Posted by: Mike Cornelius | February 23, 2017

After The Hysteria, NBA Trade Deadline Fizzles Out

In this age of information overload, a day like Thursday could cause even a high-speed laptop with a 7th Generation Intel Core processor to freeze up, overloaded by wave upon wave of data pouring in from multiple sources. Thursday was the NBA’s trading deadline, with all deals needing to be submitted to the league’s Manhattan office by 3:00 p.m. As that hour approached fans and pundits alike took to social media to ponder and parse the latest rumors, with little regard for the reliability of their sources.

With just over two dozen regular season games to play, this was the last chance for teams to refine their rosters in a significant way. Which franchises would be buyers and go all in on their drive for a championship? Which would be sellers and surrender any remaining hopes for the present in return for the building blocks of future greatness?

It was a feeding frenzy of speculation and wishful thinking. Would Knicks president Phil Jackson unload Carmelo Anthony, and would New York’s one legitimate star player agree to waive his no-trade clause? Would the Cavaliers respond to LeBron James’s pointed comments over the past few weeks and bring in reinforcements for the stretch run? Would Danny Ainge surrender some of the three thousand or so draft picks he has stockpiled for the Celtics in order to acquire a high-profile star that would make Boston truly competitive with Cleveland in the Eastern Conference? Had Jimmy Butler played his last game for the Bulls? Was Paul George on the move from the Pacers? If so, he was definitely going to the Celtics. Except that he was just as definitely headed to the opposite coast to join the Lakers.

But as morning yielded to noon, and then as noon became two o’clock, and finally as the last hour before the deadline passed, the frantic tweets and posts did not give way to news of blockbuster deals reshaping the playoff races. The most frequently discussed players all stayed put. The few deadline day deals that were consummated were modest in scope. And as so often happens when hype outruns reality, NBA fans and the scribes who cover the league were left wondering just what all the fuss had been about.

As much as he might want to given their obviously fractured relationship, the likelihood of Jackson being able to find a new home for Anthony was always remote. The 32-year old has two years and more than $54 million left on his current contract. Those are both numbers that limit Anthony’s appeal to other franchises. Given his ability to veto any trade, probably the only landing viable landing spot was Cleveland if one assumes Anthony would leap at the chance to compete for a title. But the Cavaliers never showed much interest in making a deal with the Knicks.

For that matter, Cleveland never showed much interest in making any deal prior to the trade deadline. However no one should take that as a sign of waning influence by James, who has expressed his belief that the Cavaliers need a playmaker to improve their chances of holding on to the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Late Thursday afternoon the Dallas Mavericks announced they had released point guard Deron Williams. It’s widely believed that the third overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft will sign with Cleveland as soon as he clears waivers.

The Celtics were rumored to be in the mix for both Butler and George, and supposedly were willing to include the 2017 first round pick they acquired from Brooklyn in the trade that sent Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Nets four years ago. With just nine wins to date the Nets are headed for the draft lottery, most likely as the number one seed. That will mean a twenty-five percent chance the pick Boston has the rights to will be first overall; and it can be no worse than fourth. But despite that considerable carrot, other teams apparently wanted even more. After the deadline passed Ainge said in an interview on the team’s website that “we didn’t feel like there were any good deals.”

The biggest trade was made last weekend, before the deadline hysteria had a chance to get ramped up, when the Sacramento Kings sent DeMarcus Cousins and Omri Casspi to New Orleans for three players and a pair of draft picks. The trade gives the Pelicans two All-Star big men in Cousins and Anthony Davis. It’s an absurdly one-sided deal that greatly improves New Orleans while ensuring more seasons of misery in Sacramento. USA Today rated it the sixth worst superstar trade in NBA history, while Sports on Earth ranked it the second most lopsided NBA trade in the past fifteen years.

Yet even this one big deal may not change the overall complexion of this season. New Orleans should be a much better team over its final twenty-five games, and it’s even conceivable that the Pelicans new size could match up well against the small ball of the Golden State Warriors in a playoff series. But first Cousins and Davis have to mesh, and then New Orleans has to make up ground quickly. As play resumes after the All-Star break the Pelicans are eleven games under .500, in eleventh place in the Western Conference. It may not take a .500 record to claim the eighth and final playoff spot in either conference, but New Orleans still has to pass at least three teams, or their two stars will get an early start on summer.

Which is to say that after all the frenzy around this year’s trade deadline, the NBA after it looks a lot like it did before. Cleveland still rules the East, Golden State and San Antonio remain the class of the West. Houston, Boston and surprising Washington are very good but still a rung below the leaders, and until they prove otherwise everyone else is just part of the chorus. And of course, to the consternation of Knicks fans and the delight of everyone else, the soap opera at Madison Square Garden continues.

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