A record-breaking trade deadline saw 37 players move teams, a flurry that more than makes up for the last several stagnant trade deadlines. It wasn’t just role players who moved, either. Bona fide stars, like Goran Dragic, Brandon Knight, and Michael Carter-Williams were swapped on a day that could alter the NBA landscape not only for this year, but the next few as well.
But the leagues two top teams stayed pat. The West-leading Golden State Warriors and the East-leading Atlanta Hawks decided not to make any moves at the trade deadline, which begs the question– was this a good move or a bad move?
To answer this question, we first need to take a look at what their competitors did. For the Warriors, their chances of advancing past the first round took a big hit. If the Warriors hold their lead at the top of the Western Conference standings, and the Oklahoma City Thunder sneak into the playoffs as an 8th seed, don’t expect Golden State to cruise. The Thunder were perhaps the biggest winners of the trade deadline, picking up a new starting center in Enes Kanter, as well as two new wing players in Kyle Singler and Steve Novak. Kanter, along with Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Dion Waiters, and Serge Ibaka, would make the Thunder a shoo-in for the playoffs, as well as serious title contenders, if everyone stays healthy. It’s possible that the Thunder could be the most talented and dangerous 8th seed in NBA history.
Some of the other teams jostling for positioning in the Western Conference made some upgrades. The Portland Trail Blazers landed shooting guard Arron Afflalo to anchor their bench, Memphis added Jeff Green to give them a boost in perimeter scoring, the Mavericks added Amar’e Stoudemire for scoring off the bench, and the Houston Rockets added KJ McDaniels and Pablo Prigioni to improve the second unit.
Overall, the Western Conference got stronger as a whole, which means if anything, the Warriors road to the Finals will be more difficult than it was when the season began.
The Atlanta Hawks have a solid amount of distance between them and the next pack of Eastern Conference contenders (Chicago, Toronto, Cleveland, Washington), but the teams jockeying for the 8th and final spot changed quite a bit. The Boston Celtics and Miami Heat seemed like they would be immediate contenders to make the playoffs by acquiring Isaiah Thomas and Goran Dragic, respectively, but then saw their chances dashed by injuries to Jared Sullinger and Chris Bosh. The Detroit Pistons added Reggie Jackson to be their starting point guard, the Brooklyn Nets bolstered their front court with the additions of Thaddeus Young and Thomas Robinson, and the Indiana Pacers are about to get Paul George back from his gruesome leg injury.
The Hawks aren’t a typical one seed– they aren’t as dominant and star-driven as some of the previous one seeds (Miami’s Big Three, the Bulls in Derrick Rose’s hayday, etc.), which could leave them vulnerable to an 8th seed that could catch fire. Take last year’s Indiana Pacers for example, who were nearly upset last year by the 8th seeded Hawks. The teams roles could be reversed this spring.
But the Warriors and the Hawks have the three C’s: Confidence, Continuity, and Cohesion.
Confidence is a big plus. The Warriors and the Hawks have the kind of swagger that all title contenders possess. The Warriors play loose, free flowing, offensive basketball, led by their unbelievable back court of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. They’re one of the deepest teams in the league as well– David Lee and Andre Iguodala would start on most NBA teams. They’re both subs on the Warriors. Despite having a rookie head coach and a team of players who haven’t really ever advanced very far in the playoffs, this team carries themselves like a group of guys who have climbed the NBA mountain successfully before.
The Hawks also have swagger. They play with a collective chip on their shoulder, and with good reason. No one gave them any chance to be a top team in the NBA. At best, they were a 5 seed who could win a playoff series before bowing out, as they usually did. But the best team in the East? The Hawks, dubbed the “Spurs of the East,” play brilliant basketball under head coach Mike Budenholzer, and took 4 players to the All-Star Game as a result. Kyle Korver is on pace to become the first player ever to shoot 50% from the field, 50% from three, and 90% from the free throw line in a single season. Jeff Teague is quickly becoming one of the league’s best point guards, and Paul Millsap and Al Horford are a dynamic frontcourt duo. But it’s been the role players, the “no-names” that have been the most surprising: Kent Bazemore, Dennis Schroeder, Pero Antic, and DeMarre Carroll. Also, the Hawks have arguably the best Twitter account of any team. Talk about swagger.
The Warriors and Hawks also have continuity, which stems from their inactivity at the trade deadline. By not moving pieces, they decided to stick with what has been working. Often, when teams make big trades, or big free agency signings, the team fails to gel immediately. The Warriors and Hawks have the same tight-knit group of guys that they did before the deadline, which can only help. This trickles into the third C, cohesion. The teams are already acclimated with each other, and their coaches’ style, that they’ll have no communication issues.
The Golden State Warriors and Atlanta Hawks made no moves at the trade deadline, and while their biggest adversaries got better, they both stand to benefit from the lack of change, and remain favorites to advance to the NBA Finals.