Breaking down NBA trade deadline winners, losers: Good week for Pelicans, Raptors

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Drama, there was plenty of that. Rumors? Check. Hype? An overdose of it.

But actual trades, there were not a lot of those at the NBA trade deadline, like most years. And also like most years, there were few real game changers — while a big name or two changed teams, did anyone move into contention? Not sold that happened.

Still, there were winners and losers. And it’s time to break them all down.

Here are my top three winners and losers.

WINNERS:

New Orleans Pelicans. A small market team that fell into one franchise cornerstone star fell into another one Sunday because the Sacramento Kings wanted to move DeMarcus Cousins fast, before the owner changed his mind again, and said team seems to have a difficult-to-explain fascination with Buddy Hield. Now with Cousins and Anthony Davis, the Pelicans have potentially the best frontcourt in the NBA. (I say potentially because we need to see them actually play for a while before making declarations.)

There’s still work to do in New Orleans — re-sign Jrue Holiday this summer, get more shooting, find a wing defender —  but this team is in position to make a playoff push this season, then be much more of a threat next season. The hardest part of assembling a great team is getting the superstars because there is a limited supply. The Pelicans have two of them. Now we see what they do with it, but this is great news for a small market team that can struggle to get attention in football country. People will be watching now.

Toronto Raptors. Heading into the run-up to the trade deadline, their weak spot was the four, plus they needed to get more defense.

Then over the course of a week, the Raptors added Serge Ibaka and on deadline day P.J. Tucker in a fantastic trade. While Boston can sit back with those two Brooklyn picks and say the future is a few years from now, the Raptors can’t — their window is now. Ibaka isn’t the All-Star, borderline Defensive Player of the Year anymore, he doesn’t move like that guy now, but he’s still a huge upgrade over what they had. Tucker is the kind of physical defender Toronto needs in the postseason. I’m not sold the Raptors stand a chance against a healthy Cavaliers team, but their moves may have moved them back up to being the second best team in the East — now they need to make up the two games on the Wizards and move back up to the three seed in the East. They don’t want to be the four seed and get Cleveland in the second round.

Dallas Mavericks. They have been looking for their next Tyson Chandler for a while. They thought they had that and more a couple of years ago before DeAndre Jordan had a change of heart. Now they got their guyNerlens Noel. He could be an anchor for a decade, and the Mavs gave up only Justin Anderson (a potentially nice “3&D” player), Andrew Bogut (who the Sixers will waive), and what was billed as a first-round pick but is top 18 protected this year so it will revert to two second rounders.

There are reasons for concern for Dallas — Noel has a worrying injury history, a limited offensive game (but he stays in his lane), and the fact he’s likely going to get  a contract in the $100 million range this summer — but it was still a smart roll of the dice for Cuban’s team. Noel could be the center of the future, paired with Harrison Barnes for years as they Mavs rebuild in a post-Dirk era.

Honorable mention: Houston Rockets, Anthony Davis, Nerlens Noel.

LOSERS:

DeMarcus Cousins. There are 30 million reasons Cousins ends up on this side of the list. There may well be positives for him — he got out of dysfunctional Sacramento, he gets to play with a star in Anthony Davis, he can reset the narrative on his career — but he still lost out on $30 million because he will not get the designated player contract. It’s through no fault of his own, and his agent tried to prevent the move, but in the end Cousins lost out on a lot of cash when he got traded.

Sacramento Kings. Like everything with Sacramento, the trade of Cousins just didn’t feel thought out. In the least. It’s not moving on from Cousins that I’m questioning — that is a defendable action both in terms of on-court results and upcoming costs — but the execution of it. Forget that going back as far as couple years ago before the 2015 draft there were much better offers available — the Lakers offered both their first round picks, which became D'Angelo Russell and Larry Nance Jr., plus other parts — even now there were other teams that wanted in on the bidding and were never called. They were settled on Buddy Heild, who they like more than anyone else in the league, and wanted to move quickly before owner Vivek Ranadive changed his mind again. Maybe the Pelicans’ offer was the best one on the table right now, but better run franchises find ways to get more out of big deals because they don’t feel rushed.

Philadelphia 76ers. GM Bryan Colangelo misread the market on big men, and it hurt the Sixers come the trade deadline. He had the chance to move Jahlil Okafor — the guy the Sixers preferred to move at the deadline — for better offers last summer. Same with Noel. But Colangelo waited too long to make his move, waiting for a better offer (and to see if Noel and Joel Embiid could play together), to the point that he had to trade Noel and get back just a couple of second round picks and a potential 3&D wing who couldn’t get into Rick Carlisle’s rotation in Dallas.

Bottom line, Philly traded their better availble big man for too little, and still have the guy they didn’t want on their roster. That’s not a good day.

Honorable mention: New York Knicks, Los Angeles Clippers (two teams that stood pat because they couldn’t make the move they needed — which is better than bad move, but not good).

Report: Pacers bring back Lance Stephenson in time for playoffs; deal for three-years, $12 million

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The Indiana Pacers need healthy bodies for their playoff run, and they had three rotation guys injured between Al Jefferson, Glenn Robinson III, and Rodney Stuckey. Wednesday, the Pacers waived Stuckey to create an open roster spot to bring in some help (they were not going to pick up his option for next season anyway).

Who are they bringing in? The prodigal son Lance Stephenson returns, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

The surprising part of the deal was the security Stephenson got, as first reported by Adam Zagoria at his blog — three years, $12 million, with a player option for the final year. (This has since been confirmed by other sources.) Other teams were looking at giving Stephenson a 10-day contract, the length of the Pacers’ offer is a surprise.

Stephenson played in six games for Minnesota recently, averaging 3.5 points per game off the bench, but an ankle sprain kept the Timberwolves from really having to decide whether to keep him for the season. Stephenson knows how to create shots for himself and can be a good defender when focused, something we saw with the Pelicans at the start of this season — he became a key part of their rotation averaging 9.7 points and 4.8 assists per game until he tore his groin.

It’s a little strange to see him back in Pacers colors. It will be particularly strange if the Pacers stay in the seven seed and the Cavaliers remain the two-seed setting up a first-round playoff series. Because I don’t think any of us need to see this again.

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Tuesday’s win gives Wizards first division crown since 1979

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Divisions are almost forgotten in the NBA. They exist still as quaint reminders of days gone by, but they don’t matter other than as a potential tie breaker with a non-division-winning team. Winning your division doesn’t even guarantee a team a playoff spot anymore.

Yet, the last time Washington had won a division title they were in the Atlantic division and when you turned on the radio you were likely to hear that new hit Heart Of Glass by Blondie. It was 1979.

That was until Tuesday when John Wall led a 13-point comeback in the fourth quarter against the Lakers to get the Wizards the win and the SouthEast division title.

According to CBSSports.com, that 38-year division title drought was longer than any team in any major U.S. professional sports — NHL, NFL, and MLB.

Congrats to the Wizards. They also have locked up home court in the first round, and they are currently the No. 3 seed in the playoffs (who they face in the first round is up in the air still as only three games separate seeds five through nine).

With Scott Brooks at the helm this feels like a far more dangerous — and healthy — team heading into the postseason. Wizards fans have waited a lot time for a team like this.

Report: Pacers waive Rodney Stuckey, will likely add player before playoffs

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Rodney Stuckey was having a down year for the Pacers when he was healthy, averaging 7.2 points and 2.2 assists per game, with a well below average 48.3 true shooting percentage. Stuckey also was not healthy often, playing in just 39 games.

The Pacers are banged up — Glenn Robinson III and Al Jefferson are hurt — and need a healthy body on the roster for the playoffs, plus they weren’t going to pick up Stuckey’s $7 million option for next season anyway, so they chose to wave him Wednesday, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical on Yahoo Sports.

The question now is who the Pacers bring in to fill that spot. With Jefferson down, do they lean on someone they know in Tyler Hansbrough? Is there someone out of the D-League or free agent pool that intrigues them?

The Pacers need to do something to start winning some games and making Paul George happy.

Paul George on Pacers after loss: “No sense of urgency, no winning pride”

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Indiana still has a 75 percent chance of making the playoffs (according to fivethirtyeight.com), they are two games clear of the nine seed with seven games to play.

But they fell to that seventh seed with a loss to Minnesota on Tuesday night, an evening that Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Miami all won. Chicago is the nine seed right now, lurking with its soft schedule, and looking for another team to slip up, and in a key game Indiana did.

The Pacers lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday night despite being at home and having a nine-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. Indy had no answer for Karl-Anthony Towns, who dropped 37. Paul George had 37 points as well, and afterwards pissed and frustrated would be good words to describe his mood. Here’s his quote, via Nate Taylor at the Indy Star.

“We should have a professional approach, man, and defend our home court, especially to a team that’s not even in the playoffs,” George said of losing to the Timberwolves (29-44). “That’s what it comes down to. As a team, we’ve got to have a grit and we’ve got to own up, man up….

“There’s no urgency, no sense of urgency, no winning pride,” he said. “This locker room is just not pissed off enough.”

If you don’t have urgency playing for your playoff lives with seven games left in the season, when will you have it?

Yes, this was a frustrated George venting after a loss. However, it also points again to the challenges Larry Bird and the Pacer front office have this summer — George wants to win, wants to play for a contender. Or if not that, maybe in his hometown. If George doesn’t make an All-NBA team (he likely just misses out, forward is a stacked position in the league right now) and the Pacers can’t offer him a “designated player” max, Indiana needs to put a contender around him, or consider trading him so they don’t lose him for nothing in a year. Both of those options present challenges come July.

In the short term, the Pacers need to make the playoffs. Even if they do, play like this against the Cavaliers (their current first-round matchup) or any of the other top-four teams in the East and Indy’s stay in the postseason will be short and uneventful.