In the absence of any blockbuster deals before the NBA’s trade deadline on Thursday afternoon, several teams made moves that seemed unlikely to upend the league’s power structure.
The splashiest deal happened Sunday, when the Sacramento Kings traded DeMarcus Cousins, their All-Star center, to the New Orleans Pelicans. By Thursday, though, all was relatively quiet. The New York Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony, the Indiana Pacers’ Paul George and the Chicago Bulls’ Jimmy Butler — three of the biggest names involved in trade speculation in recent days — remained with their current teams.
The Boston Celtics, the second-place team in the Eastern Conference, were believed to be interested in George, a four-time All-Star and one of the top forwards in the league. But the Celtics were unwilling to part with their first-round pick in this year’s draft — a pick that could be the top overall selection.
“Nothing was good enough for us to do,” general manager Danny Ainge told reporters after the deadline.
The Pacers have George under contract until 2018. It would have taken a mammoth package for them to part with him now.
The Philadelphia 76ers stuck to their familiar script of never being boring. After showing some marked improvement in recent weeks, the team reverted to its habit of exchanging solid pieces for future assets. They traded Nerlens Noel, a 22-year-old post defender with loads of promise, to the Dallas Mavericks for Andrew Bogut, Justin Anderson and a protected first-round pick. Bogut has an expiring contract and appeared headed toward a buyout.
The 76ers also dealt Ersan Ilyasova, their second-leading scorer, to the Atlanta Hawks for Tiago Splitter, a center who has not played this season because of an injury, and a second-round pick.
Given all their activity at the deadline, it was surprising that the 76ers held onto Jahlil Okafor, a center and the third overall pick of the 2015 draft. Okafor, who has fallen far short of expectations in Philadelphia, appeared to become even more expendable with the emergence this season of Joel Embiid, a 22-year-old center who is averaging 20.2 points a game after missing his first two seasons with foot injuries.
The Oklahoma City Thunder sought some supporting talent for Russell Westbrook in their bid to make a move in the West. The Thunder acquired Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott and a second-round pick from the Chicago Bulls for Cameron Payne, Joffrey Lauvergne and Anthony Morrow. Gibson, a 31-year-old forward, was averaging 11.6 points and seven rebounds for the Bulls this season, and McDermott, 25, was averaging 10.2 points while shooting 37.6 percent from 3-point range. The Thunder needed outside shooting, and McDermott’s presence should help spread the floor for Westbrook.
The Toronto Raptors improved their perimeter defense just before the deadline, adding P.J. Tucker through a trade with the Phoenix Suns. The Raptors, thought to be contenders in the East along with the Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers after a strong start to the season, have lost their footing in recent weeks, losing 11 of their last 16 games. But Tucker and the veteran center Serge Ibaka, whom the Raptors acquired in a trade last week, are two excellent defenders who should provide immediate help.
The Brooklyn Nets, who have the worst record in the league and face a long road to respectability, used the trade deadline to at least begin building for the future. On Wednesday, the Nets acquired a first-round pick in a trade with the Washington Wizards, which gives them two first-round selections this year. The Celtics have the option of swapping their first-round pick for the Nets’ as a part of the 2013 deal for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett — a trade that continues to haunt the Nets. But the draft picks are still rare assets for the Nets.
“There’s a lot of different things we can do there,” general manager Sean Marks told reporters. “We like the draft, so we’ll see where we go.”
The Nets did not trade Brook Lopez, who can become a free agent in 2018. Marks declined to discuss any trade proposals that may have come his way.
“We evaluated everything,” Marks said, “and at the end of the day, I think we got better.”