The New York Knicks had big aspirations last season, only to fall incredibly short. After posting one of the franchise’s worst season in its storied history, the Knicks landed a couple of promising talents in the 2015 NBA Draft and re-stocked the roster with some interesting complementary players. The Knicks’ free agency was far from star-studded, but the players the Knicks added might end up being better fitting long-term pieces than many expected when the floor fell out from under the team last season. If everything works out as expected, the Knicks could find themselves in the hunt again.
Basketball Insiders previews the 2015-16 New York Knicks.
I’m in a no-win situation as it relates to the New York Knicks. If I give them a prediction that some deem overly optimistic, I will be accused of being a “homer” by some of my fellow scribes. If I am too harsh on them, rowdy and unruly fans that I encounter will give me an earful. What can I do other than speak the truth, then? Here it goes: Phil Jackson wasn’t brought to New York City to sign guys like Robin Lopez and Arron Afflalo. Glen Grunwald could have done that and I’m pretty sure Donnie Walsh could have as well. Phil Jackson was brought to New York to get guys like LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Monroe or Draymond Green to buy into and thrive in the triangle. So let’s just be honest here and say that the caliber of the individual pieces that Jackson brought in this summer was “underwhelming,” to say the least. Still, though, that doesn’t mean that the Knicks will be worse off for it. Traditionally, if there is one thing that has haunted this franchise, it has been their propensity to swing for the fences rather than hit a single, bunt a guy to second base and drive him home on another hit. This summer, Jackson and general manager Steve Mills hit a few singles and are hoping for the grand slam next summer. This season will be about restoring the team to respectability, qualifying for the playoffs and beginning to assemble a team and a cast of characters that actually has a chance to compete for something meaningful in the NBA. At the end of the day, whether or not they are successful will depend on Carmelo Anthony and how he has recovered from his ailments. Even if Anthony is less than 100 percent, though, it is difficult to imagine the Knicks winning less than 20 games. And, if things break right—if Kristaps Porzingis is the real deal and if Derrick Williams can find his mojo—I think somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 wins is realistic. It’s difficult to imagine the Knicks making the playoffs this coming season, but even more difficult imagining the Philadelphia 76ers topping them in the Atlantic Division again, so I’ll put the Knicks in at four.
4th Place – Atlantic Division
– Moke Hamilton
This was a tough summer for New York since they missed on all of the marquee free agents that they were pursuing. With that said, they did add some veterans such as Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo, Kyle O’Quinn, Derrick Williams, Sasha Vujacic and Kevin Seraphin along with drafting talented prospects Kristaps Porzingis and Jerian Grant. Getting Carmelo Anthony back at full strength should really help them as well. There’s no question that this team is more talented than last year’s Knicks squad and they will almost certainly improve their win total. But as far as making a huge leap and becoming a playoff team in the Eastern Conference, I just can’t see it happening. The East has a lot of talented teams this year and I don’t think New York can finish in the top eight. I’m excited to see what Porzingis can do and I really loved that draft pick because I think he has star potential, but it’s going to take time for him to become a difference maker since he’s very raw. I think this will be another down year for the Knicks, although I am expecting them to show progress from last year’s awful campaign.
4th Place – Atlantic Division
– Alex Kennedy
Must give credit where it’s due. Knicks team president Phil Jackson had a very respectable summer increasing the talent level in New York. The addition of Arron Afflalo, Robin Lopez, Kyle O’Quinn and Kristaps Porzingis is definitely an upgrade over last year’s supporting cast. But the Knicks’ hopes of leaving the Eastern Conference basement and making a legitimate playoff run rests on the health of All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony, who hobbled through 40 games last season. The playoffs are not out of question for this group, but it’s far from a certainty. The team will need several favorable turns in the road to get there, but for Knicks fans at least there’s the hope of potentially being in the mix at season’s end.
3rd Place – Atlantic Division
– Lang Greene
It probably isn’t a good thing that Knicks fans are talking more about their chances at landing Kevin Durant next summer than they are the actual upcoming season, but that’s a testament to a really cruddy, hangover-inducing 2014-15 season that left a sour taste in a lot of people’s mouths. The team absolutely is better this season, however, thanks in large part to underrated free agency acquisitions like Arron Afflalo and Robin Lopez, and Carmelo Anthony will be healthy too, which of course is the biggest reason for hope in New York this year. Rookie Kristaps Porzingis was a controversial selection that probably won’t pay immediate dividends but shows real promise long-term, and other additions like Jerian Grant, Kyle O’Quinn and Derrick Williams round out an obviously improved roster that should contend for the playoffs again in 2016.
3rd Place – Atlantic Division
– Joel Brigham
The return of a healthy Carmelo Anthony could help dig the Knicks out of the division hole they fell into last season. The addition of first round pick Kristaps Porzingis will give the team more options and versatility. The rookie can spread the floor and also gained weight over the summer to fight for position. After a disappointing 17-win season, there is nowhere for the Knicks to go but up. They could surpass the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers in the divisional standings.
3rd Place – Atlantic Division
– Jessica Camerato
Top of The List
Top Offensive Player: Carmelo Anthony
Not merely the best offensive player on the Knicks, Carmelo Anthony is arguably one of the best offensive players on the planet when healthy. Durability will obviously be a major concern heading into this season, as his 2014-15 campaign was cut short by a major knee survey. However, ‘Melo is already back in the gym practicing, so there is optimism he should be ready to roll by the start of the regular season. Because of the injury and recent struggles by his Knicks, we may forget just how dominant Anthony is when at the top of his game. The all-around, individual numbers Melo posted in 2013-14 were incredibly impressive. Anthony became the first player in over a decade to average at least 27 points, eight rebounds and three assists per game throughout a full NBA season. He was also remarkably efficient on the offensive end of the floor. In fact, he became just the fourth player in NBA history to average over 27 points a night while shooting above 45 percent from the floor, 40 percent from three and 82 percent from the free-throw stripe. The other three members of that incredibly exclusive club are Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant.
Top Defensive Player: Robin Lopez
Improving on the defensive end of the floor was clearly a priority for Phil Jackson this summer. The Knicks handed Lopez a $54 million contract in July, making him the second-highest paid player on the team. Not much of an offensive threat, New York is paying Lopez to clog the paint and protect the rim. During his two years in Portland, his defense at the rim was stellar (in 2013-14, only Roy Hibbert held opponents to a lower field goal percentage on shots attempted within three feet of the basket). The Knicks ranked second-to-last in rebounding last season, so they will rely on Lopez to clean up on the defensive backboards as well. Lopez is known for his aggressive box-outs and physical play, which have been sorely lacking in New York.
Top Playmaker: Jerian Grant
Phil Jackson assumed he had adequately addressed the Knicks’ need at point guard in his first major move as team president, when he traded Tyson Chandler to Dallas and got back Jose Calderon. However, Calderon struggled mightily last season (due in large part to nagging injuries) and his numbers – including his assist totals – dipped significantly. This past June, the Knicks traded back into the first round in order to acquire Jerian Grant out of Notre Dame. Grant is a big (6’4 with a 6’7.5 wingspan) and athletic guard that should be able to contribute immediately on both sides of the ball. In addition to being a solid scorer, Grant is also a gifted passer with impressive court vision. Grant spent a five years in college and dished out a total of 690 assists during his Notre Dame career, which was more NCAA assists than the first 15 picks in the 2015 draft combined. Asking him to play heavy minutes early on may be asking too much too soon, but if Calderon can’t return to form, New York will have to rely on Grant to effectively facilitate the offense.
Top Clutch Player: Carmelo Anthony
Excluding games ‘Melo missed due to injury, one would be hard-pressed to find a single ‘clutch’ FG attempted by a Knicks player other than Carmelo Anthony since the day he arrived in New York. Throughout most of his career, Anthony had been one of the NBA’s better clutch scorers. And during his first couple of seasons as a Knick, Anthony knocked down a number of game-winners. However, Melo was remarkably ineffective in big spots in 2013-14 (he was 0-for-8 on shots with 10 seconds or less in the fourth quarter or overtime when trailing by one possession or tied) and misfired late in games last season as well. It was commonly believed that Anthony was worn down by the massive minutes he was forced to play, and had little left in his legs in fourth quarters. The hope is that fewer minutes and more creative offensive sets will allow ‘Melo to regain his reputation as one of the NBA’s best closers.
The Unheralded Player: Kyle O’Quinn
The signing of O’Quinn didn’t garner much buzz in NYC, but the under-the-radar acquisition could pay dividends in both the short- and long-term. A native New Yorker (born and raised in Queens), O’Quinn was a second-round pick by the Orlando Magic in 2012. Coming out of Norfolk State, he played sporadically over his first three NBA seasons in Orlando, but performed relatively well when given extended minutes. O’Quinn’s career per-36 minute averages (13 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocks) suggest he has a chance to be a valuable rotation player. He is versatile enough to give the Knicks minutes at both the power forward and center spots. He possesses limited athleticism in his bulky frame, but has a high-intensity motor and brings relentless energy on a nightly basis.
Best New Addition: Kristaps Porzingis
The Knicks hadn’t had a draft pick inside the top-five since they selected Kenny “Sky” Walker in 1986. And with next year’s draft pick already traded away, the Knicks simply had to hit on their 2015 lottery pick. While the selection of Porzingis is undeniably risky due to the scary downside inherent in taking a skinny, unproven, foreign-born player, the vast upside is also irrefutable. Porzingis possesses an incredibly rare skill set for someone his size. He moves remarkably well and fluidly from baseline-to-baseline. This is noteworthy because lateral quickness is imperative for big men hoping to survive defensively in today’s pick-and-roll heavy NBA. Offensively, he dunks forcefully, yet makes it seems effortless. Still, the most impressive skill Porzingis brings to the table is his feathery touch from the perimeter. Kristaps has a flawless form that would be impressive from a shooting guard, let alone a guy measuring in at 7’1. At his size, he’ll be able to effortlessly launch uncontested jumpers from all over the floor. At just 19 years old, he hasn’t yet even scratched the surface of his vast potential. If the Knicks are going to return to respectability at some point in the future, it will be because Porzingis develops into a star.
– Tommy Beer
Who We Like:
1. Phil Jackson – Jackson’s first year on the job was a disaster. The Chandler/Calderon trade backfired and the Knicks’ 2014-15 campaign was epically, historically awful, as the Knicks lost a franchise record 65 games. However, Phil bounced back with a solid offseason this past summer. He avoided chasing a “quick fix” approach and seems to be content to patiently and prudently re-build the roster. He didn’t land a stud free-agent, but he also didn’t clog the Knicks’ cap, allowing the franchise to remain flexible going forward.
2. Kevin Seraphin – Like Robin Lopez, Seraphin will supply the Knicks with some needed rim-protection. Seraphin also possesses a promising offensive arsenal. In today’s changing NBA, he’s one of the NBA’s rare big men who look to score on the low block with his back to the basket. Like Kyle O’Quinn, Seraphin has posted impressive per-minute averages in his brief NBA career. Over his last two seasons, Seraphin averaged 15.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per-36 minutes. He’s still a bit raw, and a propensity to foul too frequently has been a hindrance, but the upside is promising.
3. Lance Thomas/ Lou Amundson – Very little went right for the Knicks last season, but Jackson and coach Derek Fisher were very happy with the effort and attitude that these two journeymen brought to the team when they were added to the roster in February. Fisher and Jackson have emphasized the importance of changing the culture within the organization. Amundson and Thomas both obviously made a very positive impression on the Knicks’ coach and front office, as both were re-signed and brought back into the fold. These two role players may not see much playing time during the regular season, but they can still certainly have a positive impact on the team by the way they practice and prepare on a daily basis. With an infusion of youth on the roster, it is important to surround those youngsters with veterans who can teach rookies how to be pros.
4. Kyle O’Quinn – The Knicks’ best value signing of the summer will likely end up being O’Quinn. The best aspect of the deal from a New York perspective is that the Knicks were able to lock-up O’Quinn for the next four seasons. With the salary cap set to spike upwards of $90 million by next season, being able to sign quality contributors to affordable contracts that extend four years into the future is how smart teams maximize value. This will likely be viewed as a smart gamble by Phil Jackson, as there is potentially a terrific payoff, yet very little risk involved. Consider this: In 2017-18, when the salary cap will purportedly jump up to $108 million, O’Quinn (who will then be 27 years old) will account for just 3.7 percent of the Knicks total cap space. If O’Quinn becomes even a decent role player in New York, that contract will return astonishing value.
– Tommy Beer
It’s hard to find a substantial strength on a team that went 17-65 last year. The good news is the team should be significantly better next season. Hopefully, Carmelo Anthony, the face of their franchise, will return at full strength. And, as noted above, Jackson did a solid job of rounding out the roster by bringing in an exciting and promising mix of young talent and proven commodities. This summer, New York added four players who are 25 or younger and measure in at least 6’8. The Knicks didn’t have any such young bigs on their roster last season. It may take some time for the team to mesh and for chemistry to develop, but if ‘Melo can play to his capabilities and the new pieces perform up to expectations, New York has the talent to at least stay in the playoff race for most of the season.
– Tommy Beer
There are obviously major issues on both sides of the ball that need to be addressed. The Knicks were at or near the bottom of the barrel in a wide variety of statistical categories last season. New York finished 29th in the league in Offensive Efficiency (they scored the fewest points in the league) and 28th in Defensive Efficiency. They were also 29th in rebound rate. And while the lack of talent was certainly the primary culprit, Derek Fisher appeared in over his head at times during his first season as coach. This year he’ll have to prove he can develop into a quality NBA head coach.
– Tommy Beer
The Burning Question:
Can the Knicks compete for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference?
Despite having upwards of $28 million to spend on free agents this past summer, Phil Jackson and the Knicks failed to lure a superstar to NYC. Yet, due to the salary cap spiking next year, the Knicks will once again have plenty of cap space for Phil to spend in order to secure a superstar. Eventually, signing role players will only get the organization so far. In order to take that next step, they need to bring in max-level talent. And in order to greatly improve their chances of convincing an elite superstar to sign, the Knicks have to show they are on the cusp of turning the corner. Would a significant step forward in 2015-16 entice a top-tier FA to come to NYC?
On the flip side of the coin, if the Knicks struggle mightily again in this upcoming campaign, might Jackson and company consider committing to a full and complete rebuild, which would involve trading Carmelo Anthony at the February trade deadline or the following offseason? This upcoming season could determine which direction the franchise ultimately heads in going forward.
– Tommy Beer
Gordon Hayward Clearing Hurdles, Finding Joy In Comeback From Injury
Spencer Davies sits down with Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward to discuss the first half of his season, returning from a devastating injury and the team blocking out the noise.
As his Boston Celtic teammates got some shots up to prepare for a morning practice in Cleveland, Gordon Hayward sat in a chair on the baseline watching.
Quicken Loans Arena held a particular place in his mind. Not because of a championship memory, nor for any individual accomplishment.
But because nearly five months after an emotional return and season debut, Hayward had come back to the scene where the course of his career shifted in an instant.
“It’s something that I was thinking about sitting in the hotel last night,” Hayward told Basketball Insiders before shootaround at The Q. “Like, last time I was here, my whole world changed. I’ll probably think about it, be a little anxious about it at the beginning when I first check in, but then when I get going it’ll be fine.”
If there was any trepidation, it was either short-lived or didn’t show. The 28-year-old looked as confident as ever, packing a powerful punch off the bench as a scorer and a distributor for a depleted Boston team. He finished with 18 points, six rebounds and five assists.
“I didn’t even think about that until this morning,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said of Hayward’s return to Cleveland. “I thought about it in the preseason and then for whatever reason, I probably should’ve thought about it.
“I just think he has played enough now where he’s past that initial hurdle, right? So it’s probably not fun to walk out on the court the first time and shoot around and those type of things but ultimately, I think he probably moved past that really quickly. I thought he was great tonight, both ends of the court. I thought his offensive playmaking passing the ball was as good as his scoring.”
Hayward has scored 20 points or more on just three different occasions this year. It’s a far cry from the All-Star numbers he used to put up nightly. He understands, however, that perseverance is necessary as he slowly, but surely gets re-acclimated to playing.
“Physically, I’ve felt pretty good. I think I’m definitely moving way better than I was at the beginning of the season,” Hayward told Basketball Insiders. “I’m getting more and more confident with each month, each week. There’s definitely still games where I just don’t feel like myself, but I think I’m trending in the right direction.”
When asked about those areas that don’t feel right yet Hayward pinpointed attacking the basket, specifically going at big men in the paint, taking contact and finishing.
Knowing that he can go up, get hit and be able to come down fine is a mental hurdle Hayward admittedly still has to clear—and the only way to get past that is repetition.
“You just have to do it, and do it more than one time,” Hayward told Basketball Insiders. “It’s like an experience-type thing. You’ve got to just do it and feel confident doing it, and until that happens, then you’ll just keep thinking about it.”
Once Hayward is driving and dunking on a regular basis without thinking about what happens next, he says he’ll officially be back. Until then, an appreciation of being able to play the game he loves again is the true big picture—especially after an injury that could’ve taken it all away from him.
“That’s been a mental thing as well is trying to find some joy in just the fact that I’m back out on the court,” Hayward told Basketball Insiders. “Because some people don’t return from that and a blessing that we have the technology that we do these days that they were able to fix my ankle. So I guess just being patient with the whole thing, that’s been a challenge.”
CELTICS A WORK IN PROGRESS
Coming into the 2017-18 season, the excitement in Boston was palpable. Hayward signed a four-year maximum contract with the Celtics that summer. Shortly thereafter, Danny Ainge made a blockbuster deal to acquire Kyrie Irving, creating a dynamic duo to begin a new era of C’s basketball.
The Celtics started the campaign on the road against the defending Eastern Conference Champion Cavaliers in October. Since the storyline of the night was Irving facing off against the franchise he had won a championship with on opening night, Hayward’s debut took a bit of a back seat…until the unthinkable happened.
Less than halfway into the first quarter, Irving saw a cutting Hayward with an open path to the rim and threw up a lob looking for an alley-oop finish. Cleveland’s Jae Crowder and LeBron James came to double before Boston’s pair could connect, leaving Hayward afloat in an awkward position.
Hayward came down almost horizontally, with only his left leg there to brace himself for the fall. Tragically, he dislocated his ankle and fractured his tibia simultaneously in one of the most gruesome moments in the history of sports.
As he was consoled by trainers and wheeled away on a stretcher with an air cast, the whole arena was dead silent. Players from both teams were praying in disbelief of what they’d just witnessed. Just like that, Hayward’s season was over, and even perhaps his career.
Following multiple successful surgeries and going through rehabilitation programs over the course of a year, Hayward was able to make a miraculous return to the court on October 16, 2018. He’s been on the floor for 26 minutes per night, playing in 53 of 58 total games.
Just as Hayward has tirelessly ground away to get back to form, so have the Celtics. With a healthy Irving and returning Hayward, along with the group that unexpectedly went seven games into the conference finals last year, they were supposed to be the top dog in the East.
It’s no secret that the Celtics boast an abundance of young talent. Jaylen Brown has shown plenty of growth after a shaky start to the season. Terry Rozier is on track to get paid in the offseason by a team in need of a starting point guard. Jayson Tatum is Boston’s second-best scorer (16.5 points per game) and rebounder (6.3 boards per game) at just 20 years old.
That goes without mentioning rookie center Robert Williams. Daniel Theis and Brad Wanamaker, while not quite as young, are two inexperienced NBA players who have overseas experience. The Celtics’ depth is a quality that is necessary for a deep run in the postseason.
“I think anytime they have an opportunity, they seem to make the most of it. That’s at every position,” Hayward told Basketball Insiders.
At the halfway mark headed into the All-Star break, Boston holds fifth place, locked in a battle with the likes of the Philadelphia 76ers and Indiana Pacers for the three seed. The Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors each have 43 wins with over five games separating them from the trio of teams behind them.
Despite back-to-back blown leads and losses to both Los Angeles franchises at the TD Garden, the Celtics have won 12 of their last 15 contests.
“I think when we all play with energy and when we’re connected defensively – and offensively, for that matter, but especially on the defensive end – we give ourselves a chance to win the game,” Hayward told Basketball Insiders. “Then, when we are able to move the ball and put together games where we have 30-plus assists, that’s when we’re really tough (to beat).”
TUSSLING WITH THE MEDIA
It hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows, though. Early in the season, there were many things said by multiple players on the record, including some pointed words from Irving in more than one instance. These comments can be twisted and turned easily.
Add in an example: the day he told reporters, “Ask me July 1,” regarding his free agency plans, it turned into a big mess of speculation. What many people didn’t hear was Irving’s thoughts regarding the media’s spin on what was actually going on.
“This is like college recruitment for me all over again. I don’t know. This is just weird,” Irving said to the scrum of reporters in New York. “It’s a new position to be in answering all these questions, seeing all this stuff that I’m trying to avoid, and it’s just a distraction. It’s crazy how stories and things and storyline can seep into a locker room. You guys are part of the destruction of locker rooms. That’s just what it is….”
Hayward had plenty of his own thoughts on the matter.
“I mean, I think certainly all outside noise has an opportunity to put a wedge between people and between teammates,” Hayward told Basketball Insiders. “I think especially in today’s age where there’s social media and information is right now, all-the-time, like everybody sees what everybody says. There’s guys that are paid to give their opinions on things and, if you read into all that stuff, can definitely put a wedge in between guys.
“More than anything, just talking to people,” Hayward said of the proper remedy. “If you have an issue with somebody, just tell ’em, talk to ’em. But I think for the most part if you block all that stuff out and really just focus on yourself as a group and what the coaching staff is saying and what your teammates are saying, it’s usually better.”
FATHERHOOD IS A BLESSING
We talked about the youth Boston has already, but Hayward isn’t in that same category anymore. While it’s not that he’s old, per se, he is a nine-year man in the NBA.
Hayward considers it “weird” that he’s the veteran now. Yet, at the same time, he doesn’t mind that time has flown by because of the gift of fatherhood. The injury he sustained was absolutely devastating.
But it put things in perspective for him, and no matter what happens from here on out with his career, Hayward will always be grateful for the most important thing in his life—family.
“No doubt. I think no matter what happens on the court, my girls don’t care,” Hayward told Basketball Insiders. “They just care that dad’s home and they want to play hot lava and play picnic and all that stuff. Like having three healthy kids and a wife at home, those things are good.”
If Hayward’s recent play is an indication of what we’re going to see from him moving forward, he might just get the best of both worlds.
NBA Daily: Post-Deadline Rankings – Southeast Division
Matt John wraps up Basketball Insiders’ Post-Deadline Rankings series by taking a look at the player movement that happened in the Southeast Division.
For the past week, Basketball Insiders has gone over the outlook of every team in each division now that we’ve gone past the trade deadline.
This week, we’re wrapping with the Southeast Division. The Southeast has garnered a reputation for being the weakest division in the league. No one in the division is regarded as a contender. In fact, no team in this division is really respected as a playoff team.
Think of it like this – Charlotte currently leads the division with a 27-30 record, which miraculously puts them at the seventh seed in the east. If the Hornets were in the West, they’d be tied for the 11th seed with Minnesota.
No moves were made to boost anyone’s present, but the future became a little brighter after the deadline passed for some of these franchises. Some if it stems from getting cap relief while some of it stems from acquiring good young talent. Even if it didn’t really bring anyone up a level, the Southeast was pretty active before the trade deadline.
Orlando Magic (27-32)
Deadline Moves: Acquired Markelle Fultz and two draft picks from Sixers
Props to all parties involved in the Markelle Fultz trade. Orlando needed a point guard. Fultz needed a fresh start. Philadelphia needed to get something out of Fultz. Everyone wins. Sort of.
Trading for Fultz gives Orlando a low-risk/high-reward project that could work tremendously in their favor. There still is a very limited sample size for Fultz, but at only 20 years old, the potential for him to be something special is still in the cards.
It was one of the worst kept secrets in the league that Fultz was on his way out of Philly one way or the other. What is yet to be determined is if it was because Fultz’ injury issues were legitimate, or that he wasn’t ready for the win-now mentality that the Sixers has since his arrival, or that he just doesn’t have “it”.
We’ll finally get an answer when he plays for the Magic, who provides a more comfortable environment for a project like him. The Magic are currently on the upswing, having won five in a row and have an easy schedule for the rest of the season. Even though the playoffs are in the realm of possibility, they won’t demand Fultz back on the court until he’s ready because they still have a long way to go.
Fultz definitely has a lot of question marks, but for a team like Orlando, gambling on a guy like him is a chance you take ten times out of ten.
Predicted Division Finish: 1st
Charlotte Hornets (27-30)
Deadline Moves: Signed Shelvin Mack
Despite deep discussions centered around trading for Marc Gasol and moving Frank Kaminsky, Charlotte stood pat at the trade deadline. A pretty odd decision given they had the rare opportunity to acquire Gasol or someone of his caliber for cheap.
In their defense, their contract situation is pretty complicated in case you didn’t know. Their roster is filled with solid role players on bloated contracts. But looking at what Memphis got for Gasol, it really boggles the mind trying to decipher what the Hornets’ Front Office was thinking.
All it took for Toronto to get Gasol was trading Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, and CJ Miles. Really MJ? You couldn’t top that? Now getting an aging star like Marc wouldn’t have made Buzz City a contender. It still would most likely have demanded more respect from their Eastern Conference competitors than they’ve had in quite some time.
Instead, Charlotte remains the same. A half-decent, lower-seed playoff team with both a limited ceiling and floor. With all apologies to Shelvin Mack, the Hornets didn’t move the needle at all. Since they plan to keep Kemba Walker at all costs after his contract expires, maybe the goal is hold out for a better player this summer. If that is their course of action, then props to them for thinking ahead.
That is, if that plan succeeds.
Predicted Division Finish: 2nd
Miami HEAT (26-30)
Deadline Moves: Acquired Ryan Anderson for Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington
Instead of trying to find an upgrade at the trade deadline, Miami instead opted to save some money. That’s a brilliant move when you look at their cap sheet for this upcoming summer. It’s also kind of depressing since the most brilliant move they could make with how the team is currently constructed was opening up some cap room.
By trading Johnson and Ellington for Anderson, the HEAT will escape the luxury tax bill with Anderson’s contract being non-guaranteed next season. It’s sad because Anderson can be useful among his other faults, but right now the teams who have recently employed him only look his team-friendly contract.
Because of that, it goes without saying that Anderson probably isn’t going to see much time in what is very likely to be just a half-season stint in Miami. The team already has a floor-stretching big in Kelly Olynyk, who wasn’t getting much time anyway thanks to the emergence of Derrick Jones Jr.
By getting rid of Johnson and Ellington, the HEAT also open up more time for some of their other guys to play at the guard position. Justise Winslow has found his calling since running the point, while Josh Richardson, Dion Waiters, and of course, Dwyane Wade, have all taken time at the guard. With Goran Dragic coming back soon, it was only going to get more crowded.
Miami made out well at the trade deadline by merely making their situation a little less bleak financially.
Predicted Division Finish: 3rd
Washington Wizards (24-34)
Deadline Moves: Acquired Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis from the Bulls, acquired Wesley Johnson from the Pelicans
When it rains, it pours in D.C.
It can’t be fun to tell a player he’s not getting traded only to go back on your word after everything around you just falls apart.
With John Wall out for the foreseeable future, the Wizards decided to rid themselves of Otto Porter in the meantime. By trading him for Jabari Parker and his team-friendly contract, the Wizards, much like the HEAT, are opening up a fair amount of cap room while also adding a dependable young talent in Bobby Portis – the same can’t be said for Parker.
As good as Porter is, he was overpaid for the role he played in Washington. Getting out of his deal while the team has struggled to get to .500 with limited opportunities to improve will probably be the right move in the long run. Taking a flyer on both Parker and Portis in the process is also a nice consolation prize.
Not much has gone right for the Wizards in the past year and a half. While Bradley Beal has played the best basketball of his career, the team’s playoff hopes are fading by the day. Portis and Parker at least add some pizzazz to what’s looking more and more like a lost season.
It seems they’re aware of that, because trading Markieff Morris for Wesley Johnson to get under the tax in their current state would usually signal a white flag.
Predicted Division Finish: 4th
Atlanta Hawks (19-39)
Deadline Moves: N/A
It’s weird how the Hawks aren’t a good enough team to make a win-now type of move, but aren’t bad enough to completely bottom out. They are firmly out of the playoff picture and yet not really in the tanking game.
In all fairness, the Hawks technically did something. They brought in Shelvin Mack and Jabari Bird the same way they brought in Carmelo Anthony. Other than waiving Jeremy Lin, no significant changes were made to the roster.
There’s not much else to say other than it’s surprising that Kent Bazemore and Dewayne Dedmon are still on the roster – the latter could still very well be waived. It is encouraging that despite that the Hawks are only one notch above awful, they are still a fun team with a promising future. John Collins is a stud, and Trae Young has gotten better as the season has progressed.
This is only the start of what should be a bright era of basketball for Atlanta. For now, all they can do is just pay their dues until their time comes.
Predicted Division Finish: 5th
Again, the Southeast Division is definitely the weakest one in the league. After the trade deadline, they can at least say that they made moves to make sure it doesn’t stay that way.
NBA Daily: Post-Deadline Rankings – Atlantic Division
Drew Maresca continues Basketball Insiders’ division-by-division Post-Deadline Rankings series with a breakdown of the five teams in the Atlantic.
With the trade deadline behind us, teams around the league must turn their attention to incorporating new players. For some teams, this is mostly moot due to their having been all but eliminated from Playoff contention already. But for others, how well new additions fit with the roster can make or break their entire season, which can also have longer-lasting effects like chasing away free agents or convincing current players to sign elsewhere.
The Atlantic Division’s teams saw more than its share of player movement this trade deadline. Just examining star movement: Kristaps Porzingis relocated out of the division and Tobias Harris and Marc Gasol moved in. The arms race was already on between Boston, Philadelphia and Toronto. And the deadline only amplified that.
Basketball Insiders kicked off a division-by-division Post-Deadline Rankings series to illustrate and analyze trades and signings, who benefited the most and how these transactions will impact the race to the top moving forward.
Let’s continue examining rankings with the Atlantic Division:
Traded Jabari Bird to Atlanta for cash considerations.
The Celtics have underperformed this season. They have looked lost at times, they don’t always share the ball as much as they should and they have more mental breakdowns than the 2017-18 iteration of the team. Further, the team’s chemistry seems a bit off after a number of flair-ups throughout the season including a mid-game shoving match between Marcus Morris Sr. and Jaylen Brown, rumors about Kyrie Irving’s dissatisfaction with the team and – most recently –Morris’ rant about the Celtics’ playing like individuals.
Still, they are 37-21 and in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics did not make any additions at the deadline, nor did they add anyone via the buyout market yet despite pursing Enes Kanter (Morris would like to team to purse Markieff Morris, his twin brother).
They also really don’t need any more talent or personalities. Their roster is already talented enough to compete for a championship. But they need to get their act together – and fast. While the Pacers will probably fall a number of spots thanks to the Victor Oladipo injury, they are even with the 76ers in the standings and both teams trail the Bucks and the Raptors – which means neither would be likely to have home-court advantage in the second round or the Conference Finals if the Playoffs started today.
Prediction: 3rdplace in the Atlantic Division, 4thplace in the Eastern Conference
Traded cash considerations for Greg Monroe (waived) and Toronto’s 2021 second-round pick.
The Nets continued picking the pockets of teams looks to dump salary. They took on a Greg Monroe (and waived him), which cost them nothing meaningful and added a future second-round pick to their arsenal of assets. While the trade does nothing for this season, it illustrates the Nets philosophy of being opportunistic.
As far as this season is concerned, the Nets are already huge winners having overachieved beyond belief. But team officials, coaches and fans want more – and more can be had.
While the Nets did recently return to the stratosphere, losing five of their last seven, Caris LeVert is already back from a November foot injury and Spencer Dinwiddie is expected back shortly following Allstar break. The Nets biggest challenge between now and the Playoffs might be how to manage rotations with all their talent. Lookout for them to hit their groove (again) at the perfect time and -cause some noise in the Playoffs.
Prediction: 4thin the Atlantic Division, 5thin the Eastern Conference
New York Knicks
Traded Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee and Trey Burke to Dallas for Dennis Smith Jr., DeAndre Jordan, Wes Matthews and two future first-round picks.
The Knicks kicked off deadline activity a week early with the Kristaps Porzingis deal. The deal materialized seemingly out of nowhere; however, the Knicks became increasingly disconcerted with Porzingis’ dedication to the team. They were a bit surprised with the return available after beginning outreach in January, but mostly recouped what they’d hoped for: a young stud (Smith Jr.), significant cap space for free agency 2019 and at least a future first-round pick (including the Mavs unprotected 2021 first-round pick).
The remainder of this season looks bleak for the Knicks, who have already lost seven straight since the trade (and 18 straight on the whole, which is a franchise record). The Knicks waived Matthews, but chose to hang onto Jordan, who is a good mentor for Mitchell Robinson and a friend of Kevin Durant, a player the Knicks hope to lure to New York come July.
Hopefully for the Knicks and their fans, the constant chatter about tanking for Zion doesn’t leave the young Knicks too disenchanted. Knox recently spoke with Marc Berman of the New York Post about his disdain for fans rooting for losses and he already sounds sick of it.
Updated prediction: 5thin the Atlantic, 15thin the Eastern Conference
Traded Landry Shamet, Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, a (lottery-protected) 2020 first-round pick, a 2021 first-round pick, a 2021 second-round pick and a 2023 second-round picks in exchange for Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic and Mike Scott.
Traded Markelle Fultz for Jonathan Simmons, a 2020 (lottery-protected) first-round pick and a 2019 second-round pick.
The 76ers pushed their chips to the middle of the table at the trade deadline. They started off the season 8-6. They then traded for Jimmy Butler and went 26-14 in the approximately three months from then until the trade deadline. Then they upgrade on the last day before the trade deadline with the addition of Tobias Harris and, separately, sent former number one overall pick Markelle Fultz to Orlando for a player with a lower ceiling and a higher floor. If they can play better basketball with Harris on the team than they did without him – which was .650 in the 40 games following the Butler trade), then they will be in excellent position to challenge all comers for the Eastern Conference crown.
Harris gives the 76ers a versatile wing who can stretch the floor, shoot from deep and handle the ball when needed. He is a legitimate star and possibly the best fourth option in the entire league – although Draymond Green and Jaylen Brown might not agree. If the Sixers can get 2017-18-like production from Jonathan Simmons (13.9 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 29.4 minutes per game), it would provide additional firepower to a relatively depleted Philadelphia bench.
Thus far, the 76ers are 3-1 following the trades, which bodes well for the team. With Oladipo’s injury and Boston’s continued struggles (despite beating Philadelphia this week in Philly), the third seed should be theirs’ for the taking. And while catching Milwaukee and/or Toronto is probably a pipe dream, it’s also within the realm of possibilities for a team with this much talent — and could set them up for a deep Playoff run.
Prediction: 2ndin the Atlantic Division, 3rdin the Eastern Conference
Traded Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, CJ Miles and a future second-round pick to Memphis for Marc Gasol
Traded Greg Monroe and their 2021 second-round pick for cash .considerations
The Raptors appeared to be sitting pat this trade deadline, which would have made sense considering they just added Kawhi Leonard approximately six months ago. But after watching the Bucks and 76ers upgrade, team president Masai Ujiri swung for the fences with a deal that netted them Marc Gasol.
The Raptors were already quite deep, so subtracting Valanciunas, Wright and Miles does not hurt too badly – especially with the addition of a high-IQ player like Gasol, who represents an immediate upgrade at the center position. His versatility will almost certainly aid the Raptors.
Additionally, rumors indicate that Toronto will add Jeremy Lin soon. Lin was waived by Atlanta following the trade deadline and will be eligible to sign with the Raptors once he clears waivers – a certainty given his $13.8 million salary. Lin will be a serendipitous addition with Fred VanVleet missing three weeks with a thumb injury, and his playmaking ability should greatly benefit the team’s second unit.
With a division-best record of 43-16 and a 5.5 game lead in the Atlantic, it is unlikely they get caught (but not impossible). The Raptors will have a few kinks to work out with the new additions, but it’s a safe bet that they finish the year in the top two of the Conference. And if Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby can continue playing like borderline Allstars, the Raptors might be the most dangerous team in the entire East.
Prediction: 1st in the Atlantic Division, 1stin the Eastern Conference
The Atlantic Division featured some of the league’s top teams prior to the trade deadline, and it only got better as a result of it. Four of the conference’s top five most talented teams claim the division as their home. And with a shared division comes increased familiarity and competition. Expect fireworks come April, especially into the second round of the Playoffs and beyond, as three of the four conference finalists could very possibly hail from the Atlantic.