By Matt Citak
The NBA trade deadline is behind us, and boy was it an exciting one. Several significant trades went down in the final few hours, including the Cleveland Cavaliers completely overhauling their roster. Six players were sent out while four new players were brought in, and based on their first two games together (wins in Boston and Oklahoma City), the Cavaliers must be happy with their outlook for the rest of the season.
While the trade deadline has passed, contenders aren’t necessarily done adding pieces to help improve their chances in the playoffs.
In fact, most playoff teams stood pat at the deadline, sticking with their main cores of players as the postseason approaches. The only reason Cleveland was so active last week was because of their obvious chemistry problems on the court over the last month and a half.
For the rest of the league’s contenders, the busy part of the season begins now, as veteran players are bought out and seek to sign for the minimum and the chance to chase a ring.
The buyout market began to unfold over a week ago, when Greg Monroe, after reaching a buyout agreement with the Phoenix Suns, signed with the Boston Celtics. Monroe is averaging 9.7 points and 7.1 rebounds in 20.9 minutes per game this season, appearing in 28 games between the Suns, Milwaukee Bucks, and Celtics.
While it’s been some time since Monroe looked like a dominant big man, his addition will likely boost Boston’s attempt to dethrone the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics this season have looked a lot worse on offense when Al Horford is off the court. Signing Monroe gives Boston a real front-court threat to run the offense through when Horford is getting a breather.
One of the favorites in the Western Conference also made some potentially big moves after the trade deadline. The Houston Rockets have been putting the heat on the Golden State Warriors recently, winning nine straight games and 13 of their last 14 to put themselves just half game behind the reigning champions for the number-one seed in the West.
Houston kept their foot on the pedal, adding two veterans that could contribute off the bench come playoff time. Joe Johnson, fresh off his buyout from the Sacramento Kings, and Brandan Wright, coming off his buyout with the Memphis Grizzlies, could both earn spots in Houston’s rotation with some improved play.
Johnson is a seven-time All-Star enduring his worst NBA season since his rookie campaign. In 32 games, the 36-year-old is averaging a mere 7.3 points and 3.3 rebounds, while shooting just 42.0 percent from the field and 27.4 percent from long range, in 21.9 minutes per game.
These statistics are far from impressive, but Johnson has a good track record following a buyout. Only two years ago Johnson was bought out by the Brooklyn Nets and immediately jumped into the Miami Heat’s starting lineup for the remainder of the season. The veteran started 24 regular-season games and averaged 13.4 points on 51.8 percent shooting from the field. Miami wound up losing in Game 7 of the Conference Semifinals to Toronto, but Johnson’s playoff performance gave them a real shot at advancing.
Johnson may not have much gas left in the tank, but the 17-year veteran only has to hit a couple of big shots to make this signing well worth it for the Rockets. At the very least, he can serve as a temporary replacement for Trevor Ariza in Houston’s rotation, as the versatile forward works his way back from a hamstring injury.
Wright probably won’t give the Rockets as much value as Johnson, but the 30-year-old does give Houston more front-court depth behind Clint Capela. Nene has played decently this season, but, at 35 years old, he’s not reliable for more than 10-15 minutes per game. Wright could leap over Tarik Black on the depth chart and bring a little more offense to Houston’s second unit.
The Philadelphia 76ers also joined the buyout market this week when they agreed to a deal with Marco Belinelli. The 31-year-old Italian native was enjoying yet another solid season, averaging 11.4 points off the bench for the Atlanta Hawks, before reaching an agreement on a buyout a few days ago.
The 76ers are somewhat of an afterthought in the Eastern Conference, with teams like the Cavaliers, Celtics, and Raptors sitting atop the standings. But with Philadelphia’s bench unit averaging the fifth-fewest points in the league, while shooting at the second-worst mark from long range among second units, the addition of Belinelli should help improve one of the team’s biggest weaknesses.
And there are still more signings to come. Defensive standout Tony Allen has not yet picked which contender to join, while a decision on Derrick Rose’s future is not expected until after the All-Star break. It’s also possible that more vets, such as Channing Frye, Joakim Noah, and Shabazz Muhammad, could reach a buyout agreement in the near future.
While making a big splash at the trade deadline may be the sexier move, adding a veteran from the buyout market is a low-risk move that could make the difference come playoff time. The success of these signings remains to be seen, but don’t be surprised if some of these veterans make some noise in the postseason.
Matt Citak is a contributor for CBS Local Sports and a proud Vanderbilt alum. Follow him on Twitter.