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NBA Daily: The Burden Of High Expectations

As evidenced by the Boston Celtics and Markelle Fultz, having magnificent expectations from the start may not be the best thing for everyone, writes Matt John.

Matt John

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On Nov. 21, the New York Knicks faced off against the Boston Celtics in what was expected to be an easy route for the green team, but it turned out be their worst loss of the season.

The Celtics not only lost to their longtime division rivals, but were beaten with almost relative ease. New York. who sported a 4-14 record, had a double-digit lead for almost the entire game. While the Celtics may have cut the lead all the way down to three in the closing minutes, the Knicks held steady to get the win.

The Celtics should have been disappointed in their performance. They were booed by their fans, they fell down by as many as 26 points and they lost to a team that was well below .500. The hardest pill to swallow was that the Knicks reminded Brad Stevens and company where they came from.

As it stands, the Knicks currently are not a good team, as they sit at 7-14 and don’t expect franchise unicorn Kristaps Porzingis back for quite some time. But what separates them from the league’s worst teams is their farm system of gritty young players that sets an edge.

Excluding their pool of rookies and sophomores such as Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson, and Allonzo Trier, the Knicks have a tenacious and somewhat youthful movement in Trey Burke, Emmanuel Mudiay, Mario Hezonja and Noah Vonleh. None of those four are future stars, but with their NBA careers hanging by a thread, they give it their all every night.

When you factor in solid veterans like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Enes Kanter, you’ll see that the Knicks have formed a winning culture even with their limited ceiling. They may not boast the most talent, but they make you earn the victory against them.

Does that sound familiar? It should because that’s what the Celtics once prided themselves on over the past five years under Brad Stevens.

Stevens has built his reputation as one of the league’s best coaches on his teams’ abilities to exceed expectations due to their excellent chemistry outweighing their average pool of talent. So it only made sense that the Celtics would be wrecking the league after coming within one win of going to The Finals and getting Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back.

To almost everyone’s astonishment, the Celtics have been puzzlingly mediocre, as they currently place sixth in the Eastern Conference at 10-10.

Their lackluster start hasn’t come primarily from their inconsistency. It’s mostly because of their habit of falling behind big. Time and time again, the Celtics have found themselves down by double-digits. Sometimes they have worked their way back from them, but most of the time it’s been too big to overcome.

Even the best teams fall badly behind every once in a while, but the Celtics have repeatedly done it in only 20 games this season. In all fairness, they have some valid excuses.

Working Hayward back was going to take a while given the severity of his injury last season. Juggling the overabundance of talent was going to be quite the riddle to solve. Their biggest problem among everything else so far has been their identity crisis.

The Celtics have thrived in the past because the little expectation put on them fueled them to prove the doubters wrong. Now that the bar set for them is at potentially going to The Finals or even winning the championship, they no longer play with the same edge. As evidenced by the team finding itself down by a fair amount on multiple occasions, Boston is guilty of complacency.

Because of that, even their guys are aware the competition doesn’t take them as seriously.

The experts haven’t been wrong about the Celtics’ weaponry. Even at 10-10, they have some impressive wins on the record. They’ve hung with their top competitors in the East. They’ve beaten Toronto, Milwaukee, Philadelphia albeit pre-Jimmy Butler, Detroit (twice) and were a Victor Oladipo buzzer beater from defeating Indiana. All of these teams are currently ahead of Boston.

The Celtics definitely have what it takes. They just have yet to find their stride, which makes them the NBA’s most disappointing team. They have some competition for that label, but their case is the strongest.

Utah’s slow start can be attributed to them having the toughest schedule in the league so far. Houston’s can be attributed to losing both player and coaching personnel who played a big role in last season’s success. Washington was already a sinking ship, only things have gotten worse this season. In Boston’s case, their struggles are the least expected of the four.

Alas, the Celtics are more than familiar with early season struggles. With the exception of last year’s blazing start, the Celtics under Stevens have always come out of the gate a little flat because he likes to mix and match.

Because of that, it’s definitely not too late for the Celtics, just like it’s not too late for the NBA’s most disappointing player: Markelle Fultz.

This won’t be about Fultz’s injury issues, because that’s gone into enough detail already that it’s virtually impossible to say anything new. Instead, let’s focus on the latest story on the former No. 1 pick.

In the latest and what looks to be the final chapter of Fultz’s time as a 76er, he has yet again been deemed out with a shoulder injury along with a newly-reported wrist injury. This latest report appears to be the nail in the coffin for him in Philly, as it now appears that Fultz wants a fresh start, and Philly is ready to move on from him.

When and if he gets traded, it’s fair to say that Fultz, while definitely not being the first, is the biggest failure to come from “The Process.” The Sixers traded a potential superstar in Jayson Tatum and a possible lottery pick from the Kings to get Fultz. The returns they’ve gotten since acquiring his draft rights have been nothing short of disastrous.

In 33 games as a Sixer, Fultz has averaged 7.7 points, 3.4 assists and has shot 41.4 percent from the field including 26.7 percent from distance. According to NBA.com, the Sixers’ offensive rating has been -8.5 with Fultz on the court this season. That’s pretty bad for someone who had superstar expectations coming out of the draft just a year-and-a-half ago.

That’s not to say the Sixers haven’t tried to fit him in. They started Fultz for the first 15 games hoping he could get going with the other starters, but he couldn’t. Once the team traded for Butler, it was clear that they had run out of patience with Fultz.

In his defense, Fultz was thrown into a situation that may have never been meant for him coming into the NBA. He was expected to be the last piece for a team that had thrown away the last four seasons in hopes of accumulating young talent to start up a new dynasty. Also, the team planned to flip the switch immediately after drafting him.

It was also going to be hard for Markelle to thrive since he was a point guard playing with another point guard, Ben Simmons, who is the most effective with the ball in his hands. Making that work is difficult especially with Fultz’s shooting woes. Though nobody blames Philadelphia for going all in on Fultz, this may have been a doomed experiment from the start.

Most first overall picks are put on bad teams that slowly rebuild over time. Fultz, by contrast, was added to a team in hopes of making serious noise the second he stepped on the floor. The Sixers were ready for the big time. Fultz was not.

Perhaps what Fultz needs is to re-start his career with a team that has minimal expectations. The best thing for his progress may be time, which he certainly doesn’t have with the Sixers in the place that they are in. He may still be the prospect everybody believed he was. That just may not happen while he’s in Philadelphia.

That’s not to say that all that has happened is Philadelphia’s fault, or Fultz’s for that matter. Neither side saw this panning out as badly as it did. It all came down to incompatibility. That doesn’t excuse Fultz from being a colossal disappointment though.

As evidenced by both the Celtics and Fultz, having such high expectations can prove to be trouble. It can get to both teams and players alike. At the end of the day, we have to remember that everyone in the NBA is still human.

Those ginormous expectations can be fulfilled.

It just may not be as quick as or in the way that we hope they will.

Matt John is a staff writer for Basketball Insiders. He is currently a Utah resident, but a Massachusetts native.

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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.

Spencer Davies

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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.

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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.

Matt John

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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.

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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.

Drew Maresca

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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:

Boston Celtics

Deadline moves:

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

Brooklyn Nets

Deadline moves:

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

Deadline moves:

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

Philadelphia 76ers

Deadline moves:

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

Toronto Raptors

Deadline moves:

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.

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