HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The 2016 trade deadline came and went rather quietly. Dwight Howard is still in Houston, Jeff Teague is still in Atlanta, and Ryan Anderson is still in New Orleans. Blake Griffin and Kevin Love were never going anywhere.
But some deals – two on Tuesday and 10 on Thursday – were made at the deadline. And a couple of them involved title contenders, though none were moves that will make a major impact.
Here are five takeaways from a deadline day that didn’t exactly alter the NBA landscape…
Stay tuned for the summer
This summer was already set to be a big one. With revenue and the salary cap rising, almost every team in the league will have cap space and most will have enough to sign at least one max-level player. The list of 2016 free agents includes Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, Mike Conley, Al Horford, Nicolas Batum, Andre Drummond, Harrison Barnes and Bradley Beal, as well as LeBron James, DeMar DeRozan and Howard (if they decline their player options).
But cap space can also be used to absorb players via trade without having to send out salary, and the opportunity will be there for teams to unload players in July.
So if the Hawks want to hand the reigns to Dennis Schroder, they could shop Teague (who still has one more year left on his contract) again in the summer. There definitely will be multiple teams looking for a starting point guard at that point, and Conley is the only one on the list above.
Brooklyn is another team that could decide to be a seller in July. Sean Marks was hired as the Nets’ new general manager less than five hours before the deadline, so he didn’t have much time to make a decision on Thaddeus Young (who was reportedly in demand) and Brook Lopez. Both of those guys have two guaranteed years left on their contracts and Marks could look to move them this summer if he wants to go for a slower and more organic rebuild.
The Cavs and Clippers will take one more shot at a championship with Love and Griffin. And if either team falls short again (at least one of them will), other teams will come calling, wondering if Cleveland and L.A. are ready to try something different.
All that cap space may have also kept teams from trading multiple assets for players – like Anderson, Al Horford and Howard – they could lose to free agency (or sign away from the teams they’re still on) in the summer.
Playoff push in the East
The three teams that made the most impactful moves are currently sitting in the eighth, ninth and tenth spots in the Eastern Conference.
On Tuesday, the eighth-place Charlotte Hornets (27-26) traded for Courtney Lee, while the Detroit Pistons (27-27) got Tobias Harris from Orlando. On Thursday, Detroit gave up their first round pick for Donatas Motiejunas and Marcus Thornton, and the Washington Wizards (23-28) traded for malcontent Markieff Morris.
There was some risk involved in those last two deals. Motiejunas has played just 14 games this season, dealing with back problems. He was a key to the Rockets’ success last season, but might not be ready to help the Pistons get over the hump. Morris, meanwhile, fought with a teammate (Archie Goodwin) just last week and has actually shot worse this season (effective field goal percentage of 42.2 percent) than one of the guys – Kris Humphries (47.8 percent) – he was traded for.
Only 2 1/2 games separate the fifth-place Miami Heat from the ninth-place Pistons with 28 or 29 games to go. So the opportunity is there for both Charlotte and Detroit to move up into a position where they don’t have to face Cleveland in the first round. The Wizards have a lot more work to do, but also seem to have more pressure on them to make something of this season.
All about the bottom line
The No. 1 concern for the Heat right now is Chris Bosh, and if the All-Star isn’t going to be available down the stretch, Miami could fall out of the playoff picture for a second straight year.
But whether they’re going to the playoffs or not, the Heat had some fiscal issues to deal with. And team president Pat Riley and general manager Andy Elisburg used three trades in the last three days to unload fringe salary and get under the luxury tax line.
Miami was one of *two teams that was subject to repeater tax levels this season. While other teams over the tax line pay $1.50 of tax for every dollar they’re over the line, the Heat were going to pay $2.50. So before Tuesday, Miami had a tax bill of more than $25 million. But the three trades they made (sending Chris Andersen, Jarnell Stokes and Brian Roberts out) got them under the tax line. Now, they’ll get some of the luxury tax paid out by the remaining tax paying teams (like Cleveland and Oklahoma City).
* Brooklyn was the other, but got under the tax line with its buyout of Deron Williams and a couple of minor moves in July.
Two contenders get bench help
The Cavs and Thunder also lightened their tax bills with moves that were seemingly more about the fringe of their rotation. Cleveland swapped Anderson Varejao for Channing Frye, whose shooting should complement LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Oklahoma City, meanwhile, traded D.J. Augustin (who had lost his back-up point guard spot to Cameron Payne) for Randy Foye.
Foye has shot less than 30 percent from 3-point range this season, but he gives the Thunder more depth in the backcourt with Andre Roberson out, another option when Dion Waiters isn’t shooting well, and a little more flexibility in regard to playing small against a team like the Golden State Warriors.
It’s hard to believe, though, that either of those moves will make much of a difference against the champs or the San Antonio Spurs.
Trash or treasure?
A trade that got in just before the buzzer was a swap of disappointing reserves on Western Conference playoff teams. Of course, if you paid attention to what they did at their previous stops, you can’t say that Jeff Green and Lance Stephenson were all that disappointing in Memphis and L.A., respectively.
Green gives the Clippers a little more stability, but it’s hard to believe that he moves the needle for a team that has played at a level below the three best teams in the West. The Grizzlies’ season is seemingly on the brink with Marc Gasol suffering a broken foot before the break, but they’ll take a shot with a roster that now includes a plethora of interesting characters and a lot of small ball, featuring Zach Randolph at center.
Green has an expiring contract and Stephenson has a team option for next season, so the only long-term risk is with the Clippers sending a first round pick to Memphis.