It’s not. The West just got tougher. In the East, where there’s no life-or-death importance attached to getting better, the top teams sat this one out while the bad teams—your Knicks and 76ers—dumped, shut down or otherwise disposed of their best players in order to tank more definitively.
CONTENDERS HELPING THEMSELVES
Portland—The one thing GM Neil Olshey hadn’t improved while turning the Trail Blazers around was the bench. Arron Afflalo is a demon worker, totally professional with a game—basically threes and D—that fits anywhere. He’s like a sixth starter for the Blazers.
Dallas—Mark Cuban is not only the most NBA owner but the most underrated. Without a glamor signing, the Mavs make the most of opportunities as they did with Amar’e Stoudemire who, at this price-$477,000–had a league full of suitors.
Oklahoma City—Instead of Kendrick Perkins and Reggie Jackson backing up their starters. it’ll be Enes Kanter, D.J. Augustin and Kyle Singler. Best move they’ve made to help their bench, which has been woeful since James Harden left it.
Miami—Well, they’re a contender in the East. The Heat is only one player from being good, even if that player is LeBron James, not Dragic. Nevertheless, with Goran and Hassan Whiteside, your basic seven-foot comer out of left field, to go with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, they’ve got something. That assumes they get Dragic to stay, but landing him in a deal with the right to pay him for a fifth season helps.
DID GOOD FOR THEM, ANYWAY
Sacramento—Getting Andre Miller, an old George Karl hand, is a big step for owner Vivek Ranadive after falling on his face every step of the way. Not that this one is expected to impact the West race, ever.
Milwaukee—I assume Jason Kidd knew enough about Brandon Knight to write him off as their point guard of the future. No one is sure what Michael Carter-Williams will bring after putting up big numbers for an awful team but it’s not good if a team is shopping its rookie of the year so soon after he gets his trophy.
Brooklyn—Got Thaddeus Young, a player, for Kevin Garnett, a memory. Will help them rebuild, if nothing else.
Minnesota—Got KG back… just five years or so too late.
Boston—Got Isaiah Thomas, a good third guard, for Tayshaun Prince, who’s over. The people saying this means the Celtics aren’t tanking must have Isaiah mixed up with Isiah.
Phoenix—People will say the Suns made out OK, getting Brandon Knight and a No. 1 pick in return for Goran Dragic. Unfortunately, Dragic was one of their best players and the No. 1 they gave up figures to be very high when the Lakers convey it this spring or next. GM Ryan McDonough got big props for last season’s move. Now he has to explain why he took a chance on ticking off Dragic, his upcoming free agent, by acquiring Isaiah Thomas, who’s now also gone.
IN A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN
Los Angeles Lakers—They were dying for Dragic but had nothing that the Suns wanted. In the bad news, with Dragic expected to sign in Miami amid speculation that Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love won’t be on the market, their free agent strategy may just have been pushed back yet another year.
New York—Carmelo Anthony courageously limped as far as the All-Star Game so he could start for the East, then opted for knee surgery. I’m just surprised they didn’t take him right from the floor in Madison Square Garden to the ER on a stretcher. The Knicks also bought out Amar’e Stoudemire.
On the bright side, after running far behind in this season’s executive of the year race, team president Phil Jackson is primed to go for executive comeback of the year in 2015-16.
Philadelphia—Having already unloaded all his good veterans, GM Sam Hinkie dealt his rookie of the year, MCW, for that No. 1 pick the Lakers must convey this spring, when it’s top-five protected.
Of course, Sam will use it for the best available player who’s hurt badly enough to sit out his rookie season. Adding to his collection of centers who are not, or only intermittently, available, he landed JaVale McGee. Asked to describe his new player, Coach Brett Brown said, “I would prefer not to comment.”
This may work down the line. Hinkie and Brown can only hope that they’re there to see it.
Hall of Fame writer Mark Heisler is a founding member and regular contributor to SheridanHoops, the Los Angeles Daily News and Forbes.com. Follow him on Twitter.