At Trade Deadline, Raptors & Bucks Join Eastern Conference Arms Race

The Raptors and Bucks weren’t going to stand still while the 76ers made another push to emerge from the East.

The day after Philadelphia traded for Tobias Harris, Toronto made a blockbuster move to acquire Memphis center Marc Gasol while Milwaukee added New Orleans forward Nikola Mirotic. In what is suddenly shaping up to be a top-heavy Eastern Conference, these moves allow the Raptors and Bucks to keep pace with the 76ers.

[RELATED: Pelicans Retain Anthony Davis at Trade Deadline]

According to Stadium NBA Insider Shams Charania, the Grizzlies were in talks with the Hornets to send Gasol to Charlotte. Memphis even went as far as holding Gasol out of its lineup in light of the trade deadline approaching. It appeared that a deal between the two teams was imminent.

Enter the Raptors.

Toronto GM Masai Ujiri made it clear that he was “all in” this season by adding an All-Star center like Gasol to pair with Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry. Toronto reportedly sent Jonas Valanciunas, CJ Miles, Delon Wright and a 2024 second-round pick to Memphis to get the deal done. The Raptors didn’t have to part with their best young assets — OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam — and were able to upgrade from Valanciunas to Gasol, who is averaging 15.7 points and 8.6 rebounds per game this season.

By swinging a deal for Mirotic, Milwaukee added another perimeter threat to partner with MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Pelicans, who were initially rocked by Anthony Davis’ trade request, decided to keep their superstar and try to trade away peripheral players like Mirotic instead.

The stretch forward is shooting 36.8 percent from behind the arc and will provide another threat for a team averaging the second-most 3-point attempts per game. Milwaukee sent Stanley Johnson, Jason Smith and four second-round picks back to the Pelicans in the trade.

These moves come after the 76ers struck a big deal to land Harris, a dynamic forward who’s having a career season offensively. On Thursday, Philadelphia also parted with former No. 1 overall selection Markelle Fultz to acquire Jonathon Simmons, a first- and second-round pick from the Magic. Simmons is another versatile forward who can provide scoring off the bench, proving that the 76ers made moves with a championship in mind.

As for Philly’s Eastern Conference foes, this week’s moves theoretically leave the Celtics and Pacers just outside the top tier in the East. With Toronto and Milwaukee comfortably sitting in the first two spots, Boston and Indiana were jockeying with Philadelphia for third place. But after staying relatively quiet during the deadline, the Celtics and Pacers will have their hands full when they face the East’s new power brokers.

In recent seasons, such blockbuster deals rarely occurred in the East, but the departure of LeBron James may have given teams further incentive to make big deals. Keep in mind that James appeared in eight straight NBA Finals, providing little reason for other franchises to sacrifice assets for “win now” moves.

But James’ departure, combined with the fact that no team has truly established itself as the best in the East, has led to the start of a new era in the Eastern Conference.

MORE: Celtics’ Al Horford: “Best Group We’ve Had Since I’ve Been Here”