Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans – AFP

KUWAIT: On a day that saw Eastern Conference powerhouses retool ahead of the NBA Trade Deadline, arguably the biggest story on Thursday was the New Orleans Pelicans deciding to keep their embattled Center Anthony Davis and wait until the summer to possibly deal their disgruntled superstar.

The Los Angeles Lakers, whose last offer to the Pelicans would have seen young prospects including Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma in addition to multiple draft picks move to New Orleans, cited the latter’s ‘outrageous’ demands for pulling out of trade talks. Meanwhile, the Pelicans could have become more tempted to wait for potentially better deals in the summer, especially with the Boston Celtics reportedly willing to include anyone on their roster in trade talks. The Celtics, who could not trade for Davis due to an NBA rule that bans teams from having two players on contracts extended under the so-called ‘Rose Rule’ (they already have Kyrie Irving signed to such deal), hope they can pair Davis with Irving who is going to be a free agent in the summer. In the meantime, the Pelicans are almost certainly going to demand that Jason Tatum be included in any trade for Davis, and the Celtics have reportedly showed willingness to discuss a trade involving their top young prospect and multiple first round picks.

Part of the reason the Celtics are waiting for the summer to retool is perhaps realizing that, barring any surprises, they likely face the toughest road to the finals this year compared to their peers at the top echelon of the Eastern Conference, especially after other top teams in the East – the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors and the Philadelphia 76ers – have all executed major deals before the trade deadline to boost their rosters (the Indiana Pacers made a minor move as well by adding the bought-out Wesley Matthews to somewhat fill the void left by Victor Oladipo’s injury). The Bucks have acquired Power Forward Nikola Mirotic from the Pelicans in a three-team trade that saw their estranged backup Center Thon Maker sent to the Detroit Pistons. By incorporating Mirotic into their starting lineup, the Bucks adds another three-point shooting specialist to create more spacing and open the lanes even more for Giannis Antetokounmpo to punish their opponents’ defense.

In the meantime, Toronto traded for the Memphis Grizzlies’ long-time Center Marc Gasol, adding a brand-new dimension to their already highly-efficient offense. The Raptors look forward to utilize the 12-year veteran’s vast offensive arsenal, including his top-notch post moves, great playmaking abilities, and decent three-point shooting, and hope that adding a former NBA Defensive Player of the Year will come in handy especially in the playoffs. But by giving away three players in the trade (in addition to two others in separate deals), the Raptors are left with a thin bench that they likely are going to fill through the buyout market.

And in perhaps the most impactful move among Eastern Conference teams in terms of its immediate effect, the 76ers improved their already stacked-up starting lineup by adding Los Angeles Clippers’ leading scorer Tobias Harris. Furthermore, Philadelphia opted to end the Markelle Fultz experience by trading the 2017 number 1 overall pick to the Orlando Magic for depth (Jonathan Simmons) and future assets (a protected 2019 first-round pick and a 2019 second-round pick). The trade also gives Fultz the chance to revive his injury marred career by starting over with a team that desperately needs Point Guard help.

While most major moves were executed by Eastern sides, a few big deals were made by Western Conference teams as well. In one of the biggest moves this year, the Dallas Mavericks acquired Kristaps Porzingis in a trade with the New York Knicks. Dallas will have to wait until next season to have Porzingis in their lineup as he recovers from a torn ACL, but the prospect of his pairing with rookie phenom Luka Doncic leaves Mavs fans with a lot of reason to be optimistic for the future.
The Clippers, despite trading away their highest achieving player this year, have probably came out better after their trade with the 76ers. Not only did they acquire future assets including Miami Heat’s highly-valuable unprotected 2021 first round pick, but they also freed up enough cap space to pursue two maximum-contract players this summer, when players such as Golden State’s Kevin Durant, Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard and Philadelphia’s Jimmy Butler are slated to be unrestricted free agents. The Knicks are another team to watch for in the summer, as they also can offer maximum deals to two players and are heavily expected to make a hard push to sign Durant and Irving in specific.

Some teams made minor moves to prepare for their playoff campaigns, including the Houston Rockets which traded for Sacramento Kings’ three-point shooter Iman Shumpert, and the Portland Trail Blazers who also went for another sharpshooter in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Rodney Hood. The Utah Jazz failed in their bid to acquire Memphis’ Mike Conley, who did not find any of the offers made and centered around Ricky Rubio and Derrick Favors enticing enough to part ways with their star Point Guard. The Lakers, who ended the trade deadline in controversial fashion by dealing promising Center Ivica Zubac to the Clippers, have been linked to free agent forward Carmelo Anthony for some time, and are widely expected to sign the former Rocket as they make a playoff push. Among the other top names in the buyout market which are expected to join playoff candidates in the coming weeks are Enes Kanter, Markieff Morris, Zach Randolph, and Marcin Gortat.

By Ahmad Jabr