NBA Trade Deadline Recap
3 PM EST has now passed ,meaning it is time to analyze the deals that were and weren’t made over the past week. Here’s a look at some of the key teams in this season’s trade market:
The Celtics were the team everyone was watching, but in the end they didn’t make any moves. While many fans are disappointed since everyone loves a big trade at the deadline, this was the right move for the Celtics. As constructed the Celtics are currently the 2nd seed in the east, so any move involving giving up future assets to improve right now would have to clearly close the gap on Cleveland. Paul George and Jimmy Butler are both great players, which is why they would have required a huge package to be attained. My guess is neither team would give up their star unless they received at least one Brooklyn 1st rounder (the Celtics have rights to swap 2017 1st round picks with the Nets and also own the Nets unprotected 2018 1st round pick) as well as two of some combination of Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart. Some may disagree, but I think swapping George or Butler for two of these players still leaves the Celtics as heavy underdogs against Cleveland. The Celtics having been doing great all season and bringing in a new alpha dog could disrupt their chemistry. The Celtics were wise to let the season play out with their current roster and reevaluate the market once we get to the 2017 NBA draft.
Nets GM Sean Marks did well this deadline considering what few assets he had to work with. He first traded Bojan Bogdanovic and Chris McCullough to Washington for Andrew Nicholson, Marcus Thornton (Immediately waived) and the Wizards lottery protected 2017 1st round pick. Bogdanovic is a solid player, but the Nets are going nowhere fast and obviously decided they weren’t willing to give him a big deal when he becomes a restricted free agent this summer. The real key for the Nets in this trade was acquiring the Wizards 1st round pick. Even though both picks will almost definitely be in the twenties, the Nets now own two first round picks (from WAS and BOS). Acquiring the 1st rounder also forced the Nets to take on Nicholson’s contract (3 years $20 Million remaining after this season), but while the Nets lack draft picks and young assets they have an abundance of cap space. Nicholson is still young enough that he could turn into a decent player and his cap hit per season shouldn’t affect the Nets much moving forward.
The Nets once again took advantage of their cap space by absorbing K.J. McDaniels from the Houston Rockets in a salary dump. McDaniels is on the books for just over $3 Million this season and next year. He is the perfect low cost high upside player the Nets need to target as they get through the next couple of years without their own 1st round picks.
Jimmy Butler is still a member of the Chicago Bulls; well, at least for the rest of this season. After this season the Bulls still have Butler under contract for two more years at under $20 Million a season (chump change for an All-Star under the new salary cap). The only way the Bulls should trade Butler is if an offer blows them away, and no team was willing to give up the necessary assets.
Instead of trading Butler the Bulls acquired Anthony Morrow, Joffrey Lauvergne, and Anthony Morrow from OKC. Morrow and Lauvergne are simply salary fillers on expiring contracts. Chicago made this trade to get Payne, who they must believe is their solution at point guard. Payne is in just his 2nd season after being selected 14th overall in 2015. Payne has only played 77 career games, but he is a high upside point guard that deserved a shot outside of Westbrook’s shadow. The Bulls appear to be competing with the Kings, Knicks, and Lakers for the crown of most dysfunctional franchise. Whatever you think about Payne, it is crazy that he is now the 4th point guard they have acquired since June 23. They first acquired Jerian Grant, the 19th pick in 2015, as part of the Derrick Rose trade. A couple of weeks later the Bulls decided to sign Rajon Rondo. They then traded for 2013-14 Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams a couple of weeks into the season. Chicago has made the point guard position a revolving door and still has no clear solution. Payne didn’t come cheap either. To acquire him they had to give up Doug McDermott and Taj Gibson. McDermott hasn’t lived up to hype since coming out of college, but he has still been a solid scorer and it wasn’t long ago that the Bulls gave up two 1st round picks for his draft rights. Gibson is on an expiring deal and was unlikely to be re-signed, but he is still a starting caliber player that they were hoping to acquire a 1st round pick for. This trade deadline only further reinforced the need for change in Chicago’s front office.
The Mavericks are making a huge gamble acquiring Nerlens Noel, but they didn’t have to give up much to acquire him. The Mavs gave Philly a top-18 protected 2017 1st round pick which will almost certainly convey into their 2017 and 2018 2nd round pick, Andrew Bogut, and Justin Anderson. Anderson had an impressive playoff series as a rookie against the Thunder, but he hasn’t been getting many minutes this season and has a much lower ceiling than Noel. Bogut was likely to be waived anyway, so losing him doesn’t hurt Dallas. The real risk with Noel will come this summer. Noel will be a restricted free agent this summer and could be looking for anywhere from an $80-110 Million contract. Noel is a unique defender and athlete (he finished in the top 10 in BPG and SPG as a rookie), but he is still unpolished offensively and has extensive injury history. Still, it is not common to acquire a 22-year old with Noel’s potential for so little and he does make a nice fit next to Dirk. With Noel, Harrison Barnes, and their 2017 1st round pick (probably a lottery pick), the Mavericks finally appear to be building for life after Dirk.
It wouldn’t be a trade deadline unless Rockets GM Daryl Morey was wheeling and dealing. Today the Rockets traded Tyler Ennis and K.J. McDaniels in salary dumps that gives Houston extra cap space and roster spots to work with in the buyout market. While it will be interesting to see whom the Rockets can pick up their big move came with the acquisition of Lou Williams. To acquire Williams they traded Corey Brewer and their 2017 1st round pick. Williams and Brewer earn nearly identical salaries this season and next, and Williams is undoubtedly the superior player. The Rockets are in a position where they can afford to trade their 1st round pick, and it will likely be towards the bottom of the draft anyways. Williams adds much needed depth behind Patrick Beverley, Eric Gordon, and James Harden in the backcourt and is yet another scorer who should fit in perfectly in Mike D’Antoni’s offense. The Rockets have done a nice job to put themselves in better position to make a deep playoff run out west.
The Indiana Pacers didn’t end up making any trades, but my guess is they will wish they had. The Pacers appear to have two options: Plan A) trade Paul George and rebuild around Myles Turner. Plan B) Keep Paul George and build a contender around him and Turner. By doing nothing the Pacers could be heading down a dreaded third option: lose George for nothing. If reports are true, George will leave the Pacers (likely for the Lakers) if they don’t turn into a contender before he hits free agency in 2018. The Pacers are nothing more than an average team and it will be hard to change that this summer. Point guard Jeff Teague will be a free agent and they will be forced to either pay him a huge contract (likely in the range of $20 Million a year) or be stuck looking for a new point guard. If they re-sign Teague they might not have much cap room to work with to improve. This could leave the Pacers desperate to trade George when he’s on an expiring contract, a position where the Pacers will at best get 80 cents on the dollar. Trading George would have been a hard pill to swallow, but Larry Bird should have called his buddy Danny Ainge and asked for a worthwhile trade package. Perhaps a deal with Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley, the Nets 2017 1st round pick and Boston’s 2018 1st round pick would have been able to get a deal done.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers getting rid of their entire front office just two days before the deadline still has me dumbfounded. Regardless of one’s opinion on the decision to replace the front office, the timing of the decision still makes no sense. The Lakers will now call on Magic Johnson to save the their franchise, but he apparently only has Daryl Morey’s number in his GM contacts. Getting the Rockets 1st round pick was nice, but it will be a late pick. I don’t think the pick was worth trading Lou Williams, the team’s leading scorer, for. The Lakers also have to take on Corey Brewer who has been useless this season and is still owed $7.5 Million next season. The only positive about this trade is it will make them much worse this season, giving them better odds at keeping their top-3 protected 2017 1st round pick (as well as their 2019 pick owned by Orlando if they lose their pick this year). Even though this deal could help their lottery odds, in the end they are still relying on Ping-Pong balls. The Lakers did make a smart pickup by adding Tyler Ennis. Ennis is still a young former 1st round pick and on an expiring deal. He will have the remainder of the season to convince the Lakers he’s a worthy backup point guard, and he should have plenty of opportunity with Lou’s vacated minutes.
New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans are the clear winners of the deadline with the acquisition of DeMarcus Cousins. His arrival brings with it a lot of questions, but he is simply too great of a talent to pass up on for such a low price. It’s not often you can get a clear top-15 talent, and the Pelicans now have two of them with Cousins and Davis. The Pelicans will need to gel quickly while picking up wins to gain ground on the Nuggets for the 8th seed in the west. This trade still leaves the future murky since Cousins is only under contract for one more year, and they will be forced to sign Jrue Holiday to a max contract this summer. After Cousins, Holiday, and Davis the Pelicans have practically nothing. They will have no 1st round pick in this draft (unless they fall into the top-3), and they are stuck with some awful contracts for Omer Asik, Alexis Ajinca, Solomon Hill, and E’Twaun Moore which limits their ability to improve through free agency. These factors will make it difficult to build a true contender, but the Pelicans now have as good a top 3 as just about any team in the league.
It’s only fitting to discuss the Kings directly after the Pelicans. Moving on from Cousins may not have been the worst decision for the franchise, but the manner in which they did so, the return they got for him, and the circumstances leading to his departure were painfully embarrassing to the Kings franchise. The Kings had tried to build a playoff team around Cousins for years. In the summer of 2015 the Kings were so desperate to sign Kosta Koufos, Marco Belinelli, and Rajon Rondo that they made one of the worst trades of the past decade to create cap room. In order to dump the salaries of Jason Thompson and Carl Landry the Kings gave the 76ers Nik Stauskas one year after selecting him with the 8th pick in the draft, the right to swap 2017 1st round picks and their unprotected 2019 1st round pick. The Kings also already owe the Bulls their pick this year if it falls outside of the top 10. Because of this the Kings wanted to make sure they were bad enough to keep their pick in any Cousins trade. The problem is even if they keep their pick the 76ers will get to swap picks with the Kings if they slide down the standings. If the Kings get “lucky” enough to win the draft lottery, it won't matter since the 76ers will just swap picks with them. The Kings will also have the pressure to rebuild quickly since even if they are still bad in 2018-19 their first round pick will go to Philly. The NBA is a rumor driven league and there will always be rumors about trades and sources reporting many untrue statements. What makes the Kings look so bad here is that Vlade Divac made a public statement saying they had no intentions to move Cousins and even told Boogie to his face that he wouldn’t trade him. To go back on his word like that will hurt the Kings in future player and agent negotiations. The Kings are left with few promising building blocks, and the only real assets they acquired for Cousins are a top-3 protected Pelicans pick (likely to end up somewhere between 8th-17th) and Buddy Hield. The Kings are the one’s that gave up the disgruntled superstar in the deal, so the fact that they let the Pelicans convince them to allow for top-3 protection on the traded pick is absurd. The trade also had the Kings acquiring three players for two, meaning they had to cut a player to complete the trade. The Kings ended up cutting Matt Barnes, forcing them to eat his $6 Million cap hit in 2017-18. The Kings should have demanded that the Pelicans take back Barnes in the deal or find a 3rd team that would. It’s the little things like the pick protection and waiving of Barnes that really show how inept of a basketball operations department Sacramento has.
In two separate trades the Raptors essentially ended up trading their 2017 and 2018 2nd round picks, Terrence Ross, Jared Sullinger, and the lower 1st round pick between their own and the Clippers for Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker. These moves were win-now deals that really improved the Raptors chances at making a second straight conference finals appearance. The Raptors have been in a slump lately where they have fallen behind the Wizards and Celtics to the 4th seed and are only 0.5 a game up on the Hawks. Ibaka is a huge upgrade at power forward, and between him and Patterson the position is no longer a glaring weakness for Toronto. Tucker was a great pickup to offset the loss of Ross to their wing depth. Ross is younger with more upside, but one could argue Tucker is just as good a player as Ross at this point of their careers. Ibaka and Tucker will both be free agents (along with Patterson and Kyle Lowry), so the Raptors will have a lot of tough decisions and spending to do this offseason. It’s refreshing to see a team go all in the way the Raptors have instead of just accepting the inevitable Cavaliers vs. Warriors NBA Finals. The Raptors know they will only have so many chances with this core and are trying to make the best of them. The Cavs are still huge favorites in the east, but once two teams meet in a playoff series anything could happen. The Raptors did manage to take the Cavs to 6 games in the conference finals last season without Jonas Valanciunas healthy. If Toronto can build chemistry with its new pieces before the postseason they could be poised for a long playoff run.