“In a lot of ways it’s harder in this league,” another NBA executive says, “to go from middle-of-the-pack to the top than from the bottom to the top.”— An NBA executive to SI's Joe Posnanski.
Every NBA franchise has been to the playoffs at least once since 2004; 23 of the league's 30 teams have made it in the last three years.
It's almost impossible to be consistently awful. Over half the teams make the playoffs every year; the rest are given first crack at selecting the best young prospects. Even the Clippers have some recent history of playoff success, with an Elton Brand led team making Game 7 of the second round in 2006.
It's not difficult to build a 45+ win team; it's actually pretty easy.
For franchises to miss the playoffs for more than five straight years, two things usually have to happen: they have to wait too long to rebuild, and then whiff in the Draft.
Locking a mediocre team into place, not losing, is what gets a franchise into trouble. Rebuilding is like ripping off a band-aid: it's better to do it all at once.
Going from a 45+ win team to a 55+ win one is the most difficult leap in the NBA. Elite teams, ones that win 55 or more games, have All-NBA talent surrounded by complementary pieces that maximize the strengths and minimize the weaknesses of their franchise player.
The problem is that there isn't a large time window to acquire that talent: once an All-NBA player finishes his rookie deal, his team won't be drafting in the upper reaches of the lottery, and they won't have the salary cap space to add an impact player in free agency.
Giving out a max contract destroys your roster flexibility. Once you do that, your team is pretty much stuck in place. And while you may be able to fool your fans, you won't be able to fool your players.
That's what happened in Denver and Utah: the Nuggets and Jazz had no high-upside young players who could become All-Stars, no salary cap room to sign one in free agency, and no trade assets to get one. Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams knew there was no chance they could contend for a championship where they were, and once that happened, their time in those cities was numbered.
Going into the trade deadline, some teams needed to get worse and start the rebuilding process (sellers), while others needed to get better to improve their chances in the playoffs (buyers). With that in mind, here's a quick look at the ten biggest winners from an exciting and frenetic week of trading: