Mark Cuban made a major trade with Denver, adding Nick Van Exel and Raef LaFrentz to his first-place Dallas Mavericks, while Marc Jackson went from Golden State to Minnesota for a relatively minor price.
Minnesota acquired Jackson from the Warriors for center Dean Garrett and a future second-round pick.
Those two trades were the only ones made before the NBA's deadline, bringing this week's total to four. Chicago and Indiana pulled off a seven-player trade Tuesday, and Boston made a five-player deal with Phoenix on Wednesday.
Denver General Manager Kiki Vandeweghe had been trying all month to find a team willing to take Van Exel without having to include LaFrentz in the deal, but in the end the trade with the Mavericks was his best remaining option.
It was the second major deadline deal in as many years by Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Mavericks.
"I love this team, which has probably played at a higher level than any I ever had," said Coach Don Nelson, whose Mavericks began the night atop the Midwest Division with a record of 37-17. "But I don't think our team is any better than the others that we are fighting for a playoff position.
"I think this may elevate us, and I hope it will give us a real chance to win our division."
Van Exel and LaFrentz were Denver's two leading scorers, and Johnson started at point guard for the Nuggets while Van Exel sat out the last five games with an inflamed elbow.
Agent Tony Dutt said Van Exel agreed to some deferrals in his current contract. He declined to provide details. Van Exel had said he was willing to give up some of the guaranteed $26.5 million in the final two years of his contract.
Howard was attractive to the Nuggets because his $20.5 million salary comes off their salary cap after next season. Howard was averaging 12.9 points and 7.4 rebounds for the Mavericks.
Van Exel, a point guard, will be joining a team that already has one of the league's best playmakers--All-Star Steve Nash. He also will be playing for an assistant coach, Del Harris, whom he clashed with while the two were together several years ago with the Lakers.
The Warrior-Timberwolve trade wasn't agreed on until 10 minutes before the deadline.
"I looked at the guys who were in the room with me and said this is another typical trading day," Timberwolve General Manager Kevin McHale said.
But McHale picked up the phone and gave one last call to Warrior General Manager Garry St. Jean, who said Golden State still had not found a taker for the 6-foot-10 center who was a first-team all-rookie selection last season.
Jackson, who averaged 4.9 points and 2.5 rebounds this season, plans to join the Timberwolves in San Antonio for their game Saturday night.