Latest: NBA Power Rankings: Celtics Add Depth at Trade Deadline Amid Lack of Blockbuster Moves

If an NBA trade deadline comes and goes without a significant deal, do winners and losers exist?

This is the question I asked last week, as the trade deadline—usually a whirlwind of activity that sees a handful of rosters reshaped for the stretch run—went by with little more than a shuffling of the deck chairs. The Dallas Mavericks added some defenders, the Boston Celtics added some depth, the New York Knicks picked up a couple of shooters and the Charlotte Hornets, forever rebuilding, added some draft capital for the latest one.

Meanwhile several of the NBA’s top contenders—the Denver Nuggets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Clippers—did nothing.

Sadly, this year’s deadline dud may be a preview for what’s to come. The NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement, which is being phased in over the next couple of years, will make deal-making more difficult, with tax aprons limiting the ability of free-spending teams to make transactions.

For now? Whatever you thought about the NBA landscape before the deadline is probably what you think of it now. It is still shaping up to be one of the most competitive postseasons in NBA history. It’s just the fallout from the trade deadline will have nothing to do with it.

On to Sports Illustrated’s latest NBA power rankings.

Celtics guard Jaylen Brown drives past Miami Heat guard Terry Rozier during the first half at Kaseya Center in Miami on Feb. 11, 2024.

Jim Rassol/USA TODAY Sports

1. Boston Celtics

Last ranking: 2

Is anyone in the East beating Boston? Not at home, where the Celtics are 19–0 against conference opponents. The Green addressed their biggest weakness—depth—at the trade deadline with the additions of Xavier Tillman and Jaden Springer, adding veteran protection for the NBA’s best top six. Kristaps Porziņģis is having himself a month. Porziņģis has scored 30 points in two of the last three games and is averaging 26.6 points in February.

2. Los Angeles Clippers

Last ranking: 1

OK, a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans was bad. Getting stuffed in a proverbial locker at home by the Minnesota Timberwolves is worse. But the Clippers—32–10 since Nov. 17—are elite offensively, sticky (especially on the wings) defensively and have the best player (the suddenly durable Kawhi Leonard) in most matchups. We’ll chalk a lousy homestand up to a hangover from a terrific 6–1 road trip and say the Clips right now are the class of the Western Conference.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers

Last ranking: 8

The Cavs have won 17 of the last 19 games. Say that again: 17 of the last 19, which would have been 18 had Cleveland completed a furious comeback over the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday. Donovan Mitchell has been electric: Mitchell is averaging 28.3 points per game while posting career bests in (deep breath) rebounds, assists, steals and blocked shots. Oh, and he leads the NBA in plus/minus per game. Are the Cavs contenders? We’ll find out in April, but for now, they look pretty good.

4. Minnesota Timberwolves

Last ranking: 5

Seriously—what is the deal with Minnesota? Lose to the Orlando Magic, blow out the Houston Rockets. Get beat by the Chicago Bulls, go into Milwaukee and Los Angeles and pummel the Bucks and Clippers. Anthony Edwards has been outstanding, particularly on the road, while Rudy Gobert racked up his 35th double double in the win in L.A. Gobert continues to anchor a downright stingy defense: The Wolves have held opponents under 40% shooting 16 times this season, the most in the NBA.

5. Denver Nuggets

Last ranking: 3

So … what’s up with Denver? Back-to-back duds against the Sacramento Kings and Milwaukee Bucks have the Nuggets limping into the All-Star break. Cause for concern? Probably not. Jamal Murray has been white-hot since Jan. 1, Michael Porter Jr. has been racking up the double doubles and, yeah, that Nikola Jokić guy is pretty good. The All-Star break is coming at the right time for Murray and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who both exited the loss to the Bucks early with injuries.

6. Oklahoma City Thunder

Last ranking: 6

Bismack Biyombo to the rescue? The Thunder signed the veteran this week to shore up what’s become a glaring weakness on the glass: Oklahoma City ranks in the bottom three in offensive and defensive percentage. Biymobo and Gordon Hayward add some experience to a team that’s starting to look like it has all the pieces to make a deep playoff run.

7. Dallas Mavericks

Last ranking: 14

I liked the moves the Mavs made at the deadline. Daniel Gafford is a springy big man who, like Dereck Lively II, will complement Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving. P.J. Washington is the kind of athletic wing Dallas has been searching for. The Mavericks thumped the Thunder in their first game with their reshaped roster (Gafford had 19 points and nine rebounds) and edged the Washington Wizards in the next (16 and 17 in that one). A four-game road trip next week through the teeth of Eastern Conference contenders will be revealing.

8. Phoenix Suns

Last ranking: 10

Bradley Beal is cooking. Over the last four games, Beal is averaging 28.3 points on 55% shooting, including 50% from three. Phoenix, meanwhile, is 10–2 when Beal scores more than 20 points this season. Over the last five games, the Suns have a top-10 defensive rating. Watch out.

9. Milwaukee Bucks

Last ranking: 7

Doc Rivers isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel in Milwaukee. “Simplify” is a word Bucks players have used in the last week to describe Rivers’s approach. On offense, where Rivers has leaned into the two-man game of Damian Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo. On defense, Rivers has emphasized the need for more effort, particularly when it comes to fighting over screens. The Bucks followed up a win over the Hornets on Friday with a 17-point pounding of Denver on Monday. Over the last eight games, Milwaukee’s defensive rating (112.6) is in the top 10. Some positive signs headed into the All-Star break.

10. New York Knicks

Last ranking: 6

Yes, the Knicks got hosed in Houston on Monday, with a phantom foul on Jalen Brunson ruining a competitive game against the Rockets. New York, though, has dropped four of its last five and Brunson is playing heavy minutes carrying an injury-ravaged roster. O.G. Anunoby and Julius Randle’s return can’t come soon enough.

11. New Orleans Pelicans

Last ranking: 13

How difficult is Zion Williamson to defend? Against “tight” defense, defined as a defender being within 2 to 4 feet, Williamson is shooting 58.4%, fifth best in the NBA. Against “very tight” D, where a defender is within 0 to 2 feet, Williamson is shooting a league-best 53.3%. Williamson continues to be a wrecking ball off the dribble with more than half of his points coming in the paint.

12. Indiana Pacers

Last ranking: 11

Indy has dropped two of its last three, including an ugly loss in Charlotte on Monday. I didn’t like the Buddy Hield trade. Hield was having a solid season (38.4% from three-point range) and played well opposite Tyrese Haliburton. And the Pacers offloaded Hield onto a team (the Sixers) they could meet in the first round of the playoffs? Hield is connecting on 45% of his threes in three games with the Sixers. Indiana better hope that deal doesn’t come back to bite it.

13. Sacramento Kings

Last ranking: 12

The Kings defense is regressing with a bottom-five rating over the last seven games. So, too, is De’Aaron Fox, whose scoring output has cratered over the last six weeks. Fox has gone four straight games without cracking 20 points. In those games, Sacramento is 1–3.

14. Miami Heat

Last ranking: 20

The Heat have won four of their last six games since snapping an ugly seven-game losing streak and nearly upended Boston on Sunday. How long, though, can injury-ravaged Miami keep it going? Terry Rozier (knee) and Josh Richardson (shoulder) are out and Jimmy Butler will reportedly be away from the team through the All-Star break to deal with a death in the family. The Heat will lean heavily on Tyler Herro, who is shooting a career-best 40.4% from three.

15. Philadelphia 76ers

Last ranking: 9

Come back soon, Joel Embiid.

16. Los Angeles Lakers

Last ranking: 17

Seriously—is this run D’Angelo Russell is on sustainable? Russell dropped 30 points in a win over New Orleans on Friday, is averaging 22 points per game since Jan. 1 and shooting well over 40% from three during that stretch. Can Russell play this way in April and May? The Lakers’ hopes for any kind of postseason success probably depends on it.

17. Golden State Warriors

Last ranking: 21

Draymond Green had an interesting take on the Warriors’ recent success, suggesting his most recent suspension played a role. “Our offense doesn’t look the same as it used to look,” Green said. “We have different things that we’re wanting to do. You’re able to find different combinations that work. And then it’s just been plug and play.” It certainly didn’t hurt Jonathan Kuminga, who is averaging 20 points for the second consecutive month.

18. Orlando Magic

Last ranking: 16

The Magic have won five of their last six games after a brutal January, with their defense—seventh in defensive rating over the last six games—leading the way. The biggest post–All-Star break question for Orlando is: Can its bottom-third offense keep up?

19. Chicago Bulls

Last ranking: 19

The Bulls have won three of their last four, including a stunner against the Timberwolves last week, but does anyone really understand the long-term strategy? Chicago, which did nothing at the trade deadline, appears ready to double down on this team in the hopes that, what, Lonzo Ball returns next season and the Bulls can reclaim that early 2021–22 magic? Artūras Karnišovas, the Bulls top exec, said team ownership gave him the green light to rebuild. He should have taken it.

20. Utah Jazz

Last ranking: 15

Interesting tweet, er, X from Jazz beat writer Sarah Todd on Monday, who noted players “feel pretty apathetic” following trade deadline deals that sent more talent out than it brought back in. Utah did hang on to Lauri Markkanen, whose shooting numbers this month (57.5% from the floor, 48.7% from three) have been outstanding.

21. Atlanta Hawks

Last ranking: 23

Anyone surprised the Hawks held on to Dejounte Murray at the trade deadline clearly doesn’t remember how many years John Collins spent on the roster. Besides, the Hawks have picked up some nice wins in the last few weeks and with Murray and a suddenly red-hot Trae Young, anything can happen in a play-in tournament. Now, if they can just find a way to play a little defense.

22. Houston Rockets

Last ranking: 18

The Rockets are gearing up for next season—the deadline deal for injured center Steven Adams is proof of that—which is good, because this one is starting to slip away. Houston’s defense remains sturdy, but the offense, particularly down the stretch of games, has sputtered. Fred VanVleet’s injury hasn’t helped. The Rockets need VanVleet, out since Feb. 4 with a groin injury, to return after the All-Star break.

23. Brooklyn Nets

Last ranking: 24

Signs of life from Ben Simmons? Simmons scored a season-high 13 points (on 6 of 7 shooting) in a win over the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday and has played at least 20 minutes in each of his last three games. And with Simmons in the lineup, Brooklyn’s defense has improved. So, too, it seems, is Simmons’s confidence. “The storm doesn’t last forever,” Simmons said. “I’m going to get back to where I was.”

24. Toronto Raptors

Last ranking: 26

Scottie Barnes getting an early start to the locker room late in Monday’s loss to San Antonio wasn’t a great look. Still, Barnes, an All-Star injury replacement, has been one of the few bright spots in a forgettable season. Barnes had a triple double in a loss against Cleveland on Saturday, coming two assists shy of another the night before, against Houston. And his three-point percentage (35.8%) is up nearly seven points from last season.

25. Portland Trail Blazers

Last ranking: 25

Eighty-four points for the Blazers in a loss to New Orleans on Saturday. Jerami Grant scored 24 of them. You have to really try in today’s NBA to score just 84 points.

26. Memphis Grizzlies

Last ranking: 22

How’s this for a wild few days: On Thursday, GG Jackson, the NBA’s youngest player, scored 27 points. On Friday, he agreed to a new four-year contract. On Monday, Jackson was inactive—effectively suspended—for Memphis’s game against New Orleans for violating a team rule. The Grizzlies, meanwhile, have collapsed, losing nine straight.

27. Charlotte Hornets

Last ranking: 28

Mitch Kupchak’s decision to step down as the Hornets’ top basketball exec leaves new ownership with a critical decision to make. Charlotte has a pair of cornerstones in LaMelo Ball and Brandon Miller but badly need a talent infusion around them. In hiring the next GM—and, probably, the next coach—the Hornets desperately need to get it right.

28. Washington Wizards

Last ranking: 27

I’m still trying to figure out why the Wizards would trade Gafford.

29. San Antonio Spurs

Last ranking: 29

Victor freaking Wembanyama. Wow.

30. Detroit Pistons

Last ranking: 30

Sandwiching a three-game losing streak are two stretches where Detroit has won two out of three. The Pistons blurb is becoming an appreciation for Jalen Duren, who had a 27-point, 22-rebound effort in a win over Portland last week. Detroit has something in Duren, who is developing into a ruthlessly efficient scorer (14.3 points on 64.1% shooting) and a volume rebounder nearly a full year shy of his 21st birthday. 

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