NBA trade deadline moves headed into last Thursday’s cutoff might have shifted the entire balance of power in the league as new contenders emerged to challenge the previously uncontested championship favorites in the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers.
In Houston, for example, the Rockets were able to trade for veteran Lakers shooting and point guard Lou Williams. Williams, now 30, is expected to give the Rockets added scoring, leadership, and, most importantly, bench strength down the stretch-run toward a future date with the Golden State Warriors in the NBA playoffs.
Houston — which was already second in the NBA in scoring behind the Warriors and third in the Western Conference with a 42-18 record — no doubt hopes that the move may give it the added gun in its arsenal that it needs to put it over the top. And of all the NBA trade deadline moves that came down, the Rockets now seem to be among the most excited about their prospects.
After all, Lou Williams averaged 18.6 points and 24 minutes of playing time with the Lakers this season, while also emerging as a logical top candidate for the NBA’s “Sixth Man” award. And as Houston looks to improve its scoring power even more down the stretch, the “all in” mentality that coach Mike D’Antoni expressed, according to NBA.com, has so many fans excited in Houston.
“We have an opportunity and we want to take advantage of this opportunity, said Rockets’ shooting guard James Harden. “We’re in that third spot and we’re trying to get better. We’re trying to get on the same page and make this push. We’ve got an opportunity to win as many games as we can.”
According to teammates, Williams should only continue to improve as he acclimates himself to D’Antoni’s system.
On his first night with the team on Thursday, NBA.com noted, Williams scored 27 points.
Other NBA trade deadline moves that have the league talking include the Toronto Raptors, which greatly improved on their second-worst-in-the-league defense with the addition of 27-year-old Orlando Magic big man Serge Ibaka and the return of 31-year-old shooter P.J. Tucker from the Phoenix Suns.
In that regard, the Raptors are hopeful that their 11-16 skid dating back to late last year is now behind them.
“By adding Ibaka and Tucker, the Raptors have clearly reestablished themselves as the best conference challenger to the defending champions in this year’s playoffs,” noted the Washington Post. “If Toronto can get past Washington… it now should be a favorite to win its first two series and reach the Eastern Conference finals for a second straight year.”
At a time when NBA trade deadline moves were non-existent by heavy favorites such as Golden State, Cleveland, and to a lesser extent Boston and San Antonio, the Rockets and Raptors are clearly two teams on the rise.
One other team considered to be getting better every day is the New Orleans Pelicans.
The Pelicans — which are not projected to make the playoffs with a 23-37, 13th in the West record — were huge spenders by acquiring talented six-foot-11 Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins in spite of rumors of the team’s interest at the time in the Sixers’ Jahlil Okafor.
In spite of NBA trade deadline moves such as this one, the Pelicans are clearly on the rise since that transaction. In spite of a below 0.500 team on paper, most perceive that the future is very bright down in the Bayou.
“In a league where ‘pace and space’ is en vogue, pairing arguably the game’s two most talented big men in Cousins and Anthony Davis is a truly fascinating experiment,” said the Washington Post, which noted that the Pelicans’ future “will be fun to watch unfold.”
Of course, the risk involved is that the Cousins is free to sign anywhere in the offseason.
Regardless of the uncertainty concerning Cousins’ ultimate landing spot, however, most league insiders point to New Orleans as one team that has greatly improved on its future prospects.
NBA trade deadline moves only continue to make the upcoming playoff picture more intriguing as well.
[Featured Image by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images]