Written by Ayotunde Onabolu

Heading towards the trade deadline, the major talk around the NBA was whether the New Orleans Pelicans would bow to the enormous offer made by the Los Angeles Lakers for the want-away star, Anthony Davis. But as deadline day approached, two things became quite apparent—the Lakers were not going to put their entire team up just to trade for Davis whom they could still make an offer for when trade talks resume on July 1. 

The race for the Eastern Conference title and a chance to face perhaps the Golden State Warriors in the 2019 NBA Finals just got more exciting and intriguing with the trades the major East teams made.

The first team to make a statement trade, without question, was the Philadelphia 76ers. Elton Brand absolutely got this one spot on! When the 76ers traded Dario Saric, Robert Covington and Jerryd Bayless for Jimmy Butler in November, a lot of people thought they gave away too much for a player who could as well become a rental service since he becomes a free agent at the end of this season. The team had a better idea—Tobias Harris!

Look, Harris is playing the best basketball of his life, and when the Los Angeles Clippers led the Western Conference standings earlier on in the season, much of it was due to the very impressive nightly performances by the 26-year-old forward from the University of Tennessee. So far, Harris is averaging 20.9 points and 7.9 rebounds per game, shooting 49.6 percent from the floor and 43.4 percent from three-point territory—all numbers career highs for him.

Adding Harris to a solid starting lineup that already has Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons—2019 NBA All-Stars—and Butler, a four-time All-Star—only makes the 76ers way more solid than ever. Also, the other two pieces the 76ers got from the deal with the Clippers are valuable upgrades to the bench, compared to what they had to let go of. 7-foot-3 center Boban Marjanovic is a welcome backup for Embiid, while Mike Scott is a tested and trusted stretch-big. Compare the three new additions to the three subtractions—Wilson Chandler, Landry Shamet and Mike Muscala, and there could not be much argument that the 76ers got a lot better than they were before the trade deadline.

The most exciting part of this trade is that there are talks from the front office of the 76ers that there are plans to keep the four major pieces of the team—Embiid, Simmons, Butler and Harris—for a long time in what they have called their own Big-Four. Oh, didn’t they add to their bench James Ennis—a good 3-and-D player from Houston?

Exciting times lie ahead for Philly!

In what seemed like a reaction to the moves made by the 76ers, the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks acquired Nikola Mirotic from the Pelicans in a three-player deal involving Jason Smith and Stanley Johnson who headed the opposite direction.

Why is this move great for the Bucks? Well, Mirotic is averaging career highs in points (16.7) and rebounds (8.3) and is nailing 2.7 threes a game (ninth in the NBA) at a decent 37 percent clip. The Bucks are having a very productive year offensively. Their 117.8 points per game ranks only behind the Warriors; their 26.5 assists a game ranks fifth in the league and their 48.2 field goal percentage ranks second only behind the Warriors. 

It gets more interesting.

The Bucks are making 13.3 threes a game behind only the Houston Rockets. Adding Mirotic to this team will further provide floor spacing and stretching, and with Giannis Antetokounmpo playing at an MVP level, the Bucks’ three-point shooting will only get better. The Bucks are the leading rebounding team in the league and as such, Mirotic, a proper rebounder for his size, will only make them better.

The Toronto Raptors left it late, but for good reason. They added a three-time All-Star, two-time All-NBA selection and former Defensive Player of the Year—Marc Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, CJ Miles, and a 2024 second round draft pick.

Gasol is 34 years old and definitely on the downward curve of his career, but he is averaging 15.7 points, 8.6 rebounds and a career-high 4.7 assists per game. Gasol is an excellent passing big man, second only to Denver’s Nikola Jokic in assists per game among centers. Gasol also remains a defensive force down-low.

It is left to be seen what sort of role he will play in Toronto’s rotation especially with Serge Ibaka starting more games at center and Pascal Siakam continuing to establish himself firmly as a top contender for the Most Improved Player award, but better believe that a 34-year-old who logged 33.7 minutes a game for the Grizzlies has more than enough to offer the Raptors.

The Boston Celtics did not make any trade deals before the trade deadline, but they really did not have to. Their team is as solid as you could expect a title contender to be with incredible talents like Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Jason Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Morris, Marcus Smart and of course Gordon Hayward who seems to be content providing a spark off the bench, among others. They made it to the Eastern Conference Finals last year without Irving and Hayward and still pushed LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games, losing Game 7 mainly because their three-point shots were not falling.

Who knows what could have been if Irving and Hayward were healthy? And although they have struggled at times this season, it will be absolutely ridiculous to write them off. Some teams just know how to ramp up their game when it matters the most and the Celtics somehow seem like one of those teams.

Just close your eyes for a second and think about the fact that the Bucks, Raptors, Celtics, 76ers, and of course the Indiana Pacers—who seemed out of sorts after losing star man Victor Oladipo to a season-ending injury, but have somehow suddenly rediscovered their mojo—are locked in a 5-way battle for the conference title. This means if these five teams finish as the top five seeds in East in any order, then there is a potential for a ridiculous four seed versus five seed in the very first round! 

Think for a second about a first-round playoff series involving any two of these five teams! Sheesh!

LeBron, the dominant factor in the East for several years is now a Laker—no guarantee that he will continue his consecutive conference finals dominance in the West—and that means the battle for supremacy in the East this year could become one of the toughest conference battles in a long time. 

Photo - Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images


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