OAKLAND -- While much of the league spent the past few days trying to upgrade now or later, the Warriors sat tight at the trade deadline, as they’d indicated. Why make another deal after the steal of three weeks earlier?
They got their man in DeMarcus Cousins, acquired Jan. 18. It’s not possible for an NBA team to do better, or as well, without sending back present or future assets.
So the movement was left to their pursuers. Those in the Western Conference, perhaps capitulating to the widely perceived inevitable, didn’t do much. The only legitimate threat to the Warriors the last two postseasons were the Rockets last year, and they haven’t even approached that level this season,
Most of the contenders in the Eastern Conference, however, were hustling up a sweat to get at each other and, eventually, the Warriors. No fewer than four teams seem to consider the defection of LeBron James to the West as an invitation to the vacated seat atop the conference.
Have any of them improved their chances of taking the East and perhaps toppling the defending champs? Yes. Here is a look at the top four teams in the East, their recent moves and, in order, the probability percentages of becoming the next NBA champion, should the Warriors be the opponent in The Finals:
Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Boston, with good reason, was the least active of these teams, trading only guard Jabari Bird, who had not played a minute this season, to the Hawks for a second-round pick.
The Celtics are 14-4 in 2019 and currently in a third-place tie with Indiana, have won 10 of their last 11, with the only loss coming to the Warriors. Boston has beaten the Raptors and the Thunder in that stretch. The offense that struggled early has been the sixth-best in the league since Jan 1. The defense, always there, is No. 2 in the league since then. They are coming together.
More to the point, the Celtics are playoff tested. That matters. Kyrie Irving is a postseason animal and the youngsters learned so much last season.
Chance of winning it all: 35 percent.
The Raptors, currently in second place, shuffled hard. They acquired Marc Gasol from Memphis, and were lukewarm on the move. While still very skilled, Gasol no longer is a top-5 center. He came at great cost: Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright and C.J. Miles. That’s 2.5 rotation players gone. They also rid themselves of benchwarmers Greg Monroe and Malachi Richardson for future second-round picks. OK. They shopped Kyle Lowry but he remains.
The Raptors were lightning out of the gate, champions of November, going to 20-4 on Dec. 1. Since then, they are 19-12. The offense that was so terrific for two months has since fallen behind those of the Celtics, Bucks, and 76ers. The defense had slipped just a bit.
These are the reasons Raptors GM Masai Ujiri felt the need for a significant deal. Will they work? We will see. They’re still a deep squad.
Chance of winning it all: 25 percent.
They added George Hill last month, sending away John Henson and Matthew Dellavedova. This week they made a couple moves that essentially amount to dealing Thon Maker for Nikola Mirotic.
That’s a lot of action for a team that has MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo, the best record in the league -- and has won 18 of its last 21 games. Mirotic will hurt their defense, but is an elite 3-point shooter and will help on that end.
Milwaukee may well post the best record in the conference, maybe the league. That’s nice to have, but the core of this team has never advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs. The water gets deep. Experience matters.
Chance of winning it all: 20 percent.
They’ve been very busy. After dealing for Tobias Harris, Mike Scott, and Boban Marjanovic on Wednesday, they added wings Jonathon Simmons and James Ennis on Thursday. They gave up two shooters (Landry Shamet, Mike Muscala), a solid defender in Wilson Chandler and the mega-mystery that is Markelle Fultz.
Harris is having a fine season and gives Philadelphia a new look. He’s much more of an offensive threat than Chandler, but also more of a defensive liability.
The 76ers have the most explosive starting five in the conference, five players capable of putting up 25 on any given night. But the chemistry is fragile and the defense has been a problem Harris won’t solve.
Chance of winning it all: 20 percent.
After a suspense-free first round of the playoffs, the next two rounds could be as good as any in the history of the NBA.
So credit Boston for holding tight while the other three franchises -- that have spent the past 18 years, or longer, watching The Finals -- were crossing their fingers and navigating the mad maze of phone calls, roster manipulations, salary-cap machinations, future draft picks and hypotheticals, all with the clock ticking.
As for the Warriors, there was no need to join the parade when they’re leading it.