This year's trade deadline has come and gone, and a handful of NBA teams are looking much different. Some have definitely improved, while others have the fans and experts going, "Huh?"
Granted, none of the teams that made moves have had a chance to take their new additions out for test drives yet, but the fact still remains that the league's landscape is in a prime position to change over the next several weeks.
One team to watch will be the Houston Rockets, who finally cut some dead weight in a handful of reserves plus poor fit Patrick Patterson and landed a boatload of fresh young talent in return. Head coach Kevin McHale now has a roster that is borderline perfect for his run-and-gun style of coaching, and Houston could soon be on another hot streak if all goes well.
Other squads, however, won't be so lucky as post-deadline reality sets in.
*-Rankings are done based off of winning percentage, in descending order. Ranking accurate as of Friday, February 22, 3:24 p.m. EST
1. San Antonio Spurs
Already the top team in the league, the Spurs did not make a deal at the trade deadline. Though the roster's core is old and could have used some extra oomph in the frontcourt, this is actually a good thing.
Head coach Gregg Popovich has done a fine job of getting the best out of everyone this season, notably Danny Green and Tiago Splitter, and San Antonio is in a prime position for a long playoff run once again. So long as the attack remains balanced and everyone is healthy, there is no reason to suspect that fans will be disappointed early.
2. Miami Heat
The defending champs did make a move at the deadline, albeit a very small one. Benchwarmer and big man Dexter Pittman was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies along with a second-round pick in exchange for the rights to center Ricky Sanchez, currently playing in Argentina.
The intriguing aspect of the deal is that Miami now has an open roster spot, which General Manager Pat Riley can choose to fill via the waiver wire if he sees fit. Otherwise, the team is its usual dominant self despite a weak interior defense and will be one to watch down the stretch and when the playoffs come along.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder also made a small move at the deadline, landing perimeter defender Ronnie Brewer from the New York Knicks in exchange for a second-round pick.
The former Arkansas Razorback is unlikely to crack the team's regular rotation but still provides a solid defensive presence off the bench should head coach Scott Brooks need it. Otherwise, the team is strong as can be and is in a great position to get back to the NBA Finals.
4. Los Angeles Clippers
Despite the countless rumors, the Los Angeles Clippers did not make a trade at the deadline and retained backup point guard and dunker extraordinaire Eric Bledsoe. The team's core is fully intact an if all goes well, Lob City will be a lock to make tons of noise in the postseason.
So long as star point guard Chris Paul's knee holds up, the Clippers could very well be in line to become the new kings of LA.
5. Memphis Grizzlies
Even without Rudy Gay, the Memphis Grizzlies continue to surprise everyone. The team is currently on a five-game winning streak and is thriving in a system built around Zach Randolph and Pau Gasol.
The lack of a pure scorer could hurt them down the stretch, but keep in mind that Memphis' defense is strong, ranking second in points allowed with 90.1 per game. Even the best scoring squads could have a problem getting past defense like that, and the Grizzlies could definitely make a statement in the playoffs so long as everyone stays focused and healthy.
6. New York Knicks
The Knicks are the No. 2 squad in the Eastern Conference and a generally good team but very hot and cold when it comes to defense. They have a very hard time defending the pick-and-roll and if an opposing team is able to neutralize their three-point shooting, a victory for New York is unlikely.
However, General Manager Glen Grunwald pulled off a wise move at the deadline. Not only did he send Ronnie Brewer to OKC, but in doing so cleared a roster spot so that the Knicks could bring in a solid defender on the inside.
That hole was filled with veteran Kenyon Martin, who is expected to sign a 10-day contract this weekend. Should he come in and shore up the defensive needs, the Knicks will have no choice but to keep him around and prepare for a playoff visit that does not end in the first round.
7. Denver Nuggets
Dribble-drive offense tends to be hit or miss, but George Karl has turned it into a big hit with the Denver Nuggets. The team has won 10 of its last 13, and the balanced, offensive attack led by Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari has the Nuggets as a team to watch as the season winds down.
Kenneth Faried is great on defense, as is Andre Iguodala. If both can get hot at the right time, then General Manager Masai Ujiri will have proven that he was right in not making a big move at the deadline.
8. Indiana Pacers
The Pacers may rank just 27th in scoring, but they more than make up for it by ranking first in both rebounding and points allowed. Indiana allows just 89.9 points per contest, making them a team destined to play spoiler in the coming weeks.
Don't let their youth and lack of a solid veteran fool you. Paul George has turned into a bona fide star this season, and David West has been good per usual. Even center Roy Hibbert has been a top defender in the face of a weak offensive season.
The fact of the matter is that Pacers basketball is back, and any and all critics will learn that the hard way this spring.
9. Brooklyn Nets
Unfortunately for the Nets, General Manager Billy King was unable to find a buyer for both Marshon Brooks and Kris Humphries at the deadline, but that does not take away from how well Brooklyn has played under interim coach P.J. Carlesimo.
Since Carlesimo took over on Dec. 27, the Nets have gone 19-8 thanks to playing a faster game better designed around star point guard Deron Williams' skills. Joe Johnson has also been remarkably clutch, and the continued improvement of Brook Lopez should ensure a successful close to the season in Brooklyn.
10. Chicago Bulls
Chicago made no deals at the deadline, drawing the ire of star point guard Derrick Rose's brother. The team ranks fifth in rebounding and third in points allowed but just 28th in points scored.
Long story short, a lengthy playoff run and successful finish to the regular season depends on one thing: Rose's return from knee surgery. The Bulls simply need him back in the lineup to be truly great again, and his continued absence is only going to push them closer to an early playoff exit.
11. Golden State Warriors
The Warriors pulled off a pair of small deals this year. One sent guard Charles Jenkins to the Philadelphia 76ers while another sent big man Jeremy Tyler to the Atlanta Hawks. The trades were made for financial reasons, and nothing more.
The team is young, but their fast-paced offense is fun to watch and should carry them to a playoff spot this year, barring a major late-season collapse.
12. Utah Jazz
Utah was surprising at the deadline this year, but because General Manager Ted Lindsey DIDN'T make a move. Instead of trading one or both of the expiring contracts of Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson for some much-needed guard depth, Utah has clearly decided to keep things as is and try to go on a run late in the season.
The team is currently seventh in the Western Conference, but a three-game winning streak has them just a half-game behind the Warriors. The Jazz definitely have some rallies left in the collective tank, and their commitment to playing well should be in full force now that the distraction of trade possibilities is gone.
13. Atlanta Hawks
Like Utah, Atlanta made headlines this trade deadline by NOT making a deal. Instead of trading star forward Josh Smith, team management opted to keep him aboard and take their chances with him in free agency.
The Hawks can offer him more money than any other team, but Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today reports that Smith staying in Atlanta come July is "unlikely."
Just the same, the Hawks can now concentrate on closing out the regular season with an exclamation point to give them plenty of momentum when the playoffs come around.
14. Houston Rockets
Thanks to the trade deadline, the Rockets now have players who are absolutely perfect for head coach Kevin McHale's up-tempo offense. Marcus Morris was sent to the Phoenix Suns for a second-round pick, and rookie Thomas Robinson was acquired from the Sacramento Kings for a group of players headlined by Patrick Patterson.
At long last, Houston has a power forward that can be just as effective from the perimeter as they are on the inside, and Robinson is going to blossom in the new system along with fellow rookie Terrence Jones.
Assuming everyone can adjust accordingly, look for Houston to get hot in the very near future.
15. Boston Celtics
The Celtics needed help at guard, and General Manager Danny Ainge traded for a solid option for a freakishly cheap price. In sending the injured and out-for-the-season Leandro Barbosa to the Washington Wizards, Ainge was able to land pure scorer Jordan Crawford.
This gives Boston a bevy of guards, what with Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and Avery Bradley already being on the roster, but Crawford definitely gives them the catch-and-shoot guy that the team lost when Ray Allen signed with the Miami Heat last summer.
The deal itself could be hit or miss but should Crawford succeed in Boston, the Celtics will be in a great position to go on a long playoff run once again.
16. Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks weren't able to land Josh Smith at the deadline, but General Manager John Hammond more than made up for it in acquiring J.J. Redick from the Orlando Magic. In the deal, Redick went to Milwaukee along with center Gustavo Ayon and guard Ish Smith, while Orlando received Tobias Harris, rookie Doron Lamb and Beno Udrih.
Granted, Milwaukee already has two decent guards in Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, but neither man is really solid in terms of creating their own shot. Redick can be both a catch-and-shoot guy as well as create off the dribble, and that could definitely make a difference for the Bucks the rest of the way as they continue to fight for a spot in the playoffs.
17. Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers made no moves at the deadline, preferring to keep the fractured roster as it is despite the fact that a major spark will be needed to send the star-studded team to the playoffs. As General Manager Mitch Kupchak promised, Dwight Howard was not traded.
As a result, the Lakers are at a crossroads right now. Should the team go on an epic run to finish the season and end up making the playoffs, then team management may be willing to take a Mulligan on this season and give the team as it is another shot under Mike D'Antoni.
If not, then Kupchak and the Buss family have some decisions to make regarding both the team's pursuit of Dwight Howard in free agency and just what it will take to keep him around besides money.
18. Portland Trail Blazers
As young and spunky as Portland is, they are too young and inexperienced to contend. Damian Lillard is a lock to win Rookie of the Year, but he alone cannot take away from the fact that the Blazers have lost six in a row and are free-falling out of the playoff race.
Don't get me wrong. The team still can contend in the near future, but not until the youth can come together and form a strong and cohesive unit that consistently succeeds under pressure.
19. Dallas Mavericks
The biggest move Dallas made at the deadline was sending Dahntay Jones to the Atlanta Hawks for Anthony Morrow, not exactly the impact move that the team needed to make. Just barely two years removed from a championship season, the Mavs are a complete and utter mess now.
The team needs defense, preferably one that ranks higher than 28th in points allowed, but that cannot be achieved with the current group of players. General Manager Donnie Nelson should thus prepare himself for the offseason when the Mavericks will be in a good position to make a run at Dwight Howard.
20. Philadelphia 76ers
Reality has finally caught up with the Sixers. After showing potential early in the season thanks to increased efforts from Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner, Philadelphia finally hit a bump in the road due to center Andrew Bynum's knees keeping him out of action.
Unless he makes a miraculous return to the court in the near future, the offseason is almost certain to come early in the City of Brotherly Love.
21. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors now have a solid star presence in Rudy Gay, but General Manager Bryan Colangelo still has a lot of work to do once the offseason comes along. Toronto is still without a proper power forward, as seven-footer Andrea Bargnani has absolutely no regard for playing defense.
Amir Johnson could fill this void, but a buyer for Bargnani must be found first. That's easier said than done, as a straight-up deal involving Carlos Boozer and the Chicago Bulls couldn't get done. Thus, so long as Bargnani is on board, fans should not expect much action north of the border.
22. Detroit Pistons
Detroit got a key piece in point guard Jose Calderon as part of the Rudy Gay trade, and the Spanish floor general has posted 14.6 points and 6.4 assists per game since the deal happened. Still, the Pistons have some work to do.
The team's greatest flaw is its youth, something that can be fixed by re-signing Calderon in free agency, or just bringing aboard a seasoned veteran to serve as a leader. The team is so close to becoming a playoff contender once again, but will be doomed to be a lottery squad without a leader.
Unless one of the youngsters steps up and assumes this role, General Manager Joe Dumars has a busy summer ahead of him.
23. Minnesota Timberwolves
This season has been a completely lost one in Minnesota. Injuries have kept Kevin Love and Brandon Roy out of the lineup, not to mention ended the seasons of other players, and team management has no choice but to write the year off as a fluke.
All that anyone can hope for is that next season, the squad lives up to its full potential.
24. New Orleans Hornets
New Orleans is a young team, but that cannot help them inch out of lottery territory and into contention. Anthony Davis is a star in the making but still has a lot to learn. Eric Gordon missing the first two months of the season with a balky knee did not help matters either.
Just the same, with the draft coming up, the team has nowhere to go but up as the Hornets era ends and that of the Pelicans begins. With a successful NBA draft and key improvement from some players, notably guard Austin Rivers, basketball in New Orleans can become something destined for greatness once again.
25. Sacramento Kings
There's no other way to say this. The Kings are a complete and utter mess. A deal is in place to have the team sold to a new ownership group from Seattle, but a game of tug-of-war is set to go down between it and Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson.
At this point, it's hard to not feel bad for the players as they seem completely destined to spend their careers on a team with almost no direction or identity.
26. Phoenix Suns
Thanks to underachieving all around, Phoenix finds itself at the bottom of the Western Conference. The days of the run-and-gun game are gone, and the franchise is going to be at a crossroads this offseason.
A new coach may be needed so that the best can be gotten out of the current crew, or maybe the roster will need to be blown up. The fact of the matter is that the Suns are just plain bad, and a makeover is all but a certainty.
27. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavaliers are still in a rebuilding phase, but the fans and front office can at least hold onto the fact that second-year guard Kyrie Irving is living up to the hype and then some. The former Blue Devil made his first All-Star team this season, and fellow youngsters Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson are turning into viable go-to guys.
A seasoned veteran not named Anderson Varejao would be an ideal presence in Cleveland, but that does not take away from the team's overall potential. Once the young players work out the kinks, the Cavs have what it takes to become one special squad.
28. Washington Wizards
Washington isn't going to make the playoffs this season, but at least the backcourt is set for the near future in the forms of John Wall and Bradley Beal. All that is needed now are some reliable role players to come off the bench, plus a young center to pair with Beal and Wall.
Assuming that the Wizards get a solid draft pick, that is a void that General Manager Ernie Grunfeld should be able to fill instantly. However, until that is done, Washington will remain a young and inexperienced team destined to stay at or near the bottom of the barrel.
29. Orlando Magic
Orlando just gave up its best player for a handful of role players, none of whom can really make a huge impact on the NBA level. If that doesn't scream bottom of the totem pole, then I don't know what does.
30. Charlotte Bobcats
The Bobcats' premier goal at the deadline was to find a buyer for guard Ben Gordon. The Brooklyn Nets were believed to be interested at one point, but that later proved to be false.
The best move that Charlotte was able to make at the deadline was trading Hakim Warrick to the Orlando Magic for Josh McRoberts. In other words, one benchwarmer was traded for another.
It looks like that the fans can only hope that the Bobcats get a good position in the draft lottery once again, as that seems to be the only way that the team can get solid players. That is, if owner Michael Jordan makes the right choice.
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