DALLAS -- Three days after the lifting of the lockout, the smoke still hasn't cleared from the NBA's frenzy of trades and free-agent signings.

Who's going where? Who's signing whom?Who knows?

Don't expect the action to let up anytime soon. Many teams, even those with relatively full rosters, will be wooing players and making deals right up until the Feb. 5 start of the shortened regular season.

Even so, it's not too early to figure out who emerged the big winners and big losers from this unprecedented flurry of wheeling and dealing.

One person's ballot:


-- Houston Rockets: An aging .500 team last season, the Rockets appeared bound for lottery land thanks to Clyde Drexler's retirement and Charles Barkley's chronic injuries. A tired Hakeem Olajuwon, it seemed, would have to carry Houston by himself.

Funny what the arrival of an All-Star can do.

With the blockbuster trade for Chicago's Scottie Pippen, talk of the Rockets winning their third NBA title this decade -- especially without Michael Jordan in the picture -- isn't so far-fetched.

The short season also will help, reducing the wear on the Rockets' veteran legs and making their obvious lack of depth much less of a problem.

-- San Antonio Spurs: They didn't draw much attention for their moves, but you have to like what the Spurs accomplished while everyone was focusing on Pippen, Latrell Sprewell and the dismantling of the Bulls.

Simply put, the Spurs have to be considered a serious favorite for the Western Conference title. Sure, you've heard that before, but San Antonio now has several outside threats and some muscle to go with the dynamic inside combination of Tim Duncan and David Robinson.

The outside threat comes from newcomers Steve Kerr and Mario Elie, both of whom have championship rings and proved they can hit big shots in big games. The muscle comes from new enforcer Jerome Kersey, who isn't afraid to mix it up.

The Spurs -- notorious playoff chokers -- in the Finals? Don't laugh.

-- Derrick Coleman: What a country. Where else can you be a career locker-room cancer, refuse to stay in shape, whine about your contract, never make your team better -- and still come away with a guaranteed contract for $40 million over five years?

You have to wonder about the Charlotte Hornets after their splurge on the notoriously underachieving Coleman, especially since they decided to part with reliable centers Vlade Divac and Matt Geiger in the process.

Pity Hornets coach Dave Cowens. With Coleman, Anthony Mason and Glen Rice, there won't be enough basketballs to go around in Charlotte.

-- Latrell Sprewell: Hmm, let's do the math here: Attack your coach (twice), sue your agent, sue the league, take a year off . . . and get traded to a title contender in the NBA's biggest market.

Talk about a black eye for the league. Sprewell's trade to New York should do wonders for the Knicks but certainly won't help the NBA overcome its image problem.

Still, it's hard to blame Golden State for sending Sprewell to the Knicks, considering the Warriors received three good players in return -- John Starks, Chris Mills and Terry Cummings.


-- Chicago Bulls fans: Imagine paying thousands of dollars for a suite at the United Center, all for the chance to watch Martin Muursepp, Bubba Wells and Keith Booth lose 40 games.

It's going to get ugly, people. Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf and general manager Jerry Krause won't apologize, but they should be ashamed for their brazen dismantling of the NBA's dominant franchise of the 1990s.

Jordan's retirement obviously put a serious dent in Chicago's dynasty. But as the Bulls proved the last time he quit, they could still be one of the league's best teams with Pippen and a cast of solid role players.

Instead, Krause has decided to trash the entire roster and start over, all in a misguided quest to feed his ego. You see, Krause wants all the credit should he rebuild the Bulls down the line.

Unfortunately, Bulls fans will pay the price in the meantime.

-- Joe Smith: If you want a poster child for self-importance and runaway greed in the NBA, the former No. 1 overall pick from Maryland would be the leading candidate.

Smith, remember, is the player who turned down $10 million a year from the Warriors two years ago because he deemed himself worthy of a $100 million contract.

Bad move, Joe. Not only was he not worth $100 million, but the new labor deal brought an end to those monstrous contracts and a mediocre season in Philadelphia lessened Smith's value.

How much? Try more than $78 million. After spurning that $80 million offer from Golden State, Smith had to settle for $1.75 million from the Minnesota Timberwolves.