As enjoyable as NBA games can be, and as incredible as it can be to see the best of the best go at it on the hardwood, there is no denying that many NBA fans get as much enjoyment out of the trade deadline as they do actually watching the games. With that being said, no matter how much fun it is to watch various media outlets race each other to get the news out and see Woj bombs get dropped all over the twitterverse, at the end of the day there will always be winners and losers.
The Bucks are currently sitting atop the Eastern Conference and look like true title contenders behind Giannis Antetokounmpo’s MVP level of play and their strong three point shooting. Prior to the trade deadline it appeared they had a trade in place with Detroit to rid themselves of the unhappy Thon Maker. In return they would get Stanley Johnson, who doesn’t really fit their style of play and would likely struggle alongside the Greek Freak. Antetokounmpo needs teammates that can create space, so instead, they were able to convince New Orleans to send Nikola Mirotic to them in the trade without having to sweeten the deal too much: adding in Jason Smith and four second round picks. Now, the Bucks possess yet another shooter who is averaging 20.8 points and 10.3 rebounds per 36 minutes while shooting 36.8% from behind the arc. The rich got richer in a big way.
While the Bucks were stocking up for a run at the Finals, the Mavericks took the opposite approach – they’re setting themselves up for the future. Dallas and New York set the trading season in motion when they sent Kristaps Porzingis to the Lone Star state in exchange for a package centered around the unhappy Dennis Smith Jr. and DeAndre Jordan. While Porzingis is unlikely to suit up for them this season, it sets them up for the Doncic and Porzingis show moving forward. The last step was to clear additional cap space moving forward, which they were able to do by trading away Harrison Barnes, who never lived up to what the Mavs hoped he would be for them. This was about as good of a trade deadline as a team in Dallas’ position could hope for.
In full disclosure, I’ve never been a Harrison Barnes guy. His game has always been more role player than feature attraction, despite what his contract might say. However, he could be a fantastic fit on the perimeter for the Kings, who can surround him with De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield in the backcourt and Marvin Bagley, Harry Giles, Nemanja Bjelica, and Willie Cauley-Stein in the frontcourt. They’ve been something of a surprise as an up and coming team, but they aren’t a team that’s going to be able to draw in big name free agents, so taking on a big contract like Barnes isn’t a terribly risky move for them. Plus, there’s a chance that they’ll be able to resign him for a more reasonable deal than what he’s on now. They didn’t give up anybody that should affect them too much on the court, and in addition to Barnes also picked up Alec Burks and Caleb Swanigan in other deals. They also signed Corey Brewer to a 10 day contract. It was a solid trade deadline for the Kings.
The Philadelphia 76ers already made a splash this season by acquiring Jimmy Butler, but they struck again at the trade deadline. As the L.A. Clippers started selling off everything that wasn’t nailed down, Philly moved in to claim Tobias Harris, one of the more underrated players in the league. He won’t wow you, but he’s a versatile forward that should be able to play very well alongside Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. They also picked up Boban Marjanovic in the deal, which provides them with additional lineup options. Finally, they were able to move on from failed number one pick Markelle Fultz. His health and happiness made it a near untenable situation, so removing that distraction from an equation that could result in a deep playoff run may pay dividends later on. They didn’t get much for him considering his lofty status just a few seasons ago, but they did enough in other moves to remain winners at the deadline.
Markelle Fultz / Orlando Magic:
Speaking of Markelle Fultz, the Magic were able to scoop up a former number one overall pick for the bargain price of a protected first round pick and Jonathon Simmons, who is averaging a paltry 6.9 points per game. Sure, Fultz brings with him a troubling injury history and has been unable to live up to his draft position, but for that price he becomes worth the risk for a franchise that is in the midst of rebuilding. Fultz needed a new start somewhere, and Orlando should provide him with an opportunity to get his career back on track. If he is able to resuscitate his career, this trade will look very wise for Orlando. If he can’t, well, they didn’t give up too much in what was a calculated risk from the very beginning.
Anthony Davis / Los Angeles Lakers:
Anthony Davis wanted out of New Orleans. He didn’t get it and will be stuck there for at least the rest of this season. The Lakers wanted Davis, especially before Boston could get involved in the bidding process this summer. They didn’t get him. In the process, the Lakers alienated virtually every member of their team not named LeBron as virtually everybody’s name was floated in the deal rather publically. Opposing fans had fun with it, especially after James was seen distancing himself from his teammates on the bench while the Pacers destroyed the Lakers. Lonzo Ball’s father did his best to instigate trouble between his son and the coach (blaming Luke Walton for building a losing culture), his son and the star player (questioning James’ ability to win a championship without Ball), and his son and the franchise (trying to force his way to Phoenix if he was traded). On the bright side, Ivica Zubac had been playing well as of late, but the Lakers turned him and Michael Beasley into Mike Muscala in a puzzling move. Now, the Lakers will have to hope to land somebody off the buyout scrap heap if they want to improve. They were easily the biggest losers of the trade deadline.
Clippers’ playoff chances:
Staying in LA, another loser is the Clippers’ playoff chances. Now, the Clippers could have chosen to stay on their current path and hoped to hold on to a playoff spot just to get knocked out by a team like the Nuggets or Warriors. Instead, the Clippers punted on this season in order to go into full rebuild mode. The Clippers feel like they could be major players in free agency this offseason and turn things around in a hurry, so they shipped out the aforementioned Tobias Harris and Boban Marjanovic, waived Milos Teodosic and Marcin Gortat, acquired young big man Zubac, swapped Avery Bradley for Garrett Temple and JaMychal Green, and picked up Landry Shamet along with Wilson Chandler and his expiring deal. Now, as a result of all of this roster rearranging, they have only 8 players under contract for next season, and only one of those (Danilo Gallinari) is making more than 8 million. So while the fans may not be happy about knowing the rest of this season is going down the drain, the Clippers probably made the prudent move. The fans’ playoff hopes lost big at the deadline, but the Clippers’ long term future could very well be the winner in all of this.
This season there had been a ton of speculation about Kemba Walker and his status with the Hornets. It looked for a time like he could end up being a trade chip for the Hornets. However, he’s been playing so well that instead the Hornets decided to try and find him some help at the deadline. They engaged the Grizzlies in talks regarding Marc Gasol and it appeared Kemba might finally get some help. Alas, Gasol ended up being moved to Toronto and leaving Charlotte empty handed. Adding Gasol wouldn’t have changed the Hornets’ future a tremendous amount, but for a franchise that has struggled to find talent to add to the roster, they really could have used a player of Gasol’s caliber to give the fanbase some hope.
Poor Nik Stauskas probably doesn’t even know who eventually waived him. He, or better yet – his rights, have bounced around from team to team over the last few days. When February started, Stauskas was averaging 6.1 points per game over 44 games for the Blazers. On February third, the former top ten pick got shipped to Cleveland in a deal for Rodney Hood. Three days later, Cleveland sent him to Houston in the Brandon Knight / Iman Shumpert trade. Having spent less than 24 hours with the Rockets, Sauce Castillo was then traded to the Pacers for a player that will likely never make an NBA roster. Then, to add insult to injury, the Pacers released Stauskas. The only thing that should make Stauskas feel better is that he wasn’t alone – teammate Wade Baldwin was involved in every single one of those transactions as well. Now they’ve both got to find a new home, but at least he gets to pick what team he signs with now.
New York Knicks:
Obviously some teams came out winners at the deadline while others were losers (and we may look back at this piece in three years and feel silly about the immediate takes) but there’s one team that made a daring move that can’t be classified as good or bad, at least not yet. The Knicks traded away the cornerstone of their team amid news that he was unhappy with the direction the franchise was headed. It’s a bold move by the Knicks’ front office to ship out the 7-3 unicorn and instead opt for the cap space in hopes of being a major player in the free agency market this summer. If it all works out and they get Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, reportedly targets 1A and 1B, then this may look like an incredibly wise move. However, it’s not without risk. The last time the Knicks cleared their books to throw money at the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, they ended up with Amare Stoudemire. If a similar situation plays out this summer and the team ends up striking out and throwing big money at Jimmy Butler, Nikola Vucevic, and Julius Randle, we’ll look back at the deadline as yet another stumbling block for a franchise that has spent the past several years unable to get out of its own way.
Two Best Trades:
Philadelphia sends Landry Shamet, Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, 2 first rounders, 2 second rounds to Clippers for Tobias Harris, Mike Scott, and Boban Marjanovic
This deal accomplishes for both teams exactly what they’re looking to accomplish. Philly sees an opening to become one of the top teams in the Eastern conference. Their current trio of Simmons, Embiid, and Butler likely aren’t enough , so they go out and get themselves another quality forward that should help to create tough matchups for opposing teams while also adding a big that, despite his flaws, provides insurance in case Embiid gets injured.
Meanwhile, the Clippers are able to start their rebuild by sending out over 28 million dollars in salary that they likely had no intent to resign after this year and bring back a young player on a rookie deal in Shamet. Then, they took Muscala and flipped him for Zubac. This is one of those rare trades that truly appears to be a win-win situation for the two teams.
Milwaukee trades Jason Smith, 4 second rounders to New Orleans, Thom Maker to Detroit. New Orleans sends Nikola Mirotic to Milwaukee. Detroit trades Stanley Johnson to New Orleans.
The harsh reality set in for New Orleans – winning games this season is no longer the most important thing, it is building for the team’s future minus Anthony Davis. As a result, they sent out Mirotic for Stanley Johnson and four second round picks. It was unlikely they were going to be resigning him, so at least they got something for him, although probably not quite as much as they had hoped. Detroit lands Thon Maker in a deal predicated on the fact that Thon felt underutilized in Milwaukee. If he thought he had trouble getting on the court behind Brook Lopez, just wait until he realizes Andre Drummond is in front of him now.
However, while it was a suboptimal trade for those two, Milwaukee made out like a bandit here. I’m not going to belabor the point since it’s talked about above, but when a title contender can add a player for next to nothing like they did, it can be a real game changer. You have to believe that their fellow Eastern Conference teams hated to see this deal go down.
Two Worst Trades
Chicago trades Bobby Portis, Jabari Parker, and a second rounder to Washington for Otto Porter
There is no nice way to put this – Chicago is a bad basketball team right now. Up until the deadline, I was under the impression they were aware of this fact. However, at the deadline they took a talented, albeit mercurial player who was set to enter restricted free agency, a player with a 20 million dollar team option, and a draft pick and sent them out in exchange for Porter who, while a good players, still has north of 50 million dollars worth of salary on the books over the next two seasons. Will he help the Bulls? Probably. Will he help them enough to justify that they could have just let Parker walk, take that extra cap space, and use it toward free agents? Probably not. This really feels like a move for the sake of making a move instead of being patient. For Washington, they got out of Porter’s contract and got Portis in exchange which is good, but they have a lot to figure out over the course of the next several months, as they have now lost John Wall for the next year or so, and Bradley Beal isn’t going to be able to carry the team on his back.
Phoenix trades Ryan Anderson to Miami for Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington
Listen Phoenix, I know Ryan Anderson had an absolute mess of a contract and he won’t be missed for his on-court contributions. I also know that you need a point guard in the worst imaginable way. However, this deal doesn’t really fix anything. Tyler Johnson can play the point, but he’s really a shooting guard, and he isn’t exactly known for racking up assists or for running an offense in a way that will help you to develop Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton. The worst part is that the Suns made this trade knowing they were going to end up waiving the best player in the deal: Wayne Ellington.
Two Trades That Scream Desperation
Toronto trades Delon Wright, Jonas Valanciunas, second rounder to Memphis for Marc Gasol
Toronto’s best player, Kawhi Leonard, is a free agent after this season and the Raptors know they may only have one shot at this before they have to hit the reset button. So what do they do? They go out and nab Gasol. At 34, Gasol isn’t going to be around for much longer, while Valanciunas is significantly younger. However, seeing the Bucks and Sixers getting better, the Raptors couldn’t afford to sit this deadline out. Was taking on a player that is at the end of his career worth the risk? That likely depends on if Gasol can help Kawhi turn around the Raptors’ past playoff failures. This was clearly a desperation move from the franchise. That doesn’t necessarily mean it was the wrong move, but they are clearly valuing the short term, meaning they believe they have a chance to reach the Finals this year.
Houston trades Brandon Knight, Marquese Chriss and a first rounder to Cleveland for Nik Stauskas and Wade Baldwin. Sacramento trades Iman Shumpert to Houston. Cleveland trades Alec Burks to Sacramento and a second rounder to Houston.
Name one team that got better in this deal, I’ll wait. I lied, I won’t. You can’t. This is a case of teams understanding that they have weaknesses, but reshuffling the deck instead of actually doing something about it. Houston gets out from under Knight’s contract and they don’t have to worry about Chriss being upset about not getting minutes, but Iman Shumpert next to Harden isn’t going to change anything about the fact that Houston is painfully one dimensional right now. Cleveland moved Burks, but Knight doesn’t move the needle for them and they have approximately 70 million dollars worth of contracts for players at Chriss’ position for next year, so I’m not sure how he benefits them. He enters free agency this offseason, but if they just wanted the cap space they could have kept Burks. They still probably managed to get the best of this deal simply by virtue of getting a late first round pick. Sacramento got additional cap space by way of Burks’ expiring deal, but Sacramento doesn’t exactly reel in top tier free agents, so the space doesn’t do anything to change their fortunes.