With the NBA trade deadline about two weeks away, teams are coming to terms with the reality of their situations. But while some have enough data to make clear-headed decisions about the fate of their seasons, others’ are complicated by injuries.
Here are the ripple effects of some of the latest injuries, and what they may mean for the playoff races and the February 7 deadline:
The Nets Suffer a Second Setback
When Caris LeVert suffered a dislocated right foot in November, it seemed like Brooklyn was doomed to another season outside of the playoffs. But since LeVert’s injury, the Nets are 20-15, including an ongoing five-game winning streak that has catapulted them to sixth place in the Eastern Conference. They are the Cinderella story of this season—but it may have just been spoiled.
On Thursday, the Nets confirmed a report from former All-Star Caron Butler (?) that Spencer Dinwiddie had suffered a thumb injury in his shooting hand. While the team didn’t provide further details, Butler reported that there is a torn ligament in the right thumb and that Dinwiddie is expected to be out four to six weeks.
Losing Dinwiddie for a significant amount of time would be a heavy blow to the Nets. He is an early frontrunner for Sixth Man of the Year, with averages of 17.2 points a game (second most on the team) and five assists, and a career-high 54.2 effective field goal percentage. He’s also shown he can single-handedly win games for Brooklyn, like he did when he scored 21 points in eight minutes of game time in a win against the Rockets. His absence would puncture any kind of hope the Nets have of being a top-six seed in the conference. A poor stretch while he’s out could bump them from the playoffs before he even returns.
The Nets finally have their draft pick this season, but there is no incentive to tank anymore, injuries or no injuries. Their playoff odds are still 80 percent, per FiveThirtyEight, and making the postseason for the first time since the 2014-15 season would be a high mark for Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson’s vision for the franchise.
What It Could Mean in the East
The Nets are without Dinwiddie and the Pacers are without Victor Oladipo—that’s two of the best six teams in the Eastern Conference losing crucial pieces at an important time of the NBA calendar. The questions now are which East team can take advantage of the opportunity, and how? Can the Wizards, Magic, and Pistons—all of whom are currently out of the top eight—make their way into the field? And can the Hornets, currently in seventh, or the Heat, currently eighth, make a push up the playoff picture?
The Dinwiddie and Oladipo injuries give other East teams hope, which means they might treat the deadline differently than how they were intending to. Maybe Washington will keep Otto Porter Jr. off the trading block. Or maybe Detroit will go harder after someone like Mike Conley Jr. to ensure that Blake Griffin has the necessary help to make the playoffs. The Athletic reported that the Hornets are holding on to Kemba Walker, an unrestricted free agent this summer, and now it seems like both they and the Heat could be primed to make another win-now move.
This also solidifies who the East’s top teams are. The Bucks and Raptors have dominated the regular season and are on 60- and 59-win paces, respectively. And while the Celtics and Sixers have had their ups and downs, they still may have the most top-level talent in the conference. The bottom of the East, on the other hand, looks more open. With the Pacers and Nets hurting, 40 wins may get you pretty far. If you were looking to get swept by Toronto in an NBA TV series, you’re in luck.
The Pelicans’ Injury Woes Continue
The Pelicans’ trade for Nikola Mirotic last season helped spark their torrid second half and, ultimately, their sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the playoffs. With DeMarcus Cousins lost for the season, Mirotic was the perfect stretch-4 to pair with Anthony Davis at center. Mirotic has continued to be productive this season, with career highs in points (16.7) and eFG% (55.2), but he’s missed 17 games already. Adding insult to injury—or really, injury to injury—Mirotic is now expected to miss one to two more weeks with a right calf strain.
The last thing the injury-depleted Pelicans need is another player out. Davis is already missing games with a sprained left index finger, and New Orleans, 22-27 on the season, is already 1-2 without him. Going into the deadline, the Pels were bound to make a win-now move in their ongoing bid to convince Davis to stay past this summer, when he’ll likely be offered a supermax extension. The problem is their lack of assets aside from their first-round pick. Mirotic could have been an asset used in a trade, but his value is murkier while his health is uncertain.
New Orleans needed some form of a fresh start by adding a player at the deadline. Instead, the Pelicans are now four and a half games out of a playoff spot and may be better off selling what they have to get ahead of a rebuild. All signs point to a rough end to their season, and to their tenure with their star player.
What It Could Mean for the West
The supply of All-Star-level players around this deadline is reportedly low, but with so many teams still in the playoff hunt, especially in the West, the demand seems high. The sinking Grizzlies could be the biggest beneficiaries. Earlier this week, ESPN reported that the team has finally made Conley and Marc Gasol available in trade discussions. I’ve already mentioned the Pistons as possible Conley destinations—and if Conley is moved to the East, he may finally get an All-Star nod that’s been years in the making. Oladipo’s injury may also motivate Indiana to go after Conley. The veteran guard could replace Dipo in the lineup this season, and potentially start next to him in a formidable backcourt once he returns.
Conley may be 31, but he’s still valuable; he’s averaging 20 points and six assists this season. The Pelicans would love to pair Conley with Jrue Holiday and Davis, as would the Sixers with their own core. Conley’s contract ($67 million guaranteed over the next two seasons if he plays 55 games this season) is unpalatable, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and for some teams, that time may have already arrived.