The deadline came and went, and the Pelicans didn’t give up Anthony Davis for lent. So I guess its time to party Mardi Gras style in New Orleans. Some stars stayed (Mike Conley), and some stars went (Marc Gasol), but overall it was pretty grizzlie out there for anyone looking for a star.
I noted 23 trades this week ( NBA TRADELINE FESTIVITIES ) with the vast majority being salary dumps, or efforts to thwart the tax line. Some big names were moved. Tobias Harris, Marc Gasol, Nikola Mirotic to name a few.
We’re now about to enter into the buy out free agent market. A market that seems to be more robust this year than in recent memory. But it also seems like every year that people get excited about the impact buy out candidates will make, and every year, that impact fails to meet expectation. I’m picturing the Cavs signing Deron Williams, or the life altering impact the signing of Troy Murphy had for the Celtics a decade ago.
As we prepare for the stretch run, with roughly 30 games remaining for each team, AND the All-Star weekend still on tap for next week, lets review the power rankings for the league, as set up via tiers.
- Golden State Warriors: Lets be honest, barring catastrophic injuries (yes, it’d need to be injuries plural) the Warriors are coming out of the West. They have one open roster spot that many expect to be the target of numerous buy out guys looking to get a little bling bling. They didn’t make any moves at the deadline, but they did just recently add DeMarcus Cousins, and didn’t really need to make a move.
- Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks have been the class of the East thus far. Long, deep, and athletic, with a strong MVP candidate leading the way. A fantastic sidekick in Kris Middleton, who is good enough to help ease the burden on Giannis, but not so good that there is any question as to whose team this is. The splashy move was turning Thon Maker and a slew of 2nd rounders into Nikola Mirotic. While I like Mirotic, I don’t put as much stock into the acquisition as others (not saying that its a bad move, acquiring talented players is almost never a bad move). I don’t put a lot of stock into it for 2 reasons. One, he’s a liability on defense. Two, he’s a better version of Ersan Ilysova, whom the Bucks already have. So while yes, he the better version, its not like its adding some new dynamic they didn’t already have.
- Boston Celtics: Undoubtedly the other members of the East’s big 4 made splashier headlines than the Celtics simply clearing a roster spot, but its also important to remember that coming into the season, on paper, the Celtics were superior to everyone else in the conference. So while yes, on paper, the other teams have seemingly closed the gap, or arguably moved ahead, its important to remember that its on paper. As the Celtics 10-10 start shows, on paper doesn’t always mean on the court. Regardless the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs is gonna be a hum dinger, and the Celtics have a 4 month head start on building that chemistry.
- Denver Nuggets: The least talked about NBA contender in as long as I can remember. Granted, if the Warriors remain healthy, they seem to be the forgone conclusion to represent the West, but weird things have happened before. A splendid starting line up, and very nice depth means they’re a threat any time they step on the court. If they can get 70% of what the Celtics got out of Isaiah Thomas in his imminent return, they could make Golden State break a sweat.
- Philadelphia 76ers: Elton Brand has shown he is not afraid to make a move. The sixers have seemingly put together the best starting five outside of Oracle arena with their in season acquisitions of Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris. Last year their run was really bolstered by buy out guys Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova. Will trade deadline pick ups Jonathan Simmons and James Ennis be able to provide the same kind of spark? Will Philly be able to sign both Harris AND Butler? Having Simmons on a rookie deal makes it viable to maintain their new found “Big Four”, but what happens in a couple year when Simmons is due his payday? Will they go in for 4 max players? Seems like after enduring “The Process” that is something they should worry about a couple years from now.
- Houston Rockets: After a slow, sloth slow, start, the Rockets are blasting up the standings, and it wouldn’t shock if they ended where everyone expected them to be, as the 2 seed in the west. After a bit of a re-tool has seen GM Daryl Morey add rotation pieces Austin Rivers, Kenneth Faried, and Iman Shumpert arrive during the season, while also dropping the team below the tax line, a very important move to avoid future repeater tax infractions as the contracts for James Harden and Chris Paul continue to expand. James Harden has been on a tear this regular season, which we’ve seen before. But what Harden will Houston see come May and June.
- Oklahoma City Thunder: Billy Donovan’s Thunder squad currently sit in the West’s 3rd spot, which if the season ended today would give us an entertaining Jazz vs Thunder first round match up. Hell, everything about the playoffs this season should be fantastic except the first round eastern conference matchups. OKC has rebounded nicely after see Kevin Durant give them the peace sign and ride off to strike gold in NorCal. While I’m not willing to deem Steven Adams a member of any “Big 3”, I will concede he is an excellent post player who any team would be lucky to have. I would have liked for them to have acquired a bit more shooting for the bench, I still have faith that their defense and grit mentality will carry them a long ways. It wouldn’t shock to see a Thunder/Warriors conference finals matchup. The Paul George vs Kevin Durant angle would be fantastic.
- Toronto Raptors: I’m not as sold on the Marc Gasol acquisition as some others. 34 years old means one thing to some, and another thing to others. Gasol could be rejuvenated by the move to a finals contender, but it was also a lot to give up for him, especially in terms of in season adjustments. As it stands the Raptors have just ten players on the roster. Word is they’re adding Malcolm Miller, and will certainly be active in the buy out market. But one of the strengths of this Raptors the last few years have been their bench play. And while Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, and Pascal Siakam is a nice 3 headed post rotation, you can only play 2 at a time, and its not like Valanciunus, when healthy, is an awful player. Bottom line, can the Raptors afford to lose CJ Miles and Delon Wright? They can, but they need to get a lot more out of OG Anunoby, and Patrick McCaw than they have been.
LOOKING TO MAKE THE PLAYOFFS, BUT ALSO HAVE RESERVATIONS AT PEBBLE BEACH FOR JUNE:
9. Portland Trailblazers: The Blazers are what they are, a very good team led by 2 mighty mouse players living in a big dog world. They have a lot of solid NBA players, Evan Turner, Al Farouq-Aminu, Rodney Hood, Jusuf Nurkic, Maurice Harkless could all go somewhere and make an impact. Zach Collins should still be in college, and could develop. But ultimately unless they strike gold on one of these late teens/early 20’s draft picks, they’re stuck in the NBA’s middle ground purgatory. Good enough to not be a lottery team, but not good enough to actually challenge.
10. Utah Jazz: One of the off season darlings the Jazz have regressed back to the mean after an unexpectedly good 2017-2018 season. Rudy Gobert is still underrated, though not so bad he should be crying over it. And Spider Mitchell is a fantastic combo guard (though, let me say it because nobody seems to want to with regards to Mitchell, and Kyle Kuzma, they’re older than what the modern day NBA 2nd year player is, they’re supposed to be better than the other 2nd year guys, they’re further along in their development. Not saying they’re not good, but guys like Josh Jackson, or Jonathan Isaac SHOULD be a little behind, they’re younger). There was talk of the Jazz making a push for Mike Conley, which certainly would help, but I think what they really need is a nice long wing, a 3/4 forward with some length.
11. Indiana Pacers: The Pacers were certainly set back by having their best player go down for the year with injury. Victor Oladipo just LOVES playing in Indiana. If he ever tries to leave Kevin Pritchard needs to tie him to a chair and make him watch Hoosiers over and over again until he comes to his senses. The Pacers were prepared to make some noise with a bonafide stud, leading a bunch of solid players who know their jobs. If they’re able to add Wesley Mathews, he’ll slide into Oladipo’s slot nicely, but it won’t be the same. The Pacers will be a tough first round out, but they will go out.
12. San Antonio Spurs: Derrick White has been a revelation this season, especially needed since Dejounte Murray went down. They’ve gotten virtually nothing out of their first round pick Lonnie Walker, but I’m not sure they expected anything this season. The Spurs with DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, and a cast of solid vets including Rudy Gay, and Marco Belinelli can keep themselves in any game, but they’re not a viable threat to make a deep playoff run.
13. Brooklyn Nets: The feel good story of the NBA. The way they’ve picked themselves up by the boot straps since Danny Ainge fleeced them, and made it to NBA relevance is actually very inspiring. They also have the ability to clear out some max player cap space in the off season, and while I know MSG is the Mecca of basketball, if I were inclined to head to NYC to play some ball… I’d for sure pick Brooklyn over Manhatten.
14. Sacramento Kings: Sacramento, what are you doing? You were supposed to suck one more year, THEN take off. The 2nd year leap De’Aron Fox has made certainly helped, as has the emergence of Buddy Hield. If Hield played in the East, I’d have put him in the all star game over D’Angelo Russell. Add in the deadline acquisition of Harrison Barnes and the Kings have got something going. If Bagley can make a leap next season like Fox did this year? Wooooo doggie, the Kings will be gooooood.
15. Los Angeles Lakers: What pushes the Lakers into the playoffs, and not into the lottery. Lebron James. Without him, they’re easily a lottery team, and dreaming of adding Cam Reddish to their squad. I watched analysts pick the Lakers to make it to the Western Conference Finals, and stick to that non-sense (looking at you Stephen A. Smith) and thought they’d be lucky to make the Western Conference playoffs. I have no doubt, that in a 7 game series, that Lebron can will his team to some victories, but over an 82 game season, this roster is just so poorly constructed, the only magic they could get to help them succeed would need to come from Hogwarts. If they can squeeze they’re way in, certainly Lebron and national television Rondo could win a playoff series, EXCEPT, it looks like they’d be facing Golden State, and that is too much to ask even Rajon to do.
16. Dallas Mavericks: Disclaimer: ultimately the Mavs will fall short of the playoffs, and be a lotto team, but I’m not willing to put them in the tanking category either. Losing DeAndre Jordan will hurt, especially on nights when they play a Steven Adams, or DeMarcus Cousins, but lets be honest, those nights were gonna hurt anyways. The Mavs now have a 1-2 punch to build around for the future with Doncic-Porzingis, and some solid vets in Hardaway, and Lee. I am also placing them in the darkhorse role for acquiring Kevin Durant in the off season. Once a longhorn, always a longhorn. They can clear a max slot, and a Doncic-Hardaway-Durant-Porzingis-Anyone line up isn’t the worst I’ve seen, plus, no state income tax would be a nice break after the Peoples Republic of California reaching into his pockets the last few years.
17. Charlotte Hornets: Lets face it, the Hornets will make the playoffs in the east because they’re remarkably mediocre, and the bottom 3 teams of the eastern conference playoffs will be very, very mediocre. If Kemba Walker decides to leave in the off-season, this team will go from mediocre to bad very quickly. And if Walker AND Lamb decide to leave, they’ll go to awful just as quick. But for right now, Walker is there, and in the East, he is good enough to carry a squad to a first round loss.
18. Miami Heat: see: Hornets. The Heat are also very mediocre. They’re well coached, they’re deep, and they’re mediocre. Good enough to compete on any given night, but no real hope of making any real noise in the playoffs. The roster is littered with guys who could all be rotation pieces from playoff teams, but they’re all paid like they should be the #3 guy on a championship level squad. I know Pat Riley is a wizard, but the salary cap allotment has been horribly misused since Lebron/Bosh/Wade have been gone (the first time).
19. Minnesota Timberwolves: Oh Minny, what hopes I once had for you. The beginning of last season, with the acquisition of Jimmy Butler, the addition of Jeff Teague, the expected maturation of Karl Anthony Towns, the grit of Taj Gibson, I had faith that they’d make a leap up the standings unseen in those parts since Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell were leading the charge in the back court. They are clearly a team whose parts are greater than their whole. Towns, Wiggins, Saric, Gibson, Teague, all valuable individually, but just awful together. The only highlights of this season have been the re-emergence of Derrick Rose as a viable NBA player, and the rookie season of Josh Okogie, who has been a find for them. I know KAT just signed his big deal, but that makes him all the more valuable. I think whoever doesn’t land Davis needs to immediately make a call to the Wolves to see if whatever package they were offering will pry Towns loose.
20. Detroit Pistons: Thon Maker asked out of Milwaukee in the hopes of landing a more prominent role. So of course he gets sent to Detroit where he can sit behind Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. The Pistons have a solid 1-2 punch with a whole bunch of “eh” on the wings and backcourt. In the west they’d be loading up to grab a point guard or prime wing scorer in the lottery. In the east, they’re gearing up to get smacked by Boston, or Philly in the first round.
21. Orlando Magic: I LOVE the move to grab Fultz. A nice little gamble. They’ve got some nice foundation pieces in Aaron Gordon, Mo Bamba, and Jonathan Isaac. It seems apparent that they intend to try to re-sign Nikola Vucevic, otherwise it was malpractice to not jettison him at the deadline for something. The fact that they did keep him makes me think they believe they’re closer to winning then they are.
22. New Orleans Pelicans: The Pelicans remain a fringe playoff contender because they have Anthony Davis. How they proceed next year will depend entirely upon what they get for Davis. If the package is exclusively guys on rookie deals, and picks, then they need to do themselves and the player a favor and also trade away Jrue Holiday. If they were to get back a vet, like Gordon Hayward, or Danilo Gallinari (along with other compensation like Jaylen Brown or Shai Gilgeous Alexander), then maybe you keep Holiday, and Randle around to make a playoff push and see how things shake out.
23. Chicago Bulls: The young Bulls are no threat to do anything in the playoffs, but in the east, I’m not willing to say they’re not a threat to at least make it. I actually liked the move to get Otto Porter. It gives them a long 3/4 forward they hoped they were getting when they got Jabari Parker. It was tough to have the defensive black hole out there in Parker while also having Markanen on the floor. Porter should blend in better. And while yes Porter has a god awful contract, the length of that contract lines up with the Bulls development time table anyways. By time they’re ready to be good, his expiring contract could be a nice asset.
TANKING, ITS JUST SO GOOD WHEN IT HITS YOUR LIPS! WE’RE GOING LOSING STREAKING!!!!!!
24. Washington Wizards: They tried to fight it as long as they could, even with the loss of John Wall. The signing of Dwight Howard in the off season, the trade for Trevor Ariza, but its now time to admit that a change is made. I don’t know why Ariza is still there. A TON of expiring salaries would seem like a great thing, but they’ll still have a shit ton of cash committed to Bradley Beal and John Wall, impeding their ability to make sweeping changes. I’m guessing they think, they hope, to convince Baltimore boy Kevin Durant that he misses the DMV and needs to return home. The likely conclusion, based upon history, is that they overpay for a good, but not great forward/center, and creep back into mediocrity next season.
25. Los Angeles Clippers: Is it THAT far fetched to see a scenario where Jerry West ends July with a front court comprised of Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, and Kevin Durant? I don’t think so. They’ve cleared the space to add 2 max free agents (Leonard/Durant), while then having the ability to add Davis (Gallinari, Harrell, Gilgeous-Alexander, Shamet, and the various picks they’ve recently acquired). I mean, its Jerry West. We all talk about Danny Ainge, and Darryl Morey, and rightfully so, but this is Jerry freaking West. Whether that’s the end result remains to be seen, but for sure its at least that TYPE of scenario that the Clippers have positioned themselves for.
26. Memphis Grizzlies: I expect Mike Conley to get moved in the off-season when salary cap space is more abundant. There will be more max slot chairs out there than there are max slot guys, and someone will be looking to add a guy through trade that they couldn’t in free agency. Memphis needs to begin a rebuild, and trading Gasol seemed to be their tacit acknowledgement of such. Honestly, looking at the roster, Jaren Jackson Jr. is the only guy I’d actively look to keep. Ivan Rabb and Jevon Carter have a place, but only at the right prices.
27. Phoenix Suns: The Suns future is bright. Josh Jackson thus far has been a disappointment, but I still think he has a chance. Devin Booker is a scoring stud. And DeAndre Ayton is looking like everything advertised. All they need is time. In the short term, I like the trade for Tyler Johnson. A good enough point guard to take the pressure off Booker, but also proficient enough off the ball that he and Booker can interchange a bit. Phoenix isn’t as far away as people think. They very well could… no, make that will, be next year’s Kings.
28. Atlanta Hawks: John Collins and Trae Young seem like a nice inside/outside combo moving forward. I suspect you see one more season after this of the Hawks using their roster and cap space as league facilitators before they start to get serious. This draft will have them receiving 2 lotto picks to pair with Collins and Young. Give that 4 man core a year to sort it out, and look to rise in the standings in 2020-2021.
29. New York Knicks: The Knicks traded away Porzingis essentially in hopes of landing 2 max guys. Fans will spend the next 5 months dreaming of Kyrie and Durant pairing together with Zion Williamson arriving via the draft to save basketball in New York. I suspect the reality will be closer to when the Pistons cleared a bunch of cap room to go all in on…. Ben Gordon, and Charlie Villenueva. They may dream of Zion, Kyrie, and Durant, but they’ll end up with Morant, Vucevic, and Lamb. That’s just the James Dolan way.
30. Cleveland Cavaliers: History tells us that the Cavs will end up with the #1 pick. They’re certainly doing everything they can to be in a position to grab it. That and any other asset they can get. If they could get a late 2nd rounder for picking up my dogs poop in the backyard, I’d be looking at Koby Altman with a pooper scooper right now. And I don’t begrudge them that. With a poor, mismatched roster, and no real path to cap space in sight, the only thing he can do is acquire assets and hope to either hit on some long shots, or be in a position to offer those assets for something tangible.
- Written by Jason Sullivan
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