NBA Preview: State of the East (And Trades)

With only days left before the All-Star Break, here’s how the East looks at this pivotal moment

Take at look at the Eastern Conference standings of this morning. They’re mostly predictable — Cleveland on top, everyone else below them, and then a bevy of teams around the 8–12 line. Kevin Love’s recent injury has opened the door to more speculation than we usually see at the top of this list though, especially since teams like Toronto and Boston have the means to make more deals.

Boston, for example, stands out as a team that could potentially add another star, and move into first if the Cavaliers struggle at all without Love. And while this idea looks good on paper, the question of who exactly the Celtics could get seems to derail it. Paul Millsap? Jimmy Butler? Paul George? All of these names are seemingly immovable without a Brooklyn pick, the one asset Boston won’t give up.

On a purely subjective note, I think the Wizards should think about making a trade to add bench depth. They have some picks they could deal, and the value of depth pieces should add more to this core than a draft pick who can’t play until a year or two down the road. This is really the only kind of move that makes sense for Washington right now.

Toronto just made its big trade, pulling in Serge Ibaka from the Magic. In the absence of a Millsap deal (which was never going to happen), this is probably the best move that the Raptors could have asked for. It remains to be seen how much they can shoot up the standings with this addition, but they’re definitely a better team now.

And then we have the Hawks. It’s unlikely that Atlanta will make a big “buyers” move, and their refusal to deal Millsap probably means they won’t trade any other players as well. I expect this team to stand pat on February 23, even if they could benefit from a trade.

After the Pacers, it all gets more unclear. Is it worth “cashing in” on the present for a sub-.500 team? I honestly don’t know, and I don’t expect many of these franchises to make a huge splash. However, if there’s one thing I know about the trade deadline it’s that I’m often wrong.

Predictions

Two games on ESPN tonight, both of which look interesting. I’m 3–1 so far this week.

Indiana at Cleveland: Indiana

A risky pick to be sure, but the Cavs are finishing a back-to-back and don’t have Love. The Pacers have been slowly climbing up the standings for a while now, and tonight is a nice chance for them to get a big win on national TV. Indiana is one of the more interesting teams in the East right now.

New York at Oklahoma City: Oklahoma City

When OKC is getting pummeled by the Warriors, it’s easy to forget how good this team is. It’s especially easy to forget how good they are compared to a mediocre team from the East. I’m starting to almost feel bad for the Knicks, but I’m having trouble seeing them find a way to win this one.

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