The Spurs had a quiet trade deadline, as is their tradition. Gregg Popovich telegraphed the front office’s intention on not making a move when he basically outright told reporters on Wednesday that he wasn’t expecting any trades. Save for some fringe addition in the buyout market, San Antonio’s roster will remain the same for the rest of the year.
Yet there’s a case to be made that after Thursday, the team’s chances of making the playoffs have actually gotten better. The moves that did happen and the ones that didn’t elsewhere in the conference have, at least in theory, made the Spurs’ path to the postseason a little easier.
Anthony Davis’ trade request loomed large over the league. The Pelicans were already essentially out of the playoff hunt, but any Western team that landed The Brow would have immediately improve exponentially. The Lakers, currently boasting the conference’s 10th best record, would have had to be penciled in for one of the top eight spots had they landed Davis, like they seemed they would. The Clippers, currently sitting at eighth, would have surely leapfrogged San Antonio had they used all the assets they landed in the days leading up to Thursday to make a surprise trade for the best big man in the league. Fortunately those moves didn’t happen. The Lakers just made tweaks around the fringes that should improve their roster, but might face chemistry issues after such a publicized pursuit of Davis. The Clippers might still have enough depth to hold on to that last playoff spot, but a surge seems unlikely with so many new faces.
Other than Davis, the two biggest names available were Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. The Jazz, currently seventh in the conference, reportedly tried to trade for Conley in a move that would have undoubtedly made them better. As good as Ricky Rubio is at certain things, his inability to score efficiently and consistently really limits his impact. Conley would have absolutely helped in that department while also providing the ball handling and defense Rubio offers. A deal made a lot of sense but apparently Conley helped prevent it by making his displeasure with landing in Utah known. As for Gasol, he’s now in the Eastern Conference making an already scary Raptors team deeper and more versatile. The same goes for former Pelican Nikola Mirotic, who is now with the Bucks. Meanwhile, some other quality players who could have elevated Western squads, like Otto Porter and Trevor Ariza, stayed back East.
There were some deals that actually made Western teams better, but none that were huge. The Rockets saved themselves some money while adding veteran Iman Shumpert, but that’s not a trade that will move the needle for them. The Mavericks added a star in Kristaps Porzingis but will have to probably wait until next season to see him in action after he recovers from injury. They also had to dismantle their roster to position themselves to be players in free agency next summer at the expense of punting this season despite being four games away from the eighth seed. Arguably the biggest addition among the franchises looking to get to the postseason this year in the West was Harrison Barnes, traded to a Kings team that lacked a traditional wing. Yet it remains to be seen how big of an impact he makes now that he seems better suited to play power forward and whether him taking minutes away from Bogdan Bogdanovic and Nemanja Bjelica proves to actually be a net positive.
The Spurs didn’t get better at the deadline, but there’s a case to be made that neither did most of the teams in the West. While the arms race on the East escalated, the other conference saw the top three teams not making significant moves, the fourth and fifth making tweaks and only one bubble team adding a starter in a position of need. Some franchises simply decided to get ready for a free agency push next season while others couldn’t swing the deals they were hoping for. Whether it was the Pelicans holding off on trading Davis potentially out of pettiness, or Conley doing his best to block a trade to a place he didn’t want to land, circumstances conspired to weaken the bottom half of a Western conference, which at one point had 14 teams fighting for a spot in the postseason. After Thursday, we might have settled into a more familiar nine or 10 team race.
Anyone hoping San Antonio would make a splash has to be understandably disappointed, yet will probably find it hard to stay mad at the front office after looking at the big picture. While it’s always exciting to dream about big additions, the Spurs have their core in place, and it would have been hard for them to make a trade while balancing their parallel goals of remaining competitive while reloading through the draft. Had the rest of the West made upgrades, they would have been almost forced to do so themselves, but fortunately that didn’t happen.
The trade deadline came and went without much fanfare in San Antonio. The Spurs got to stay the course while also improving their chances of making the playoffs. It wasn’t the most exciting of times, but things turned out fine for the Silver and Black, which is all that matters.