Once and forever, the rich get richer, whether you’re talking the United States wealth gap or the disparity between NBA conferences.
The March 1 deadline for players to be bought out and remain playoff-eligible for a new squad has passed. Per usual, the superior conference emerged even stronger. To wit, the Chicago Bulls just added Jimmer Fredette, released by the Sacramento Kings after failing to justify his lottery pick status.
And in a move that reeks of Eastern Conference ineptitude, the Charlotte Bobcats and Ben Gordon couldn’t reach an agreement in enough time to make him postseason eligible.
No other East team buffed itself up through “February free agency.”
Conversely, the Western Conference only grew tougher as two top teams wasted little time adding firepower. Should either squad end up reaching the NBA Finals, we may look back on these deals as the final pieces putting them over the top.
Word on the street had Caron Butler, bought out by Milwaukee, headed to the same Miami Heat team that drafted him 10th overall in 2002. Well, the street was guilty of false info as Butler ended up latching on with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
One could easily argue Miami offers a greater chance at a second ring, between the East’s weak competition and that LeBron fella, but OKC and Butler make mutual sense. His experience and mindset (there’s a reason he’s called “Tuff Juice”) fit this team’s culture like a glove. Plus, there are needs to fill.
Perry Jones is an inconsistent backup for Kevin Durant, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him out of the rotation altogether with Butler in town. He also provides insurance should Jeremy Lamb get jittery during his postseason debut or Father Time tell Derek Fisher, “No. Seriously. Enough.”
Either way, good for Butler. Beyond being a class dude, he deserves a reward after enthusiastically okaying an August trade to his home state Bucks.
But the biggest winner was undoubtedly the Los Angeles Clippers, whose buyout bonanza underscores an entire season spent trying out street free agents. (Where have you gone, Sasha Vujacic?) The additions of ex-Magician Glen “Big Baby” Davis and ex-Pacer Danny Granger transform an already fortified squad into arguably the conference’s deepest.
Davis’ arrival addresses the most pressing roster issue, a lack of quality big men behind Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Throughout the season, no answers have been found in Ryan Hollins, Hedo Turkoglu, Byron Mullens nor Antawn Jamison (the latter two jettisoned for tax savings at the trade deadline). On both sides of the ball, Davis represents a massive upgrade. Throw in Davis’ familiarity with Doc Rivers‘ system from their championship days in Boston, and he could be a legitimate game-changer during the second season.
As for Granger, he’s the bigger name to touch down in LA, but I’m not convinced he will make quite as big an impact. To begin, he hasn’t remotely resembled the same player since returning from a 2012 knee injury, nor did he adjust well to a reduced role. As a Clipper, he will be (at best) the fifth option behind Griffin, Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford and (return assumed) J.J. Redick, and his place on the totem pole could easily slide further south.
Evan Turner, obtained by Indiana for Granger, will contribute far more to his new team. Still, the Clips also don’t need Granger to be the A-Lister of old. He just needs to pitch in, and anything he contributes is gravy. Matt Barnes can return to the second unit where he’s better suited, and Granger in the fold allows Rivers lineup versatility to match against a variety of lineups.
Options, especially in the playoffs, are invaluable.
On to the rankings.