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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!

The Pelicans' Peculiar Predictament

With approximately three months remaining in the regular season, the New Orleans Pelicans are in a tough spot from an organizational perspective. The combination of their 15-23 record (partially fueled by a seven-game losing streak), harsh batch of injuries, and the stacked Western Conference have made the playoffs an unlikely proposition.

What makes their situation so much stickier is the fact that their first round pick goes to the Philadelphia 76ers to complete the Jrue Holiday trade unless it falls in the top five. Despite losing seven games in a row and having a 0.8% chance of making the playoffs according to the Hollinger Playoff Odds, the Pelicans currently possess the ninth-worst record in the league.

In fact, even if New Orleans gets all the way down to the fifth-worst record, they would still have a 44.8 percent chance of falling out of the top five and losing the pick to Philadelphia since all it would take is them not moving into the top five and any team behind them jumping in. As such, getting all the way to the fourth-worst record would put that risk down to a more manageable 17.2 percent.

That line between fourth and fifth could prove incredibly interesting. The bottom group right now includes a Milwaukee franchise devoid of hope for this season, an Orlando team that has lost nine in a row, a Philadelphia organization seemingly ready to trade almost all of their most productive players, and a Boston team halfway down that road. That group does not even include Utah because they have played reasonably well since Trey Burke joined the lineup.

While it can be more nuanced, there are two larger paths teams can follow to lose games. The more common one happens just by being worse than most of your opponents and largely still trying your best. Here, the Pelicans actually benefit greatly from being in the Western Conference since even teams like the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers who presently have worse records are still trying to win at this point. Additionally, every other team in their division has a respectable shot at the playoffs which helps as well. The challenge for a New Orleans team that takes this more organic losing mentality comes in the form of Anthony Davis. A legitimately special player, it feels like Davis can will the Pelicans to at least a few wins just by virtue of his dominance. Furthermore, the team has little case from a developmental standpoint to sit their best young player since he only has 95 games of NBA experience after missing almost 20 games last season.

As long as it would not alienate the franchise cornerstone, New Orleans would be wise to take a few steps down the darker path of self-sabotage. What that effectively means in their context is a shift in minutes from “win now” guys (helped by Ryan Anderson and Jrue missing time now) to more… developmental players like Austin Rivers and Jeff Withey. That kind of change would make the team more beatable this year but actually help from a developmental and talent analysis standpoint, giving the organization a leg to stand on with the media and season ticket holders.

The real peril of this road comes if the team continues to win more than necessary to retain their pick since a near miss would hurt more from a fan perspective since the rewards would be substantially weaker. That delicate balance could be tested since the Pelicans play Milwaukee and Utah twice and Orlando, Boston, and Chicago once each the rest of the way.

Falling from the ninth-best record to sixth or maybe even fifth could happen pretty painlessly since Sacramento and Cleveland actively want to win more games while the Lakers and Jazz may be a little less terrible than the New Orleans M*A*S*H unit. Furthermore, some consider “tanking” a more doable thing than it usually turns out to be since the players and coaches do not have the same organizational incentives to lose. On top of that, it can be incredibly dispiriting to the whole team to have a stretch rough enough to carry this team to a top five pick in this year of intense talent disparity.

The Pelicans are in a rough spot and will need strong leadership and some good fortune to end up wherever they want to go this season.

The Marquee Non-National Teams To Watch

As we embark on another NBA season, I wanted to take some time to talk about the teams that I am most eager to see over the course of the campaign. While there are teams that will get plenty of mainstream attention, there will be plenty of talent and exciting basketball all around the league. While there are no direct criteria, my non-national teams have to have entertainment value on a game to game basis and fascinating pieces in the form of young talent or new additions. Each of these squads fits that bill and there were a few tough omissions as well.

While the list I used did not include NBATV games, it should provide a solid basis for this limited purpose. Teams with ten or more listed games on ABC, TNT, and ESPN were not considered for inclusion though they play plenty of League Pass games.

Honorable Mention: Minnesota Timberwolves- Ricky Rubio is my basketball spirit animal and if he stays healthy I will probably watch more of Minnesota than any other team on League Pass.

5. Utah Jazz: The combined age of their five projected starters on Opening Day is 108 with no starter older than 23. That is simply remarkable for a team that could actually be pretty competitive this season. As of this writing, it appears both Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors will be playing without long-term contracts heading into Restricted Free Agency next summer, which should give this season a little extra intrigue. I am also looking forward to seeing Rudy Gobert, my favorite enigma in the 2013 draft class with his impossible 7’9” wingspan.

4. New Orleans Pelicans: The first of the grand experiments because they may finish games with Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans sharing the court (and one basketball, presumably). Anthony Davis had an excellent and underappreciated rookie season but should get more attention now that the team should be more relevant after adding a ton of talent. Look for Ryan Anderson to continue to play a big role and continued development by Al-Farouq Aminu would make the Pelicans much more dangerous moving forward.

3. Memphis Grizzlies: Easily the best team to qualify for the list since they could potentially have the best record in the Western Conference in 13-14. Marc Gasol has been a joy to watch the last few seasons and Mike Conley came on as a force on both ends of the floor this past season. Tony Allen makes every match-up with a quality offensive foe substantially more fun and despite being an elite team the Grizzlies also have intriguing young talent in Ed Davis (24), Kosta Koufos (24), Nick Calathes (24) and Jamaal Franklin (22).

2. Detroit Pistons: The second grand experiment assuming they fiddle with Greg Monroe, Josh Smith and Andre Drummond playing together. The three of them gobbling up all of the available PF and C minutes is fascinating but the real question is whether we will see them close out games together. Add in the immense unbridled talent of Brandon Jennings and unknown commodities in the form of rookies Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Tony Mitchell and you have a team worth following closely.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Over the past few seasons, Cleveland has amassed one of the most compelling collections of young talent the league has seen in quite a while. While some of those picks could have been made differently, they have a franchise player in Kyrie Irving and fascinating pieces like #1 pick Anthony Bennett, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson (who changed shooting hands this summer), Tyler Zeller, and one of my favorite post-lottery 2013 draftees Sergey Karasev. That alone warrants inclusion on this list but bringing in Andrew Bynum makes them a clear choice for #1. His combination of talent and contract situation (two year contract but only about $6 million of it is guaranteed) pushes the Cavs to another level of intrigue. The possibility that the team adds prodigal son LeBron James at some point in the next few summers provides another lens to view this season while Anderson Varejao has been consistently fun to watch when healthy. Regardless of how the season turns out, a healthy Cavs team will dominate my attention on League Pass.

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