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The Western Conference At The Deadline

When the clock hit 3 PM EST on Thursday, basketball fans around the globe groaned as another NBA trade deadline passed without the epic blockbusters that fill the RealGM Forums. Although the deadline lacked a true blockbuster, the trades that were made (and the ones that were left on the table) will undoubtedly shift the landscape of the Western Conference playoff picture and possibly the team that will be facing the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers in the NBA Finals (It’s a lock, nobody is seriously questioning it).

The four most notable trades in the West came from the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers.

The Warriors, who picked up Steve Blake from the Los Angeles Lakers, will look for him to provide the steady hand off the bench that they have been pursuing since Jarrett Jack left in the offseason. Blake’s addition isn’t going to drastically improve the team, but he is able to give the team quality backup point guard minutes behind Stephen Curry, given Jordan Crawford’s inability to play without Brad Stevens as his coach.

The Rockets moved little used backup point guard, Aaron Brooks, to the Denver Nuggets for Jordan Hamilton. After refusing to lower their insane asking price on Omer Asik, the Rockets decided to fill their lack of a stretch four with Hamilton. Despite Hamilton blatantly not being a power forward or an elite shooter (39 percent from the field and 35 percent from 3), the Rockets apparently believe he can become one when freed up as Dwight Howard draws attention in the post. The more important aspect to this trade is that it likely allows the Rockets to call-up D-League star, Isaiah Canaan.

The Spurs traded little used point guard Nando de Colo for Austin Daye. In one of the day’s most intriguing moves, the Spurs took on another reclamation project in the form of a 6’11 shooter who was once a top prospect coming out of high school. While Daye has struggled to earn minutes outside of his second season in the NBA (when he shot 40 percent from 3), he has tremendous length, can guard multiple positions, and San Antonio has shown interest in him. If that isn’t a sign of someone that will be playing meaningful playoff minutes in May, I am not sure what is.

The last deals of any consequence in the West were by the Clippers. They traded both Antawn Jamison and BJ Mullens for the rights to a Turkish player that probably is unaware he was traded, and a conditional second round draft pick that will likely never happen. These deals, while not interesting beyond the salary implications for the Clippers, do allow open roster spots on the team for buyout candidates. Look for Glen “Big Baby” Davis to join his old coach, Doc Rivers.

While each team above made a move – albeit small – at the trade deadline, the other five teams in contention, the Oklahoma City Thunder, Portland Trail Blazers, Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies all stood pat.

Although several teams are in desperate need of a big man (OKC, PDX, PHX), no one budged on Philly’s offer of two second round draft picks for Spencer Hawes.

Portland, who is without a second round draft pick until 2019, had a tremendous need for Hawes with Joel Freeland out for two months and LaMarcus Aldridge banged up.

The Thunder flirted with a deal for Knicks embattled shooting guard, Iman Shumpert, but backed off at the last moment.

As for the remaining needs, the slew of veterans that will likely be bought out this upcoming week will have to suffice. Fortunately for these teams, Glen Davis, Caron Butler, Danny Granger, Jason Terry, Emeka Okafor, Chris Kaman, Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva and Antawn Jamison are all buyout candidates.

Many NBA teams believe it is better to trade during the offseason so that players can get familiar with a system and their teammates, while others utilize the short second half of the season as a tryout for recently acquired players to see if they’re long-term fits. It appears that teams trading in the offseason are better off. For any fan grumbling over their team not making a blockbuster yesterday, here’s a stat you need to know: one; as in the number of Championship teams during the last 25 years to trade for a starter at the trade deadline (Rasheed Wallace to the Pistons in 2004). So while fans of the Rockets clamored for Rajon Rondo and Warriors' fans hoped for Kevin Love, just know that the odds of you winning the title with those guys was slim to none.

Happy Trade Deadline everyone! Only 124 more days until the NBA Draft!

Clippers Arenít Letting Injuries Hurt Them

As the NBA season enters its eighth week, injuries have begun to mount. As usual, some teams have been hit much harder than others. The Chicago Bulls will once again be without Derrick Rose because of a season-ending knee injury, and the Milwaukee Bucks have seen several rotation players – Larry Sanders, Carlos Delfino, Zaza Pachulia and Brandon Knight – miss significant time.

The Los Angeles Clippers have avoided a catastrophic injury, but have had their continuity stunted by nagging injuries to a handful of players. Matt Barnes, J.J. Redick, Maalik Wayns and Reggie Bullock have all been sidelined with substantial issues.

“It’s just part of basketball,” Willie Green told RealGM. “Obviously, we don’t want to have any injuries but when guys go out and sacrifice their bodies it happens. We are faced with a few injuries now, but the good thing is that we have guys that can step up. We expect to continue to win games.”

Doc Rivers is thankful that Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan haven’t missed long stretches, but Barnes, Redick and Bullock are key to the team’s long-term success.

Those absences have forced the Clippers to increase Green’s minutes, while also signing Stephen Jackson to fill an active roster spot. After winning 12 of their first 17 games, Los Angeles has split eight games in the month of December.

“If anything, the injuries have hurt the timing and the rhythm of our team,” Green admitted. “It is an opportunity though for guys like myself to step up. You put a 15-man roster in place with the expectation that there are going to be a few injuries throughout the course of the season.”

Green, who played in just five of the team’s first 17 games, is averaging 22.4 minutes per game over the last eight. He has been pushed into the starting lineup seven times. He is shooting a career-low 30.6% from the field (he shot 46.1% in 2012-13) and a dreadful 25.8% from downtown.

“I’d rather our injuries happen earlier, like they have now, then later,” Green said when asked about the timing of it all. “Hopefully everyone will be healthy and at full strength going into the playoffs.”

The Clippers have been under the tutelage of Rivers for less than six months, but his reputation as a player’s coach is already paying dividends. The coach has kept the lines of communication with his players open as playing time has shifted.

“Doc is a great communicator,” Green said. “He talks to everybody about their roles and what he expects us to do on the basketball court.”

Jackson, who debuted with the Clippers last Wednesday in Boston, finds himself back on an NBA roster almost solely because of the team’s injury woes.

“I wasn’t just sitting at home, watching television and eating popcorn,” Jackson told RealGM. “I was working out, keeping the faith that something good would happen.”

Jackson can do a little bit of everything for the Clippers, but will be counted on mainly to defend and be ready whenever Rivers has to lean on him.

“It was a great pickup. We all know Jack can score; he’s a good defender,” Green said of his new teammate. “He’s an enforcer as well. We need all of those attributes right now. He’s a veteran, knows how to play the game.”

The Clippers have been able to tread water through their first 25 games, sitting fourth in the tough Western Conference heading into Monday night. They figure to only get better once Barnes and Redick return.

Barnes has only played in eight games and Redick was struggling from downtown (35.9%, down from 38.8% for his career) before suffering a broken hand. They haven’t had the worst injury luck in the NBA this season, but among those with championship aspirations the Clippers have dealt with a lot.

“We haven’t really had a full group yet because Matt Barnes really hasn’t played yet,” Jamal Crawford told RealGM. “When we get our whole team back, we like our chances against anyone.”

Speaking with four members of the Clippers last week in Boston, to a man they shrugged off excuses or adopting a ‘woe is me’ attitude. Injuries are a part of the NBA and good teams prepare for the eventuality.

“It’s part of the process,” Crawford explained. “Every team goes through injuries and stuff like that. Hopefully we get those guys back and implement them in with what we’ve done to keep it all together.”

Western Conference Twice As Good, Nine Degrees Warmer

By any metric the Eastern Conference has struggled over the past two decades in regards to their depth of quality teams. The situation has reached a tipping point this season with a model by Arturo Galletti of BoxScoreGeeks.com showing the possibility of only the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers finishing with a record above .500.

There are a plethora of factors on why the Western Conference is better this season, from greater parity at the top of the table compared to the separation the Heat have created over their four seasons together and the cyclical nature of several Eastern Conference teams rebuilding at the same time.

From a long-term perspective, the Eastern Conference has won the lottery in 11 of the past 15 years, suggesting several teams in the East have had ample opportunities to rebuild.

But last year's All-NBA Teams had 11 of 15 from the West, nine of 15 in 11-12 and 10-11, 11 in 09-10, 08-09 and 07-08.

One element that has remained constant is that weather plays a significant role in where veteran free agents choose to sign. The Heat have attracted significantly more high profile free agents to play with LeBron James than ever was possible when he was with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs always had a competitive advantage in signing veteran free agents during the previous decade that was more difficult during Kevin Garnett's tenure with the Minnesota Timberwolves. With Chris Paul and Doc Rivers taking control of the Los Angeles Clippers, that franchise is finally taking advantage of its weather and cultural advantages.

While the two warmest winter markets are in the Eastern Conference in Miami and Orlando, the gap between the average temperature for the two conferences as a whole is statistically significant with the Western Conference being nine degrees warmer.

Superstars that are drafted by teams in cold weather franchises certainly can be retained, but their ability to build around them with complementary pieces proves more difficult. Even the Oklahoma City Thunder have not attracted as many top players on the veteran's minimum as one would guess based on the caliber of their roster and title chances. Oklahoma City is not one of the coldest markets, but is more than 20 degrees colder than Los Angeles in January and doesn't offer some of the cultural attributes of a Chicago or New York.

Eastern Conference Average Temperature in January
Indiana Pacers: 26.5
Miami Heat: 68.1
Atlanta Hawks: 42.7
Washington Wizards: 34.9
Chicago Bulls: 22.0
Charlotte Bobcats: 41.7
Detroit Pistons: 24.5
Toronto Raptors: 21.0
Orlando Magic: 61.3
Boston Celtics: 29.3
Philadelphia 76ers: 32.3
Cleveland Cavaliers: 25.7
Brooklyn Nets: 32.1
New York Knicks: 32.1
Milwaukee Bucks: 20.7

- Average Temperature for Eastern Conference: 34.3

Western Conference Average Temperature in January
Portland Trail Blazers: 39.9
San Antonio Spurs: 50.3
Oklahoma City Thunder: 36.7
Los Angeles Clippers: 57.1
Denver Nuggets: 29.2
Golden State Warriors: 48.7
Dallas Mavericks: 44.1
Phoenix Suns: 54.2
Los Angeles Lakers: 57.1
New Orleans Pelicans: 52.6
Memphis Grizzlies: 39.9
Minnesota Timberwolves: 13.1
Sacramento Kings: 46.3
Utah Jazz: 29.2
Houston Rockets: 51.8

- Average Temperature for Western Conference: 43.3

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