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NBA AM: Trade Deadline Winners

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The 2017 NBA trade deadline has come and gone, and while the flurry of rumors that preceded the final few days didn’t give way to quite the insanity some had hoped for, there was still a solid bevy of moves. A few pseudo-contenders stacked their rosters for runs at the presumed incumbents in their conferences, while a few teams made cost-cutting moves clearly aimed at cap flexibility or buyout season.

Let’s look at a few of the teams who came out the other side looking rosy.

Toronto Raptors

Man, Masai Ujiri is just good at this whole thing.

The Raptors would already have been in a really solid position if they had just stopped after their first big move—the acquisition of Serge Ibaka from the Ornaldo Magic a couple weeks back. They sent Terrence Ross and a conditional first round pick to Orlando. The pick will be the lower of their own first-round pick or the Clippers’ first-round pick in 2017. It was a solid cost that nonetheless was well worth the opportunity.

But then, seemingly in the eleventh hour on Thursday, Ujiri pounced in for another great move. He grabbed P.J. Tucker from the Phoenix Suns for Jared Sullinger and two second-round picks – lower than a reported first-round pick price that had been reported consistently in the days leading up to the deadline.

To sum up, Toronto has sacrificed just one player of real rotational value to the team in Ross. And while this is imprecise, at least some of his value can be replaced internally by transferring some of his minutes to Norman Powell. Meanwhile, they’ve brought in a guy in Ibaka who is a perfect fit: He can play alongside bruiser Jonas Valanciunas in bigger lineups while still providing spacing (Ibaka is shooting nearly 39 percent from deep on the year), or he can shift up to center when the matchups of a hyper-intense playoff series play Valanciunas off the floor.

Tucker isn’t as starry a name, but he might be an even bigger addition come playoff time. DeMarre Carroll just hasn’t looked like the player the Raptors were hoping for since coming into town, and his ability to even marginally disrupt LeBron James in a playoff matchup is highly in doubt. Tucker solves this issue – he’s a bull of a defender, and one of the few guys with the strength and speed combination to even think about checking James individually. He can play both the small and power forward positions, and functions as another bit of rotational versatility for Duane Casey. It’s far too early to tell if these moves truly threaten the Cavs in the East, but they absolutely move the needle – perhaps to the point where the Raptors are the team Cleveland would least want to see in May.

Houston Rockets

Speaking of smart GMs on contenders doing everything they can to make up that final bit of ground on the presumptive conference favorite, Daryl Morey was at it again Thursday. His first move also came before deadline day, sending Corey Brewer and a first-round pick to the Lakers in exchange for bench fireball Lou Williams.

Beyond virtually guaranteeing that the Sixth Man of the Year award will sit in Houston this year (Williams and Eric Gordon are pretty clearly the top two candidates), the move brought a sometimes-punchless Rockets bench another guy who can get a bucket when it matters. Williams is a perfect fit for Houston’s offense, and the presence of Patrick Beverley means there’s no need to extend Williams’ minutes in defensive matchups he can’t handle. Maybe most importantly, it kept a potential playoff opponent like Utah, who had shown interest in Williams, from adding him in a big area of need.

From there, Morey’s tasks were all about preparing for the next stage. He sent both K.J. McDaniels and Tyler Ennis out as cap-cutting moves designed specifically to open space for the buyout season, which could feature a couple notable impact guys.

But in taking one of the most well-known targets on the market off the board early, Morey acted swiftly and smartly. The Rockets improved and didn’t let their potential competition do the same.

New Orleans Pelicans

Look, there isn’t much to say here. It’s honestly tough to separate responsibility for this deadline’s Boogie Blockbuster between the two teams involved – there’s so much incompetence on the Kings side of the ledger that things get really cloudy. Reports that owner Vivek Ranadive may have never even looked at or sought other, better offers for DeMarcus Cousins due to his obsession with Buddy Hield only raise more questions about whether this was truly a “good” move from Pelicans GM Dell Demps, or simply the perfect case of being in the right place at the right time.

Still, availability is part of opportunity, and the Pelicans made this happen before anyone else could. They get a borderline top-10 player in the game for a year and a half at the cost of a middling prospect and a mid-first round pick, essentially, which can’t be considered anything but a big win.

Dallas Mavericks

If there was a straight fleecing before the deadline outside the Boogie mania, it may have been in the first reported deal of the final day. The Mavericks sent Andrew Bogut, Justin Anderson and a heavily protected pick to the 76ers in exchange for Nerlens Noel.

The thing is, the protections on that pick are so severe (top-18 this year) that it’s a virtual guarantee the pick won’t convey – and it becomes two second-rounders if not. Meanwhile, Bogut is a near certainty to be bought out. So all of a sudden, the trade is Noel and cap relief for Anderson and two second-round picks.

The jury is still out on both Anderson and Noel around the league, but this feels like a win. Noel has a lot of defensive potential and hasn’t really had a good situation in Philly this year, plus the Mavs retain team control as he becomes a restricted free agent this summer. They get out from Bogut’s contract without having to buy him out, and will only send a valuable first-round pick in a crazy scenario. Noel was once projected as the sure-thing top overall pick in his draft class before injuries interceded, and the Mavs are banking that he can find some of that potential and make this a huge victory for them.

So while Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, Jimmy Butler and Reggie Jackson all ended up staying put, at least four teams have clearly improved their standing for the second half of the season. And perhaps beyond.

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About Ben Dowsett

Ben Dowsett

Ben Dowsett is a Deputy Editor and in-depth basketball analyst based in Salt Lake City. He covers the Jazz on a credentialed basis for Basketball Insiders, and has previously appeared in the Sports Illustrated and TrueHoop Networks. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.