We've become so conditioned to conflating activity with accomplishment that it was easy to get suckered by the flurry of transactions at the NBA trade deadline. When the dust settled (sorry for the unoriginal metaphor, but I'm the midst of a home remodel and settling dust has been the dominant theme in my life the past six months), the prospects for the NBA championship -- the real test for trade impact -- didn't change.
None of the top four teams in the league made a move. The only team among the top 10 to make a significant addition was Portland, which addressed needs at the wing and on the bench with the acquisitions of Arron Afflalo and Alonzo Gee by sending three players and a first-round draft pick to Denver. It was a nice blend of trying to get the most from this roster before LaMarcus Aldridge hits free agency without compromising their ability to retool if he leaves. But this move won't have the impact of, say, the Lakers' acquisition of Pau Gasol in 2008.
Nothing even had the wow factor of the Suns adding Shaquille O'Neal and the Mavericks picking up Jason Kidd that same year. The NBA community has grown increasingly fascinated with the chorus singers, forgetting that it's still the divas who matter most.
Speaking of divas, the sudden reworking of the Suns at the deadline should serve as a warning to every team trying to stockpile assets: At some point assets become people, and people have egos. Goran Dragic felt undervalued at $7.5 million a year, then watched the Suns bring in Isaiah Thomas at a similar number. That was followed by signing Eric Bledsoe for an average of $14 million per year, making the Suns expensively redundant at point guard. Dragic thinks the Suns believed he was the same old shy, European kid, said someone who's been in contact with him, and he's not that guy anymore. Now he's a full-fledged, Americanized, NBA player, with move-me-or-else demands and all.
And, so, now he's a member of the Miami Heat.
The Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder were like trade deadline brothers separated into different conferences (unlike the Dragic brothers, who were kept together in the Suns-Heat trade). They are two borderline playoff teams that bolstered their playoff chances but didn't redefine themselves.
Oklahoma City came out with plenty from moving odd-men-out Reggie Jackson and Kendrick Perkins by landing Enes Kanter, Steve Novak, D.J. Augustin and Kyle Singler. But their prospects of making the playoffs and advancing were always going to be determined by the ability of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka to stay on the court together, a confluence they couldn't manage throughout the past two postseasons.
Same story for the Heat. As appealing as the lineup of Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Luol Deng and Hassan Whiteside sounds, how often will we see it? Wade, Bosh and Deng have played together in only 25 of the team's 52 games this season. Even the news of Dragic's acquisition on Thursday was accompanied by an update that Bosh was too ill to travel with the team for its game at New York on Friday.
(A quick aside about the Philadelphia 76ers, who have been as active as anyone the past couple of years without managing to do anything to put a winning product on the court. If it takes 5,270 words to explain what you're doing, then you're probably doing it the wrong way. Speaking of explaining, if we're going to force Kevin Durant to catalog his emotions, shouldn't Sam Hinkie be available and accountable to the media on a regular basis?)
All of the moves that made headlines Thursday will be footnotes by the end of the season. And our attention span has grown so short that when we ask which team made the best deals, it would be negligent not to answer "none of the above."
The trades that could pay the biggest dividends late in the playoffs were made by the Cleveland Cavaliers last month. When new additions Timofey Mozgov and J.R. Smith have played with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, the Cavaliers have a plus-minus of plus-6.5. That's the highest of any lineup that has played at least five games together. But of course, it wouldn't even be worth contemplating if LeBron hadn't picked Cleveland in free agency last summer. There wasn't a trade to be made Thursday that could outdo that move.
I happened to be at the least exciting place in the NBA on deadline day. It also happened to be the home of the league's best team: the Golden State Warriors' practice facility.
No news, no changes, no additions. No problem.
"The continuity of what we have is more important than any trade deadline deal we could make," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
"I'm thrilled that we stood pat. We've got a team that we like, we have the best record in the league, we have great chemistry. There's no reason to disrupt that."
Thursday was about the rest of the league addressing roster shortcomings, unloading bad fits or repositioning for the future. The real winners were the teams that had already addressed those issues in the past.