NBA Trade Deadline: Which Improved West Teams Should Worry San Antonio Spurs?
In what became one of the craziest trade deadlines in recent memory, the NBA saw a slight power shift from the Western Conference back to the Eastern Conference this past Thursday.
Gone are Deron Williams, Carmelo Anthony and Jeff Green—the first two being mega-stars that were considered top players at their respected positions—and in came impressive supporting pieces such as Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton and Devin Harris.
While one could argue that the Western Conference is really just a three-team race between the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks, there were some squads that got significantly better.
Sure, the Western Conference got considerably weaker due to the departure of both Williams and Melo, but when one looks at the fact that both players became irrefutable distractions and nuisances to deal with, it is not totally out of the question to make the case that both teams are now better, even if they did just deal their franchise player away.
The San Antonio Spurs are still tops in the league right now, thanks to their 49-10 record and six-game lead over the second-place Mavs. However, there were a few teams in their conference that potentially upgraded enough to at least give them a scare in the playoffs this year.
Here is a look at the four teams whose moves might worry the Spurs ever so mildly.
Oklahoma City Thunder
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Sam Presti is a genius.
Spurs fans have known this for a while, seeing that Presti worked for the Spurs (becoming the assistant general manager at one point) for quite some time, and was rumored to be the biggest supporter of the Spurs taking Tony Parker with the 28th pick in the 2001 NBA Draft.
What he did this past Thursday was utterly remarkable, filling the Thunder’s biggest problem in the best way possible, trading away an under-sized player at his position (Jeff Green, who many will correctly argue is a small forward and not a power forward like the Thunder were playing him) for a defensive menace in Kendrick Perkins.
While Perkins is not a statistical machine and does not have an array of post moves that will give the Thunder a post threat on offense (another hole they will have to fill at some point), he is a bully on the defensive end, and one whose tough demeanor and wide frame have given many teams fits before.
He has proven on multiple occasions to match up well with the Lakers big men, specifically Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.
All in all, this was an outstanding move, considering the Thunder got a true center, as well as an energetic guard in this deal (Nate Robinson), and only gave up a younger Rashard Lewis type in Green and a soft, shooting big man in Nenad Krstic.
The Thunder might be a step away from the NBA Finals (as said, they still need a go-to guy in the post offensively), but crazier things have happened before. It would not be surprising to see them give the Spurs a lot of trouble in the playoffs.
I do not think they can beat the Spurs in a seven-game series yet, but out of all the teams that made deals, they have the best chance.
Portland Trail Blazers
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The “soccer moms,” as ESPN's Bill Simmons likes to refer to the Blazers’ fans, have to be thrilled with their coup as well, acquiring Gerald Wallace for next to nothing (a guy with bad knees in Joel Pryzbilla, two decent backup men in Sean Marks and Dante Cunningham, and two picks).
With the news that Brandon Roy’s career might be drawing to a premature close soon, this has to at least give the Blazers fans some hope that maybe their future is not as grim as expected.
“Crash” is considered to be one of the most underrated players in the league, perhaps mostly to him being on the small-market Charlotte Bobcats for a chunk of his career.
He is without question one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, and he also knows how to finish with authority around the rim.
Would anyone like to go up against a backcourt of Andre Miller, Brandon Roy and Gerald Wallace in the playoffs if all are healthy and ready to go? The Blazers have to be the dark horse when the playoffs start, since they will undoubtedly not receive a lot of attention considering the depressing outlook concerning their brightest star in Roy.
Like the Thunder, I do not see the Blazers beating the Spurs in seven games, mostly due to their history of bad luck with injuries and inability to get really anywhere in the playoffs.
However, you have to at least approach this team with caution. They are one of the best defensive teams in the league after this trade, and it always helps to have a rabid fanbase backing them up.
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It is a bit of a stretch, but it is not ridiculous to say that the Nuggets got better after the Melo trade. After all, they got not one, not two, but three starters out of the Knicks, as well as a promising big man in Timofey Mozgov (who started a couple games for New York as well) and some cash and picks.
That is a pretty amazing haul when you consider the leverage (or lack thereof) they had, seeing as it was clear that Melo was going to leave them after this season no matter what.
The Nuggets can now finally play distraction-free basketball and look towards the future. Gallinari has to be the guy they look to develop the most; if they can add a few pounds and a few post moves into his game, he could round out to be a very, very nice player in this league due to the mismatches he causes with his size as well as his outside touch.
Chandler and Felton are also nice pieces to build around, and Ty Lawson will finally get his chance to show what he can do with more minutes while starting at point guard for the team.
While I do think the Nuggets got a little better in the sense that they can now focus on playing basketball and not on rumors and reports from the outside, they do not have a true superstar to turn to at this point.
If they run into the Spurs in the playoffs I see a series going five, maybe six games if they get some breaks.
They might worry the Spurs a little bit, but not as much as say, the Thunder or the Blazers.
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Much like the Denver Nuggets, maybe the Jazz can now start to focus on basketball again instead of remaining concerned about the Deron Williams-Jerry Sloan fallout. Things seemed to be getting worse the weekend before the Jazz dealt Williams to New Jersey, when D-Will was heard saying that he wanted to go to the New York Knicks when he became a free agent in 2012.
What appeared to be another distraction on the horizon for the media to seize upon was mitigated exceptionally well by the Jazz front office, acquiring super-fast guard Devin Harris, promising big man Derrick Favors, and a couple of draft picks in return.
So far, many analysts have complemented the Nets on “taking a risk” and trying to do something with a quickly dissolving franchise. Not many have given the Jazz their fair due, in which the front office refused to engage themselves in a multiple month long battle with the media concerning the future of their biggest star.
Instead, without any rumors of it happening beforehand, the Jazz acted decisively, acquiring two well-skilled youngsters that should fit well into their game plan.
New coach Ty Corbin has his work cut out for him, but the Jazz still have plenty of talent on their team that, if coached and developed correctly, could become a bona fide threat sooner than most might anticipate.
They will not worry the Spurs this year if the two were to meet in the playoffs (like the Nuggets, I do not see them giving the Spurs more than a six-game series), but in terms of a long-term threat, if all goes according to plan, the Jazz should be a force to be reckoned with in the near future.