NBA basketball was back on Thursday night with three games. But that’s not what anybody is talking about, not on trade deadline Thursday. So here are five takeaways from Thursday, mostly talking trades. Because we love trades.
1) Trade deadline comes and goes, but the balance of power at the top of NBA doesn’t change. Nothing happened Thursday to make the Golden State Warriors turn their heads. Or even the San Antonio Spurs. There were trades Thursday involving two of the four contenders for an NBA title this season — plus the Clippers making a move to try to get into that category — but at the end of the day, the balance of power had not shifted. Nothing changed. The Cavaliers added a little depth to their front line, a shooter in Channing Frye that gives coach Tyronn Lue some bench matchup options, but that’s it. Oklahoma City added Randy Foye to their “we can do this by committee” system at the two guard spot. The Clippers upgraded at the three spot with the erratic Jeff Green (plus there is some addition by subtraction with Lance Stephenson gone to what is now an interesting Memphis locker room).
All of those are moves on the periphery, at best they make those teams marginally better. Golden State is the defending champion and playing better than they did a season ago and nobody made a move that in any way challenged them as the team to beat. The Spurs didn’t make a move either, and I still see them as the clear second-best team in the league. The Cavaliers will get their shot at one of them in the Finals, but they still seem a step back. It was a fun day of trades, but at the top nothing changed.
2) No big name moved at the trade deadline, but wait for this summer. Dwight Howard didn’t change teams because nobody would offer the Houston Rockets much for him. Same with New Orleans trying to trade Ryan Anderson. The Clippers gauged the trade market for Blake Griffin, the Cavaliers did the same with Kevin Love, and while neither team had serious plans to move those two stars in February there was a method to the madness.
This summer is when the big names will be on the move. While everyone will be talking about whether Kevin Durant will bolt Oklahoma City, other moves are coming. With the rising salary cap (thanks to the flood of money from the new NBA television deal) every team is going to have some cap space and a majority will have enough for a max contract. That means teams will have big money to throw at free agents, and can make trades without matching salaries. So free agents — Al Horford, DeMar DeRozan, Dwyane Wade, Nicolas Batum — will have options (even if they don’t want to leave their current teams). And GMs who may want to trade name players — potentially Brook Lopez from Brooklyn (now that they finally have a GM), Love, Griffin, others — will have options. What this trade deadline did was set up a summer where we will see some significant moves.
3) By the way, there was an NBA game and the Clippers kept winning (and DeAndre Jordan kept dunking). There was actual basketball in the NBA on Thursday night. The marquee game of the night was the Clippers hosting the Spurs — and Los Angeles didn’t miss a step from where they left off on a run before the All-Star break. That starts with Chris Paul shredding defenses — including on Thursday the NBA’s best one to the tune of 28 points and 12 assists. While the Clipper offense is making plays, quietly they have had the best defensive numbers in the NBA through their last 10 games (allowing 96.5 points per 100 possessions), and if they defend like that they become much more dangerous in the playoffs. Not that anyone should read anything about the playoffs out of this game (no Kawhi Leonard for the Spurs, for one thing), but the Clippers are playing well. And still throwing lobs to DeAndre Jordan for monster slams.
4) Biggest trade deadline winner was Detroit. Who made out best at the trade deadline? Stan Van Gundy and the Detroit Pistons. This may not vault them into the playoffs this season (although they are just half a game back of faltering Chicago for the eight seed) but it’s what they did to set themselves up for the future. The Pistons traded for Tobias Harris on Tuesday, and then on Thursday added Donatas Motiejunas and Marcus Thornton. Motiejunas is a bit of a gamble because of his health, but he’d be a great fit.
Think about the Pistons lineup. Andre Drummond is an All-Star at the center spot, and he has good pick-and-roll chemistry with Reggie Jackson at the point. Now around them on the wings are Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tobias Harris, Stanley Johnson, Marcus Morris and Marcus Thornton — that’s a lot of long, athletic guys who can shoot the ball, run the floor, and switch everything on defense. And they are all 26 or younger (the average age is 23). This is a team that is going to develop and could be very good in a couple of years.
5) The playoff push at the bottom of East is now most interesting race in NBA. There are just 3.5 games separating the four seed Atlanta Hawks from the current the nine-seed (and out of the playoffs) Detroit Pistons. Then there are the Washington Wizards just two games back of the Pistons. It’s a tight race for the playoffs already, but what makes it even more interesting is to see who made trade deadline deals in the East — the nine seed Pistons were big winners, the seven seed Hornets added Courtney Lee (to replace the injured Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) and those 10-seed Wizards upgraded with Markieff Morris (who can be a great fit for them if he chooses to play hard and not be a disruptive force). Meanwhile, Chicago (eighth seed), Miami (fifth), and Indiana (sixth) all stood pat at the deadline. Now the teams that made moves have a burst of energy and are going to make a run at pushing the teams above them out of the playoff picture. What teams make the playoffs in the East — and what the seedings will be in the middle of the pack — will be the best race in the NBA down the stretch.