The Houston Rockets are well known for their offensive prowess. James Harden is arguably the most impactful singular offensive force in the NBA, Chris Paul is still one of the best offensive orchestrators in the league and Mike D’Antoni is the coach who ushered in the pace-and-space era in the mid-2000s. However, when the games matter most in the postseason, it will be the Rockets’ defense that will likely determine whether Houston can win it all or fall short of their championship aspirations.
In year’s past, the Rockets had a few effective defensive players that were able to help Houston maintain a near league average defensive rating. But the Rockets never had an ace that anchored the team’s defense and made up for the shortcomings of his teammates consistently. Dwight Howard was supposed to be that player for Houston, but past injuries seemed to limit his impact on both ends of the court. After falling short in previous postseason runs and with the Golden State Warriors still featuring arguably the most talented team in league history, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey looked to bridge the gap with some significant roster moves last summer.
Trading for Chris Paul was of course the team’s signature move last offseason. In the deal for Paul, the Rockets sent point guard Patrick Beverley, among other players, to the Los Angeles Clippers. Beverley is a tenacious defensive player in his own right, but Paul can be just as effective as an individual defender and is arguably the superior team-defender. However, it was primarily the additions of Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker, as well as a new emphasis on team-defense that have turned the Rockets into a top-10 defense this season (18th last season), which has them positioned as a legitimate candidate to challenge the Warriors in Western Conference race to the Finals.
Basketball Insiders recently spoke with Tucker, Mbah a Moute and center Clint Capela about the team’s revamped defense, how it can still improve, the team’s explosive offense and more.
“We’re just going to take it one game at a time for now but for sure,” Tucker said when asked if the team now has the defensive personnel to win the championship this season. “We don’t want to look ahead of ourselves but we know we have a defensive core as good as any defense in the league and we think we’ve been underachieving so far so we just want to get better and be in the top-3 of overall defense.”
In discussing Houston’s defense with Rockets players, it is evident that there is a lot of confidence in the team’s defensive abilities but there is also a lot of internal scrutiny as well.
“We are one of the last teams in transition defense so we got to make sure to tighten up on that more,” said Mbah a Moute. “Obviously, half court we’ve been able to switch…that’s been good for us because we got a lot of guys of the same size who can guard different positions so we can still improve on our transition defense and rebounding.”
With the addition of players like Tucker, Mbah a Moute and Paul, along with holdovers like Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza and Capela, the Rockets have the ability to switch aggressively without leaving themselves overly vulnerable to mismatches. A common theme among Rockets players is the emphasis the team has placed on switching effectively on defense and utilizing the versatility of their key defensive players.
“It’s really helpful with switching a lot,” Capela said when asked about playing center with top-notch wing defenders around him. “All the perimeter players do a good job on the bigs, getting them out of the paint. It’s been really efficient for us and I hope we are going to keep doing a good job at it and stay focused.
“We switch a lot this year and I feel comfortable being on guards sometimes so it’s been really efficient for us so far. Just want to keep doing that. Like I said we just have to keep doing it…don’t just switch to be soft, switch because it helps the defense.”
When asked about the team’s ability to switch effectively, Tucker mentioned several players but noted that Capela’s ability to protect the rim and switch onto smaller players on the perimeter is a key component of Houston’s defense.
“Clint can guard the ball well too. He can get out there…he guards guards just as well as any big or any center in the league so just that dynamic advantage,” Tucker said. “Everyone having everybody’s back and Clint’s ability to do that helps make our defense good.”
From point guard to center, the Rockets feature a group of players that can push ball-handlers out beyond the three-point line, fight over screens, switch onto bigger players, rotate quickly and execute double teams when necessary. Houston doesn’t have a Draymond Green, healthy Kawhi Leonard, Andre Roberson or Rudy Gobert level defender but they have several versatile defenders that together formulate stout defensive units.
“I don’t know. I’m not sure. Golden State’s gotta a couple people like that…maybe Boston. I’m not sure,” Tucker said when asked whether any other team features a defensive duo like he and Mbah a Moute. “But I know we got guys. Trevor Ariza can switch on a lot of guys and honestly James [Harden] switches on guys 1-5 as well so we got quite a few guys that can do it at a high level. I think that’s what makes our defense so good.
“Chris is so good with his hands and Eric is a bull so he can hold his weight down there and don’t need to help as much. But like I said we got other guys to help cover it up and we got so many different lineups and that helps.”
Mbah a Moute echoes Tucker’s thoughts on the matter.
“I think we are definitely right up there with anyone,” said Mbah a Moute. “There’s a lot of teams that can switch in the NBA so we’re fortunate to have the personnel and the philosophy to where it works to our advantage so just have to get tight with it and continue to get better.”
There are times where Houston will struggle to adjust to a mismatch or will simply go through the paces on defense for an extended period of time. This was evident in Houston’s recent matchup against the Clippers in which Montrezl Harrell went off for 22 points in 29 minutes on 9-14 shooting from the field. The Rockets often got caught with smaller players guarding Harrell in the post and frequently got outworked by Harrell on transition breakaways. However, Houston stifled just about every other Clipper players and ended up with a convincing win at Staples Center.
A big part of Houston’s offense is generated through their defense, which isn’t something they could rely on in year’s past. Houston’s offense is designed to generate as many efficient scoring opportunities as possible and with an aggressive defense now consistently creating open looks, it’s no surprise that Houston is second in offensive efficiency (behind only the Warriors). Additionally, Harden and Paul have meshed their talents more effectively than many would have predicted before the start of the season.
With so much defensive versatility and a superstar backcourt to lead the team’s offense, Houston is primed to take on the Warriors for Western Conference supremacy. To their credit, Houston’s players are staying focused on the opponents in front of them and aren’t looking ahead to a potential matchup with Golden State.
“I don’t know,” Tucker said when asked about Houston’s previous matchups with the Warriors and what to expect in future matchups. “I honestly haven’t thought about Golden State because we don’t play them again this season so we’ve been thinking about all these other teams so I can’t answer.”
Tucker is correct that, at this point, Houston is not scheduled to play Golden State again this season. But it’s fair to imagine a scenario in which these two teams will eventually see each other in this year’s playoffs. Golden State should be considered the favorite at this point, but, without saying it explicitly, Houston is collectively confident they have a real shot at pushing the Warriors in a seven-game series.
“I think we have everything we need,” said Mbah a Moute when asked whether this team lacks anything from a personnel standpoint. “We just got to get better. We have to get better at what we do — switching matchups, transition defense is big for us. Our rotation…off the switch or off the drive. We just gotta get better, I think we have everything we need.”
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.