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The Eastern Conference At The Deadline

Thursday at the NBA trade deadline, we saw a total of 26 players, seven second round draft picks, and zero blockbuster trades. On Friday, we covered how the 10 players that ended up on West teams will shape the playoff race, and now we are looking at the 16 that were sent to the D-League…whoops, I meant the Eastern Conference.

While the Western teams made a few smart, calculated trades to improve depth (Steve Blake to the Warriors) and cut costs (possible buyout for Jason Terry from the Kings), the East had the biggest deals of the deadline. The East deals included the only two All-Stars dealt (Antawn Jamison and Danny Granger), the two best players (Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes), and the smartest player (Professor Andre Miller, PhD).

The Brooklyn Nets traded their disappointing – but playoff tested – guard, Jason Terry, for the Sacramento Kings' disappointing – and never played in a playoff game – guard, Marcus Thorton. Thorton, who once averaged 21.3 points per game, is a solid sixth man and capable of scoring in bunches when needed though he has struggled badly this season. He will likely provide relief for Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson down the stretch of the season. However, adding his extra $730,000 in salary means paying a ridiculous $3.3 million in tax, bringing their total to over $88 million on taxes alone…for a team that won’t get out of the first round.

The Cleveland Cavaliers traded for 76ers' center, Spencer Hawes. He will likely anchor their team right to where they were destined to be before they traded for him…the lottery. Hawes is a talented 7-footer who leads all centers in three-pointers made and percentage, is an elite passer for his position, a good scorer and rebounder, and a capable body on defense when he cares. Forced to play on a hapless Philadelphia team, Hawes had no reason to try over the past few months, but as he heads into free agency this offseason, expect his production to go back up for the Cavs. Despite the addition of Hawes and recently acquired Luol Deng, this team is unfortunately still coached by Mike Brown, suggesting they are likely doomed to miss the playoffs and then ultimately lose Hawes and Deng to free agency for nothing.

Professor Andre Miller, PhD left his classroom for winter break on December 30th and has been M.I.A. ever since. However, after being traded to the Washington Wizards, you can rest assured Professor Miller will be making a teaching once again. Miller, who was restless under indecisive rookie head coach Brian Shaw will be a capable backup behind John Wall, likely helping lead this Wizards team to homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

The Charlotte Bobcats made a good deal at the trade deadline. Say it with me: “The Bobcats did something right.” They traded valuable but redundant point guard, Ramon Sessions to the Milwaukee Bucks along with Jeff Adrian for Luke Ridnour and Gary Neal. Ridnour is a terrific backup point guard who can play behind or with Kemba Walker, while Neal is an outstanding shooter who won an NBA Finals game last season by scoring 24 points in 25 minutes!

In the only move that might affect the NBA Finals this season, the Pacers trading former All-Star forward, Danny Granger to the 76ers for Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen. Turner is a do-it-all forward who has fallen out of favor league-wide because he has failed to live up to the hype of a second overall pick. Turner should play with the first unit as well as anchor the second for the Pacers. His ball handling will allow George Hill, Paul George and CJ Watson to get free and take uncontested shots while giving them insurance –albeit expensive at an $8.7 million qualifying offer or whatever long-term offer he receives – in case Lance Stephenson leaves in free agency. Additionally, Allen started in the playoffs only two seasons ago and is a capable big man off the bench. Most importantly, Larry “The Legend” Bird signed off on this trade, thus, it must be great.

The last set of trades involved the Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers and the Atlanta Hawks. Each team gave up players that weren’t part of their future and received cash, second round draft picks, and laundry service for a year in exchange for helping another team out. The Heat traded Roger Mason Jr. and cash for a pick they will likely never see in order to open a roster spot for Caron Butler (Tuff Juice wants to go home!). The 76ers, who were involved in a league-high four deals during the trade deadline ended up with five second round draft picks and five players that won’t be buying property in Philadelphia. Finally, the Hawks acquired Antawn Jamison from the Clippers and enough cash to take him out to a nice dinner before buying out his contract.

Compared to the four West teams that made a deadline deal, eight of the top ten Eastern franchises made a deal with only Chicago and Detroit remaining inactive. Whether this reflects the fragility of the Eastern Conference standings (5th place through 11th is separated by just 5.5 games), or the strength of the mighty teams in the West (3rd place in the East would be 10th in the West) is anyone’s guess. With that said, all these moves outside of Indiana and Miami are moot because none of them are making the Eastern Conference Finals.

Indiana Pacers Vs. Miami Heat, Round III starts May 20th – Get ready, America!

Easy First Step For Pistons To Build Around Andre Drummond

“Despite their tremendous talent, NBA players are still, by and large, young adults, seeking validation from an authority figure, and there is no greater authority figure on a team than the coach. Needless to say, in today’s warped, self-indulgent climate, too many players couldn’t care less about appeasing the coach.”

- Phil Jackson

Coincidentally, Jackson was an advisor to Detroit Pistons general manager Joe Dumars in last offseason’s coaching search that eventually led to the hiring of Maurice Cheeks.

One week before the All-Star break, the Pistons became the first team to fire their head coach by dismissing Cheeks this past weekend, just 50 games into his first season.

Comparable to the preferential treatment Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder gives to Robert Griffin III, there have been reports that describe Drummond as being very close to Pistons' owner Tom Gores.

“Drummond and Gores communicate every couple of weeks about things, the player said, and seeing the franchise player unhappy probably didn’t go over well with the owner,” Dave Mayo of MLive reports. “Within a couple of days, Gores was in southeast Michigan, and the process of dismissal began to take shape.”

Despite the Pistons spending spree this past offseason that resulted in the additions of Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith, the centerpiece of this franchise clearly remains Drummond. The Pistons need to immediately begin surrounding Drummond with the right system that suits him best.

One of the main culprits that have hindered the offense efficiency of this talented roster is the pairing of Drummond and Greg Monroe on the court together, along with Josh Smith at the small forward spot.

Smith is a natural power forward that is being forced to play on the perimeter and becomes an inefficient shooter. Known more for his slashing ability, Smith posts a below average 12.4 PER at the small forward while giving up an above average opponent PER of 17.9. At power forward, he posts a strong 17.6 PER while only giving up a close to average opponent PER of 15.2.

Like many traditional big men, Drummond best fits when he is able to take up the paint himself and spaces the floor for shooters around him. Since Monroe is a back to the basket player that likes to post too, it does not allow Drummond to fully utilize his skill-set to dominate the paint. Moreover, as a big man at the professional level, it is important that they can protect the rim. Monroe does not fit that bill as he has failed to average even one block in any season in the NBA.

Given the unproductive numbers of this trio, and the fact that Greg Monroe is a restricted free agent this upcoming offseason, it would make sense to deal Monroe for a more traditional small forward. This would allow Smith to slot back to his natural position at power forward and give the new frontcourt duo of Drummond and Smith a shot-blocking tandem that would terrorize the rest of the league.

Prior to this season team, even before former coach Lawrence Frank was fired, Gores gave the realistic goal for this season to make the playoffs or else.

“We better make the playoffs. That’s realistic,” Gores tells Dave Pemberton of the Oakland Press, “one of the things I realized this year is we have great players on the team.”

Since the Pistons improbable title run in 2004 with coach Larry Brown, the Pistons have gone through five coaches and still have yet to establish a team identity. Given Dumars’ contract expires after this season, he must now realize that the title they won a decade ago has only given him so much leeway for underachieving. He must act now to save his job and it better be around Andre the Giant. 

Pistons Trying To Mature On Road

There is significant imbalance in the Eastern Conference this season with the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat far-and-away the cream of the crop. The conference is heavy around the middle, with seven teams within five games of each other in a fight for the bottom six seeds.   

The Detroit Pistons are one of those clubs. They entered 2014 as the seventh seed, just a winning or losing streak away from third or the lottery. At 14-19, they have surprisingly been stronger on the road than at home.

Only three teams -- the Utah Jazz, New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks -- have fewer wins at home this season. The Pistons are 6-11 at the Palace, but have spilt their 16 road contests.

“Playing in someone else’s arena is always going to be tough, no matter who you are,” Andre Drummond told RealGM recently. “I think we’ve been doing a really good job of coming together as a unit when playing on the road.”

Winning on the road is difficult no matter the opponent, but the Pistons haven’t only feasted on weak Eastern foes. Detroit is one of just two teams -- the Chicago Bulls are the other -- to record wins over the Pacers and Heat this season.

The Pistons, unlike the Bulls, went to both Miami and Indiana and knocked off the presumed top seeds. That’s quite a feat for a team with a new coach (Maurice Cheeks), budding star (Drummond) and three new players (Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith and rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) playing at least 23.5 minutes.

“Those were definitely two big wins for us, especially on the road, but we are more focused on the big picture,” Greg Monroe said. “We are still under .500. That’s something we are trying to correct by being consistent. We know we’re not going to be perfect, but we want to be more consistent and play like that every night.”

Consistency has been a big issue for the Pistons. Aside from a four-game winning streak in early December, which preceded a three-game losing streak, they have had trouble following up strong efforts with another one. They are 13-9 against the East and 1-10 against the Western Conference.

“We talked about that earlier, about how we should come out and be aggressive whoever it is,” Maurice Cheeks said.

“Certainly beating Miami and Indiana on the road is significant for us, but just playing consistent basketball on the road is where we are trying to get. It doesn’t matter who it is, although Miami and Indiana are two very good teams and that’s very impressive for us, but we are just trying to play consistent basketball.”

Losers of three-straight, the Pistons have a chance to gain some ground in the playoff race with a relatively easy January schedule. They’ll play seven at home and seven on the road with the Los Angeles Clippers the only elite team on the docket.

The maturation process hasn’t been easy, even if they have faired well on the road, especially following a recent “feud” between Cheeks and Smith. The growing pains will continue, but the climate in the East makes the road to success a bit easier.

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