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A fresh look at the post-trade deadline Western Conference

Despite a major shakeup at the trade deadline, the state of the league is roughly the same.

Dallas Mavericks v LA Clippers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

Shortly after we passed the one-third mark of this NBA season, I wrote a piece entitled “ A look around the NBA one-third of the way through the season”. Pretty clever title, right? Even more clever, and prescient, was the sub-headline: ”A race to the bottom, the boring East, and chaos in the West.” Remarkably, that sub-headline applies just as well right now, as most teams are right at the two-thirds mark of their seasons. To pick a team at random, the Spurs’ Saturday night game will be their 57th of the 82 game season. If you do the math, that is just over 67% of the season. Indeed, that is just over 67% of their season even if you don’t do the math. Funny how that works.

At this point in the season, the “race to the bottom” has crystalized with only four teams realistically chasing the coveted bottom three spots, where each will have the highest odds (14%) for making a French Connection. The “loser” of that four team race to the bottom will have 12.5% odds. As of Saturday morning, the Spurs, Houston, Charlotte and Detroit had either 14 or 15 wins (good loss by the Spurs Friday night, falling to the Pistons). The fifth lowest total of wins is Orlando with 23. Methinks none of the Bottom Four will make up that spread in their remaining twenty-plus games, especially because the Magic are actually pretty good by “bottom of the NBA” standards. Remarkably, one of the teams with the next fewest wins is the Los Angeles Lakers, with only 25.

The “boring East” part of my one-third article remains true today. Boston and Milwaukie remain at the top of the conference, just as they were at the one-third mark. Two teams who can threaten the top two, Philadelphia and Cleveland, remain just few games back and seem likely to remain in those spots, especially because the team presently in the 5 spot, the Brooklyn Nets, just traded away two players you may have heard of: Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. My buddy Steve, who opened up his church gym Saturday morning so we could both get up about 500 shots (each), had a great line about KD:

“Kevin Durant’s theme song was written by U2 — “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”.

The other Lopez brother also had a great tweet about the break-up of the Nets:

Another funny thing about the Nets: The night after the trade deadline, the KD and Kyrie-less Nets won. Because they don’t have their first round pick this year, they might as well keep winning, even when no one expects them too. Another interesting fact about that night’s games was provided my friend Marc, who was also the big winner in Friday night’s poker game:

There were four basketball games in the NBA Thursday night.

The winning teams’ scores were





The losing teams’ scores were





But now let’s get to the final part of the headline from my one-third of the season piece: Chaos in the West. As one NBA insider was quoted: “The demise of the Nets just made the West a lot tougher. The LA Times reported that “Four league insiders .. believed nearly every Finals aspirant in the West had improved, intensifying the playoff fights to come in the spring”. I agree.

At the one-third pole, Memphis was in first place, New Orleans in second. 27% of Pounders picked the Grizzlies to come out of the West, while 22% picked the Pelicans. Memphis has now fallen to second, while the Pelicans have fallen to 7th. Remarkably, the Sacramento Kings, who exactly 1% of Pounders in our previous poll thought would win the West, are now in third place. But it is the two teams right behind them who made the biggest moves, so let’s spend a minute on each.

The Dallas Mavericks have a ball-dominant great player (Luca Doncic) and just picked up another possibly redundant ball dominant great offensive player (Kyrie). Unfortunately, while the Mavs now have redundant talents when they have the ball, I don’t see a world in which Kyrie improves the Mavs’ below-average defense. That being said, the Mavs were not a serious title threat with their present squad, and sometimes a team needs to roll the dice. I just don’t know if I would have rolled the dice on a player and person like Kyrie, who many have described as the worst teammate in the league. While that may be a bit harsh, the guy did quit on his last three teams.

The Suns are much more of a threat to go far in the playoffs. They too may have felt the need to roll the dice, with the Chris Paul window closing and the team limping along just above .500 with various injuries. Of course, they just traded for a guy who is himself injured, and has played only 90 games total in the two previous seasons. That being said, KD is truly a great player, and IF he can stay healthy through the playoffs, he makes the Suns a legitimate contender.

However, a few words of caution. First, putting together a great basketball team on paper is much different than doing so on the court. With only a third of the season left, and KD still out with injury, the Suns have very few games before the playoffs to coalesce as a unit. They are also six games out of second place, so they will face a difficult first round match-up (Clippers, perhaps) and then will likely be on the road for the next two rounds in the West, and in the Finals if they get there. Second, despite the excitement of a trade deadline in which almost 10% (!!!) of the league’s players were on the move, trade deadline deals rarely lead to an NBA championship — likely because of the difficulty of learning to play together on the fly. Zach Kram of the Ringer had this great analysis:

“The NBA trade deadline is not, however, typically a difference maker in the title race. This century, only four of 23 championship teams (17 percent) have added a player via in-season trade who went on to average at least 20 minutes per playoff game:

  • 2021 Bucks, with P.J. Tucker
  • 2019 Raptors, with Marc Gasol
  • 2005 Spurs, with Nazr Mohammed
  • 2004 Pistons, with Rasheed Wallace”

Based on all of this, I don’t think I would pick the Suns to come out of the West. Instead, I would pick the Nuggets, who have a nine-game lead on the Suns at the moment, and a 3 1/2 game lead on Memphis. The Nuggets also made the type of under-the-radar move much more similar to the four teams listed above — especially the 2005 Spurs example. By picking up Thomas Bryant from the Lakers at the deadline, they now have a legitimate back-up center who can help the Nuggets survive the 10-15 minutes per game that Nikola Jokic is not on the floor. The Nuggets have been plus 14.7 per 100 possessions with Joker on the floor, and minus 11.5 per 100 when he sits — the biggest spread in the league. Replacing those minutes (largely taken by DeAndre Jordan) with someone who should not have retired two years ago should make a huge difference.

However, Las Vegas disagrees, as it has boosted the Suns into the second best odds to win it all, behind only the Celtics. What do you think?


Who will win the Western Conference?

This poll is closed

  • 44%
    Denver Nuggets
    (134 votes)
  • 18%
    Phoenix Suns
    (57 votes)
  • 13%
    Memphis Grizzlies
    (40 votes)
  • 7%
    Sacramento Kings
    (22 votes)
  • 4%
    Dallas Mavericks
    (13 votes)
  • 1%
    Los Angeles Clippers
    (4 votes)
  • 7%
    Golden State Warriors
    (24 votes)
  • 0%
    New Orleans Pelicans
    (0 votes)
  • 1%
    Minnesota Timberwolves
    (5 votes)
  • 0%
    (3 votes)
302 votes total Vote Now