Mark R. Bacon—Main Event Sports DC
By the time the dust settled on Thursday, there were more than 60 players dealt in the past eight days in the NBA, and more than 20 draft picks changed hands. That’s nearly 15 percent of the league involved in deals, and just about every team — we see you Hornets, Jazz, Nuggets, Spurs, Timberwolves and Warriors — made some sort of transaction in recent days.
Of course, the biggest piece of trade bait — Pelicans star Anthony Davis — went nowhere, as expected. But there was plenty of movement elsewhere and though there is still work to be done on the buyout market, it’s safe to declare some winners and losers from the deadline action.
NBA trade deadline winners
The Mavericks entered trade deadline week with an unhappy Dennis Smith Jr., one year of DeAndre Jordan, a weighty Harrison Barnes contract, the expiring deal of Wesley Matthews and a shortage of attractive young assets around star rookie Luka Doncic. They emerged with Doncic intact and the rest of that crew gone.
In its place: 23-year-old big man Kristaps Porzingis, 26-year-old guard Tim Hardaway Jr. (who has a hefty contract himself, two years and $37 million) and 23-year-old forward Justin Jackson, not to mention a massive $30 million in salary cap space next summer. The Mavs got younger, better and more flexible going forward.
The East playoffs, second round
The first four teams at the top of the conference — Milwaukee, Toronto, Boston and Philadelphia — are all light years ahead of the rest of the East. And three of them made major upgrades ahead of the deadline.
The Sixers brought in Tobias Harris, the Raptors added Marc Gasol and the Bucks won the Nikola Mirotic derby, making each of the three a much tougher postseason foe. Boston stood pat, still hoping to make an Anthony Davis trade this summer, but the Celtics already had plenty of talent and depth. After this week, these figure to be killer matchups.
Summer of 2019
Despite the flurry of activity on deadline week, the bulk of the week in many markets was spent arranging the books to prepare for what might transpire this summer. We have three superstar unrestricted free agents — Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Kyrie Irving — plus a handful of stars like Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, Klay Thompson and Kemba Walker.
The pre-deadline period saw the Clippers, Knicks and Mavericks clear out considerable cap space to make themselves players on the market, joining the likes of the Lakers, Net and others. It’s a rare offseason when so many big-market teams have so much cap space. Oh, and we have to figure out where Anthony Davis is going to play. The first week of July figures to be a watershed in the NBA.
Brand got the Sixers GM job in September in the wake of the Bryan Colangelo Twitter fiasco, with less than two years of experience as a player development consultant and G-League general manager. But he’s been fearless in the new job, acquiring Jimmy Butler in November and, now, giving up two first-round picks to take on Tobias Harris.
Both Butler and Harris are free agents, and they’ll be expensive to keep around. But Brand has been bold, and the Sixers should benefit in the postseason.
Sacramento has the longest playoff drought in the league, dating back to 2006. But with the Clippers dismantling in favor of making aggressive plays in free agency and with the Lakers having been engulfed in turmoil, the Kings saw an opportunity and seized it. They dealt away Iman Shumpert, Zach Randolph and Justin Jackson and got much better, adding veteran scoring wing Harrison Barnes and shooting guard Alec Burks.
The path has cleared. All the Kings have to do is stay healthy, keep up their momentum (they’ve won four of six) and the playoffs are nigh.
He was spared the indignity of having cleared out his locker on Tuesday and coming back to finish out the season in Memphis after the deadline.
Not only that, he lands in an outstanding situation, going from the misery that hoops in Memphis had become to a legitimate contender in Toronto. That’s some rags-to-riches stuff.
NBA trade deadline losers
This was not an impressive display on the part of Rich Paul’s agency, whose chief client is LeBron James but also has Anthony Davis. Paul did his best to get the Pelicans to trade Davis to the Lakers, and in doing so, came off as underhanded and vindictive.
Paul made an illegal public trade request and tried to bolster the Lakers’ chances by tearing down the potential package that the Celtics could offer the Pelicans in the summer. Obviously, James, the Lakers, Davis and Paul wanted a Pelicans-Lakers swap, but they went too far to push it.
See above. No doubt, Klutch was acting on the Lakers’ behalf, but the Pelicans simply decided they were not going to operate on LA’s timeframe.
Now the team has a heap of questions, starting with how they pull this roster back together after it was clear the front office was ready to trade just about everyone. Oh, and who knows what happens with coach Luke Walton?
The East playoffs, first round
As good as the East semifinals and finals series should be, the first round is likely to be brutal. The Pacers will be without Victor Oladipo, the Heat had to shed players (Tyler Johnson in particular) to get under the luxury tax, the Hornets made no moves whatsoever and the Pistons made future-facing trades that hurt their depth in the short term.
For the top four seeds in the conference, the stretch run is a race to not have to face Brooklyn in the first round.
Can’t help but recall what happened to the last coach who was on the Knicks’ sidelines when they had big-time free agent plans. That was Mike D’Antoni in 2010, and rather than make a big score with LeBron James and Chris Bosh, the Knicks came up with Amar’e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton. New York went 42-40 the following year and started 18-24 the year after that, before D’Antoni was fired.
Fizdale is going to be counted upon to recruit players to the Knicks — Durant and Irving represent fans’ way-too-high expectations — and if they wind up settling for lesser players, Fizdale is likely to pay the price the way D’Antoni did.
Gar Forman and John Paxson
The bulletproof Bulls front office continues to stumble all over itself, reveling in its remarkable job security despite a string of four nonsensical and pointless seasons. Chicago dumped Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker, along with a future second-rounder, to get Otto Porter Jr. from Washington, taking on Porter’s $55 million over 2019-20 and 2020-21.
The Bulls knew they would not be an attractive free-agent destination and decided they could force Porter to come to Chicago by taking on his bloated contract. The Bulls are now built (we use that term loosely) around Zach LaVine, Porter, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter.
Gasol managed an escape to a contender, but Conley was not so lucky. Despite rumors that had teams like Utah and Indiana — sure playoff entrants — interested (heck, even Detroit would have a chance if it had done a Conley deal), nothing got done with Conley, and he will finish out the year in Memphis.
But take heart, Mr. Conley: there will be a market for your services in the offseason.