As you survey the NBA landscape in the aftermath of the storm that is always the NBA trade deadline, and a couple things leap out:
First, the title contenders did not change — and they all stood pat. In the East, the path to the finals goes through Miami and Chicago and nobody really moved up to their level. In the West everyone is still chasing Oklahoma City.
But the teams closest to the elite in that chase got better. Much of the NBA’s second tier got better — the Clippers and Lakers, the Magic and Pacers all made moves that improved their sides either a little to a lot.
And with that improvement comes hope they can catch up and pass the elite squads come the playoffs. They have hope, and Red from Shawshank will tell you that can be a dangerous thing.
Look at the West. Six weeks ago the Clippers were starting to look like the second best team in the conference until Chauncey Billups went down with a torn Achilles. Since then they have gone 9-10, they need scoring and steady play from the two spot.
So they went out and got Nick Young for next to nothing (a second round pick and Brian Cook is pretty close to nothing in my book). Young is a gunner, but he is better than anybody they have at that spot. He can get them buckets and defenses have to pay attention to him. But he comes from an undisciplined team and locker room and he’s going to have to adjust his game and focus to play next to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. If he does he’s a steal, if he doesn’t his contract is up at the end of the season and he walks.
The Clippers got better.
So did the Lakers. Potentially much better.
There is sentimentality towards the loss of Derek Fisher — as there should be, he has a spot in Lakers lore firmly cemented — but Ramon Sessions is a serious upgrade. Sessions is a slasher who can get in the lane but looks to pass first (Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum are going to love him). He doesn’t shoot a lot of threes but he makes a fair amount of them (and the Lakers need outside shooting). He’s going to have to learn how to play with Kobe Bryant, but he is a dramatic upgrade for the Lakers.
The Lakers got better and if everyone is healthy and Metta World Peace’s head is in the game and not in the clouds, they may be the biggest threat to the Thunder in the West.
In the East, the Orlando Magic just knocked off the Heat and now they get to keep Dwight Howard. When they are hitting threes to go with having the best center in the game they are tough to beat. They have knocked off a lot of the NBA’s best — and while that is very different than beating Miami or Chicago in a seven game series the Magic will be a tough out. Howard believes they are more than that.
Just keeping Howard makes the Magic better.
The Pacers got a little bit better as well by picking up Leandro Barbosa, a speedy backup point guard that gives them depth and they got for almost nothing. The Pacers are a real balanced team that just got deeper. They are another team that will not go quietly come the playoffs.
Basically, the top teams in the NBA didn’t change at the trade deadline, but the teams close to them in the chase did. And that is going to make the stretch run of the NBA season and the playoffs that much more interesting.