What has perhaps accelerated the importance of the 2017 NBA trade deadline is the injury to Cleveland's Kevin Love. The forward underwent orthoscopic knee surgery and is expected to be sidelined until the end of March. That's basically when the playoffs start.
If anything goes wrong with that recover, the Eastern Conference suddenly booms wide open for the outside threats like Boston, Toronto and Washington. One of those teams has already made a huge move, while another is waiting to take their shot. More on both of those in a second.
Of course, no article concerning the 2017 NBA trade deadline would be complete without talking about the giant, headband wearing, elephant in the room so let's get that out of the way.
A QUICK NOTE ON CARMELO ANTHONY
The drama with Carmelo Anthony is certainly fascinating, but it's also a waste of time. Nobody I've talked to about him thinks that he alters the landscape. So what if he goes to the Cleveland Cavaliers? They're already the defending champions and covet what Kevin Love does compared to what people think Melo can do. Considering how well the Clippers are doing overall, it doesn't make sense for them to acquire the embattled Knicks star either.
The move that you will likely see in New York is a vanishing act by Phil Jackson. It's obvious that the current generation of NBA players does not like him. The way he operates does not resonate anymore. He's still one of the best coaches of all time, but he's also one of the most useless executives.
It's a known fact that Anthony loves living in New York and who wouldn't? If his greatest accomplishment is being a four or five time Olympic gold medalist, that's fine. Melo had a shot to move to a contender when he was at his apex a few seasons ago. He should've moved to Chicago in 2013. But he didn't. To think that he's going anywhere now, when he's in an obvious downslope of his career is lunacy.
The only team that could gain some traction by acquiring him is Oklahoma City, but there's no way in hell that La La signs off on that. He's staying in New York.
TORONTO TRADES FOR SERGE IBAKA
The Toronto Raptors finally have their power forward. Serge Ibaka will be moving north in return for Terrence Ross and a 2017 first-round pick from the Raptors. This is a landslide victory for Canada's only NBA franchise.
For what seems like the entirety of their existence, the Raptors have neither been an ideal free-agency lure nor a consistently good drafting team. For every DeMar DeRozan (2009), Chris Bosh (2003) and McGrady/Carter (1997,1998) there is a litany of complete busts that are highlighted by Andrea Bargnani in 2006. Ross was drafted in 2012, and aside from winning the Slam Dunk contest, he has turned into an absolute waste of space on a roster that needs more help in the trenches and less on the wings.
Everyone will talk about the supposedly slipping defensive capabilities of Serge Ibaka, but I must impress the importance of what the Congolese superstar did in the playoffs last year against the Golden State Warriors. He averaged 12.4 points and 7.9 rebounds along with 1.3 blocks but was essential in creating a long defensive perimeter to counter Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. He's still an incredibly gifted athlete with a natural talent for defence that is almost impossible to teach.
Ibaka is just 27 years old and in a contract year. It's in his best interest to have a career year and cash in this summer. Toronto will be hard pressed to retain both him and Kyle Lowry and playoff results will most definitely help weave the story of how the Raptors pursue their most coveted assets on the market.
If anything, Ibaka can learn from his now former Orlando Magic teammate Bizmack Biyombo just how great Toronto is as a platform for a new contract. And I'm sure Toronto is already working on how to create room to keep him.
The Raptors are currently fifth in the Eastern Conference, and second behind Boston in their division. They have +1200 odds to win the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland (-300), Boston (+550) and Washington (+950) but I'd expect that mark to shift with the arrival of Ibaka.
Hopefully for the Raptors and their fans, this is the move that reverses their recent tailspin and reinstalls them as a threat to steal the conference.
A TON OF RUMORS ABOUT DENVER
Jusuf Nurkic was traded for Mason Plumlee. It's a useless trade for both teams. Let's not waste time talking about it.
PHILADELPHIA'S OKAFOR ON THE MOVE?
This isn't that big of a deal, but Jahlil Okafor's maligned time in Philadelphia seems to be at an end. It is categorically unfair to say that the 21-year-old's career is in jeopardy. He's merely being outplayed by Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid, two players that have always been rated higher than him. If anything, Okafor was drafted as insurance for either of those two panning out following post-draft injuries that delayed their careers. Now that both have blossomed into franchise altering players, the need for Okafor is no longer there.
Okafor has been linked to New Orleans most frequently, and is a logical acquisition so that superstar Anthony Davis can move to his more natural position at power-forward. But New Orleans still sucks with or without a functional center. We all know this.
What we didn't know until recently is that…
CHICAGO IS DEFINITELY IN THE MARKET
The Bulls have been incredibly dysfunctional this entire season. The impatience of Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler has led to so much inner turmoil that Chicago may have no choice but to make a move. There have been rumors swirling that Doug McDermott, Bobby Portis and Cristiano Felicio have become punching bags for the superstar veterans and that the team chemistry is withering because of all the stress to perform.
Chicago could be looking to reboot the franchise, and doing so means getting young talent and picks. Okafor has been linked to Chicago this week for that very reason.
It could also mean cashing in on their biggest asset.
WILL BUTLER END UP IN BOSTON?
Danny Ainge is not averse to making a huge move. At the 2017 NBA Draft he made a godfather offer to Charlotte for the 9th overall pick in an attempt to draft Justice Winslow, but the Hornets balked for the dumbest of reasons (i.e. Frank Kaminsky).
Thankfully that gives Boston the fattest wallet at the trade deadline. Draft picks are the most sought after commodity in the NBA considering how rarely superstars can be traded for, and the Celtics will have the rights to the first overall pick this year courtesy of the idiotic Brooklyn Nets, who traded it to them for the rights to Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett many moons ago.
This is going to be a good NBA Draft compared to recent years, but the Boston Celtics are on the verge of competing for a championship. They are in desperate need of an upgrade at center, but could conceivably shift Jae Crowder and Al Horford into the frontcourt if they acquire…Jimmy Butler.
Listen, Chicago is a dumb franchise. They've repeatedly made terrible mistakes and we know that the ownership doesn't care about winning. They are the San Francisco 49ers of the NBA. It's not beyond them to move pieces like Butler for prospects in order to lighten the salary cap.
And if Boston gets Jimmy Butler, and Ibaka pans out in Toronto, the Eastern Conference becomes a three or four team war. Which also means one thing - the 2017 NBA trade deadline might be the most exciting since 2008 when Pau Gasol was traded to the Lakers.