Around this time, NBA fans aren’t just looking at their own team, but the teams surrounding them in the standings.
This season, there are a number of squads neck-and-neck with the Heat for the final three slots in the Eastern Conference playoffs. But did the trade deadline help or hurt that team’s chances of grabbing a playoff spot?
We know Miami used the deadline as a time to shed some salary, sending Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington to Phoenix while taking on Ryan Anderson’s contract. The deal didn’t necessarily make the team any better, having gone 1-3 since the deadline, but it did help them financially toward the future while adding another big shooter that we know the Heat love.
Let’s take a look at five squads hovering around Miami’s neighborhood in the standings to discover which teams to look out for as we hit the final stretch of the 2018-19 regular season.
Orlando Magic (27-32, .5 games out from the 8th seed)
Record Since Trade Deadline: (5-0)
The Magic easily made one of the most intriguing last-minute deals by ending the rocky relationship between the Philadelphia 76ers and second-year guard Markelle Fultz. The 2018 No. 1 overall pick was never the right fix for the 76ers timeline, and that became even more clear as the team traded for top-tier commodities to challenge for the Eastern Conference throne this year.
Fultz needed a fresh start in a smaller market where the spotlight wasn’t so frickin’ bright, and he got it.
But does this make the Magic better right now? Pretty obviously, the answer is no.
Instead of looking ahead and beginning a full rebuild, or landing a trade target that could’ve helped separate them among the East’s middling teams, the Magic remained firm with the current group in hopes that a new floor general can propel them to new heights in the future.
Fultz is still nursing an injury that has held him to just 19 games in his sophomore campaign, and there’s not much confidence that he’ll be ready to hit the court again this season.
Right now, Orlando is utilizing DJ Augustin at the lead point guard, with Jerian Grant and Isaiah Briscoe in as a rotation backups. Next year, adding Fultz to the mix will create tons of intrigue going into the 2019-20 season.
The Magic made a move for the future while remaining with this year’s nucleus that is fighting for that final spot in the East. Orlando has won seven of their last eight games and haven’t lost since the deadline passed. Jonathon Simmons – who the Magic sent to Philly, along with a future 1st and 2nd round pick – was shooting less than 37 percent from the floor and maintained a PER of just 7.5. They won’t miss him that much.
Verdict (Help or Hurt): No Change
Washington Wizards (24-34, 3 games out from the 8th seed)
Record Since the Trade Deadline: (2-2)
Some have been calling for the Wizards to slam that reset button.
Instead, the Wizards shaved off a large contract while getting back two assets that could help them get back into the playoff race.
While Porter was valuable to the ‘Zards for his defensive prowess and consistent outside shot (38.2 percent), his contract inflates to $27 million next season, and $28 million the season after that.
Of the two players they received in return, Portis seems to be the most intriguing prospect. Parker is a great scorer but struggles mightily on defense. Portis, on the other hand, was enjoying a career season in Chicago, with averages of 14.6 points, 7.5 rebounds, and a 3-point success rate of nearly 38 percent.
Through four games in a Washington uniform, the 24-year-old is averaging 19 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2 assists.
That’s pretty dang good.
Parker hasn’t looked bad as an energizing scorer off the bench, pouring in 12.3 points and 7.5 rebounds on 51.3 percent shooting.
Washington also got rid of Markieff Morris in a deal with the New Orleans Pelicans for Wesley Johnson. While Johnson might’ve not been considered an asset when the deal happened, a 14-point-performance last Saturday against Chicago might encourage fans still desperate to see their team in the playoffs.
So yes, the Wizards may have gotten rid of one of their best young players, but they gave themselves some financial breathing room while adding assets that will keep them within striking distance of a berth down the stretch.
Detroit Pistons (26-30, currently the 8th seed)
Record Since the Trade Deadline: (2-1)
Blake Griffin has been outstanding while in a Pistons uniform. But ever since he’s arrived to the Motor City a year ago, there’s been a question about the talent that Detroit’s front office has surrounded him with.
At this year’s trade deadline, you’d have to think the goal was to get some better players around Griffin, improving their chances to grab a playoff spot and put up a good fight in the first round.
That is not what the Pistons did.
They sent one of their better role players in Reggie Bullock to the Los Angeles Lakers for rookie Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and a 2nd round pick. They also sent forward Stanley Johnson to Milwaukee (who was traded the next day to New Orleans) for center Thon Maker.
Both are intriguing prospects to worth longer looks than they got on their previous teams, but will they provide more production now than Bullock? The 27-year-old was averaging a career-best 12.1 points per game while shooting 38.8 percent from beyond the arc.
Mykhailiuk has barely seen the floor for long spurts and provided inconsistent minutes when he did wear the purple and gold.
So far, the 21-year-old guard has played in one game for Detroit, taking the court for 9 minutes and scoring three points.
Thon Maker saw a minute decrease as Milwaukee added more frontcourt options last offseason, and the emergence of DJ Wilson as a versatile forward took away even more minutes for the. In three appearances for Detroit thus far, Maker is shooting a paltry 27.3 percent and averaging less than 14 minutes per game.
I’m sure the Pistons wanted to swing bigger than this before last Thursday’s deadline.
Charlotte Hornets (27-30, currently the 7th seed)
Record Since the Trade Deadline: (1-2)
This obviously means that this team was not helped or hurt at the deadline, but the front office should be biting their nails that this team does something in the playoffs, if they can make it there.
Kemba Walker has previously stated that he wants to remain in Charlotte for his career, but that can change in the blink of an eye when he comes to realize that the management has done nothing to provide him with a team worthy of more than a first-round exit.
This was their chance to get Walker a dancing mate, or at least some more weapons to improve the depth of the team. They failed, and now their backs might be against the wall.
If Walker doesn’t resign with the Hornets this summer, they will be forced into a full-blown rebuild.
Verdict: No Change (But it could hurt long term…)
Brooklyn Nets (30-29, currently the 6th seed)
Record Since the Trade Deadline: (1-2)
Technically, the Nets did SOMETHING before the trade deadline. They received Greg Monroe from the Toronto Raptors for cash considerations.
Nobody knows when cash considerations will suit up for Toronto, and Brooklyn almost immediately waived Monroe, making him a free agent.
The Nets didn’t have to make a deal, though. They came into the season with low expectations league-wide and have already beaten those predictions by remaining within the playoff picture for multiple weeks.
Brooklyn is 22-11 since Dec. 11, and impressive feat to say the least.
Now, waiting to get healthy might be Brooklyn’s best option. Allen Crabbe is back in the rotation, Caris LeVert miraculously returned from a nasty leg injury last Saturday, and Spencer Dinwiddie will return from thumb surgery sometime before the playoffs.
This team has become exciting to watch and keeping them intact was a smart move by upper management.
Verdict: No Change