- A flurry of moves at the NBA trade deadline saw the top of the Eastern Conference get ultra-competitive.
- The Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, and Philadelphia 76ers all made major trades to bring in high-impact players, while the Boston Celtics, arguably the deepest team in the group, stood pat.
- Over the remaining two months of the regular season, several of these teams still have to play each other, and the results could have an impact on the playoffs — when these same teams are likely to face off.
One result of so many big-name players getting moved — though Anthony Davis remains in New Orleans — is the ongoing arms race at the top of the Eastern Conference.
The Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, and Philadelphia 76ers all made major moves to increase their chances of winning the East. The Boston Celtics stood pat, but nonetheless remain in the thick of the race; they have the second-best record in the East and third-best record in the NBA in 2019.
Here are the major moves:
The Bucks get more shooting
The Bucks traded Stanley Johnson, Jason Smith, and four first-round picks to the New Orleans Pelicans for forward Nikola Mirotic.
The price was a relatively low one. They had just acquired Johnson in a swap for Thon Maker on Wednesday, Smith was not part of the rotation, and several of the second-round picks were owed to them from other teams.
David Zalubowski/APMirotic gives the Bucks yet another floor-spacer to put around Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks already own the fourth-best offense in the league and hit the second-most three-pointers per game. Now they add Mirotic, who is shooting 37% from three on seven attempts per game this season, to slot next to Brook Lopez, who is hitting 38.7% of his threes on six attempts per game.
Defenses will have to decide whether to collapse on Antetokounmpo and leave shooters open, or stay with the shooters and give Antetokounmpo a runway to the rim. Good luck.
The Sixers go all-in
The Sixers may be the big winners of the entire trade deadline. Their blockbuster trade for Tobias Harris gave them a true "Big Four" of Harris, Jimmy Butler, Ben Simmons, and Joel Embiid. They have four high-powered offensive players, sturdy to elite defensive players, and more size than perhaps any other team in the league.
The Sixers can run out a starting lineup that looks like a borderline All-Star lineup: Simmons, J.J. Redick, Butler, Harris, and Embiid.
Sixers GM Elton Brand also did well to secure bench depth on Thursday by trading 2017 No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz to the Orlando Magic for Jonathon Simmons, a future first-round pick, and second-round pick.
Jonathon Simmons, along with Mike Scott, who came over in the Harris trade, gives the Sixers more depth off the bench and on the wing. They’re still the shallowest of any of the contenders in the East, but they can stagger their four stars and bide enough time to survive without their starting unit in.
In pure talent, the Sixers look like the best team in the East.
The Raptors make a talent play
In one of the most surprising moves of the day, the Raptors traded Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, C.J. Miles, and a second-round pick to the Memphis Grizzlies for Marc Gasol.
Brandon Dill/APOn paper, it’s a slightly puzzling fit. The Raptors had excelled by playing a smaller starting lineup with Serge Ibaka at center, and Pascal Siakam and Kawhi Leonard filling out the other two forward spots. Valanciunas came off the bench to score and provide backup center minutes.
Gasol is a clear-cut center. How the Raptors mold their lineups should be interesting. Do they go with a more traditional "big" lineup, moving Ibaka to power forward, Siakam to the bench, and keeping Leonard at small forward? Will Ibaka come off the bench to keep Leonard and Siakam together? Will Gasol??
Those questions might not be important. Gasol is a good defender, a good passer, a capable shooter, and overall more talented big man than the Raptors previously had. The fit might be a little odd, but on talent alone, he could raise their ceiling.
The Celtics stand pat
With their eyes on Anthony Davis in the offseason, the Celtics decided not to make any moves.
Some could pass that off as foolish, with Boston already in third place and the rest of the conference getting better.
But what moves could Boston make for a considerable upgrade without giving up too much? They have a star point guard in Kyrie Irving, plenty of depth on the wings, talent off the bench, and versatility upfront with Al Horford and Aron Baynes.
The Celtics have underwhelmed because Gordon Hayward hasn’t looked the same and Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier haven’t taken significant steps forward.
But while the Celtics haven’t impressed many people thus far, they’ve largely righted the ship. They’re 25-9 since beginning the season 10-10 and 13-4 in 2019. They own the third-best point differential per 100 possessions in the NBA.
The Celtics may be smart for standing pat and hoping the team’s chemistry continues to develop. If Hayward finds his rhythm and the younger players adjust to their roles, it’s hard to argue that there’s a deeper and better team in the East.
We’ll learn who’s the best soon enough
Luckily for NBA fans, there will be some proving-ground matchups in the coming months.
The Celtics still play the 76ers twice and the Raptors and Bucks one.
The 76ers are done with the Raptors but still play the Bucks and Celtics twice.
The Raptors and Bucks won’t play each other for the rest of the regular season.
Though we won’t get every marquee matchup, the remaining two months of the regular season will still have a big impact on the playoff race. In a top-heavy Eastern Conference (the Indiana Pacers, in fourth place, look unlikely to maintain following the season-ending injury to Victor Oladipo), the exact order of the top four seeds should matter. If all four of these teams make the second round of the playoffs, home-court advantage could be crucial.
With the Western Conference once again looking like the Golden State Warriors’ playground, the top of the Eastern Conference, for the first time in years, looks like the race to watch.
- Read more:
- The NBA exploded ahead of another hectic trade deadline — here are all the deals that went down
- LeBron James blasted the mid-game trade of Harrison Barnes in a move that appeared to contain a message about the Anthony Davis trade saga
- The key to an Anthony Davis trade may be a 20-year-old Celtics player who has the entire saga in limbo
- We’re learning more about the Kristaps Porzingis trade, and it’s becoming clear that it’s one of the most complicated deals in recent history
- Dallas Mavericks trade Harrison Barnes mid-game, leading to an awkward finish on the bench
- The Sixers made their second blockbuster trade of the year, and now they’re all-in on 2019
- Kyrie Irving said he doesn’t ‘owe anyone s—‘ when asked if he’ll stay with the Celtics, as rumors of a move to the Knicks mount
Source: Business Insider