Finally healed from a third knee procedure, Russell Westbrook suited up for the Thunder for the first time this calendar year -- the biggest "acquisition" at the NBA trade deadline.
That says plenty about Westbrook and his importance to Oklahoma City, obviously, but also about a deadline that had all the suspense of a Milwaukee Bucks game. Here's a quick summary: There was more smoke than usual this year, all the big names stayed put and the Pacers, the only real "winners," are all in.
Essentially, nobody wanted to make even-up swaps for fading players or bloated contracts or marginal talents. In a season where at least a half-dozen losing teams aren't anxious to get better -- something about getting pole position for the June draft -- the lack of significant moves wasn't such a big surprise.
Indiana was one of the only teams that didn't stand put. It's not often when a conference leader makes a move that involves a rotation player. But the Pacers saw a chance to upgrade and went for it. Out goes Danny Granger, who served as the bridge between the Malice at the Palace and the Paul George Era, and in comes Evan Turner, a mildly-disappointing former No. 2 pick who nonetheless can bring it every now and then. The move instantly made the Pacers younger and more athletic and deeper at the swing position, while the only cost was severing the emotional bond with Granger, a good soldier in bad times and good.
Granger is an old 30 and dealing with bad knees and lots of mileage. He had a role with the Pacers, but mostly a sentimental one. For the Sixers, he's just a contract waiting to expire so they can restart the franchise this summer (they also dealt Spencer Hawes to the Cavs). Turner is six years younger and healthier and can play two positions, maybe three in a pinch. He's also in a contract year, away from the losing stench of the Sixers and thrust into a winning environment and, by all accounts, a solid locker room. Those circumstances might produce a better and more motivated Evan Turner.
A few lingering doubts, though. First, Turner needs to prove that his numbers this season (17 points, 5 rebounds) weren't inflated from playing on a lousy team. Also, he was shopped around the league for months … and the best the Sixers could do was Granger? And they had to throw in Lavoy Allen to make the deal work? It makes you suspect the league is rather cool on Turner, who's terribly inconsistent, and would rather not be placed in position to make a decision on him this summer when he can become a restricted free agent.
Still, it's the kind of move that championship contenders make. The Celtics would pull these types of trades in the 1980s, and so would the Lakers during Showtime, and both teams made these deals with each other in mind. Clearly, this was an example where the Pacers sized up the Heat and figured they could add Turner and make LeBron James or Dwayne Wade work a little harder.
The two top teams in the East are on the fast-track to the conference finals and probably go to sleep at night thinking about the other. Everything the Pacers do, it's with Miami in mind -- and vice versa. Indiana wants to win home-court advantage because the Pacers feel it's the edge they need against Miami. The Heat are resting Wade at every chance because they believe a fresh and healthy Wade gives them the edge they need against Indiana. It's an ongoing chess match.
Right now, who's the better team one-through-seven? The Pacers are bringing George, Turner, Roy Hibbert, Lance Stephenson, David West, George Hill and Luis Scola. Miami is countering with LeBron, Wade, Chris Bosh, Ray Allen, Mario Chalmers, Michael Beasley, Shane Battier. Miami might have three of the best four players in that group, but it's all Pacers after that.
The trade deadline otherwise didn't exactly shake up the league. Apparently, most teams would rather wait until after the loaded draft and the upcoming free agent period before pulling the trigger. That means the summer should be an especially busy one.
More notes among the deals and non-deals:
• The Lakers held onto Pau Gasol. That doesn't mean they want him this season or next; he's an unrestricted free agent this summer. It only means the Lakers couldn't get a combination of young players and picks for him, and they didn't want to take back any contract beyond this season.
• Rajon Rondo is still a Celtic, just as Danny Ainge said all along. The time isn't right for Boston to move Rondo anyway. Teams want to see how he recovers from knee surgery, and until then, they'll offer 60 cents on the dollar for Rondo.
• The Raptors aren't going into the tank. And they can't, really. They're too far ahead in the East and even if they traded Kyle Lowry, the East is so bad Toronto wouldn't fall far enough to drift out of the playoff picture.
• The Knicks didn't make a deal, which means Carmelo Anthony must pull the freight this season and hope he gets help from Iman Shumpert, the only player besides Anthony who held any trade value.
• Nobody wanted Carlos Boozer and his hernia-causing contract. Yeah, we're all shocked, too.
• Rockets GM Daryl Morey must be bummed. A trade deadline actually came and went without his fingerprints (unless you count a minor deal for Aaron Brooks). It wasn't by choice; Morey wanted to trade Omer Asik and listened to offers for Jeremy Lin, who has spent much of the season coming off the bench. Morey learned a lesson: When you're a good GM, fewer teams want to do business with you.
• The Bucks gave Gary Neal a contract last summer and four months into the season they no longer have any use for him, sending him to the Bobcats. That's why they're the Bucks.
• Westbrook is back for the Thunder. They really didn't miss him much, because Kevin Durant went ballistic in January and most of February. The race for the top spot in the West is too tight to call, though, and any help is big help. So leave it to OKC to upstage a rather quiet Thursday and become the only team to get an instant and major upgrade without making a single trade.