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Teams Who Were Smart to Stand Pat at the Trade Deadline

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 16, 2016

Teams Who Were Smart to Stand Pat at the Trade Deadline

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    The NBA trade deadline came and went with nary a superstar swapping jerseys.

    The rumor mill was a blistering swirl in the days leading up to Thursday's 3 p.m. ET deadline. But, as is often the case, the build-up was far more interesting than the actual non-event.

    Josh Smith is still an Atlanta Hawk, Kevin Garnett is still a Boston Celtic and twin towers remain with the Los Angeles Lakers (Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol) and Utah Jazz (Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson).

    Save for two intriguing reserve guards (J.J. Redick, traded to the Milwaukee Bucks and Jordan Crawford, traded to the Boston Celtics), the day's transactions left fans of active teams browsing for info on the incoming talent.

    While the day lacked in drama, it still carried a large importance. Not many teams helped themselves by adding players, but a number of them kept themselves in strong position by not subtracting talent.

Denver Nuggets

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    The Denver Nuggets are a scout's dream and nightmare wrapped up in one.

    Their freakish athleticism (which flows through all five positions) make them the opponents Western Conference foes do not want to face come playoff time. 

    They have everything a coach could ask for: explosiveness (Ty Lawson) and experience at the point-guard spot (Andre Miller); versatility (Andre Iguodala, Wilson Chandler) and marksmen (Danilo Gallinari, Jordan Hamilton) on the wings; hustle (Kenneth Faried), flair (JaVale McGee) and fundamentals (Kosta Koufos) on the interior.

    But they're not without a fault.

    The team lacks a go-to-scorer, a player capable of consistently finding buckets in the clutch. With their playoff stay a potentially lengthy one, they're bound to find themselves in close games.

    That led to some murmurings about possible movement. And no, this doesn't mean dangling third-string center Timofey Mozgov.

    Rumors of an Iguodala-Pau Gasol swap surfaced over recent weeks. A gifted low-post scorer, Gasol had shown the ability to be that consistent offensive source that the team lacked (albeit years ago).

    But Denver general manager Masai Ujiri resisted the temptation to gamble on Gasol rediscovering his old form. And he put the Nuggets in tremendous position moving forward as a result.

    Iguodala has a $15.9 million player option for next season, but there's no reason for him to abandon ship. Coach George Karl's system suits his style of play perfectly, and the Nuggets' youthful talent holds great promise for the coming seasons.

Indiana Pacers

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    The Indiana Pacers can be, at times, tough to observe.

    Their relentless, gritty approach to the defensive end of the floor outweighs their offensive struggles, but doesn't always produce great television. But it's also the reason why the Pacers have emerged a favorite pick among NBA analysts tasked with finding an Eastern Conference team to unseat the defending champion Miami Heat.

    Those offensive struggles, though, were not lost on the front office. Indiana scoured the trade market for scorers. Their own scoring threat, Danny Granger, had been usurped as the face of the franchise, as a lingering left knee injury has kept him sidelined all season...and opened the door for rising star Paul George's emergence.

    The play of George (17.8 points per game) and the club's success (33-21) made Granger possibly expendable.

    But Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard made the right move at the deadline, which was making no move at all. Granger's knee injury had driven his trade value beyond the point of making any potential deal feasible. Indiana was facing being on the wrong side of a pennies-on-the-dollar exchange.

    If Granger is healthy, the Pacers will have a found a far more valuable answer to their scoring woes than any player they could have landed in a trade. He's averaged at least 18.7 points per game in each of the last five seasons, a figure unmatched by any Pacer this season.

    His return also adds to the defensive puzzle that coach Frank Vogel can throw at the opposition. George and Granger give the Pacers intimidating size on the perimeter, with Roy Hibbert and David West continuing that bullying nature on the interior.

Los Angeles Clippers

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    The NBA trade deadline presented a set of challenges to the Los Angeles Clippers nearly unmatched by the other 29 teams in the league.

    The Clippers are one of only a handful of NBA teams with realistic championship hopes. They have the athletes and scoring power to run opponents out of the gym, and a strong contingency of veterans more than capable of taking and making big shots.

    The impending free agency of Chris Paul seemingly fueled the need to add as many weapons to the rotation as possible, with the team holding no greater negotiation chip over the summer than proof of its ability to amass championship-level talent.

    But they also had a collection of younger players promising a bright future for the organization. Three key rotation pieces (Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe) are all under the age of 25.

    So the Clippers weighed their options. On one hand, they could go all in on that championship goal for this season, and potentially sacrifice both Jordan and Bledsoe in the process. On the other, they could trust their in-house talent to play championship-level basketball without gambling away the future of the franchise.

    They chose the latter, a decision they'll not soon regret.

    The Clippers may be the deepest team in the league, with a fully stocked 10-man rotation capable of game-changing production.

    The addition of a proven post scorer (Kevin Garnett and Paul Millsap were both linked to the franchise) would've helped. But in the grand scheme, it's tough to see that post scorer being anything more than a fourth option. 

Los Angeles Lakers

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    The trade deadline offered the Los Angeles Lakers a chance to retool their roster with players better suited for coach Mike D'Antoni's system.

    D'Antoni has struggled to find a way to keep Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard consistently involved on the offensive end, and their team defense has borne the brunt of the expense from splitting the pair's playing time.

    Howard's impending free agency and Gasol's frustrating decline (career-low 13.4 points per game) fueled speculation that one might be on the way out. Gasol, in particular, appeared the likely trade candidate, given his demotion to D'Antoni's second unit and a heavy financial commitment for next season ($19.3 million).

    Perhaps aided by Gasol's foot injury or his presumably low trade value, GM Mitch Kupchak opted to keep his twin towers draped in purple and gold.

    Kupchak's decision doesn't cure this team of all its ills (D'Antoni's still figuring out how to utilize the pair), but it grants this team its best chance at making their potential postseason trip a lengthy one.

    Not to mention that this team still hasn't had an extended opportunity to show what it's truly capable of producing. A rash of injuries to Gasol, Howard and Steve Nash have sent the franchise scrambling to make adjustments on the fly throughout the season.

    There have been a number of changes that this team has had to face this season, including receiving direction from three different head coaches. Asking these players to make further adjustments in the season's final month may have extinguished the team's chances at making a playoff push.

New Orleans Hornets

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    The New Orleans Hornets were never going to factor in the Western Conference playoff picture.

    Short of landing a transcendent superstar, teams featuring the first overall selection of the past draft rarely do.

    Their season forecast went from bad to worse when star guard Eric Gordon started the season on the sideline due to a nagging knee injury. And their top draft pick, Anthony Davis, struggled through his own injury battles. 

    Davis has since weathered his early injury storms, and his team-leading 20.5 player efficiency rating foreshadows how bright his NBA future looks. 

    Once Gordon returned to action, the team looked every bit the part of a potential spoiler, handling a number of playoff hopefuls (and locks) disheartening defeats.

    But they cooled considerably in recent weeks, and subsequently warmed to the idea of gauging interest in the oft-injured Gordon. Luckily, that interest never amounted to more than some juicy pre-deadline rumors.

    There was no valid reason to trade Gordon, not at this time anyway. That lengthy comeback from his knee injury had spiraled his trade value to an all-time low.

    Any potential trade would have had far less to do with improving the team's talent, than it would have been a gamble that Gordon's injuries would prevent him from living up to his contract (three years, nearly $45 million remaining).

    Maybe they have low-ball offers to thank, but no matter the reasoning, the Hornets left themselves in prime position moving forward with a Gordon-Davis inside-out combo. The offseason arrival of Ryan Anderson and emergence of Greivis Vasquez could mean playoffs for the Pelicans in no time.

San Antonio Spurs

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    The San Antonio Spurs are always a threat to sneak their way into valuable talent grabs.

    They have a keen eye for productive players, and often turn NBA outcasts into contributing pieces to the rotation.

    But this trade deadline had the Spurs reportedly seeking a more pronounced acquisition. Linked in recent weeks with some of the biggest players rumored available (Al Jefferson, Josh Smith and J.J. Redick), the Spurs seemed destined to make an uncharacteristic splash.

    None of those deals ultimately came to fruition. Apparently, the front office realized that perhaps the NBA's best team (44-12) was in a favorable position as currently constructed.

    There's no denying that a player like Jefferson or Smith (and, to a lesser degree, Redick) would have upgraded the team's talent base. But it also would've likely decimated coach Gregg Popovich's depth (likely Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter or both), perhaps his biggest asset outside of point guard (and MVP candidate) Tony Parker.

    The Spurs are clearly right where they need to be. Popovich has once again done a masterful job of limiting the physical toll on his aging stars. Both Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili have cemented themselves as strong second and third options, but Popovich has lightened their loads to less than 30 minutes per game.

    And just because San Antonio was quiet at the trade deadline, that doesn't mean they're done acquiring assets. GM R.C. Buford has as strong of a track record in plucking production off the waiver wire as any executive in the league.

    The Spurs have a full 15-man roster for now, but one would assume that could change if the right player became available.

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