BY: KWAME FISHER-JONES
When the 2016 – 2017 NBA season commenced it appeared to be a mere formality to yet another Cavaliers v. Warriors NBA Finals contest, their third straight. The most recent flurry of trade and buyout movement confirms that opposing General Managers not only agree, but appear to have willingly accepted such declarations.
Does anyone believe that by simply inquiring about the availability of an All-Star or by trading for non-All-Stars, the goal of stifling Golden State or Cleveland was successful? In a word, NO!!!! Whether opposing GMs were incapable or are incompetent, the lack of significant movement was startling.
In the Eastern Conference the Cleveland Cavaliers rest atop the playoff standings and a possible first round series against the Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat or Detroit Pistons should not strike fear in the hearts of Cleveland fans. Indiana has Paul George and Myles Turner, Jr, Miami has Hassan Whiteside and Detroit brings Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson to battle, but those individuals are not good enough to defeat the best team in the East. Their decision to stand pat, makes sense because those three are not yet ready to compete for a title.
The Boston Celtics are the second seed, and elected not to make a final push to add Paul George or the Chicago Bulls’ Jimmy Butler. The Celtics current roster is in desperate need of a second scorer, and General Manager Danny Ainge’s decision to stand pat rather than be “given” yet another All-Star should upset Celtic fans. Ainge was armed with draft picks and players, but without Kevin McHale on the other end the former shooter became gun shy and refused to pull the trigger. That hesitation may end up being the main reason Boston never even makes it to face the Cavs.
However, the Washington Wizards adding forward Bojan Bogdanovic will undoubtedly help bolster their group to the Eastern Conference Finals. But that acquisition did not springboard Washington over Cleveland. The major shakeup came courtesy of the Toronto Raptors bringing in Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker. To some these were significant moves, but Ibaka is more name these days then game. In his one game against the Cavs, Ibaka dropped 19, but failed to register a block and his defense is why he was brought to Toronto. The forward will be asked to provide shot-blocking and overall defensive punch to a Raptors club looking to knock off the defending champs. With the injury to starting point guard Kyle Lowry, the addition of Tucker should keep “the North” afloat. P.J. is solid all around but is of little consequence against the likes of Kyrie Irving and that will be an issue.
The Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls were rumored to be buyers at the trade deadline, but in the end nothing came to fruition. The Bulls tried to add Patrick Beverley and Marcus Smart, while the Hawks also tried to pry Paul George loose. In the end, the addition of Ersan Ilyasova in Atlanta and another point guard (Cameron Payne) in Chicago will not provide the necessary jolt to shake-up the Cavaliers.
The Western Conference saw much bigger names get moved, none bigger than former Sacramento King and current New Orleans Pelican DeMarcus Cousins. New Orleans gave up rookie Buddy Hield and former King turned current King Tyreke Evans all for the services of Cousins. Oddly enough, if Cousins lands on any team in the Eastern Conference he would have been a game-changer, but in the Western Conference the acquisition barely moves the needle.
The Pelicans are making a playoff push and adding Cousins should help……………….next year. This year New Orleans is currently three games out of the eighth and final spot. So the Pelicans would have to jump over four teams to grab the eighth seed. That is difficult enough without implementing one of the league’s premier talents and ball-hoggers. It is more likely the Denver Nuggets, or even the Sacramento Kings (who are just one game behind the eighth seeded Nuggets) make the playoffs in that final spot. The Nuggets adding center Roy Hibbert notwithstanding, the Golden State Warriors should make short order of any of these three regardless who “wins” the final playoff spot.
Golden State received the gift of complacency from the Utah Jazz, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, and Memphis Grizzlies. These teams decided their combined record of 3 – 7 against the Warriors was sufficient enough heading to the playoffs. The Clippers (0 – 4) and Jazz (0 – 2) have not beaten Golden State all season, so their lack of aggression is very peculiar.
The same thing cannot be said for the Houston Rockets or the Oklahoma City Thunder. Houston refused to part with the aforementioned Beverley, but did come away with another bona fide scorer in Lou Williams. In three games against the Warriors the guard is averaging 16.3 points, which is two full points below his season average of 18.7. The Rockets addition of Williams to a second unit that already features Eric Gordon will be fun to watch. The question is will it be enough to unseat the Dubs, and the answer is a resounding “nah”. Golden State will muster up enough defense to stop a blistering Houston offense.
Meanwhile, the Thunder looked poised for an eventual first round exit before the trade deadline. Now with forwards Doug McDermott and Taj Gibson in house anything short of the second round would be an epic failure. Nevertheless, with the goal being to overtake the Warriors can anyone suggest that Williams or the combination of McDermott/Gibson is enough to accomplish that goal.
In fact, this month’s trade activity did nothing more than illustrate just how far behind the teams in each conference were from superseding the Cavs and Warriors. Yes, the moves provided entertainment but as for creating a viable option to Golden State v. Cleveland part three no squad believed in themselves or their components enough to pursue such a feat.
Before anyone can blame another player or agent for constructing yet again a “super team” they must first blame the assortment of league GMs who have somehow habitually mistake activity for achievement. In the end, we will be watching the third installment of a match-up against two teams who were talented enough to make it to the Finals, but more importantly fearless enough to pursue it.