Starting 5 - Trade Deadline Takeaways
With the Harden trade having already passed, another trade deadline has come and gone with a lone current All Star on the move, but with a number of smaller transactions, it made for a sneaky fun deadline that set things up for the balance of the year and this upcoming off season.
Let’s look at our top 5 takeaways from the day.
This Season is Wide Open
Take 2015-2019 as a small snapshot, for five straight years, the only contenders were Golden State, Cleveland plus the one threat from each conference - that was it. Four teams had a true chance to win it all and even then, deep down you knew it was only two.
This year is really something else, there are a number of teams who can be the 2021 version of the Miami Heat. Then consider all the factors with Covid, the injuries which will shortly have the negative narrative for the league having too short of an off-season and you can talk yourself ia full list who can make the Finals. Let’s try.
Tier 1 - Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Lakers, Clippers
Tier 2 - Miami, Nuggets, Jazz
Tier 3 - Celtics, Suns, Blazers, Mavs
12! Twelve teams depending on how the seeding lands with matchups and injuries factored in that could catch fire for three weeks and make it to the Finals. Outside of Brooklyn, we’ve gone back a bit into the 90’s, NBA JAM era where each team has two stars plus their role players versus those GSW and CLE Finals where they had a combined seven All Stars at one point.
Are the Jazz, Suns, and Bucks for real? How bad are Embiid, KD, LeBron, and AD actually hurt? Can Luka, Jokic, Booker, Tatum make a leap?
You won’t find one complaint coming from me, I’m loving the open field and it’s as close to the NFL’s parity in a long time.
The deadline always represents a crossroads for a number of teams, a chance to reload, restart, or stand pat. The Raptors did more of the latter two. Interest for Kyle Lowry was at the forefront of some of the league's top teams - the Lakers, Heat and Sixers. Things led up to what seemed like an inevitable departure from Toronto who shipped Matt Thomas to Utah and Terence Davis to Sacramento, both for 2nd round picks and Norm Powell to the Blazers for Gary Trent and Rodney Hood. As the deadline passed, the right deal just wasn’t there for Masai Ujiri to pull the trigger for someone as beloved as Kyle. You have to wonder how the organization and Lowry himself are feeling about it, but one of the league’s greatest player/team relationships will last at least a little longer.
Before we move on - huge shout out to Norm Powell! Drafted 46th overall in the 2015 draft by Milwaukee before his rights were traded to the Raptors, it’s always sad to see home grown talent, who’s developed and gotten better every year leave. Amid numerous injuries and health protocols, Norm was balling as of late! Capped by his recent career high performance of 43 points against Detroit just a week ago. By all accounts he was a great teammate, had many timely buckets during the years, especially on their championship run and a handful of memorable moments including everyone’s favorite dunk against the Pacers in 2016. All the best in Portland, Norm.
Nuggets & Bulls
The two main participants in the Orlando fire sale today. Chicago gets their second All Star in Nikola Vucevic to boost their offense, draw in Lavine to sign long term next summer and make them the first fun Bulls team in a long time. I’m happy for Chicago fans but worry this may become Orlando Magic 2.0 where they push for the 6-8 seed in the playoffs, win two games in the first round and get bounced. Can we see them challenge Brooklyn, Philly, and Milwaukee for the next 2-3 years? We will see. A lot will depend on their internal development with Lauri Markannen, Coby White and Tomas Satoransky. Sneaky add of Aminu and retaining Thad Young, I’m hopeful they make a nice run this year.
Jerami Grant wanted to be ‘the man’ on his own in Detroit but the Nuggets didn’t want to pay him either, now they’ve landed their new tweener forward in Aaron Gordon to support defending the wings they will inevitably run into in the playoffs. Personally prefer Grant’s game over Gordon, but he does compliment the team perfectly. The Nuggets also acquired Javale McGee to alleviate Jokic from rim protection duties. I wouldn’t want any part of the Nuggets come playoff time, with Jokic and Murray in their primes, this is well worth going all-in.
Pat Riley The Don
The Heat added Victor Oladipo, Nemanja Bjelica, and Trevor Ariza and gave away Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley and some picks. While Olynyk was playing well, between Bjelica and their variety of funky lineups, they can make up for that loss and Bradley felt like he played all of five games for the Heat. Oladipo is a free agent after the season but has always wanted to play in Miami and will be doing his best audition to get his next big contract. He adds another creator for what can seem like a lackluster offense at times. All the while, they kept Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro and all their other key role players. By the time you read this, they may even have LaMarcus Aldridge from the sounds of it.
Pat Riley strikes again.
Sidenote: Poor poor Houston, they traded away James Harden and ended up with 9 first round picks, Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk, Dante Exum, and 20 games of Oladipo. Yikes.
This will be one of Rajon’s biggest challenges. His Boston days were supported by the Big 3 of vets and his Lakers chip was being the perfect compliment to Lebron’s leadership. When I watch the Clippers, there is a certain void I walk away with in terms of truly believing they can win it all. It was evident over the course of last year’s playoffs and has been so far this year with their inconsistent play. Rondo must provide that vocal leadership the same way Kyle Lowry was for Kawhi in Toronto. With PG and Kawhi’s deals up next year, their time is now. They’ve solidified their roster to make their run and Playoff Rondo is the REAL DEAL. It doesn’t even feel like he’s played this year, but I can already see him in the Western Conference Finals hitting three’s, disrupting passing lanes and navigating through all the emotions for the Clippers down the stretch. Nice pickup.
Let’s enjoy the last couple rounds of March Madness, teams learning to play with new pieces and dive right into the playoffs.