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How the Eastern Conference landscape changed for the Hawks at the trade deadline

Brooklyn Nets v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks ended up not making a deal at the deadline after moving Cam Reddish to the New York Knicks in early January in a deal acquiring Kevin Knox and a likely first-round pick, depending upon how the protections work out.

Atlanta has won nine of their last twelve games and has one of the softer schedules around the league the rest of the way. But the analysis around the remaining schedule reflects a perspective prior to a volume of moves that took place in the final days before the NBA trade deadline.

Additionally, the Hawks are as healthy as they have been all season and, of recent, have finally been able to feature the depth as was intended.

At the time the bell rang on the deadline, they were sitting in tenth place in the Eastern Conference, 4.5 games back of the sixth spot, with 28 games remaining. Only eleven of the remaining games are against those currently ahead of them in the standings. A mixture of good news and bad in that there are a lot of quite winnable games but not so many against teams where a victory would offer additional value.

Let’s take a look at how the landscape has changed in light of the deals made in ahead of the deadline.

To address some housekeeping items, it would appear that the Washington Wizard punted on the rest of the season as they dealt Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans to Dallas in exchange for Kristaps Porzingis and moved Montrezl Harrell to Charlotte for a return of Ish Smith and Vernon Carey.

In a different context, one could make the case the Washington could push for a play-in spot with Porzingis, but with Dinwiddie no longer on the roster and Bradley Beal now out for the season it’s next to impossible to imagine where they would get enough productive guard play to stay in the mix.

Likely, the field of teams chasing one of ten spots to play beyond the regular season is eleven teams, depending upon how one feels about the New York Knicks, who didn’t make a move despite having lost 10 of their last 12 games.

A play-in spot is likely out of reach for the Indiana Pacers, even if Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield set the league ablaze as a new starting back court to mix in with Malcolm Brogdon.

The big move, of course, was the deal that sent James Harden to Philadelphia, along with Paul Millsap, with Brooklyn receiving Ben Simmons, who has yet to play this season, Seth Curry, and Andre Drummond.

By all accounts, Harden wanted to move on from Brooklyn because the plan wasn’t for him to have to handle all of the offensive workload there, only a recent development due to a Kevin Durant injury and rare appearances by Kyrie Irving. That won’t quite be the case in Philadelphia as plays next to a legitimate MVP candidate, Joel Embiid. But since Curry was included in the deal, Harden is going to have to handle basically all of the offensive productivity the Sixers will need from the guard and wing spots.

It’s going to be a massive task for Harden to deliver what is needed to get them through the playoffs and potentially into the finals, but few players in the league, at least historically, have been able to deliver at that kind of scale the way he has.

For a team with serious ambitions, they have been operating as a significantly flawed offensive team. And with Curry exiting in the deal, the path toward solving their issues is narrower than it otherwise would have been. But Philadelphia has unquestionably added an all-time great offensive player. There is a path for them that was not in place ahead of this deal.

Brooklyn did well, in my view, to insist on getting Curry in the deal. Especially since it’s unclear whether or not Joe Harris will play again this season. But, of course, Simmons is the feature of this swap on their side.

It may have gone somewhat unnoticed, but when the Nets were getting win after win earlier this season, they were doing their best work on the defensive end of the court. Now, this was before Kyrie Irving returned (to play some of the games) which means there will be fewer minutes featuring Bruce Brown and another defensive-minded wing like DeAndre’ Bembry (waived on Thursday) or Kessler Edwards. These are the types of players that get increasingly hard to play the deeper a team progresses in the playoffs.

Simmons basically gives them a power forward-sized Bruce Brown who can also handle minutes at center. And that’s a big deal. NBA offenses are naturally organized to account for the presence of non-shooters at those positions. Meanwhile, Curry shows up in Brooklyn as one of the single best three-point shooters in the league that excels moving off of the basketball…a natural fit to play with Irving and Kevin Durant.

The Boston Celtics had as ugly of a start to the season as almost any team in the league. The offense was a sluggish series of tasks game by game if not possession by possession. Things have changed. They may be the best defensive team in the league right now and went about adding Derrick White and Daniel Theis while sending out Josh Richardson, Dennis Schroder, Romeo Langford and other non-rotation pieces.

White should fit exceptionally well with the players Boston features offensively, Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown. He’s a markedly better ball handler than Richardson, which will really help, especially in the minutes Marcus Smart is off the floor. Meanwhile, Schroder exits as a point guard that needs to somewhat dominate the basketball on offense as to produce that of which he is capable.

Boston doesn’t need a traditional point guard. Smart and White are a well, smartly, constructed backcourt duo to mesh with Brown and Tatum. They get the extra ball handling and creation White brings while maintaining the ability to play immensely switchable defensive lineups.

The Milwaukee Bucks added Serge Ibaka, an important move considering the uncertain status of Brook Lopez, while sending out Donte DiVincenzo, Rodney Hood, and Semi Ojeleye. Ibaka has played a modest number of minutes so far this year but, at least conceptually, should be able to replicate some amount of the rim protection and shooting Lopez offered the Bucks last year during their run to a title.

Charlotte, according to reports, tried to make a deal to Jakob Poeltl, which would have been a nice addition for one of the worst defensive teams in the league. Instead, the acquisition of Harrell gives them a skilled, energy big to share minutes at center presumably, with Mason Plumlee.

The Hornets play small and sacrifice interior defense as much as any team in the league. Perhaps this trade suggests a departure from the strategy. Or they may just have upgraded the Plumlee minutes to a more versatilely skilled big man.

The Raptors added Thaddeus Young and in a deal that saw them sending out Goran Dragic. The 33-year-old Georgia Tech product will presumably consume minutes at center in the Raptors heavy switch-based scheme. It will be interesting to see if he displays the mobility to work in lineups with the likes of Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and Scottie Barnes.

Cleveland, desperate for offensive competence on the wing, added Caris LeVert earlier in the week. I don’t care for the fit even if the deal was a logical one. LeVert is not the kind of creator and passer I would want to deploy with super capable bigs like Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley. We will see if JB Bickerstaff can make it work…he’s been a great problem-solver all season with his team.

Like the Hawks, the Bulls and Heat stood (mostly) pat.

So, in summary, how have things changed?

Philadelphia raised their offensive ceiling quite considerably. They are unquestionably a contender at this point, even if I am personally dubious about the possibility of extended chemistry between Harden and Embiid.

Brooklyn became a more balanced team with more defensive chops. As was the case before the deal, their hopes hinge upon the availability of Durant and Irving. Curry could be the kind of player that swings an otherwise neutral series at some point in the playoffs.

Boston improved as much as a team perhaps can without making a deal involving a star player.

Milwaukee addressed a potential area of attrition from their rotation.

Cleveland rolled the dice. I don’t think they are much better from a postseason context.

The moves made by Toronto and Charlotte really don’t change much, in my estimation.

From the Hawks standpoint, it seems they will get less pressure from teams that might be competitive from the standpoint of looking to move up into a play-in seed. Unless the Knicks find an unlikely solution, the field of ten teams may be largely set.

Any possibility of catching Boston just got harder. Philadelphia, already mathematically quite out of reach, became next to impossible to chase down.

Brooklyn may be okay with getting into the play-in so long as the top players are healthy and ready when the time comes.

As to get to the sixth seed, it seems Atlanta would need to find a way past the Nets and one other team. And the only possibility I see is Toronto, who Atlanta plays twice more this season.

If the Hawks stay healthy and play with increasing commitment on the defensive end of the court, the six seed may be in reach.

Stay tuned.