Comparing the NBA Eastern Conference Superpowers Episode 1: The Trade Deadline

In my last article, I mentioned that I didn’t buy that this would be the quiet trade deadline that many in the media were predicting. Chalk one up for this nobody writer. More than 15 trades were made on February 7th and a number of them were made in the days before. There were exciting plots to follow but none more enticing (to me, and you if you clicked on this article) than the Eastern Conference arms race. Three of the top four teams in the Eastern Conference made substantial upgrades to their rosters through trades and picking up buyout candidates.

This is going to be the first of five articles comparing the top four teams of the Eastern Conference. That’s right, they gave me a series ya’ll. I’d like to quickly apologize to the Indiana Pacers. it should be five scary teams in the East but after the Oladipo injury, I just don’t see that happening. In this article, I will simply be laying out the moves the top four teams in the East made (or didn’t make) and how it has shaken up their rosters. Subsequent articles will be comparing these four teams’ starting lineups, bench mobs, potential death lineups, and their star players. Without further ado, let’s take a look at the roster changes.

Ch-ch-ch-changes for Philly

Now then, the trades. The Philadelphia 76ers have been wheeling and dealing all year. Everyone knows about the Jimmy Butler trade at the beginning of the season. Then they upped the ante on February 5th by dealing Landry Shamet, Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, two first round picks (including the holy grail trade chip that is the unprotected 2021 Miami Heat first rounder), and two second-round picks in return for Tobias Harris, Boban Marjonovic, and Mike Scott. That’s a lot to give up for an impending free agent. If it works out for Philly, they have the league’s most formidable Big Four if Golden State’s breaks up this summer. They also sacrificed a lot of depth in this move, so what did they do? Made some more moves (is Trader Brand a nickname yet?) of course. They sent a second round pick to Houston in return for some wing depth in James Ennis III. Then, almost at the buzzer, they traded former first overall pick Markelle Fultz to the Orlando Magic. They received more wing depth with Jonathon Simmons and recouped some of the picks they sent out by getting a first and second from Orlando as well. Philly’s new additions have been doing quite well in the few games they have played for them but that will be covered in the next article.

Milwaukee Adds Shooting

The Bucks haven’t been shy about changing their roster this season either. Their first trade of the season occurred in December and was primarily a salary dump but added backup point guard George Hill. The trade they made last Thursday, however, was a game changer. The Bucks sent Stanley Johnson (acquired in a swap for Thon Maker with Detroit the day before) and four second-round picks to the New Orleans Pelicans for Nikola Mirotic. It’s unfortunate that the Bucks had to give up on Maker (requested a trade) especially after the flashes he seems to show every time the playoffs roll around. Four second round picks seems like a lot to give up but only one of them comes originally from Milwaukee. This is a great addition to the team with the league’s best defensive rating and net rating. Mirotic is shooting a very nice 36.8% from three and perfectly complements the Bucks pace and space scheme. He has yet to enter the lineup with a calf strain so his impact on the team cannot be measured just yet.

Toronto Gets Gritty

The Raptors must have felt left out with its closest competitors making upgrades, so they went and got themselves a shiny new center who happens to fit their scheme perfectly. They sent Jonas Valanciunas, CJ Miles, Delon Wright, and a second rounder to the Memphis Grizzlies in return for Marc Gasol.  Gasol fits perfectly in Toronto. He may not be the Defensive Player of the Year he once was but he is easily the best defender they now have at the five spot. He also brings another playmaker to a team that could use it. His 4.6 assists a game comes in as second on the team. The question is more so of who they put on the bench to insert Gasol into the lineup. Pascal Siakam is too good not to start and Ibaka’s ego may not accept a bench role. The Raptors didn’t lose much in this trade, Valanciunas is basically discount Gasol and CJ Miles has had a bad year. Losing promising youngster Wright stings a little but they wouldn’t have been able to afford him in restricted free agency and they have reinforcements at the backup guard position. Speaking of those reinforcements, in addition to Fred Vanvleet, the Raptors signed Jeremy Lin fresh off the buy-out market to essentially replace Wright’s minutes. The number two team in the East made a significant upgrade without sacrificing significant roster players.

Boston does…nothing

The Celtics did not make a deal at the trade deadline and yet were among the biggest winners. Anthony Davis was not dealt from the New Orleans Pelicans, giving Danny Ainge a chance to acquire him in the offseason. Boston can easily outbid any other team in the league for Davis and looks hellbent on doing it. The only questions are if a). Davis would sign long term in Boston despite saying he wouldn’t, and b). If Kyrie Irving leaves in free agency. Despite being the only East power that didn’t upgrade its roster at the deadline, that by no means makes them a weaker opponent. They are third in Net Rating and fifth in Defensive Rating. It would be a mistake to underestimate this squad in the playoffs.

That’s the recap of the trade deadline for these four teams. Two teams made trades that shook up their starting lineup, one team acquired a bench player that will surely be closing games, and one team smartly stood pat. No one knows which teams is necessarily the best after all these moves but one thing is certain: The Eastern Conference semifinals will be a bloodbath.

Agu is a Junior at Marquette University pursuing a Business Management Major with a Spanish Business Minor. He is a Milwaukee native and somehow survived 10 years of mediocrity from his hometown team, the Milwaukee Bucks, and is now writing about them in the midst of their best season. He is new on the scene with no credentials but hopes to have a light Wikipedia page in the future.

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