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ANALYSIS: Trade deadline only confirmed Brooklyn’s status as top dog

Washington Wizards v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The trade deadline came and went, deals flew left and right, and my dependency on Twitter only grew deeper with every bomb from Woj, Shams, Chris Haynes, and the rest. And yet the Brooklyn Nets remained... mostly the same?

With Spencer Dinwiddie still in Brooklyn, it’s fair to say we can slowly turn off our notifications, decompress a little bit, and put some perspective on what was one of the more fun deadlines we’ve had in quite some time. Here are a few of my takeaways from the busy, busy day in which a record-high 46 players were traded.

None of Brooklyn’s East Coast rivals improved substantially.

I don’t see anyone beating the Brooklyn Nets in a 7-game series (Finals included, but that’s for a different day). Especially out East. Brooklyn’s talent is unmatched; its THIRD-best player might be one of the three-best playoff performers in the conference not named Kevin Durant or James Harden. (Picking between Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, and Joel Embiid as “guy you’d want most in a playoff series” is tough. I’d probably go Embiid, Butler, and then Irving because of two-way impact but I can be talked into pretty much any order. Of course, only one of the three has a ring.)

Kyle Lowry was the biggest domino at the deadline and he didn’t even get moved. Adding Lowry, a famed Nets killer, to the fold in Philly — though it would’ve required shedding some wing depth (Matisse Thybulle, namely) — would’ve given the 76ers some much-needed shooting and a real-deal closer alongside Embiid (Lowry’s shooting 55% in crunch time, per NBA stats), while maintaining that defensive intensity that general manager Daryl Morey has boasted about proudly. George Hill, while he is a good player, kind of feels like a “we didn’t really want to meet the asking price for Lowry, so this is good enough” type of option. He can shoot threes like heck, including 47.5% off the catch, while providing strong point-of-attack defense. But he also isn’t a needle-mover, which is exactly what Philadelphia needed to truly challenge the Nets in the postseason.

Early on, it appeared as if Boston was gearing up to thoroughly bolster its reserves and outsize the Semi Ojeleyes and Jeff Teagues of the world for better players. Evan Fournier for two second-rounders and the largest trade exception in history, that’s good value! Shedding Daniel Theis, for as much as he has been the ire of Celtics’ fans frustration this season, for Mo Wagner to duck the tax... is not! It certainly feels like losing out in the Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic sweepstakes threw Boston’s plans into the wind, but what do I know? After spending the entirety of last season suffering the pitfalls of having a below-average big man rotation, the Celtics are back where they started with “eh” centers. Don’t you love when life comes full circle?

And then there’s Miami. Oooooh, Miami. I like grabbing Nemanja Bjelica for basically nothing. I also have no idea if he can crack a playoff rotation. After spending his entire career on lottery teams (say hello to the two most hopeless teams in the Western Conference!), that much is kind of up in the air.

Victor Oladipo is as big of an enigma as there is. Could he look revitalized with Miami’s training staff? Does a simplified role of just playing really freaking good defense at the top of Miami’s famed 2-3 zone while slashing like crazy (averaging 12.7 drives per game) on the other side of the floor slow the game down for the former All-Star? Perhaps. Or maybe his three-point shot continues to falter as Miami ups the pressure on Dipo to match Brooklyn’s three superstars. That much I don’t know. The variety of outcomes are frankly overwhelming for Miami in a way they wouldn’t have been had Pat Riley traded for the ultra-steady Kyle Lowry. Miami’s probably the highest-variance contender in the conference. Would I be shocked to see them play the Nets in the Eastern Conference Finals? No, not really. Could they be a second-round bounce to, say, Philadelphia? Sure, I could see it.

When reading this section, you’ll notice there are a lot of ifs, buts, and maybes. As a competitor, you don’t necessarily want those words coming to mind when stacking up against rivals, especially when that rival has three of the six best scorers in the dang association.

The Lakers are coming out of the West, though their road may be slightly different.

I’ve (hopefully) been on record as a believer that we’ll see a Nets-Lakers Finals since the preseason.

Look, I’ll save my thoughts on the Lakers refraining from dealing Talen Horton-Tucker, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (and stuff) for Kyle Lowry. That’s for a different day. Congrats to the Lakers for feeling so hopeful about THT. Happy for you guys. Making a 20-year-old untouchable in LeBron James’ twilight years with GOAT status on the line definitely won’t put any undue pressure on the young guy from maybe the harshest fanbase in sports. Excited to see how that works out.

As for the rest, I still really like Utah. But in that “I think you’re really cute but I’m kind of scared of you” way where I could very easily see the Jazz letting me down in five second-round games against a fully healthy and RESTED lower-seeded Lakers team. The Nuggets improved. Big time. Dan Devine at The Ringer went deep in his statistical bag to pull out some Aaron Gordon statistics regarding his defensive versatility, and I’ve long been a believer in Gordon myself (his 2019 first-round series while defending Kawhi Leonard still stands out to me vividly for some reason. My brain is weird). If Jokic continues to keep this up, I think Denver may be my favorite non-Lakers team in the conference.

...Which brings me to the Clippers. Look, when you’ve got the opportunity to add a guy whose teams are 11.9 points per possession better when he’s off the floor for a solid player in Lou Williams and multiple seconds, you have to do it, right? Hello? Are you guys still listening?

Playoff Rondo is an awesome storyline, and I do think there’s some truth to it, but the Clippers did basically nothing to account for the team’s biggest need: paint scoring. Currently, the Clippers are 29th in rim attempts, which is a troubling statistic when you contextualize how much this team is relying upon jump shots to win games. What I’m saying is, get some freebies! Rajon Rondo, God bless his soul, is not touching the paint at this point in his career. He’s just not. He’s a 15th-percentile overall scorer according to effective field goal percentage, per Cleaning the Glass, and his 50% shooting at the rim sits in the 15th percentile at his position as well. Not good!

Phoenix is fun. I’m also incredibly dubious about whether DeAndre Ayton can survive deep into the playoffs (James Harden torched the poor kid back in February, which you can watch here in my West Coast recap video). If I had to put my money on it, I’d bet on us getting (I’m going to regret this, aren’t I?) a Nuggets-Lakers WCF and a 76ers-Nets ECF. Please don’t hold this against me.

It... kind of feels like the Nets are done?

All we heard about was how active the Nets were going to be at the deadline. And to be fair, they already got the best possible trade prize anyone could want (goodness James Harden is good, isn’t he?) as well as what could be the best buyout guy available in Blake Griffin.

According to Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes, the Nets are set to meet with big man LaMarcus Aldridge, along with the LA Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, and Miami Heat, who have been listed as the favorite for Aldridge for quite some time. The utilization of LaMarcus is clear-cut; he’ll come in, take a couple of pick-and-pop jumpers, maybe post-up a mismatch or two, and then immediately get yanked for being utterly lost while guarding space. He’s a really solid eighth-man, I can’t lie. I also get the feeling he’s headed to South Beach given how much smoke there has been.

Andre Drummond, once rumored to the Nets, is reportedly set to take pitches from the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets and possibly the Nets, per Haynes, likely in search of more playing time than the Nets can offer. Otto Porter Jr. appears to be staying in Orlando. After all, his jersey and number with the Magic leaked on Thursday, which could be an indication he’s holding onto the remaining money of what could be the last big contract of his career rather than fleeing to a contender and giving back cash in a buyout.

Then we get into the Gorgui Dieng’s and the Avery Bradley’s of the world, who, sure, they’re cool; but are they really making a giant difference in Brooklyn’s rotation? Dieng can eat up 10 minutes a game. Great. Fine. He’s allowing 61.8% shooting at the rim, which I don’t love, and those iffy rim protection numbers track back a couple of seasons. Bradley is solid, probably a slight upgrade on Tyler Johnson but not by a ton. If you want to argue which 9th man is more important, by all means, have at it. I’ll be staying out of that one. After that? Well, have you ever watched Hassan Whiteside botch a drop coverage? Witnessed a Mo Harkless 0-for-6 three-point performance? Laid eyes on the ghost of Jeff Teague? None of those things are pretty!

The best bet is that Brooklyn’s rotation will mostly remain the same. Blake Griffin will carve out a larger role as the season progresses and he gets in shape. Nicolas Claxton will rise higher and higher as he continues to earn the coaching staff’s trust. Heck, maybe Alize Johnson will make a name for himself by gobbling up literally every rebound in sight!

The deadline didn’t change that there’s a lot to be excited for as a Nets fan. That in itself is a win. Brooklyn’s biggest rivals failed to tack on the requisite armor to tussle and turn with the 3-headed monster at the Barclays Center. I’d bet that comes back to bite them.