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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!

Terrence Ross Keying Raptors' Ascent, Reason For Optimism

When Terrence Ross broke his commitment with Maryland and signed with Washington in 2010, it looked like the start of something big for the Huskies. A super-athletic four-star guard from Portland, he was a huge get for Lorenzo Romar’s program, which kept him in the Pacific Northwest, beating out schools like Kansas, Kentucky and Oregon for him. While Ross hadn’t played a lot of AAU basketball, his talent made him a national prize in recruiting.

However, unlike many highly-rated freshman in this era of one-and-done basketball, Ross had to pay his dues when he got to Seattle. The Huskies started two senior guards with NBA potential, Isaiah Thomas and Justin Holiday, and had a slew of other underclassmen -- Abdul Gaddy, CJ Wilcox and Scott Suggs -- who needed minutes too. As a result, Ross played only 18 minutes a game, averaging eight points, three rebounds and one assist on 44 percent shooting.

With Thomas and Holiday graduating, Ross moved into the starting line-up as a sophomore. However, the arrival of highly touted freshman point guard Tony Wroten meant Ross would not have the opportunity to dominate the ball at Washington. Instead, he spent most of the season playing off the ball, watching Wroten do his best Tyreke Evans imitation. Ross averaged 16 points and six rebounds a game on 46 percent shooting, but never broke out on the national stage.

Coming into the draft, while he was well-regarded by many talent evaluators, his name never rung out among even hardcore NBA fans. After Florida made a run to the Elite Eight, freshman Bradley Beal was widely seen as the top 2-guard available. Ross had less profile than Austin Rivers, who played for Duke, had a famous father and hit a buzzer-beater over Tyler Zeller on national TV. Ross was just another name in one of the best crops of SG’s in many years.

The Toronto Raptors selected him at No. 8 in 2012, one of the more anonymous lottery picks in a star-studded draft. Ross didn’t make a huge splash in Summer League, so not much was expected of him as a rookie. Playing behind veterans like DeMar DeRozan, Alan Anderson and Landry Fields, he wasn’t afforded the chance to play significant minutes right away. After the Raptors acquired Rudy Gay at mid-season, his role shrunk even further.

Ross finished his rookie season with averages of six points and two rebounds on 41 percent shooting, hardly numbers that indicated future stardom. His biggest splash came when he won the Dunk Contest, but without any statistics to back it up, most fans saw him as another super-athletic flash in the pan, if they noticed him at all. As a result, Ross came into his second season an unknown commodity, a lottery pick with the profile of a late first-rounder.

Not much changed at the start of this season, as Gay and DeRozan took turns boss-hogging the ball in historic  fashion. The low point was probably an early November loss to the Houston Rockets, when Gay took 37 shots and DeRozan fired up 25. Ross, meanwhile, had an efficient nine points on 4-for-6 shooting -- the story of his first 14 months in Toronto. It’s almost impossible for a shooting guard who can’t get minutes or touches to affect a game, one way or the other.

For Ross, everything changed when the Raptors shipped off Gay in early December. All of a sudden, he was moved into the starting line-up, getting as many shots and minutes as he could handle. The team clicked immediately. After going 6-12 with Gay as the primary option, Toronto is 19-9 with Ross as a starter, with wins against Oklahoma City, Dallas, Indiana, Chicago, Brooklyn and New York. Just like that, the Raptors became a team on the rise.

Every member of their 9-man rotation, as well as Dwane Casey, deserves some credit for that, but Ross has more than done his part. In 18 games as a reserve, he averaged six points and two rebounds on 41 percent shooting. In 27 games as a starter, he is averaging 13 points, four rebounds, one assist and one steal on 42 percent shooting. While most players get less efficient in a bigger role, Ross’ efficiency has increased, an indication he is getting more comfortable in the NBA.

At 6’6 200 with a max vertical of 38’, Ross is a prototype shooting guard in a league moving towards more two PG lineups. When he plays a team like the Portland Trail Blazers, who have three combo guards - Damian Lillard, Mo Williams and CJ McCollum -- in their rotation, he has a huge edge in size and leaping ability for large stretches of the game. That fits perfectly with his skill-set; he’s a pure shooter who can run off screens and rise up immediately.

And while Ross is shooting 41 percent from deep on 4.7 three-pointers per game, he is more than just a shooting specialist. He has the quickness to beat his defender off the dribble and he is one of the best finishers in the NBA, as Manimal found out on Friday. Unlike most scoring guards, Ross is unselfish enough to move the ball and not hunt for shots. He takes what the game gives him; he’s Kyle Korver with the ability to put the ball on the ground and a 40’ vertical.

Ross gets points as easy as any guard in the NBA, although you wouldn’t always know it even from his breakout season, since he still shares the ball with DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. It’s no coincidence that his break-out game last week, when he dropped 51 points on the Los Angeles Clippers, came on a night when DeRozan was limited after rolling his ankle. Ross needed only 29 shots to get 51, scoring from every part of the floor with absolute ease.

In the three games following his explosion, Ross has taken only 33 shots, an indication of where he is in the Toronto pecking order. However, there’s only so long a guy with his ability can be held down. He’s a complete guard with the ability to score, shoot, pass, rebound and defend, a starter and two-way contributor on one of the best teams in the NBA. Most impressive of all, he’s still only 22. He should be a senior in college, the same as Doug McDermott.

Over the last generation, many of the league’s best shooting guard prospects have been undone by getting too much too soon. Ross has been the exact opposite, an All-NBA talent forced to pay his dues and learn the game at every stop of the way. Now after a three-year apprenticeship, he is starting to come into his own. In three years, when he’s 25, he will be one of the best SG’s in the NBA. He’s Paul George in 2011, a young role player on the cusp of stardom.

Hansbrough Brings Experience, Toughness To Raptors

After four seasons with the Indiana Pacers, Tyler Hansbrough was forced to find a new team this past offseason.

The Pacers rescinded their $4.1 million qualifying offer to Hansbrough on July 2, making him an unrestricted free agent. The move came in the wake of Indiana re-signing David West to a three-year contract.

A little more than a week later, Hansbrough agreed to a two-year, $6.4 million deal with the Toronto Raptors. Brought in for his notorious toughness, the power forward was well aware that he was leaving a title contender for a fringe playoff club.

“I knew we were a young team, so I’m not surprised with where we are at right now,” Hansbrough told RealGM about his decision to sign with Toronto.

An ankle injury has kept him out of the lineup since Jan. 1, but he has still had an impact with the Raptors. He is averaging 11.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per 36 minutes this season, a career-low in scoring but a career-high on the boards.

Hansbrough (13.5 percent) has the highest offensive rebounding percentage on the team and trails only Jonas Valanciunas in total rebounding percentage. The Raptors could have used him on Wednesday night. They were outrebounded mightily by the Boston Celtics (58-44) in a road loss.

The 28-year-old has just four seasons under his belt but brings a veteran presence to the locker room. Only three players on Toronto’s roster -- John Salmons, Chuck Hayes and Steve Novak  -- are older and among those players only Salmons averages more minutes.

A first-round pick of the Pacers in 2009, Hansbrough witnessed a successful rebuild and played in 35 playoff games as an important member of the rotation.

“They worked extremely hard to get where they are and I’m not surprised at all,” Hansbrough said of his former team. “They play really well as a unit. I was with them for so long that I know what they do and why it works.”

Hansbrough is far from an extrovert, but his experiences in Indiana are something he can pass along to teammates in Toronto. Like the Pacers, the Raptors are looking to transform into a contender through smart drafting and shrewd moves.

“This is a younger team, but being around a team like the Pacers helps,” Hansbrough explained. “When I first got there they weren’t really a playoff team, but towards the end of my time there we were making deep playoff runs. What I take from that is what I saw in terms of how hard those guys work. Everyday you have to keep improving as a team and peak at the right time, towards the end of the season. I’m not a really vocal guy, but I know what to bring to this team to help them succeed.”

Hansbrough has missed a chunk of the time, but the Raptors are an impressive 12-5 since trading star Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings in early December. The record comes as a surprise given the presumption that the team would struggle after dealing their best player.

“Kyle Lowry has been playing great, he deserves a lot of credit. He has really evaluated his level of play,” Hansbrough said when asked about the team’s success post-trade.

“I think once the trade was made some of the younger guys really stepped up, especially Terrence Ross. He’s doing a ton of things for us. It has been more of a team approach instead of a bunch of isolation. DeMar [DeRozan] is playing great.”

His analysis is the obvious one, given the high rate of possessions consumed by Gay and DeRozan this season. Gay used 30.6% of possessions while with Toronto this season and DeRozan has a usage rate of 27.3 percent this season.

There are now only three sets of teammates in the top 20 in usage rate (Russell Westbrook/Kevin Durant, LeBron James/Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki/Monta Ellis).

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