NBA Trade Deadline Grades: Western Conference Edition
Looking for the East? Check here to see my thoughts on their moves: the top teams revved up for the right to face the Warriors (probably) while the bottom-feeders went Cryin' for Zion. Let's work our way down the Western standings.
1. Golden State Warriors (39-15)
To the surprise of no one, Golden State stood pat at the deadline. Their big acquisition came a few weeks ago on January 18th, when DeMarcus Cousins played his first game in a Warriors uniform. They may not have gotten anyone in a trade, but I guess when you can plug a 2-time All-NBA and 4-time All-Star into the one hole in your starting line-up, you do it. It's still Warriors vs. the Field, and nothing that happened in the lead up to February 7th changed that.
Deadline grade: A.
2. Denver Nuggets (37-18)
Just as Golden State's addition was internal, so are Denver's. The Nuggets didn't get anyone new at the deadline, but having their team whole again after numerous first-half injuries will make the good even better. The difference between the Nuggets and the Warriors, though, is that one has won three championships in four years, and the other hasn't made the playoffs in the better part of a decade. Denver is good, but there were some serious names available at the deadline -- I think they could have made the leap to 'Oh my god, have you SEEN the Nuggets starting five?' and they stood pat instead, so they get marked down a bit.
Deadline grade: B.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder (36-19)
In contrast with the top of the East, where the top teams made some of the biggest moves, the top of the West was quiet. The Thunder at least did something, but I can't see how they're better off. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot looked like he might be able to contribute in OKC after showing some promise in Philly, but the Thunder never played him. Following the somewhat cryptic release of Alex Abrines for 'personal reasons' the Thunder suddenly look a little thin in the European wing department, which I can't imagine is at all on their radar. Oklahoma City is having a great season, but this deadline left something to be desired.
Deadline grade: C-.
4. Portland Trail Blazers (33-21)
Finally we have a team that tried to get better! It's a mixed bag, but at least they're trying, so we'll keep that in mind when the final grade rolls around. Nik Stauskas, Wade Baldwin IV, Caleb Swanigan, and two 2nds became Rodney Hood and Skal Labissiere, and I will certainly support the idea that Portland is better after those moves than before. How much better? That remains to be seen. Hood was profoundly disappointing in Cleveland, and I expect that he'll sprinkle in just enough good games to tantalize and excite and ultimately disappoint Trail Blazer fans as well. He does possess enough basketball skill to pour in 20 off the bench in a playoff game that Portland might otherwise lose, so we'll call that the best case scenario. And though I don't see Labissiere getting a ton of minutes, he's objectively better than Swanigan.
Deadline grade: B-.
5. Houston Rockets (32-23)
Daryl Morey is one of the best GMs in the league for good reason. Tasked with serving many masters at the deadline, Morey succeeded on a multitude of fronts. He upgraded the bench by moving from James Ennis to Iman Shumpert, and with the machinations of Nik Stauskas and Wade Baldwin IV, managed to sneak beneath the salary cap. To say it 'cost them' Brandon Knight is a stretch, though they will miss the 1st round pick they paid to Cleveland to take him and his salary off of their books. The Rockets are a 'now' team, though; that they made some moves to help the 'then' was a bonus. I think Rockets fans were probably hoping for a little more help than what their suite of deals will actually provide, and though the team is better from a roster and financial standpoint, only marginally so.
Deadline grade: C+.
6. Utah Jazz (32-24)
A lot of sound but ultimately no fury in Salt Lake City at the deadline. For a while, it appeared as though the Jazz would be the team to pry Mike Conley loose from the Grizzlies, but that fell through, and with the Jazz in the midst of their now-yearly post-New Year's surge, they decided to run the same group back, just as they did in free agency this past year. The difference this year is that they're much closer to the top of the West already, and with Portland about to play 12 of their next 15 games on the road, Utah may be hosting a playoff series by the time March rolls around. Can't be too mad at a good team sticking together.
Deadline grade: B.
7. San Antonio Spurs (32-26)
Gosh was the West boring at the deadline. Every new team you examine surveyed the landscape, liked their current composition, and quietly moved on. Sound management, perhaps, but not really spicing up the Deadline Grade recap. The difference in San Antonio is that their talent level appears to be behind their peers. It's hard to envision a scenario where San Antonio advances further than the first round of the playoffs. There were holes in this line-up going into the deadline, and those holes remain on the way out.
Deadline grade: C-.
8. Los Angeles Clippers (31-26)
The lone team in playoff position to be an unabashed seller, the Clippers NAILED the trade deadline, and their whole season thus far, frankly. The Blake Griffin trade was a wild success. Big piece Tobias Harris was turned into a promising rookie and two future 1sts, including perhaps the most valuable future asset moved at the deadline, Miami's unprotected 2021 1st-rounder. Little piece Avery Bradley (who somehow got awful) had his future salary moved out for a few expiring contracts -- and potentially decent future bench players -- in Garrett Temple and JaMychal Green. Lastly, their Staples Center co-tenants decided that they had no use for a 21-year-old center with a +12 net rating, and so they now have Ivica Zubac, too. Furthermore, by punting on the playoffs this year, they almost certainly don't have to send this year's 1st to Boston, putting them in the position to get another player in the SGA-Jerome Robinson range. If you're the Clippers, you wanted to build a team with youth, promise, and flexibility, and show that you're a professional, competent franchise when free agency opens and superstar eyes look toward Los Angeles. It's hard to think of how they could have done better.
Deadline grade: A+.
9. Sacramento Kings (29-26)
The biggest beneficiary of the Clippers throwing in the towel is the Kings, who, conversely, went for it. Without their 1st round pick to look forward to this year, the Kings were unabashedly all-in on making the playoffs, and they've been good enough to actually get there. With the deadline in the rear view, the Kings are a legitimate threat to play in the postseason. The starting small forward spot was upgraded from Iman Shumpert to Harrison Barnes, and the third wing went from Justin Jackson to Alec Burks - both noticeable improvements. Jackson is in his second year, but that doesn't make him young - he's a fairly low-ceiling player, so Sacramento didn't give up too much to make these moves. That said, Barnes is expensive, and many wonder why the Kings wouldn't have pushed harder for Otto Porter, for instance. I'm so happy for Kings fans that they have even the appearance of competence, let alone the real McCoy - this performance ranks as a win.
Deadline grade: A-.
10. Los Angeles Lakers (28-27)
Ah, the Lakers. The Kings' biggest competitor for the last Western playoff spot is undoubtedly the King's Men -- and what a roller coaster the deadline was for them. We can debate whether the Pelicans were ever going to trade Anthony Davis to the Lakers or not, but the end result is that they didn't, and the Lakers' youth was shook by all the talk -- that's how a 42-point loss to an Oladipo-less Indiana happens. And that they didn't is a huge failure for Los Angeles, as was the deadline writ large. Reggie Bullock is a slight upgrade this year at best and no explanation exists that supports preferring Mike Muscala to Ivica Zubac. Perhaps the deadline was secretly a win in that don't tear apart an interesting young core with real potential, but I don't think their front office, fan base, or star player see it that way.
Deadline grade: F.
11. Dallas Mavericks (25-29)
After getting the ball rolling on the deadline with their Porzingis acquisition, the Mavericks closed it strong with the Barnes trade. Remarkably, I think the Mavericks managed to be in win-win deals in both of their big transactions. I liked that the Knicks made their offseason of dreams possible with the Porzingis deal, but I also like what Dallas paid for him. If he gets healthy, and they secure him to a long-term deal, the Doncic-Porzingis duo is perhaps the most exciting and unique in the league. And after clearing out Barnes, Dallas will have the cap space to add to that core via free agency -- important now that they don't really have much future draft capital remaining. But after striking out in free agency year after year, the Mavs decided that getting Bird Rights and re-signing players was the way to go, and Porzingis was about as good a player as they could hope for.
Deadline grade: A-.
12. Minnesota Timberwolves (25-30)
It's hard to say what Minnesota's plan was at the deadline. They made their big move earlier in the year in the Butler trade, but as the Timberwolves sit five games out of the playoffs, and needing serious stumbles by a number of teams to return to the postseason, I don't see how inactivity helped their cause. Perhaps it was born out of general uncertainty about the team's direction -- is the Front Office changing? Is Saunders staying on? Maybe they didn't want people not long for their jobs making important decisions impacting the team's future. I support that. But this is a team headed for the tenth-worst record in the league: no playoffs on the horizon, no expectation of an impact player from a top-heavy draft. If we're just looking at it from a deadline standpoint? Fail.
Deadline grade: F.
13. New Orleans Pelicans (25-32)
There was certainly plenty of noise about New Orleans at the trade deadline, but it all ended with a bit of a whimper - for now. I liked what they did with Mirotic: Johnson is the textbook distressed asset -- a former lottery pick in need of new surroundings -- and four 2nd round picks is a lot of draft currency. Then they picked up a fifth to help Washington under the cap; these are all good things. But whether or not the league gets a little schadenfreude seeing the Lakers jerked around is largely irrelevant: Anthony Davis is not long for the Pelicans, and every time he suits up, they run the risk of damaging their most important piece. A lot of the bloom has come off the rose of the Celtics' trove of trade chips this year: I'm not convinced that on a player-to-player basis that either of the players the Celtics drafted in the #3 slots -- Tatum and Brown -- are better than whom the Lakers took in the #2s -- Ingram and Ball -- despite what the wisdom of the crowds may say. The real disparity in the offer is in draft capital, and if the picks the Celtics can offer are worth risking AD's health, then it will all have been worth it. To be disciplined enough to wait for the best offer is a win, but a real downside exists if he gets injured. Factor all these elements together and...
Deadline grade: B.
14. Memphis Grizzlies (23-34)
The Grizzlies were as active as anyone at the deadline, but to what end? Trading 6th-man Shelvin Mack for Tyler Dorsey gave them a mildly interesting youngster, but that's not saying much. Swapping two of their most valuable expiring contracts in JaMychal Green and Garrett Temple for the obectively-terrible-this-year Avery Bradley was the definition of a head-scratcher. The marquee trade sent franchise cornerstone Marc Gasol to Toronto for Gasol-lite Jonas Valanciunas, mildly interesting but old Delon Wright, CJ Miles, and a 2nd - they couldn't even wring a protected 1st out of the Raptors! And after telling everyone in the world that they were ready to trade Mike Conley, couldn't bring themselves to do it. The word on the street is that they want to convey the 1st rounder they owe Boston this year, but they'll be hard-pressed to be good enough to stay out of the top eight picks, for which it is protected this year. Their only hope is that the other teams in their vicinity tank more effectively than the Grizzlies are terrible - and if they 'succeed' in climbing up to the 9th overall pick, it just means they won't get a good young player to pair with Jaren Jackson Jr. Just typing it all out is depressing. Memphis is a disaster. God have mercy on their souls.
Deadline grade: D-.
15. Phoenix Suns (11-46)
Very quietly, and by that I mean silently, because it's not a plan like 'The Process' but the result of ceaseless, borderline-actionable incompetence, the Suns are amassing years' worth of high draft picks to build a contender. Of course, as a result of that incompetence, the Suns have valued measurables over skills, and taken Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss over Buddy Hield and Domantis Sabonis. Josh Jackson over De'Aaron Fox. Deandre Ayton over Luka Doncic. There are those who like getting Tyler Johnson for Ryan Anderson, but to those people I ask: if an NBA franchise falls in the desert, and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound?
Deadline grade: D.
That's all of them. Let buyout season begin!