Trade deadline week in the NBA began fairly quietly, as aside from Kyrie Irving getting moved to Dallas, there wasn’t a lot of indication that a massive flurry of deals was on the horizon.
Fast forward to 3 p.m. ET on Thursday, and the league has seen a seismic shift, as nearly every team made moves ahead of the deadline, including some truly massive trades — none bigger than Kevin Durant getting moved to Phoenix, seven months after his initial trade request.
The truth of the matter is, I think a lot of teams did perfectly fine and I fully understand what they were doing. Those teams won’t get a full mention here, but a lot of the West teams like Minnesota, Utah, Memphis, L.A. (Clippers), Golden State, and Denver made moves I understand or even like, they just weren’t moves that I think change their position dramatically — the Clippers, particularly, were very active but I’m not sure how much better they got. There are others that stayed quiet and I understand why. Teams like Sacramento and Cleveland are happy to just keep the good vibes rolling in their locker rooms, particularly given they’re a touch ahead of schedule.
We tracked who went where already, but now it’s time to grade out who did the best, whose deadline moves didn’t make much sense, and who fell behind by simply doing nothing.
When you add Kevin Durant to your team, you are a winner at the deadline. They certainly gave up some depth in the process, but they are now, pending Durant’s health, firmly back in the title contender realm. Not only were they deadline winners, but I’d expect them to be buyout market winners as well, because players who get bought out that are looking to title hunt will zero in on Phoenix now as the best place to do that. On top of what it means for this season, adding Durant is a signal from new owner Mat Ishbia that this is no longer a franchise that will be run the way Robert Sarver ran them. The Suns now have a monster luxury tax bill and he happily will eat that to have a team that can contend. That’s all fans can really ask for out of ownership — well, that and not to be a despicable human — and Suns fans have to be thrilled about the beginning of this new regime.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers did quite well at the deadline, and for all of the roster building mishaps under Rob Pelinka, he deserves some credit here for making a few solid moves. It was a problem of their own creation that they did not have shooters around LeBron James, but they at least realized that was a losing formula and addressed it in a big way. Almost everyone they brought in is a shooter, headlined by D’Angelo Russell’s return, and they also add some much needed defense and rebounding juice in the form of Jarred Vanderbilt. The center rotation is still a bit of a question mark, as I’m not much of a Mo Bamba believer, but if Thomas Bryant wanted out, they did fairly well to get a potential locker room issue out and bring in players who will at the very least want to be there and should fall in line. We’ll see what all they can do with this group, but they should be a play-in team in the West. That’s all you can ask for at this point, and with LeBron James, any shot at the postseason means you have a chance at something.
Milwaukee Bucks/Philadelphia 76ers/Boston Celtics
The Bucks, Sixers, and Celtics all made smaller moves, with Milwaukee’s acquisition of Jae Crowder being the splashiest of the three, but all of them are winners just by virtue of how the rest of the East failed to make any ground-shaking moves. The Bucks will hope Crowder can be this year’s PJ Tucker in a 3-and-D wing that bolsters their title hopes. The Sixers flipped Matisse Thybulle for Jalen McDaniels, who is a better offensive fit for what Philly needs. Boston adds some needed frontcourt depth in Mike Muscala, who can space the floor and provide some minutes to take the load off of Al Horford and Robert Williams in the regular season. All three got a bit better, while also seeing the Nets bow out of contender status and no one else really make a move that should threaten the status quo at the top of the East.
New York Knicks
The Knicks made a solid move by adding Josh Hart, which had former Villanova teammate Jalen Brunson very fired up. Hart brings another versatile wing defender, which Tom Thibodeau will love, and it’s certainly an upgrade over Cam Reddish, who was not really part of the rotation. There were rumblings they were discussing a Zach LaVine trade, but instead just let teams around them get a little bit worse and now have to feel very good about their chances of a top-6 spot in the East with Brooklyn now expected to tumble considerably in the standings.
Guys Who Didn’t Sell Their House
There are a lot of players getting reunited with their former teams this week — D’Angelo Russell with the Lakers, Spencer Dinwiddie in Brooklyn, Gary Payton II with the Warriors, George Hill in Indiana, Eric Gordon with the Clippers, TJ Warren in Phoenix, Bruno Fernando with the Hawks, and Jakob Poeltl in Toronto. If any of those guys held on to their homes or condos from their past stints in those cities, they are a winner because that will ease the stress on trade movement.
THE TORONTO RAPTORS TIER
I genuinely don’t know what to think of the Raptors deadline. They got better on the court, because they added a very good center in Jakob Poeltl for a player who wasn’t part of the rotation in Khem Birch and some picks. They also were the team everyone figured would be sellers at the deadline, but instead became buyers and now have some awkward chemistry things to patch together after guys like OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet, and Gary Trent Jr. spent the last month-plus hearing their names in rumors. It seems that they’re banking on some other teams in the East getting worse (namely the Nets) and opening up a play-in spot for them, but they exist in their own tier given how wildly off script they went at the deadline.
The Nets held firm this summer after both of their stars tried to muscle their way out, but they apparently could not stop the inevitable from happening. I think they did fine in recouping some assets, particularly for Irving as did better than I expected given Kyrie’s off-court baggage and the fact that he’s a free agent at the end of the year. That said, any time you lose Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving as the current 5-seed in the East, that is going to make you a loser. The roster is now a bit of a jumbled mess of wings because they made the Kyrie trade with still having KD in mind, only for KD to ask out (again) and them to have to get the best package possible from Phoenix, who only had wings to offer.
As such, they now have Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Dorian Finney-Smith, Royce O’Neale, Joe Harris, Edmond Sumner, and Yuta Watanabe occupying the same two positions on the depth chart. That’s suboptimal, but it’ll be fascinating to see what Frankenstein lineups Jacque Vaughn pieces together for the second half of the season.
It’s fascinating to think how differently this would’ve gone had the Nets waited to find out where KD’s head was at after the Kyrie request, because it’s hard to imagine they’d have taken that Mavs offer over a more future-facing one knowing Durant also would get moved. Still, this isn’t a team that’s completely out of the play-in hunt given there’s still talent on the roster, albeit talent that doesn’t exactly fit together. Being unable to do more to clarify that situation on Thursday was, it feels like, a bit of a misstep, but they at least have a firm understanding of their future and no longer are beholden to the whims of their stars (until they trade for other ones with all those picks).
The Bulls are in such a weird spot given they can’t actively tank because Orlando has their pick this year from the Nikola Vucevic trade, but the lack of activity from Chicago was still fairly surprising. This is a team that’s just got very little positive going for it and even just trying to shuffle something around could’ve brought a bit of freshness into the locker room. Instead, they stand pat and, while they’re still probably a play-in team, the complete lack of action at the deadline feels like punting on this season rather than trying to go in at least a slightly new direction, which isn’t inspiring for fans. That said, they didn’t make a panic move to make their cap or asset situation worse, so it’s not a disaster, just a disappointment.
For the third straight year, John Collins remains with the Hawks through the deadline despite being on the block for months. The situation in Atlanta is not ideal for him and he’s on a contract that makes that production dip look even worse, which means if the Hawks are going to trade him, they have to do so for a package that makes them worse in the immediate. They aren’t willing to do that, which means we do this same song and dance over and over again. Collins’ biggest issue on the market is he’s a player that’s not a plug-and-play in any system or situation, and as such it further narrows the scope to find teams that will be interested in him.
I’m not putting the Hawks as a loser because they didn’t sell low on him and make themselves worse, although they also didn’t do anything to get better, but Collins has to be pretty tired of being dangled in trade talks only to have to continue playing on a team he doesn’t really fit on.
Houston Rockets/Charlotte Hornets/Detroit Pistons
I’ll preface this by saying I’m not even sure how much of this is a trade deadline issue or more that it reminded me how bleak the outlook feels for these teams outlook right now, which is why I’m just lumping them all together. All three are in play for Victor Wembanyama or Scoot Henderson, holding three of the four worst records in the NBA. However, that’s going to be a 14 percent chance at best, and all three teams made moves at the deadline that were just…confusing. For Houston in particular, at some point you have to start learning how to win — something they proved again on Wednesday night is just not a strength right now — and nothing they did at the deadline can address that and they didn’t exactly add considerable assets. The Rockets finally moved Eric Gordon and got a pick-swap out of it (as they can now swap their Milwaukee pick with L.A.’s, which should gain them at least a few spots in the 20s), but will buyout two of the four players they added at the deadline.
Brian Windhorst said it in a more blunt manner:
— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) February 9, 2023
The Hornets’ situation feels arguably even more bleak, which is wild considering where they were a year ago as a team with a budding star in LaMelo Ball. They made two moves that brought in a couple of second rounders and Reggie Jackson, who (if he sticks around) feels redundant with Terry Rozier. Mason Plumlee was always on his way out, but moving Jalen McDaniels, a solid young player, for a couple seconds just raises questions about what the plan is in Charlotte. A not insignificant portion of the Hornets problems were caused by things out of their control, but they, like Houston, feel rather desperate for one of those top-2 picks, which will be far from a guarantee. This deadline wasn’t the cause of their problems — or a place that really presented great solutions — but didn’t do much to change the feeling that they are solidly at the bottom of the NBA pecking order.
The Pistons also get a mention here because I have no idea why they are adding James Wiseman, considering they already have a considerable amount invested in Jalen Duren and Isaiah Stewart. It’s a very Troy Weaver move to add a former high draft pick who hasn’t panned out, but the track record of success Detroit’s had in trying out those reclamation projects is fairly low. Marvin Bagley has not impressed in Year 2 in Detroit after they paid him this offseason, and it’s hard to see Wiseman flourishing immediately with their guard situation sans Cade Cunningham. He should be better outside a Warriors system that is just a horrid fit for his skillset, but even so, it’s just a weird allocation of resources at a position they’ve already invested two first round picks in the last three years. On top of that, they didn’t move Bojan Bogdanovic, who maybe they re-sign this summer but will have to beat out other teams pursuing him as an unrestricted free agent to do so.
All three of these teams have a considerable talent — Cade Cunningham, LaMelo Ball, and Jalen Green (the most unproven of the three) — but none of them are building confidence that they can put a coherent roster around them to maximize their talents.
People Who Wanted To Go To Bed At A Decent Hour
Some of us thought it was safe to go to sleep before 1 a.m. ET on Wednesday night. The Lakers deal was done, all the games had ended for the night, there wasn’t even any indication another big trade was on the horizon. We woke up to learn Kevin Durant was a member of the Phoenix Suns (and, to a lesser extent, Jakob Poeltl was a Raptor again). It’s not a huge deal in the grand scheme, but some of us are just trying to get a healthy 8 hours out here, and Woj and Shams refuse to let that happen.