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Whopper of a trade deadline toughens East

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By Sam Smith | 2.19.2015 | 6:56 p.m. CT

The Bulls remained resolute as the NBA trading deadline passed 2:00 p.m. Thursday. And with good reason. The Bulls don’t really have any major holes to fill and have not even effectively used all the players they could, like Tony Snell and Doug McDermott. So there wasn’t much need for change.

Actually, few of the teams in the league with the best records, like the Hawks, Warriors, Grizzlies, Raptors, Bulls and Cavaliers made any moves.

But the Bulls—and some other top teams—may be looking over their shoulders some as teams creeping up from behind executed deals that should substantially enhance their chances to make the playoffs and have post season success.

That’s primarily the Heat and Bucks in the Eastern Conference and the Thunder and Trail Blazers in the Western Conference. Suddenly, you don’t want to be facing the Heat in the first round. Similarly with the Thunder, who likely will be able to move beyond the eighth spot in the Western Conference.

That’s because the Suns were big losers Thursday and probably the 76ers, the latter who continue to make the most confusing moves while seemingly destined to produce losing for the next decade.

The big winner has to be the Thunder with the Heat a close second and then the Bucks.

The Thunder succeeded on several levels in perhaps their best move since drafting Russell Westbrook No. 4 in 2008. They acquired young big man Enes Kanter from the Jazz along with D.J. Augustin and Kyle Singler from the Pistons. They gave up much-in-decline Kendrick Perkins with an expiring deal and unhappy Reggie Jackson, who’d also become a locker room distraction, it seemed.

The trades pretty much assure not only the Thunder making the playoffs after the early season injuries to Westbrook and Kevin Durant but perhaps moving up past the Spurs, Clippers, Mavericks and Rockets. With Blake Griffin out and no major moves, the Clippers seem most likely to slip and perhaps even fall out of the top eight if the Pelicans can get going. The Suns became a parachute with a hole plummeting out of the playoffs. The moves are an immediate boon to the Bulls, who open the post All-Star Friday in Detroit, who is without Augustin after trading for Jackson. The Pistons also gave up Singler and Jonas Jerebko. And in apparently committing to Jackson with Brandon Jennings to return, the Pistons look like a loser with issues to come.

The Thunder much improve their starting lineup with a young big man who is a high level offensive player to go along with Serge Ibaka, Durant and Westbrook. Singler and the wily Augustin fit in as good veterans who can play a role. The moves also signal to potential 2016 and 2017 free agents Durant and Westbrook the Thunder is serious about finding them support players with whom they can compete for a title.

There were rumors Perkins would be bought out or released and the Bulls were among those interested. Though that would not seem to make sense as they have too many inside players and not the stretch four type to defend players like Chris Bosh.

The scare in the Eastern Conference is the Heat.

Previously even a question mark to make the playoffs, Miami suddenly looks like a team you want to avoid in the first round. The addition of Goran Dragic from the Suns gives them one of the league’s best point guards—all-NBA third team last season—to fill out what now looks like a formidable starting five.

Dwyane Wade, assuming he is healthier, now can get off the ball some and Luol Deng finally gets to work with a guard who can pass and knows where other players are on the floor. Bosh becomes an elite stretch four, and that has proven the toughest position for a team like the Bulls to guard. Hassan Whiteside gives Miami an interior physical presence. Suddenly, it becomes perhaps a delicious Miami/Cleveland first round matchup. Maybe the Heat owner should have tweeted they’d win the title before LeBron does. Pat Riley has done it again.

Also, the Bucks are quietly looking like one of the top competitors in the Eastern Conference and a tough Central Division foe.

No one has any idea what the 76ers are about in shipping out the reigning Rookie of the Year in Michael Carter Williams to the Bucks along with K.J. McDaniels to the Rockets. It fits with their dump last year of trading players when they help them get wins, though the 76ers did get a potentially high Lakers pick through Phoenix. Still, when are they going to start trying?

It’s a terrific addition for the Bucks, who do give up Brandon Knight to the Suns. Knight has been having a good season and some felt could/should have been an All-Star given Milwaukee’s surprise good season. But Carter-Williams fits the Bucks’ new style of long, athletic players. They’ll be difficult to even bring the ball up court against in the future in a sort of Bulls ‘90s model. Plus, they add Miles Plumlee from the Suns, another athletic big man to a team with intriguing possibilities. The Bucks also acquired rookie point guard Tyler Ennis, a good prospect.

It seemed to rank mostly as a destruction of the Suns, who are in the United Center Saturday. Thus another weakened opponent for the Bulls. The Suns added spare parts in Marcus Thornton, Danny Granger and Jordan Hamilton.

The Suns, whose curious signing of Isaiah Thomas last summer for no apparent reason helped alienate Dragic, who was their best player last season, now traded Thomas. He went to Boston, where he’ll likely dribble the ball a lot and have others watch there as well. The Suns drove out their best player like few franchises ever have in signing Thomas and then paying a max deal to Eric Bledsoe, who isn’t as good as Dragic.

The other winner was likely the Trail Blazers with the acquisition of Denver shooting guard Arron Afflalo, a strong bench addition and support if Nicolas Batum continues to have physical problems. By solidifying, the Trail Blazers move up with the Warriors, Grizzlies and perhaps the Spurs as a top four in the West.

The Nuggets seem to be pretty much dumping their roster to start yet again—so much for the brilliant Carmelo Anthony deal—in taking on a bunch of expiring deals from Portland. They get a pick and did drop JaVale McGee’s deal with $12 million next season to the 76ers. The 76ers with such a low payroll needed some salary to avoid a penalty payment to the union. They get a pick to take the deal.

The Kings made a financial move of Ramon Sessions for Andre Miller, which was a talent upgrade for the Wizards and help for Washington as Miller had clearly come to the end of his usefulness as a player.

The Minnesota trade was intriguing in bringing back franchise favorite Kevin Garnett. Even though it’s a decline in talent at this stage for Thaddeus Young, Garnett can be a veteran presence. And the ‘wolves weren’t going anywhere with Young.

The Rockets are unable to let a deadline pass without doing something. They were about to make some fantasy deals with fans when they got McDaniels for a draft pick and Pablo Prigoni. It’s also not trading deadline if Thomas Robinson isn’t traded, and he was packed off to the Nuggets.

The Pelicans got Norris Cole with Jrue Holiday out, which isn’t that much help, while the Suns also apparently took back John Salmons as some deals still are being cleared. And Tayshaun Prince in another sentimental move went back to Detroit for Jonas Jerebko to Boston in an underrated move for the Celtics. The Knicks picked up some cap room trading Prigoni to the Rockets.

Whew! What a trading season. With Rajon Rondo, the previous Nuggets and Knicks deals to the Cavs, Mo Williams to the Hornets and Corey Brewer to Houston, Jeff Green to Memphis and Dion Waiters to Oklahoma City, it’s been a wild few months. The NBA is back!