The NBA trade deadline is always about who can help themselves most without surrendering the least. Non-contenders are always looking to get younger, so teams are capable of swooping in and taking advantage. Here’s a breakdown of what the five teams that improved themselves most at the deadline accomplished. One did so without making a single trade.
The Pelicans won the deadline by getting DeMarcus Cousins for cents on the dollar. Even though they’ve lost three straight with him on board and have made up no ground in the playoff chase, they’ve become the league’s flavor of the month, curiosity-wise. Their brand has improved to where the Big Easy will now almost certainly become a prime free-agent destination spot for shooters and wings. Currently, Solomon Hill, Dante Cunningham and E’Twaun Moore are attempting to hold the fort down and aren’t likely to help deliver a playoff berth.
Although the Thunder liked the upside of point guard Cam Payne and French big man Joffrey Lauvergne, turning them into veteran power forward Taj Gibson and elite shooter Doug McDermott was a plus. Gibson helps fortify a front line that also got center Enes Kanter back to pair with Stephen Adams; OKC’s bigs should be a nightly handful.
McDermott’s addition to serve as a shooter off the bench should aid the cause considering how much the Thunder have struggled from the perimeter. Oklahoma City got Russell Westbrook’s immediate help. Even though it cost him his favorite pre-game dance partner, it should make his team more formidable down the stretch.
Since dealing Corey Brewer and a late first round pick to acquire Lou Williams, the Rockets have averaged 135.5 points in defeating New Orleans and Minnesota. The Rockets made 22 3-pointers on Saturday night against Minnesota, breaking the mark Golden State set last season with their eighth game of 20 or more makes from beyond the arc in 2016-17. The plan is to put this record completely out of reach. D’Antoni said his instructions to Williams upon his arrival were to “only shoot when you touch it.”
The Rockets head coach hinted we’d better get used to seeing such a high volume of 3-point attempts fired up from this group the rest of the way, so look for massive totals to become the norm. Already, the number appears to have settled around the 230 mark and should rise even more.
Houston also made the right call in not making an additional move. Teams called about Patrick Beverley’s availability, but he stayed put to play the pitbull role that works so well on a team where so many others are looking to score while he seeks out the dirty work.
The schedule intensifies to open March with games against four of the West’s top six, followed by a trip to Chicago and the Cavs making their lone venture into town. There are no back-to-backs in the mix, so we’ll get a great read on how seriously to take Houston’s championship aspirations over the next two weeks.
By only losing wing Terrence Ross from their rotation while adding elite defender P.J. Tucker and solid veteran power forward Serge Ibaka, the Raptors strengthened their chances of overcoming the Celtics in the Atlantic and ultimately challenging Cleveland for the top seed in the East. With Kyle Lowry now sidelined for the remainder of the regular season and Cory Joseph filling in, look for Toronto to rely more on stopping teams than they have thus far.
In Dwane Casey, they happen to have one of the NBA’s better defensive minds, so they should remain in the mix despite losing their All-Star point guard until the postseason.
Tucker was in demand due to his defensive prowess and figures to be on LeBron James duty if ever the need arises. He can guard multiple positions and should supply the stopper Toronto thought it was getting in DeMarre Carroll, who has been limited by injuries but is also now in the mix. Ibaka is also an upgrade at a position where the Raps have been most deficient in recent years. Although he’s not the force he was in Oklahoma City, he’s still extremely productive.
Because Kevin Love is out, there are minutes available for Andrew Bogut to get his feet wet with this new group. The ex-Golden State center was released after his trade to Philly landed Dallas Nerlens Noel, and he wasted no time expressing his interest in joining the East’s top team, who beat his Warriors in the Finals last year. Deron Williams was waived by the Mavs and is also Cleveland-bound, becoming the playmaker LeBron was calling for to come in and take some pressure off him and Kyrie Irving.
The defending champs are much improved without having to lift a finger. Since they had already acquired Kyle Korver and Derrick Williams, the Cavs have given themselves a facelift and assembled enough new faces to keep the team engaged and energized as they attempt to hang on to homecourt advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.