NBA trade deadline: sorting the winners and losers from the chaos
Kyrie Irving to Dallas. Then came Kevin Durant to Phoenix. Brooklyn’s spectacular loss was the Western Conference’s gain. And that was only the start of one of the most chaotic NBA trade deadlines in recent memory, with all but two of the league’s 30 teams getting into the action. Here’s a quick survey of the most notable winners and losers.
Winner: Phoenix Suns
We’ve seen what can happen when a big swing goes wrong. There’s a certain Covid protocol-averse Frenchman currently playing in Minnesota who was obtained at a price that was questionable – at best – in light of his output. But we’ve also seen what can happen when it goes right, and the truth of the matter is that Kevin Durant is the kind of player who’s worth pushing all your chips into the center of the table for. He did come at a hefty price, and the contributions of excellent young talents Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson will certainly be missed in the Valley. But all in all, freshly appointed governor Matt Ishbia deserves credit for seizing a moment and not being afraid to spend. Overnight, the middling Suns, a team who many believed had missed their championship window, have become one of the favorites to win it all. A swing worth taking, to say the least. CDL
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Loser: Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers stayed busy over the past couple of days, making deals with five different teams involving seven players, but there’s not a whole lot to show for their industry. When the dust cleared, Portland parted ways with Josh Hart, Gary Payton II and a pair of second-round picks while adding Cam Reddish, Matisse Thybulle, Kevin Knox, Ryan Arcidiacono, five second-round picks and a conditional first-rounder. Hart and Payton II will be replaced in the rotation by Reddish and Thybulle, the key acquisitions who offer boosts in size and defensive presence. But these are incremental moves that will do little to alleviate 32-year-old star Damian Lillard’s heavy lifting or meaningfully impact the fortunes of a team that is 27-28 and clinging to the 10th seed and final spot in the play-in tournament by a half-game. While not an outright disaster, Portland’s failure to land a more substantial name amounts to lost ground when the conference’s true contenders are loading for bear. BAG
Winner: Los Angeles Lakers
Admittedly, highlighting the Lakers as one of the winners of the deadline ventures into grading on a curve. But as recently as last month, the team around the league’s newly crowned all-time leading scorer LeBron James and Anthony Davis was positively godawful. So the fact that embattled Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka was able to swap “locker room vampire” Russell Westbrook – who is making $47m this year – past-his-prime Patrick Beverely and a couple of bottom-of-the-bench players for competent NBA role players like D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt and Rui Hachimura (and only attach one first-round draft pick and a few second-rounders to do it), is semi-miraculous. Did the moves vault the Lakers into championship contention this year? Probably not. But it did sever ties with some of the team’s most toxic relationships and give them a credible shot at a playoff run. For a season that started the way the Lakers’ did, I’d call that a resounding win. CDL
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Loser: Chicago Bulls
It’s hard to believe it’s been more or less a year since the Bulls were perched atop the Eastern Conference standings with the flourishing trio of Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nik Vucevic fronting one of the NBA’s surprise packages. That core is still intact, but Chicago approached this year’s deadline languishing below the .500 mark and fighting tooth and nail for a spot in the play-in tournament. Their response at the deadline: a deafening silence. Of the 30 teams in the NBA, only the Bulls and Cavaliers sat out the window entirely (though Cleveland had already done lots by dealing for Donovan Mitchell in September). Their decision to stand pat and hope things get better rather than act on the reported interest for LaVine, DeRozan, Vucevic – who’s a free agent after this season – or Alex Caruso is all the more mystifying given Brooklyn’s potential slide from contention after jettisoning Durant and Irving. BAG
Winner: Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks, sitting one game behind the Celtics for the top seed in the Eastern Conference and the NBA’s best record, were already prime contenders ahead of Thursday’s deadline. But there’s no doubt that landing Jae Crowder for the reasonable price of five second-round picks is a sound move for a team that is all-in in their bid for a second championship in three years. Crowder, a local favorite from his time at Marquette who has sat out the entire season due to a dispute with Suns management, fills Milwaukee’s need for a 3-and-D wing (especially in a potential playoff rematch with Boston, who ended their title defense in last year’s East semis) and brings a track record of major contributions to winning clubs in recent years. The abrupt dissolution of Brooklyn’s superteam, a serious contender as recently as January whose shooting represented a sort of matchup kryptonite for the Bucks, should only embolden their hopes. BAG
Loser: Toronto Raptors
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone willing to question Masai Ujiri’s capability as president of an NBA franchise; he has some of the best job security in the league for a reason. But he might have overplayed his hand this trade deadline, especially when it came to coveted 3-and-D man OG Anunoby. It was widely known going into Thursday that many (if not most) teams who were buyers on the trade market were looking to add the Raptors wing to their roster, and Ujiri naturally wanted to hold out for a sizable package for him. But there are only so many second-round draft picks to go around, and he seems to have held out a little too long, as the 3pm ET deadline came and went without a big move for Toronto. On top of holding on to Anunoby, and other rumored trading block features in guards Fred Van Vleet and Gary Trent Jr, the team actually zagged and became buyers on the market, adding former San Antonio Spur Jakob Poeltl and giving up draft capital in the process. The Raptors’ plans are opaque at best; they’re still far from the best of the Eastern Conference and appear to have bound themselves to at least another couple of months of NBA purgatory. CDL
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