Last week’s trade deadline featured a variety of moves that will reshape how this season plays out. There was a massive 12-player trade that involved four teams, there were some bad teams making bold moves to brighten their future and even some small-but-subtle moves that have gone under the radar.
Several championship contenders opted to stand pat or simply couldn’t come to terms on a deal before the deadline. Most of the playoff teams were active, some of them well before the deadline. Back in December, the Utah Jazz made a deal for Jordan Clarkson that completely turned their season around. A few weeks ago, the Portland Trail Blazers acquired Trevor Ariza in a trade that has elevated their team as well.
The Dallas Mavericks were nudged to make a move for Willie Cauley-Stein after a devastating injury to Dwight Powell. They may not have cashed in their expiring contracts and draft picks, but they still landed Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on the buyout market. The Milwaukee Bucks signed Marvin Williams after he was bought out by Charlotte. Having the best record in the league, of course, the Bucks didn’t feel overly compelled to make a trade before the deadline.
However, four teams with championship aspirations this year did not make a deal either, ultimately feeling confident with their rosters and long-term goals as they stand. Will those decisions come back to haunt them? Or will keeping the band together go a far way toward knocking off their conference foes?
The defending champions entered the 2019-20 season at a fork in the road. With Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green off to Los Angeles, the expectation was they may look to move their veteran pieces and retool, rather than rebuild, the roster around Pascal Siakam.
But, to the surprise of many, Toronto kept their core group together and they have far surpassed anything expected of them. The Raptors have won 14 of their last 15 games, and sit just behind Milwaukee in the East with a 40-15 record. Somehow, they boast a better winning percentage than last year’s squad and are on pace to finish with a better overall record.
What’s more surprising is how the Raptors have done this. With so many injuries to their core group, they have continued to produce fresh, young talent that has enabled them to sustain their winning ways. In a way, it’s almost as if Toronto has a secret lab to create players like Terence Davis, Chris Boucher and Matt Thomas. Naturally, head coach Nick Nurse has done another marvelous job leading this group amid all of the chaos.
The choice to keep the roster intact has certainly paid off for the Raptors so far. Their needs are difficult to pinpoint, which is a reflection of their depth and development. They may be the best-suited contending team to withstand an injury, just because they have already done it so many times this season.
After adding Kemba Walker and getting a healthy Gordon Hayward back on the floor, the Celtics have flourished in the East. The integration and the leadership of Walker have been instrumental to their success, but the improvement that Jaylen Brown has shown this season has been just as important. Walker and Jayson Tatum may get all of the attention, but it is the steady play of Brown that has kept Boston performing at a high level.
The center position was the big question for this team, but Brad Stevens has done an excellent job of utilizing the strengths of Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter. It seems as though Kanter has bought into his role off the bench, which has aided their second unit. Playing alongside the steady-paced Brad Wanamaker has been a very good match.
The motor and hustle of Theis have been infectious, and his numbers bear that as well. He has the perfect role within this team. His blocks have more than doubled this season at 1.4 per game. He has doubled his rebounding and his ability to fill the gaps on the defensive end has elevated Boston to top-tier status.
Not having to part ways with Marcus Smart at the deadline was a huge positive for the Celtics. He embodies the Boston culture and is clearly their best defensive player. Boston remains third in the East and has a serious shot at reaching the Finals this year — but being able to land a big man off the buyout market will only increase those odds.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Much like the Raptors, this season could have gone one of two ways for the Thunder. With such a versatile and flexible roster, Oklahoma City decided to go in the direction of winning now. Obviously the large contracts are what comes to mind, but these players are still very talented.
Chris Paul is the very definition of a floor general and a leader. His savvy mind and high basketball IQ have been an immeasurable benefit to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder. The three guards have meshed very well together, while the latter two are having career years.
After playing all 82 games last year as a rookie, SGA has shined next to Paul to the tune of 20 points and six rebounds per game. Schroder is arguably the frontrunner for Sixth Man of the Year this season by averaging 19.3 points to go along with four rebounds and four assists per game. Darius Bazley has filled in adequately for a rookie, but for a team that is trying to win now, the void left by Jeremy Grant is definitely being felt.
Danilo Gallinari has some of the same instincts as Paul, which allows him to be surprisingly effective. The Thunder may not have a deep bench, but the role players do their jobs well enough. With SGA and the massive haul of draft picks, the future is very bright in Oklahoma City. By holding onto Gallinari and their other pieces, they are able to continue battling with a handful of teams for home-court advantage in the first round.
Los Angeles Lakers
The bright lights are always shining down on the Lakers and their fan base. After such a hot start to the season, anything less than a Finals appearance will be a disappointment for them. They still own the top spot in the West with an impressive 41-12 record but were not able to add anything to their roster after many of the top names that were available found other destinations.
While they had their sights set on Andre Iguodala and Marcus Morris, both players ended up going to other contenders. Their attention then turned to retired point guard Darren Collison, who was expected to make a comeback with one of the two LA-area teams. That door closed when Collison ruled out a return and two of the top buyout options (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams) have already signed elsewhere.
The Lakers may not be the deepest team in the league, but they have decent role players who have performed well. Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have matched expectations. There has been a resurgence of talent like Dwight Howard and Avery Bradley. Kyle Kuzma was the bait being dangled before the trade deadline but ultimately was not dealt.
Rumors have swirled that they would be looking at Dion Waiters and J.R. Smith, but the biggest need for the Lakers is another ball handler. Having someone with the ability to run an offense when LeBron is off the court is something they desperately need. Rajon Rondo hasn’t shown the consistency and Alex Caruso isn’t ready to bear that load come playoff time.
Derrick Rose was a player the Lakers reportedly had an interest in, but the cost of dealing Kuzma may have been too steep of a price to pay. Regardless of what happens, the fate of the Lakers ultimately rests squarely on the shoulders of LeBron and Anthony Davis.
In any case, many onlookers expected these four teams to be active at the trade deadline — and then, well, they weren’t. Whether they’re simply confident in the roster in front of them, waiting for the buyout market to unfold or just didn’t like a deal enough remains to be seen. Surprises abound, this fantastic NBA season is only bound to ramp up from here — but will the Celtics, Raptors, Thunder and Lakers have enough?
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