Western Conference Playoff Picture, Post Trade Deadline.
*Photo via USA Today
The trade deadline and mayhem that came with it has passed, please pick up your jaws now. As well as following last night’s games, the second half of the season is officially under way. Following yesterday’s moves, the tight knit Western conference standings might become a tighter race, if that’s even possible.
Houston Rockets - The first team that benefited from the deadline is the Houston Rockets, who made moves to strengthen their bench by trading out Alexey Shved for Pablo Pirgioni. This move gives them a PG with good hands and a long distance shot who can play off the ball, while Harden works. They also made a move for the young and athletic, K.J McDaniels, who will most likely see time at the 3 position in smaller line-ups. These trades help add a little more depth around superstar Harden, while the Rockets fight for home-court advantage in the playoffs. The key here is the Rockets are still only 3 games out of 2nd, however they face the dilemma of chasing that 2nd seed and being forced to play the Spurs or Thunder in the first round.
Phoenix Suns – Probably the most bizarre trade deadline for a team tied for the 8th seed (Lose tie breaker to Thunder) and 4 games over .500, now go into the second half with a bunch of new guys. Although, they made several moves and restructured their backcourt, they aren’t out of the playoff race. The Suns dealt away several players, the key moves involved Isaiah Thomas, Goran Dragic, Miles Plumlee. In return the Suns didn’t just make an effort to remain in the hunt for this year’s playoffs; they also picked up numerous draft picks for their future. Receiving a 2016 First round pick via the Cavs and 2 first round picks via the Heat for 2017 and 2019. Player wise, the Suns received shooting guard, Marcus Thornton, who can provide off the bench fire power. Veteran forwards of John Salmons and Danny Granger, Granger was a key factor in building up Paul George and a similar situation could be made with him mentoring Gerald Green or Bledsoe. Lastly they received point guards, Brandon Knight and Kendall Marshall. Brandon Knight was a stellar move , while he’s currently having a career year and has highs in points per game and assists. A backcourt duo of Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight could end up leading this team on a late playoff push. However despite the moves they made regardless, the Suns will again be on the outside looking in, come April.
Portland Trailblazers – The only move they made might just make them a true contenders for a title. Yes, you read that right. The Blazers added Alonzo Gee, who can provide a little bench boost, but most importantly they got Arron Afflalo. Afflalo could start for them, but most likely will become a 6th man. He’s a two-way player, who puts this team on another level with the added scoring presence, that they so much needed outside the main starting 5. The Blazers are a real threat!
Oklahoma City Thunder – After all the talks with the Nets about Brook Lopez and the turmoil and toxic situation brewing with Reggie Jackson. The Thunder won the deadline in the West. Receiving D.J Augustin from the Pistons to back up Westbrook was a solid trade, especially since over his last 8 games he’s averaging 20.3 PPG and 8.2 Assists. He may be just the PG they were looking for rather than trigger happy Jackson. Lastly, the Thunder finally were able to trade Perkins, who isn’t necessarily done playing wise; but never really fit in with how the Thunder roster was constructed. His replacement the young upcoming center, Enes Kantar, Kantar is only 23 and is just starting to really find his way. He is averaging 13.8 PPG and 7.8 RPG, while shooting 49% from the field, and 78% from the line. Kantar and Augustin give OKC a real shot to make a deep run in the playoffs as long as the team stays healthy, despite being a 6-8th seed.
Overview – The strength of the west has grown yet again, with the top teams receiving additions in positions they desperately needed. The 8 playoff teams now will be your playoff teams come April. Unfortunately, the Suns and Pelicans, who have made great strides are just a year or so away from playoff contenders, the most they can hope for is an injury to strike the lower playoff seeded teams.
-By Kory Waldron