The Eastern Conference has been dogshit since I started watching basketball, and though the conference’s 2019 Finals participant will surely be skiing uphill in pursuit of a title, the three most significant trades of deadline week all featured Eastern Conference teams getting better by acquiring players from the West. This won’t make, say, the Hornets or Knicks or Pistons any less trash, but it means that the second round and beyond of the playoffs will be far more entertaining than it’s been in a long time.
Philly, of course, traded for Tobias Harris yesterday, and it’s hard not to consider them the favorite in the East right now. They aren’t as deep as they were a week ago, but rotations shorten in the playoffs anyway, and they have the best starting five in the conference. Even better, they managed to upgrade Markelle Fultz to Jonathon Simmons today. Simmons isn’t a name, and he plays for the NBA’s most hopeless team, but he had a few good years with the Spurs. Most crucially, he brings Not Being Markelle Fultz to the table.
Elsewhere, Milwaukee turned Thon Maker into Stanley Johnson into Nikola Mirotic, an absolutely perfect fit in their “three-point shooters and Giannis only” offense. Mirotic is good as hell and he shoots a million threes. You may recall him sparking the Pelicans to a hot finish and a first-round sweep last year!
The Grizzlies decided to hold onto Mike Conley after reportedly floating him for weeks. However, they did send Marc Gasol to Toronto.
One of the defining strengths of the Raptors has been their impressive depth, though it’s also become painfully apparent over the last few seasons is that having a real solid ninth man means nothing in the playoffs. Gasol has declined this year, so this one’s a risk, but he’s a good enough passer and shooter that he’ll fit in with the team. Also, he’s still been a very good defender this year, and I can’t wait to watch him fight Joel Embiid. Boston didn’t make a trade, but Anthony Davis is not a Laker, so that’s a win for them.
These sorts of arms-race trades used to be more or less confined to the Western Conference while everyone in the East was consigned to waiting out LeBron. This is the first time in almost a decade that the the race for the conference title actually feels wide open, and it’s cool to see the best teams in the East truly committing to winning that race. There may be nothing but a five-game sweep at the hands of the Warriors waiting for whoever wins it, but there will be some great basketball to watch in the meantime.