to Seattle, fit the bill. Campbell, who was injured earlier in the season and lost his starting slot to Jamal Magloire, had been considered the most likely Hornet to be dealt, though he had expressed a desire to stay in New Orleans after the Hornets beat the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night.
Anderson, who had been sitting behind Payton in Seattle, may be a rental player for New Orleans, as his contract will expire after this season. The Hornets can use his $9 million salary slot to get a free agent, if they elect not to keep him.
The Wizards, like a number of playoff contenders, elected to stand pat before the deadline, even as they announced yesterday that point guard Larry Hughes will sit out three weeks with a sprained ankle suffered late in Wednesday's game. Second-year forward Kwame Brown was mentioned in a number of potential deals, but Washington officials, though occasionally exasperated with his play, didn't get an offer that piqued their interest.
The deadline came and went with such notable names as Philadelphia's Keith Van Horn and New York's Latrell Sprewell, both rumored to be on the trading block, remaining with their teams.