After weeks of trade rumors, Kyle Lowry and Lonzo Ball went nowhere. The Lakers and Sixers missed out on the best player on the market, while the Bulls and Nuggets gained ground. 

In the weeks leading up to the trade deadline, rumors of Toronto Raptors’ star Kyle Lowry being available made their rounds throughout NBA markets. The validity of the rumors seemed to be confirmed when Lowry and his teammates expressed their emotions during and after their game against the Denver Nuggets on March 24. In his press conference, Lowry described the night as weird.

“I’m gonna be honest,” Lowry said following what he treated as his last game. “Usually I [NFSW] y’all, but it was kinda weird tonight.”

And to be honest, the following day was even weirder. Not only was Lowry not traded — a move shocking to both the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat — the Raptors’ Norman Powell was shipped to the Portland Trail Blazers for Gary Trent Jr. and Rodney Hood.

Meanwhile, the New Orleans Pelicans, who were expected to part ways with starting point guard Lonzo Ball, did nothing. As the trade deadline passed, Ball was still a Pelican. Every valuable piece was still a Pelican except for veteran shooting guard, JJ Redick, who was traded to the Dallas Mavericks, along with Nicolo Melli, for James Johnson, Wes Iwundu, and a second-round pick.

But movement did occur, just in unexpected places. The Orlando Magic, a team not expected to make a big push, confirmed that assumption to the tenth power. Not only did they not make any moves to get better, but they also dumped the firepower they had. The Magic traded their All-Star big man Nikola Vucevic to the Chicago Bulls, who also filled their bench with veterans. With this, Orlando sent dunk champion Aaron Gordon to the Nuggets, a team that firmly sits at the fifth seed in the loaded Western Conference.

The biggest change came in Miami, where the defending Eastern Conference Champions replaced Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk and Moe Harkless with Victor Oladipo, Nemanja Bjelica and Trevor Ariza.

The trade deadline is a  small big fight that is a part of the rising action which reveals the actual big fight within the climax. The trade deadline is the part of the NBA season where the teams who realize their arms aren’t going to win reload and restock. Typically speaking, the teams restocking and reloading are usually the ones outside of contention. That was the case this season, only this time the gap closed.

Teams who were missing a piece that caused contention found those pieces, while teams who wished to build for the future acquired their blocks. The Nuggets and Heat, teams who sniffed the Larry O’Brien trophy a season ago, added the ammunition needed to battle against the Goliaths known as the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers. Teams like Orlando, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets stacked assets for the future. The Los Angeles Clippers added former Laker Rajon Rondo, giving up Lou Williams to the Atlanta Hawks in the process.

These aren’t the kind of moves that change the landscape of the league, and they may not change this year’s outcome. But these moves added a layer of excitement to the season because of the gap between the rich and poor closed — at least just a little bit.

Yes, the Lakers still have Anthony Davis and LeBron James. 

Yes, the Nets still have the three-headed monster in Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving.

Yes, these two teams are likely to appear in the NBA Finals this year, but it doesn’t feel fully guaranteed anymore. Since adding Victor Oladipo, the Heat’s offense has banded together to execute sets as smooth symphonies. The Bulls, still dropping some games, have managed to put themselves in a  position to be competitive now, versus waiting for their young supporting cast to develop. The Nuggets look like a team who can very well make the rest of the Western Conference, including the defending champion Lakers, sweat in a seven-game series.

The Nuggets improvement puts more pressure on teams like the Lakers who are tumbling down the standings following the injury to Davis and James. If the Nuggets continue to win, and the Lakers continue to struggle, fans could see a Clipper-Laker first-round showdown.

After, the winner would likely see the Utah Jazz or the Pheonix Suns. These are winnable series, but not the kind that one can predict with 100% assurance. The gap between the favorites and the challengers is closing to where a team like Denver sees the promise in a puncher’s chance.

And the same can be said in the East, where the Bucks and Sixers are the solidified giants who do not have a clear path to the Larry O’Brien title. The Sixers have been without their star Joel Embiid for nearly a month, while the Bucks have failed to prove that they can execute in the postseason. The Nets have been good — really good. But they have been without their best player for more than a month. 

Miami, a team coming off a Finals appearance, is back in the mix. Acquiring Oladipo cleanly merges the team the Heat are with the team the Heat want to be, complete with all of the core players who serve as a line between the two.  Miami was already a better team than its record, undercut by COVID-related absences, injury and cold shooting spells. Count the Heat out at your own risk. 

Brooklyn made its only recent addition in advance of the deadline by scooping up Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge from the buy-out streets. When they couldn’t land Lowry, the Sixers made a consolation play for the ever-solid George Hill. Those teams had fewer outright needs than the Heat.

When the road to the Finals looks windy and filled with small detours, conflict is born. Conflict leads to storylines that pique human interest. And at the end of the day, human interest is the aim of any person trying to sell a product. 

That’s the funny thing about the NBA trade deadline. It is at its backbone paperwork building — creating rosters on paper that teams can only hope will work in real life. It’s moving numbers around on paper to make salary cap and balance sheet configurations work while analyzing spreadsheets that plot out players’ projected future production. Yet, for an event that is based on paperwork, somehow the fans always are the winners.