NBA Trade Deadline Grades: Eastern Conference Edition
After perhaps the most active trade deadline in history, we're going to take a look not at each move on a trade-by-trade basis, but on a team-by-team basis. How did each team do in their approach and execution to the deadline, and how well do their actions shape their outlooks moving forward? We'll start East, and move West in the companion, working our way down the standings.
1. Milwaukee Bucks (41-14)
The Bucks crushed it at the deadline, turning a malcontent in Thon Maker into a valuable contributor in Nikola Mirotic. Mirotic is a perfect fit for these Bucks: he spaces the floor, he's underrated on defense, and as a bonus, rumor has it that the Bucks outbid the 76ers for him, sending four 2nd round picks to New Orleans to make the deal happen. If it catapults Milwaukee into the Finals, they won't miss a single one.
Deadline grade: A.
2. Toronto Raptors (41-16)
After lots of talk that Marc Gasol was headed to Charlotte, Toronto swept in and closed the deal. The thought of Gasol in Hornets Teal didn't seem quite right, but Toronto is a perfect fit -- it won't be long before it seems strange he played anywhere else. Likely that's because the best-case scenario for Jonas Valunciunas was always Marc Gasol; now the Raptors have the real deal. The Raps have looked good with Serge Ibaka in the post, so they'll have some figuring to do, but it's hard to imagine them struggling to integrate Gasol.
Deadline grade: B+.
3. Indiana Pacers (37-19)
It's a little surprising to find the Pacers still holding down the 3-seed, but they're not folding after losing Oladipo, having just thrashed the Lakers by 42. That said, Indiana wasn't too active at the deadline with their best player sidelined. They picked up a 2nd from Houston to clear the itinerant Stauskas/Baldwin duo off the Rockets' books only to promptly waive them. And though it's not technically a trade, the moment the deadline passed, the first bit of league business was to finalize the Knicks' buyout of Wes Matthews and his subsequent agreement to terms with the Pacers -- I'll allow it, but it's not a needle-mover. The loss of Oladipo was tough, because they're too good to try to tank their way out of the playoffs, but not good enough to do anything with him sidelined. In the end they didn't really do anything either way.
Deadline grade: C.
4. Boston Celtics (35-21)
A quiet deadline for the Celtics was both a good and bad thing. They kept their powder dry, with their lone move being to lower their tax bill by a few million by sending Jabari Bird to the Hawks. The more important news was that they had someone to use all the powder on -- Anthony Davis did not get traded to the Lakers, so the Celtics will have a chance to make an offer come free agency. If we're grading their moves, the Celtics get an 'F' for standing pat while the rest of the East's Big 4 were dramatically upgraded. But Boston has long been seen as having the best package to offer for Davis if they got the chance, so his continued availability after the deadline has to be one of the greatest sources of optimism in Beantown. We'll split the difference.
Deadline grade: C.
5. Philadelphia 76ers (35-20)
Since Jimmy Butler has been a Sixer for almost three months, we won't include him in the deadline math, but Philadelphia was plenty splashy without him -- and not in a good way. Tobias Harris may have been the best player to change teams at the deadline, but Philly was wrong to go after him, especially at the cost. Two first-round picks - one an unprotected gem belonging to Miami - is a lot to pay for a player who could be off the roster in a few months. Moreover, he's a player who needs the ball to be successful, and Elton Brand did not trade for another basketball at the deadline; there's still only one. Integrating him in such a short time is a big ask - this is just as likely to lead to a Finals berth as an Eastern Semi-Final flameout. As for Markelle Fultz? It comes down to the front office deciding to go all-in this year, and since Fultz was not going to contribute, they got what they could. He may never be the phenom that justifiably went #1 overall, but I just can't escape the feeling that Philly sold low.
Deadline grade: D.
6. Brooklyn Nets (29-28)
The Nets are an intriguing team. They're on the ascent, but clearly in the second tier of East teams at the moment, so they largely stood pat. Brooklyn made a move around the edges, taking a future 2nd from Toronto for the privilege of waiving Greg Monroe, but otherwise did not engage - wisely, I would say. Snagging a basically free pick and having the discipline enough to not disrupt what has been a very successful rebuild conducted with one hand tied behind their metaphorical back strikes me as a win.
Deadline grade: B.
7. Charlotte Hornets (27-28)
It was an ugly deadline for the All-Star hosts. After some very public reports ranging from their sincere desire to part with Frank Kaminsky to their nearly-completed but ultimately-failed pursuit of Marc Gasol, the Hornets stood pat at the deadline -- and this team needed to make a move. Kemba needed help, he didn't get it, and he didn't get it in a very visible way.
Deadline grade: F.
8. Miami Heat (25-28)
After overpaying to keep some very middling pieces, the Heat find themselves perpetually on the playoff bubble. This year is no different, and their big deal amounts to rearranging some deck chairs on the Titanic. Tyler Johnson was overpaid in Miami; now he's overpaid in Phoenix. Ryan Anderson was overpaid in Phoenix; now he's overpaid in Miami. On the plus side, both cities have warm weather, so neither player needs a new wardrobe. On the minus side, Wayne Ellington - who was waived after heading to Phoenix - is inexplicably signing with Detroit, where he will need a coat. The Heat did clear out a bit of their glut of wings, so they get a little credit. Not much though.
Deadline grade: C-.
9. Detroit Pistons (25-29)
What a disaster this deadline was for Detroit! Ignoring their own moves for a second, and looking just at the fallout of the Blake Griffin trade: it's enough to make a Pistons fan cry. If they stand pat, the Pistons have Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Tobias Harris, which means they get the Landry Shamet and two 1sts deal from Philly, and the young interesting core that everyone's excited about in LA is actually in Motown. Instead, they're squandering Blake's best year ever, moving on from a bust in Stanley Johnson, trading their starting small forward in Reggie Bullock for peanuts (and I really like Svi Mykhailiuk!) and have Thon Maker to show for it. In neither future assets nor present performance are the Pistons better after the deadline than they were before.
Deadline grade: D-.
10. Washington Wizards (23-32)
Just the news that John Wall had torn his achilles is enough for Wizards fans to feel like the sky is falling. Imagine though, that the news broke just 72 hours later - that'd have been a real tragedy. As it was, it gave them the clarity needed to finally move on from Otto Porter Jr., realize cap savings for Markieff Morris, and get out of the luxury tax. These are wins. They kept Bradley Beal; also a win. But they kept Trevor Ariza as well, and I'm less bullish on that. He's wasting a career year on the outside of the East playoff picture. He deserves better, and it's frankly a little shocking that a league currently so in love with athletic wings didn't have more interest in Ariza.
Deadline grade: B-.
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11. Orlando Magic (24-32)
I know it's possible that Markelle Fultz never pans out -- but when you can get the consensus #1 overall pick in the draft less than two years later, you do it. If Fultz ends up becoming half of what he was projected to be, that's a huge win for Orlando, especially since the Magic have been a point guard black hole since -- Penny Hardaway? Jameer Nelson had some good years, but that's it. I know it cost them a protected 1st round pick, but it's a pretty heavily protected 1st: 1-20 for 2020, and turning into two 2nds right after. It's just as likely that they traded three 2nds and Jonathon Simmons for Markelle Fultz -- that's less than Milwaukee gave up for Nikola Mirotic. I love that.
Deadline grade: A.
12. Atlanta Hawks (18-37)
Gosh I thought the Atlanta Hawks were gonna do more at the deadline. And by 'more' I mean 'anything of substance.' They made a few little deals around the edges for cash and such, but when the clock struck 3:01pm Eastern, still found themselves the not-so-proud owners of Jeremy Lin, Dewayne Dedmon, and Kent Bazemore. The first two are pretty inexplicable: the Hawks aren't trying to be particularly good -- they appear to be winning in spite of themselves -- so getting more future assets for the expiring Lin and Dedmon made lots of sense. Instead, I fear they look like Memphis did last year: holding onto Tyreke Evans for no reason, and losing him in the offseason for nothing. Moving Bazemore was always going to be tough: he's playing well but that's an expensive player option next year. At the deadline, a team that has lost twice as many games as it has won should be doing everything it can to tank properly. Atlanta did not.
Deadline grade: F.
13. Chicago Bulls (13-43)
Who would have pegged the Bulls to do something interesting at the deadline? This season has been an unmitigated disaster for them from the front office on down, but then, despite earlier reports that he would not be available, Otto Porter Jr. comes on the market and Chicago snatches him up, basically for nothing. Bobby Portis has some talent, but he wasn't long for the Bulls with their Lauri Markkanen-Wendell Carter Jr. frontcourt of the future, and when the Bulls paired Portis with Jabari Parker -- who they were desperate to get out of town -- they suddenly had the assets in trade for a still-young small forward who fills a glaring hole in their roster. That he's a two-way player and Chicago has been the 'Terribulls' defensively is a big win. Obviously a player like Porter Jr. only becomes available because he is comically overpaid, but the Bulls aren't really paying anyone besides Zach LaVine, so why not see if Porter Jr. can return to form after being liberated from Washington?
Deadline grade: B+.
14. Cleveland Cavaliers (11-45)
Listen, I'm as surprised as you are that the Cavs aren't the last entry on this list -- but the Knicks are tanking magnificently. I didn't take Jimmy Butler's trade to the 76ers into account for Philly's grade, so I won't factor the earlier Kyle Korver and George Hill trades the Cavs made into their grade, but for an organization that is often decried as chaotic, GM Koby Altman had a plan, and he stuck to it. The total haul since the season began contains two 1st round picks and six 2nd round picks -- one of the former and two of the latter at the deadline. If a player didn't have a long-term role in Cleveland, they were shipped out and picks came back in. A team needs an owner who will open the purse at a time like this, and the Cavs are lucky to have one: these eight selections came with $34 million in additional salary obligations. This was the midterm in Tanking 101; Cavs aced it.
Deadline Grade: A.
15. New York Knicks (10-44)
The first domino to fall was pushed over by the Knicks, and when your friends know you write about the NBA, you get texts from your Knicks-fan friends such as 'In your sports writer opinion, should I just become a Nets fan at this point?' No, I assured him (though the Nets are fun and being a Nets fan is fun). Though abrupt and seemingly without proper return, the Porzingis trade set the Knicks up for a potentially transformative summer. If they end up with the #1 pick, get Kevin Durant and another max-contract star, and suddenly have a starting five of Kyrie Irving-Frank Ntilikina-Kevin Knox-Kevin Durant-Zion Williamson, this will be the most fondly recalled trade in Knicks history. If it results in Dennis Smith Jr.-Frank Ntilikina-Kevin Knox-Tobias Harris-Nikola Vucevic and Cam Reddish coming off the bench...not so much. That former would make the Knicks relevant again. Contenders. The beating heart of the basketball universe. It's a chance worth taking.
Deadline grade: A-.
Next up, the West!