Who is the best team in the East?
I don’t know.
And neither does Vegas.
After last week’s trade deadline saw an, Vegas oddsmakers gave each of the top four teams in the East the exact same odds of winning the 2019 NBA title, at 10/1.
Every team in the East’s top tier, other than the Boston Celtics, , and the Celtics’ future got brighter when the trade deadline passed without Anthony Davis getting dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers. The Milwaukee Bucks found the perfect addition to their system by dealing for Nikola Mirotic and giving up very little in the process. The Toronto Raptors added a versatile stud big man in Marc Gasol who gives them an ace defender should they have to go against Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Speaking of the 76ers, they went for it, eschewed the patient approach that marked the past several years of The Process and gave up a lot — a LOT — to get Tobias Harris. That gives the Sixers almost certainly the second-best starting five in the NBA.
Who is the best in the East after the trade deadline?
I have no idea. Neither do you.
Push comes to shove? I’d pick the Raptors. Probably. After that, I’d slot in the Bucks, then the Sixers, then the Celtics. But it’s hard to even slide a piece of paper between any of these teams after that crazy arms race.
In this week’s Power Rankings we dive into how each team changed — or didn’t — after the trade deadline.
|The Warriors stood pat at the trade deadline, but they won a little win when the Lakers didn’t get Anthony Davis. (What NBA team, other than a team that includes two of the top three vote-getters in last year’s MVP race, could upset a healthy Warriors team in the Western Conference playoffs?) The Warriors look great. But you already knew that. The only thing that could stop them from going on a 25-game winning streak after the All-Star break is that they know only the playoffs matter.||—||40-15|
|The Bucks made one of the most impactful moves at the trade deadline, basically flipping Thon Maker and a handful of second-rounders for Nikola Mirotic, an absolute bomber who plays perfectly into the Bucks’ spread-the-floor-for-Giannis system. I don’t know who is going to be at the top of the East when all is said and done. (The latest Vegas odds give the same chances for the top four teams in the East.) But you can certainly make a case that this move by the already-awesome Bucks vaulted them to the top of the conversation.||—||41-14|
|Another gutsy move in the Eastern Conference arms race came from the Raptors, who added Marc Gasol for Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, C.J. Miles and a future second. (They also traded away Greg Monroe.) Big-time move by Masai Ujiri, who confirmed that he’s all-in on the 2019 playoffs. The Eastern Conference semifinals and finals are going to be bonkers.||—||41-16|
|Don’t be mistaken: The Sixers got a great player in Tobias Harris. He’s the type who doesn’t need the ball in his hands at all times, unlike the 76ers’ already-existing Big Three of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler. But they gave up a ton to go all-in on this season. They traded away two first-rounders (including what could potentially be a very valuable unprotected pick from Miami in 2021), two second-rounders, the pleasantly surprising rookie Landry Shamet, as well as Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala. If you’re grading this trade, the correct answer is “incomplete.” If the Sixers make the Finals this season, OK, great — after years of patience under The Process, they went for it and they got it. Even then, they’ll still have two of their top four stars going into unrestricted free agency. The Sixers could lose both Harris and Butler this offseason. This is either a gutsy, all-in move or an astounding lack of patience for a young, building team. We’ll see.||2||36-20|
|The Nuggets, who’ve lost three in a row, didn’t make a move at the trade deadline. Instead they will try to see what the second-youngest roster in the NBA can do come playoff time. I like this strategy. This team is so deep and so young, and they’ll have plenty of assets moving forward. Now they can evaluate how postseason-ready this group is, and then tinker with the roster in the offseason.||1||37-18|
|The Thunder didn’t do much at the trade deadline, essentially giving away Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot to save a bunch of cash on their luxury tax bill, and then waiving Alex Abrines. It will be interesting to see what the Thunder do on the buyout market; two potentially great fits already went elsewhere, with Wayne Ellington going to the Pistons and Wesley Matthews to the Pacers.||1||36-19|
|Drama revealing itself again in Boston, after the Celtics blew a 28-point lead (!) on Saturday against the Clippers. “Even when we’re winning, it’s still not fun,” Marcus Morris said after that loss. “I just don’t see the joy in the game … When I look at us, I just see a bunch of individuals.” Whew. Those are strong words, and not particularly surprising, given the low-level sniping and drama and chemistry issues surrounding this Celtics team. They also lost Kyrie Irving to a knee sprain in that game. That’s … certainly not a good thing.||2||35-21|
|I would have loved the Mike-Conley-to-Utah trade to be consummated. Conley would have been exactly what this team needed. But I also understand if the Jazz didn’t want to overpay in a trade for a 31-year-old player with Conley’s injury history. I can also see the Jazz — 14-4 since New Year’s Day — wanting to run with what they got.||2||32-24|
|One season after the Rockets came this close to upsetting the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals, owner Tilman Fertitta has decided exactly how important it is to save luxury-tax money. This is, quite simply, bad ownership. Not only did the Rockets not sign Trevor Ariza in the offseason when they easily could have. They also traded away a bunch of picks to shed some big salaries at the trade deadline. They got Iman Shumpert, which is not nothing — he’s been a great comeback story for the Kings this year — but Iman Shumpert is hardly enough to get this team to the Warriors’ level. You can still make a case that, whenever Clint Capela comes back, the Rockets are still the best-positioned team in the West to upset the Warriors. (I certainly wouldn’t make that case … but you can.) This is a markedly worse team than a season ago.||1||32-23|
|I thought the Blazers made a couple of nice low-key moves last week, getting Rodney Hood, a valuable scoring option, for two second-rounders and some flotsam, and then flipping Caleb Swanigan for Skal Labissiere, who I’m still a believer in, reality be damned. These weren’t exactly needle-moving moves, to be sure. The Blazers didn’t make the splash they needed to make if they want to be considered the second-best team in the West after the Warriors. But they did what they could.||1||33-22|
|The Pacers have won five in a row since initially losing four straight following Victor Oladipo’s injury — albeit during a relatively easy stretch in the schedule. I don’t get it either, you guys. Then, after no moves of consequence at the deadline, they made a really nice acquisition in the buyout market in signing Wesley Matthews. I can’t see any scenario where the Pacers make it out of the first round — which is too bad, because a Pacers team with a healthy Victor Oladipo would be a tough first-round out.||2||37-19|
|Four road losses in a row for the Spurs, who, true to form, did nothing at the deadline. What’s the ceiling for this team, which is ranked 23rd in the NBA in defensive efficiency, the worst defensive group Gregg Popovich has had since 1996-97? They could win a first-round playoff series, because Pop is Pop. But I can’t see them going any further. Can you?||1||32-26|
|). I get that Harrison Barnes makes a boatload of money for a fairly one-dimensional player. But Barnes gives this incredibly fun, playoff-contending Kings team exactly what they need on the wing. Barnes is a perfectly fine player when he isn’t a focal point of the offense (i.e., back when he was on the Warriors). He’s got one more year on his contract after this season.||3||30-26|
|The Lakers went for it at the deadline, and netted … Mike Muscala and Reggie Bullock. Oof. While both of these guys brought the Lakers the shooting that’s needed around LeBron, this team feels like an absolute mess. I’d have to assume they make the playoffs, because LeBron James is LeBron James. But it’s far from a certainty.||2||28-28|
|I was at the game earlier this season when Caris LeVert went down with what his coach and teammates immediately assumed was a season-ending injury. It was gruesome. I’ve never seen a team so shook. To see him be back on the court before the All-Star break is absolutely insane. Kudos to LeVert. A full-strength Nets team, once Spencer Dinwiddie returns from injury, will be a tough first-round matchup for somebody.||1||29-28|
|The Clippers are still hanging on to a playoff spot, currently in eighth in the West, but you can presume they’ll disappear into the lottery soon enough after trading away their best player, Tobias Harris, at the trade deadline. About that trade: That the Clippers, a team that is poised to make noise in the upcoming free agency, were able to flip soon-to-be-free-agent Harris into two first-rounders — including Miami’s unprotected 2021 pick — and promising rookie Landry Shamet is pretty great front-officing. We’ll see if they really do land Kawhi Leonard and/or other big names this offseason. But the Clippers set themselves up nicely for the near future and for further out with that deal.||1||31-26|
|Four losses in a row for the Wolves, who have proven to us just how important it is to have a point guard. Injuries have absolutely killed this team this season, especially their point guards; Isaiah Canaan and Jerryd Bayless have been getting starts lately with injuries to Jeff Teague and Tyus Jones. The Wolves didn’t do anything at the deadline; I’d expected they could have gotten a second-rounder or two for, say, Anthony Tolliver or Taj Gibson.||—||25-30|
|The Marc Gasol trade that didn’t happen could have far-reaching consequences for the Hornets. While I wouldn’t have expected Gasol to vault this team into becoming anything close to a top-tier team in the East, not doing anything at the deadline may have sent a message to Kemba Walker about this team’s front office.||—||27-28|
|The Heat sent Wayne Ellington and Tyler Johnson packing to Phoenix for Ryan Anderson in a bloated contract-for-bloated contract deal. Maybe Goran Dragic’s imminent return can infuse this team with energy.||—||25-29|
|The Mavericks made one of the gutsiest deals of the NBA trade deadline, risking a ton on the healing ACL of Kristaps Porzingis. Then they sent Harrison Barnes packing, freeing up cap space for the future. If the Porzingis trade works out — i.e., if Porzingis can stay healthy — this is an incredible trade. Porzingis and Doncic as a franchise core is tantalizing. But they’re obviously taking on a ton of risk.||—||26-29|
|The Pelicans managed to be the story of trade deadline week by not making the trade that was on everybody’s minds. They stood pat with Anthony Davis, opening up all sorts of possibilities for trades in the offseason. And they traded Nikola Mirotic for four second-rounders and Stanley Johnson, who, by the way, is only 22 years old. Nobody knows what this Pelicans roster will look like at the start of next season.||—||25-32|
|The one good side effect of John Wall’s awful injury news is that it appears to have pushed the Wizards toward trading Otto Porter Jr. In that deal they got a valuable asset in Bobby Portis, and a player in Jabari Parker whose team option next season gives the Wizards some flexibility. You’ve got to feel for Bradley Beal, who has two more years left on his contract with the Wizards after this season.||—||24-32|
|Trading for Thon Maker was a savvy future move for the Pistons. Signing Wayne Ellington was a savvy move for the present. While I don’t think aiming for getting swept in the first round of the playoffs should be any team’s goal, it’s apparently enough for the Pistons … for now.||—||25-29|
|I absolutely love that the Magic traded for Markelle Fultz. First of all, the first-rounder included in the deal isn’t a particularly valuable one; it’s Oklahoma City’s 2019 first-rounder, protected for 1-20. Second of all, I’m not sure if you could find a better fit for Fultz. He needed a change of scenery. Now he’ll be out of the big-city limelight and in the nurturing environment around Steve Clifford and a team that’s patient with building for the future. Sure, I wish this team had gotten assets for Nikola Vucevic, but him being an All-Star might have upped his value to where teams didn’t want to pony up that much for him.||—||25-32|
|I hated what the Grizzlies did at the trade deadline. Hated it. Maybe they just weren’t getting what they thought was appropriate value for Mike Conley. But it’s not like this franchise is going anywhere soon, and it’s not like Conley’s value is going to increase as he gets another year older. And while I do like Delon Wright as the most important piece of the Marc Gasol trade, it feels like a somewhat scant return.||—||23-34|
|Just like last year, the Hawks had valuable veterans who could have been flipped for future assets … and they didn’t do it. Maybe there’s a smart culture-building plan at play here. But wouldn’t a couple second-rounders be worth getting for this asset-accumulating team, even if trading away Dewayne Dedmon or Jeremy Lin would cost this young team a few wins in this lost season?||—||18-38|
|The Bulls traded for Otto Porter Jr. and his monster contract, a move that almost certainly makes them better in the interim but is hard to decipher long-term. Explain how paying Porter $56 million over the next two seasons will make this a better franchise long term. I’ll wait.||—||13-43|
|Can’t believe I’m saying this, but LaVar Ball is right. Lonzo Ball would be a perfect fit for this Suns team. Speak it into existence, LaVar.||—||11-47|
|The Cavaliers are in the early stages of what ought to be a long rebuild, but they’re doing all the right things, trading veterans for valuable future assets. Here’s what the Cavaliers have accumulated in trades since December: A protected 2019 first-rounder and a 2022 second-rounder from the Houston Rockets; Marquese Chriss, who has been a terrible NBA player but was the eighth overall pick just 2 1/2 years ago; 2021 and 2023 second-rounders from Portland; a protected 2021 first-rounder and a 2021 second-rounder from Milwaukee; a 2022 second-rounder from Washington; and second-rounders in 2021 and 2022 from Utah. That’s some serious future assets.||—||11-45|
|So if the Knicks get two actual max-level players this offseason (sorry, but Tobias Harris doesn’t count, even though I love his game), the Kristaps Porzingis trade looks genius. They shed a big contract in Tim Hardaway Jr., they now aren’t hostage to Porzingis’ injury concerns, they got a potentially great young player in Dennis Smith Jr., and they got a couple of first-rounders. I’m buying stock in this franchise right now.||—||10-45|