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The Eastern Conference playoffs just got a whole lot more interesting

Kyrie Irving didn’t get any help at the trade deadline in the Celtics’ drive for a championship this season.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

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The Celtics’ expected inactivity before Thursday’s trade deadline is a testament to the confidence in their roster. Yet, that internal confidence should be wavering considering the action by the Celtics’ primary competitors for the Eastern Conference title.

The 76ers, Bucks, Raptors, and Pacers all made moves Thursday. The Celtics’ lone move was trading Jabari Bird to Atlanta for cash considerations to create a roster spot.

The 76ers added Tobias Harris, Mike Scott, and Jonathon Simmons. The Bucks acquired Nikola Mirotic. The Pacers added Wesley Matthews, and the Raptors brought on Marc Gasol.


They have all ramped up for the playoff run, while the Celtics are choosing to stand pat save a potential buyout candidate with their remaining roster spot before March 1.

What’s most surprising about these moves by the Celtics’ competitors is how much each is banking on this season to reach the NBA Finals. The 76ers finally moved on from former No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz, moving him to Orlando for Simmons. They also traded 2018 first-round pick Landry Shamet. The Bucks shipped four future second-round picks to get Mirotic.

The Pacers waived former draft pick Ike Anigbogu to make room for Matthews, who was waived by the Knicks. While the Celtics’ rivals are making moves, the Celtics felt their best move was patience.

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There were no league-altering moves Thursday. The Lakers couldn’t move on Anthony Davis, who will stay with the Pelicans. That situation may have shaken up the Lakers’ locker room as LeBron James made it no secret he wanted to play with Davis, who had demanded a trade, and had no issue with management sacrificing the team’s young core to get the perennial All-Star.


It didn’t happen, and now the Lakers will have to play the rest of the season with those youngsters realizing James wanted them out.

The TD Garden crowd on Thursday night greeted former second overall pick Brandon Ingram, one of those involved in the Davis trade talks, with, “LeBron wanted to trade you!” as he stepped to the free throw line. He missed both attempts.

James looked rusty in just his third game back after missing five weeks with a groin injury. He may have expected his club to pull off the Davis deal, especially since the Lakers essentially owned exclusive negotiating rights to Davis since the Celtics weren’t eligible to trade for him unless they moved Kyrie Irving.

With the Lakers standing pat besides moving Michael Beasley and Ivica Zubac to the Clippers, the trade deadline was filled with contenders tuning up and also-rans clearing cap space for this summer and beyond.

The Knicks moved significant salary and former standout Kristaps Porzingis to ensure they will be major players this summer. They are prepared to offer two players — likely Irving and Kevin Durant — max contracts.

For the Celtics, the intrigue will likely come in the coming months, when the draft lottery will determine where the Celtics will draft with the Sacramento pick, and they’ll already know if they will be awarded Memphis’s first-round pick, which is top-eight protected.

Talks with the Pelicans about Davis could heat up following the season and could culminate on draft night with a potential deal on July 1 after Irving opts out of his contract. Or nothing may happen because of how this Celtics season turns out or if Davis’s sentiments toward the Pelicans change.


What is certain for the Celtics is that the road to the NBA Finals will be difficult. The Raptors moved three rotation players to get Gasol, and it’s uncertain how much he has left or how well he will fit into the Toronto system. But if it works, the Raptors will finally have a center who can stretch the floor.

The 76ers added Harris, a near All-Star this season with the Clippers, along with Simmons and forward James Ennis for bench depth and they, too, could be improved. The Bucks, meanwhile, are running away with the East and just added Mirotic, who can’t defend but certainly can shoot. Gone are the days when the Bucks struggled to score. They are the second-highest-scoring team in the NBA.

Indiana at least got a solid fill-in for the injured Victor Oladipo and is beginning to find its footing after his season-ending injury.

The Celtics didn’t particularly need to do anything Thursday. Their bench, which has been improved of late, scored 31 first-half points against the Lakers. Their impending free agents — Al Horford, Irving, Marcus Morris, and Terry Rozier — are all key contributors.

Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has never been fond of trade deadline deals that shake up his roster two-thirds into the season, and he made the rational move by not chasing spare parts or aging players for a prospect or first-round pick.


But this does put more pressure on the current roster to maintain its consistency, play to its potential, and make a deep playoff run. If not, major changes could be in store this summer.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.