Almost a week after the passing of the NBA trade deadline, fans are beginning to get a clear picture of what their teams will look like down the stretch. Although this year’s trade season didn’t feature as many big names changing hands as years past (the biggest trade happened 3 weeks ago), there were several deals done that should impact the race to the playoffs over the final two months.
Grizz fans should have been on alert when the team shipped big man Marreese Speights, a key player off their bench, to Cleveland along with guards Wayne Ellington and Josh Selby plus a future first round pick in exchange for Jon Leuer in an obvious salary dump move.
Leuer has been up and down between the NBA and the D-League this season and only appeared in 9 games for Cleveland prior to the trade on January 22. Since the trade, Speights is averaging over 12 points and 6 rebounds per game for the Cavs. Ellington, the primary backup at shooting guard for the Grizzlies who even started 4 games before the trade, is now averaging nearly 10 points per game since the deal to Cleveland.
Eight days later, Memphis dropped the real bombshell and traded leading scorer Rudy Gay and Iranian center Hamed Haddadi to Toronto for forwards Ed Davis, Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye as part of a 3 team deal with the Detroit that sent Jose Calderon to the Pistons.
Once again, money was the clear motivation for this deal. The luxury tax penalties beginning after this season are absolutely brutal even for billionaire owners, so it’s hard to blame Memphis ownership. On the court, Prince is still a solid perimeter defender in his 11th season in the league and on a given night can pitch in double-figures scoring, he’s no Rudy Gay. Gay has been the leader the Raptors needed since his arrival increasing his scoring average (20.1 ppg with Toronto, 17.2 with Memphis), hitting a few game-winning shots and changing the entire vibe around Toronto leading them to a 7-4 record in their first 11 games.
In the short-term, Memphis GM Chris Wallace’s moves appear to be paying off. They are 9-3 since the Gay trade and had an impressive 8 game winning streak. Although they gave up a lot, what the Grizzlies got in return with the acquisition of Prince is much-needed championship experience as well as financial flexibility for the future to keep some of their other core players around. Teams like the Clippers and Thunder may get more attention, but watch out for the Grizzlies as the playoffs draw closer. The combination of Gasol and Randolph will give teams trouble, especially in the playoffs when the game slows down. That’s also when defensive specialists like Prince and Tony Allen will prove to be important if they hope to get past Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
The Celtics did make a move at the deadline and traded away an injured guard, and it was not Rajon Rondo as some speculated. In a deal that largely went under the radar, the Celtics acquired guard Jordan Crawford from the Wizards for veteran center Jason Collins and guard Leandro Barbosa, who is out for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. Crawford’s minutes declined after the return of John Wall, even though he was averaging around 13 points per game this season primarily as a reserve (though he had also started 12 games). There has never been any doubt about Crawford’s ability as a scorer; it’s his attitude that drove him out of Washington. A change of scenery can be good for players like Crawford, especially when they are put on a contending team with a coach like Doc Rivers and veteran leadership like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Although he has been hot and cold since the trade (10 points in his first game, 2 total in the 2 since), look for Crawford to be an important contributor off the Celtics’ bench for the remainder of the season. He has the potential to provide the scoring spark they desperately need in their second unit, scoring over 20 points in a game 12 times this season. If he can keep his head screwed on straight, this may turn out to be one of the best deals of the season.
You know it was a boring trade deadline when J.J. Redick was the biggest name traded. The Bucks acquired Redick from the Magic along with center Gustavo Ayon and guard Ish Smith in exchange for veteran backup point guard Beno Udrih, rookie guard Doron Lamb, and forward Tobias Harris. In other words, they were able to get a good shooter while giving up virtually nothing significant.
Before you write this off as ho-hum trade for a spot-up shooter and decent defender, think about how the Bucks are built and it will make a lot more sense. The addition of Redick allows the Bucks more freedom for their best players to do what they do best: attack the basket. Redick scored 16 points in his first game for them, but they won’t need him to do that every night. His presence spreads the floor for Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis to create and get to the rim. When they put in Redick for Luc Mbah a Moute, Milwaukee will have him and stretch-power forward Ersan Ilyasova on the wings, with either Larry Sanders or Samuel Dalembert patrolling the paint and screening for Jennings and Ellis.
This trade gives Milwaukee an additional piece that fits into their system well as they fight for a playoff spot in the East, currently 8th and 4 games ahead of Philadelphia.
Give the Rockets credit; they have been one of the most active teams in the trade and free agent markets throughout the last year as they continue to become more relevant in the loaded Western Conference, and have always found a way to add helpful pieces to their roster. On deadline day they traded starting forward Patrick Patterson, center Cole Aldrich, and guard Toney Douglas to the Kings for top-5 pick Thomas Robinson, guard/forward Francisco Garcia, and forward Tyler Honeycutt, then traded Patterson’s backup Marcus Morris to the Suns for a 2nd round pick. Houston currently sits a half game behind Utah for the 7th spot, and holds a 2.5 game lead over the Lakers for the final playoff spot.
If you haven’t seen the Rockets play much this year (or read any headlines recently about their record-setting nights), their offense is built around shooting 3s and driving to the basket/getting to the free throw line. Omer Asik is arguably the best screen-setter in basketball and James Harden gets to the rim and finishes as well as anyone not named LeBron James, with Chandler Parsons almost deadly when left open. Patterson and Morris had both evolved into respectable outside shooters, whereas Robinson is strictly an inside player, so how does this trade help them? Robinson’s role is yet to be determined, and Garcia is another solid perimeter player joining the likes of Parsons and Carlos Delfino in their rotation. Moving Patterson and Morris opens the door for Donatas Motiejunas, another stretch forward who loves to shoot the rock like most European forwards.
Most importantly, the move allows the Rockets continued payroll flexibility in the future. Their management has made no secret about their desire to bring in another superstar or two to team up with Harden, and this deal gives them the cap space to either sign another max-contract player or pull off another blockbuster trade without having to worry about money. Needless to say, the Rockets are in an enviable position to be in a “building” mode while contending for a playoff spot.
Closing Forecast/Bold Predictions
With a little less than two months left in the season, plenty is left to be decided in the Eastern and Western Conference playoff races, with the only sure thing at this point barring an injury or a massive conspiracy being LeBron James taking home another NBA Most Valuable Player award.
After a slow start, Miami has proven they are easily the best team in the East and should coast to the number 1 seed come playoff time. If Chicago gets Derrick Rose back in the next month, look for them to slide up as high as the 4 seed (if they don’t get him back, they are no better than the 6 seed), with the Pacers holding strong to the number 2 seed following Danny Granger’s return from injury. Deron Williams will remember how to take over and lead the Nets to the 3 seed, with the Knicks sliding to the 5 spot. Atlanta lacks firepower in the backcourt and will fall to the 6 seed, with Boston holding on to the 7 spot despite their injury plagued season. Milwaukee will squeak in as the 8, and promptly get swept by the Heat in the first round. Even if the Sixers get Andrew Bynum back, he won’t be enough to carry them ahead of the Bucks, and Rudy Gay has the Raptors playing better but still not quite at a playoff level.
Somehow Greg Popovich and the Spurs manage to pull it all together year after year when the world tries to count them out, and there’s no reason for it to stop now. The top 4 seeds in the West appear to be set with the Spurs, Thunder, Clippers and Grizzlies in that order. The question everyone is asking is whether or not the Lakers will make the playoffs. The answer is yes, as the 7 seed, with Utah falling out of the picture by season’s end. The Warriors have been surprising under Mark Jackson, and with the return of a healthy Andrew Bogut they could overtake the Nuggets for the 5 seed. Houston will round out the playoffs as the 8, and don’t be surprised if James Harden carries them to a couple wins in a series against the Spurs.
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