By FRANK CALO
On Feb. 23 at 3:00 p.m., one of the busiest days in the NBA ended. It was the official end of the trade deadline. It’s the last day for franchises around the league to trade with others to improve their team, gain future assets or dump some salary.
This year was a relatively quiet deadline, but per usual there appear to be clear winners and losers after the deadline. You never know how a trade will end up, but you have to go with what it looks like on paper.
Oklahoma City Thunder
While point guard Russell Westbrook is having an MVP caliber season averaging a triple double on the season, and if he stays on track will be the first to do it since point guard Oscar Robertson did it in the 1961-62 season for the Milwaukee Bucks. However, Westbrook doesn’t have much of a supporting cast around him. He has center Steven Adams, guard Victor Oladipo and power forward Enes Kanter (who is injury prone), and a few other role players. The Thunder desperately needed shooting around Westbrook as they are second to last in three-point percentage and they also needed another defensive-minded big man as the Thunder are also second to last in points in the pain allowed. They addressed that by picking up a few nice pieces in F Doug McDermott and F Taj Gibson from the Chicago Bulls, while giving up point guard Cameron Payne, forward Joffrey Lauvergne and guard Anthony Morrow. Payne is a good player, but the Thunder definitely upgraded their team and addressed two of their biggest weaknesses as if there is one thing McDermott can do it’s shoot the basketball and Gibson is a very tough, rugged big man to help guard the paint and will be a nice pairing next to Adams. While the Thunder still don’t have enough to beat the top teams in the West, they added a few nice upgrades to make it interesting come playoffs.
New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans shocked the NBA world when they acquired center DeMarcus Cousins from the Sacramento Kings over the NBA All-Star Break, and got him relatively for nothing. Cousins is a top 10, maybe top five player in the league and all the Pelicans had to give up were guard Buddy Hield, forward Tyreke Evans, guard Langston Galloway, a protected 2017 first round pick, and 2017 second round pick. For arguably the best big man league, that deal is a straight up heist. Not only do the Pelicans get Cousins for nothing, they get to pair him with the man he’s against in the argument for best big man in forward Anthony Davis. These two players together easily make the best big man duo in the league and their games complement each other as Davis likes to work on the perimeter more and Cousins likes to work in the paint, but can take it outside. If Cousins keeps his head on straight, look for the Pelicans to make a push for the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers
Neither of the top teams in their respective conference made a deal at the deadline. The Warriors made no trades and the Cavaliers did their damage in January when they stole guard Kyle Korver from the Atlanta Hawks. So, even though they didn’t make any deals at the deadline, they are the biggest winners of the deadline. While teams like the Rockets, Thunder and Raptors all made moves that improved their teams; they’re still not even close to topping the top two teams in each conference. It’s still hard to see any team barring a massive upset besting the Warriors or Cavaliers in a best-of-seven series. It still looks like we are heading for round three of Warriors-Cavaliers in the NBA finals.
Sacramento Kings and DeMarcus Cousins
The Kings are losers for reasons mentioned why the Pelicans are winners. The Kings gave up a top superstar in the league for a bag of chips. There hasn’t been another deal like this , where a team got so little for a superstar, other than maybe the Pau Gasol trade in 2008, where he went from the Grizzlies to Lakers for Kwame Brown, who was the centerpiece of the deal. Fortunately for the Grizzlies, the Lakers threw in a throw away guy in the trade named Marc Gasol, Pau’s brother who is now an All-star player. It doesn’t seem likely that will happen for the Kings unless Hield ends up being the next Steph Curry.. Cousins is a loser simply because he’s getting jipped a huge chunk of change in this deal.. With the Kings, if he were to sign the max contract extensions, he would have made $210 million. With the Pelicans, if he signs the max contract extension, he will make $180 million. He loses $30 million because of this deal.
The Celtics have been gathering assets for the last couple years now, gaining a bunch of picks, expiring contracts and young talent. They seemed poised with those assets to make a blockbuster move to acquire a superstar, which is really the only thing the team needs. The rumors were all around acquiring superstar players like Cousins, forward Paul George and guard Jimmy Butler. Any one of these players would make them actual contenders and a real challenge for the Cavaliers. They decided to stand pat because they didn’t want to give up the first round pick they got from Brooklyn, which has a chance to be the number one overall pick and they didn’t want to give up some rotation pieces. While the Celtics are a very good team, have very good chemistry and it’s very hard to trade a pick that has the best odds being number one. It seems they missed an opportunity to pick up one of those players. It’s not like they are relatively young. Their window to win is smaller than most people think. Their top two players in guard Isaiah Thomas and forward Al Horford are close to 30 and are getting close to the end of their primes. The Celtics would be ecstatic if the top pick next year ends up like Cousins, George and Butler, but even if that player ends up that good, it’s most likely that it will take three to four years when Thomas and Horford will be past their primes. The Celtics had an opportunity with the Cavaliers injured and looking less invincible than in past years to make a big splash, but they didn’t. If they were able to get George and add him to that team and one of the best coaches in the league in Brad Stevens, the Cavaliers would definitely have to worry about them come playoffs. They didn’t however, so the Cavaliers are still on top and it’s not close.
It wasn’t just the Celtics, though. It was the Eastern Conference as a whole that failed a chance to catch up to the Cavaliers. The Cavaliers have been injured all year, have some depth issues and look very beatable at times. The teams of the Eastern Conference all had chances to get better and close the gap, but they either didn’t do enough or didn’t do anything at all. The Celtics did nothing, while the other top teams like the Raptors and Wizards made small but insignificant moves. The Raptors got a few nice pieces in forwards Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker and the Wizards acquired SG Bojan Bogdonovic from the Nets. While those moves were upgrades, they are not game changers like a Cousins or George deal would be. It’s hard not to think that the Wizards or a team in the East in contention could have made a deal with the Kings for Cousins like the Pelicans did. The teams in the East seem to be waiting out the Cavaliers dominance in the East instead of trying to beat them. Right now, it looks like that dominance will continue for a while. Waiting it out might be the wrong move for the other teams in the East.
It was a very quiet deadline. Some teams improved and a lot just stayed put on this NBA trade deadline. It seems teams are looking toward the future. Other than the Cousins deal, no other superstars were traded. There were a lot of rumors, but nothing came of them. As of right now, again, barring injury or a major upset, the NBA remains the status quo, and when it comes toward June, we are most likely going to see a third straight Warriors-Cavaliers NBA Finals.