The No. 8 seeds suddenly look like more than first-round fodder.
Oklahoma City and Miami were two of the biggest winners on trade deadline day, making themselves not only strong enough to hold off the teams behind them, but perhaps challenge the ones way ahead.
Even the powerful ones they could meet to open the postseason.
The Heat were certainly talking big after acquiring Goran Dragic from Phoenix.
“We are incredibly pleased to take another step in getting the Miami Heat back to real championship prominence with the acquisition of Goran Dragic,” Heat President Pat Riley said. “Goran is an All-NBA player, including the Most Improved Player last season, and we felt that once he became available, we would do all that we could to acquire him.”
Dragic had made it clear he wasn’t planning to re-sign in Phoenix, just as Reggie Jackson had made it known he wasn’t long for Oklahoma City. But rather than risk losing Jackson for nothing, the Thunder used him as one of the pieces to fill out their roster.
He went to Detroit in a three-way trade with Utah that brought center Enes Kanter and forward Steve Novak from the Jazz, along with guard D.J. Augustin, forward Kyle Singler and a second-round pick from the Pistons.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were already going to make the Thunder dangerous if they qualified for the playoffs, even for NBA-leading Golden State. The moves they made Thursday had even one of their doubters thinking differently about them.
“This was a team that made themselves a championship contender,” TNT analyst Charles Barkley said after the Thunder beat Dallas.
“The big winner today was Oklahoma City. They went from a team being an 8 seed, now nobody wants to play this team.”
Barkley had long discounted the Thunder as a team that could win a title — even when they played the Heat in the 2012 NBA Finals — because they didn’t have a low-post presence on offense. But the 6-foot-11, 245-pound Kanter, averaging career highs of 13.8 points and 7.8 rebounds, could change that.
“It is a rare opportunity to acquire a player like Enes who will be an added dimension to our frontcourt and has his best basketball in front of him,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said.
The Thunder are tied with Phoenix at 29-25, though would earn the No. 8 spot via season-series tiebreaker at the moment. Still, the Suns felt they couldn’t take a chance of keeping Dragic for a playoff push when he said this week he no longer trusted the organization.
The Heat jumped in, giving up two first-round picks in the package to get him.
“I did feel it was time to find a better fit,” Dragic wrote on Twitter, adding “NOW it’s #heatnation time and I’m excited to bring the Dragon’s fire to Miami!!”
The Suns will replace Dragic with Brandon Knight, one of the many point guards moving so quickly it made the trade deadline a transition game. He was acquired from Milwaukee, which will fill his spot with last season’s Rookie of the Year, Michael Carter-Williams of Philadelphia.
There were 12 trades involving 39 players. So many were on the move in deals agreed to shortly before the 3 p.m. EST deadline that most of the transactions took hours for the NBA to approve.
Even backup point guards seemed in demand, with players such as Isaiah Thomas (Boston), Ramon Sessions (Washington), Andre Miller (Sacramento), Norris Cole (New Orleans) and Pablo Prigioni (Houston) getting new homes.
Kevin Garnett got an old one, waiving his no-trade clause so Brooklyn could send him to Minnesota, where he spent the first 12 seasons of his career and led the Timberwolves to their only eight playoff appearances.
Portland got Arron Afflalo from Denver in the first completed deal of the day, adding his 14.5 points per game to strengthen their bench.
Seventeen teams made trades Thursday, though some felt no deal was necessary.
The East-leading Hawks sat it out, and asked by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution if they needed a trade, All-Star Paul Millsap had a simple response — his team’s record, saying “43-11.”
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