6 Teams Left with Unfinished Business After NBA Trade Deadline
The Detroit Pistons, Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers all added frontcourt weapons for their playoff rotations. The Oklahoma City Thunder added a shooter and lowered their tax bill. The Portland Trail Blazers and Memphis Grizzlies grabbed draft picks for cheap.
For a handful of clubs, though, this deadline felt incomplete.
Some held off on moves they should have made and can't correct those missed opportunities until the offseason. A few have the means to acquire a big fish but have so far failed to reel one in. Others need to work the buyout market or sell some pieces over the summer to balance their rosters.
The excitement missing from this trade season could come soon for these six clubs with unfinished business.
Atlanta Hawks: Is the Core Worth Keeping?
Smoke clouds surrounded the Atlanta Hawks leading up to the trade deadline, with reports hinting at a possible teardown. Kevin Arnovitz and Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com were hearing the Hawks had received offers for three of their four 2015 All-Stars: Al Horford, Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver.
But the prospect of fireworks fizzled out as the 3 p.m. ET deadline passed. Atlanta wound up making a pair of transactions that collectively carried the excitement of a sprinkler: shipping out Shelvin Mack and Justin Holiday and bringing in Kirk Hinrich, per Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
If the Hawks' post-deadline rotation is altered at all, the difference will be negligible.
Does the franchise fully believe in this core, then? Head coach and team president Mike Budenholzer says yes.
"We are very happy with our group," Budenholzer said, per Vivlamore. "We feel strongly about them."
That could be the case—or Atlanta may have been underwhelmed by the offers. Horford is headed to unrestricted free agency, and Teague may not be a top-10 player at his position (ESPN.com's real plus-minus actually puts him 34th). These were good pieces, not great ones, which helps explain the club's good-not-great No. 8 ranking in net efficiency.
With Korver and Paul Millsap already on the wrong side of 30 and Horford getting there this summer, the Hawks have to figure out whether it makes sense to invest in this collection. Even if they answer in the affirmative, they may run out of motivation to keep both Teague and his talented, athletic understudy Dennis Schroder on the roster.
Boston Celtics: Superstar Itch Left Unscratched
No team has more trade bullets in the chamber than the Boston Celtics.
They're flush with future draft picks and littered with intriguing prospects. They have veteran rotation players for contenders to plug in and expiring contracts of various sizes to assist those teams that are looking to cut costs.
But, despite being linked to every conceivably available big name, Boston stayed silent through swapping season.
"We felt like we came close to doing some things, but ultimately we didn't," Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said, per A. Sherrod Blakely of Comcast SportsNet. "There were no deals we thought good enough to do."
The Celtics probably played this right. There's no reason to make a move if they never found a favorable combination of risk and reward.
However, there's a reason the Celtics made such regular appearances in the rumor mill. This roster, while good enough to currently claim the East's No. 3 seed, needs an elite talent to contend with the NBA's juggernauts.
"It's nearly impossible to win a championship without at least one bona fide superstar," wrote NESN's Zack Cox. "Two or three would be preferable. Right now, the Celtics have none."
Boston has too many valuable assets not to change that fact.
Houston Rockets: Rework the Formula
Something isn't right with the Houston Rockets and hasn't been all season.
Just one year removed from a Western Conference Finals appearance, the Rockets now find themselves on the fringe of the current playoff picture and in the bottom half of net efficiency rankings (minus-2.2, 19th). Their defense has hemorrhaged points at an alarming rate, and their offense hasn't been explosive enough to compensate.
The James Harden-Dwight Howard pairing has long looked better in theory than in practice. On the court, they've failed to bring out their collective best. Away from it, each reportedly schemed to have the other traded after their first season together, according to NBA.com's Fran Blinebury.
This pair may need splitting, and the Rockets tried to make that happen. With the aging, oft-injured Howard approaching unrestricted free agency, Houston reportedly shopped him hard. Sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein the Rockets discussed Howard with seven different teams, but his uncertain future stopped any deals from coming to fruition.
Houston made two moves at the deadline, but its only notable addition was the protected first-round pick gleaned from the Detroit Pistons for Donatas Motiejunas and Marcus Thornton, per The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski. In other words, no assistance is forthcoming for a group recently described by interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff as "broken," per ESPN.com's Calvin Watkins.
Beyond the Howard-Harden tandem, the Rockets must decide what the inconsistent Terrence Jones is worth in restricted free agency and whether Ty Lawson is worth keeping around. Though they're seemingly always in the buyer's market, the Rockets may need several subtractions before making any additions.
Miami Heat: Still Can't Shoot
If the NBA is a business first, then Miami Heat president Pat Riley should be mentioned among the deadline's biggest winners.
As NBA.com's John Schuhmann put it, "the Heat went from paying more than $25 million in luxury tax to getting paid by the remaining tax-paying teams."
Incredibly, it didn't even cost Miami a rotation piece to slip beneath the threshold. Chris Andersen, Jarnell Stokes and the 48-hour-Heater, Brian Roberts, were the only casualties in Riley's cost-cutting maneuvers.
But helping the bottom line won't immediately provide any on-court perks. The Heat are still facing a future that again includes uncertainty with Chris Bosh's health and a roster that is painfully light on perimeter shooting.
Tyler Johnson, who has hit 38.6 percent from distance this season, could be done for the year following shoulder surgery. Bosh, who paced the Heat with 81 triples, is battling blood clots for the second consecutive season. Luol Deng, the top healthy gunner, ranks 92nd in three-point makes and is tied for 58th in percentage among qualified shooters.
The Heat badly need a perimeter lift. They're near the bottom of the league in both quantity (6.1 made threes per game, 27th) and quality (32.3 percent, 28th). But after their recent moves, they have the flexibility needed to add a sniper from the buyout market, which could include the likes of Joe Johnson, Kevin Martin and/or Steve Novak.
New Orleans Pelicans: Brow Needs Better Help
The New Orleans Pelicans would love to build a perennial playoff participant. They've made an exhaustive effort to do exactly that since snagging the single-browed centerpiece at the top of the 2012 draft.
Despite sacrificing multiple future assets, they've yet to construct anything of substance around Anthony Davis. Last year's brief playoff appearance has been nearly forgotten amid this season's tumble to the Western Conference's wasteland. Injuries have largely prevented the nucleus from playing together, but this season seemed like the right time to stop waiting.
They entered the deadline with one of the most coveted players on the trade market: 6'10" sharpshooter Ryan Anderson. The prospect of moving him carried so many interesting possibilities: restocking their pick collection, discarding a weighty contract, maybe even both.
But the Pellies curiously chose to hang on to the 27-year-old—despite league sources telling The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski that New Orleans "expects to lose" him in free agency.
"Ryan Anderson was one of the biggest names on the market, everyone reportedly had interest, and yet the Pelicans will most likely lose him in free agency," wrote CBS Sports' Matt Moore. "It's just not a good situation."
Not only did New Orleans fail to turn Anderson (or Eric Gordon) into an asset, but it also may have harmed one of its own in the process. The Pelicans will almost assuredly fare better with those players, which will likely just move them later into the draft lottery. Having Davis puts them worlds ahead of most rebuilders, but this puzzle needs newer, younger, more complementary pieces next to him.
Orlando Magic: Who Is the Cap Space For?
The Orlando Magic traded two of the best players moved at the deadline. Tobias Harris is a 23-year-old swingman who oozes versatility and upside. Channing Frye is the type of stretch big every modern offense craves.
But Orlando's return haul didn't reflect the value of the outgoing players. In separate deals, the Magic brought back free-agent-to-be Brandon Jennings, potential free-agent-to-be Ersan Ilyasova and a second-round pick. They couldn't get a first for Harris, but older, less talented forwards Jeff Green and Markieff Morris each delivered one to their former employers.
In a sense, the Magic prioritized the future over the present, which is always a smart move for a non-contender. But rather than valuable picks, their primary perk was cap space. They could have $45 million of it come July, per Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel.
Financial flexibility is never a bad thing, but the Magic need to be careful. As much as they'd like a big-ticket item—they chased Paul Millsap last summer, remember—they can't throw top-shelf funds at second-tier players. And that'll be more tempting than it sounds with the likelihood that the cream of this free-agent crop won't give Orlando a long look.
"It's hard to see the Magic legitimately competing for the best players on the market as a lottery team with an ill-defined core," wrote ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton. "Below that top talent, there's a steep drop-off to a second tier of players likely to get overpaid because there's simply more money to go around than talent."
Orlando should focus its funds on adding (or keeping) young players with growth potential. This core isn't ready to attract marquee free agents.