Monday, April 15 2024

There wasn’t quite as much buzz in the run-up to this year’s NBA trade deadline. But in a season featuring such tightly compressed tiers — four teams knotted with 16 losses at the top of the West, 3.5 games separating second from fifth in the East, a handful of teams in each conference trying to either get into or graduate out of play-in spots — there were still plenty of front offices committed to trying to add talent for the stretch run. And, of course, plenty more looking to balance their ledgers and bolster their draft-pick war chests in the hope that tomorrow they’ll find better things.

Was it all as exciting as either of the last two deadlines? Well … no. Not really. Maybe not worth spending several days endlessly scrolling in search of slop, all things considered.

Honestly, though, what were you going to do instead? Work? Talk to loved ones? Go for a run? Put your phone down and read a book? Preposterous!

As the 3 p.m. ET pencils-down buzzer approached, the rumors rolled in and the deals got done, I sat here, like Frank T.J. Mackey, quietly judging them. What follows are my first-draft-of-history impressions of which teams scored and which ones stumbled in this season’s grand NBA roster reshuffling. There will likely be more winners than losers; my vibe is “your English teacher who tries a little too hard to be cool,” so why fight it when I can instead lean into it with friendlier grades rather than finding more reasons to be mad?

We begin with a grace note:

Winner: Anyone Who Needed a New Reaction Meme to Drop When He or She Wants to Avoid an Argument

Asked Wednesday whether it feels different to hear his name bandied about in trade rumors this season than it has before, given the considerable and public struggles that he and his team have experienced, Klay Thompson offered a reasonable and measured response.

“I don’t really partake in NBA discourse on the Internet,” the Warriors legend told reporters. “I think that’s such a waste of energy. At the end of the day, whether I’m wearing a Dubs uniform or another uniform, I’m going to be myself.”

That is remarkably healthy! It is also, for those of us professionally and personally poisoned by our constant, senses-shattering, Clockwork Orange-style exposure to said discourse, a pretty perfectly memeable morsel.

Bless you, Klay. Thank you for your service. 🫡

Loser: Our Collective Shared Delusion that Superstar Trades Are A Renewable Resource

I’m sure you heard it as much as I did: Awful trade deadline! Who’s gonna be the biggest name to get dealt? What are we even doing here?

I get it. If your metric for transactional excitement is “future Hall of Famer on the move,” then yes, the 2024 NBA trade deadline was underwhelming. It was probably always going to be, though, for a variety of reasons, as Yahoo Sports senior NBA reporter Jake Fischer recently detailed: the flattening of draft lottery odds making it less valuable for bad teams to go into the tank in pursuit of the worst possible record and, with it, the best possible chance of winning the No. 1 pick; the advent of the play-in tournament incentivizing more teams to try to remain competitive late into the season rather than holding a full-on fire sale; the consolidation of draft equity in recent years that has resulted in just 11 teams controlling a full three-quarters of the available stock of first-round picks; etc.

There’s also another, simpler component: Most of those guys have either already moved or, y’know, don’t want to.

Durant made his move last season, and is now on a good team he doesn’t want to leave. Ditto for Irving, whose re-up in Dallas helped turn down the temperature on any “Is Luka Dončić the next star to ask out???” chatter. And while Harden is the closest thing we have to a Trade Request Renewable Resource, he got that business out of the way ages ago, leaving neither a reason nor a pathway to another midseason exit.

Giannis Antetokounmpo seems committed to holding the Bucks’ feet to the competitive fire, but Milwaukee made sure to cut the jersey-swap Photoshops off at the knees by trading for Damian Lillard, paying him and replacing Adrian Griffin with Doc Rivers. Joel Embiid, another popular subject of such speculation, had quieted it by playing brilliantly for an excellent 76ers team that featured pretty tremendous vibes … right up until he got hurt. (Speaking of hurt: Zach LaVine’s obviously a lower-tier target, but him going under the knife scratched another name off the list.)

Another frequent trade-talk target, Karl-Anthony Towns, just earned his fourth All-Star berth on a Timberwolves team that’s been at or near the top of the West all season. Donovan Mitchell, long ticketed for New York by every national insider with a data plan, just keeps humming along as the all-world engine of a Cavaliers squad that has been the NBA’s hottest team for nearly two months.

Kawhi Leonard ended any conjecture about his future by signing an extension to stay with the Clippers, while also heavily intimating that teammates Harden and Paul George weren’t going anywhere, either. Any changes to come in Golden State would’ve come around Stephen Curry — well, unless Joe Lacob wanted to find himself facing a pitchfork-wielding mob gathering outside the gates of the glittering Chase Center.

Once Rich Paul made it clear that, whatever LeBron James’ hourglass emoji meant, it didn’t mean he was leaving the Lakers — this week, anyway — then we were fresh out of real rainmakers … and, as the morning wore on, out of the smaller-scale ones, too.

In that respect, perhaps the 2024 NBA trade deadline offered a valuable corrective to our Transaction Industrial Complex-aerated brains. They only make so many superstars; if they’re not available, you can’t just go manifest a new one.

That said …

Winner: Fans and Pundits With a Measure of Object Permanence

It’s probably worth remembering that we’ve seen KD, Kyrie, Dame, Harden, Chris Paul, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam all dealt within the last 12 months. Stuff has happened. We can’t get mad that it’s not all happening, all the time, forever.

… OK, fine, we can get mad at that. We probably shouldn’t, though. Bad for the blood pressure.

Winner: Getting Your Work Done Early

I’ve got to say: This really burns me up. As a lifelong and avowed procrastinator, it brings me no great pleasure to acknowledge that the teams that chose not to hew to the maxim that deadlines breed activity, and that instead seized opportunities to make their big swings well in advance of 3 p.m. ET Thursday, seem to have fared pretty well for themselves.

The clearest examples are also the ones furthest in the rear-view mirror. By consummating their long-rumored swap way back on Halloween, the Clippers and 76ers were able to make a clean break from the past and give themselves nearly a full season’s worth of breathing room in which to chart a brighter future. The revamped Sixers found an identity — more ball and body movement, more dribble handoffs, a hell of a lot more Tyrese Maxey — and were within hailing distance of second place in the East before Embiid suffered a torn meniscus. The Harden-infused Clips, meanwhile, weathered their early stumbles to catch fire and have since risen up to vie for the top spot in the West.

Similar decisiveness has paid dividends elsewhere, too. The Knicks went out and got Anunoby the day before New Year’s Eve; they’ve been one of the hottest teams in the NBA ever since. About two and a half weeks later, the Pacers went all in for Siakam; he instantly became a linchpin of their offense, helping them navigate Tyrese Haliburton’s hamstring strain and stay above the play-in fray in the East.

The early returns haven’t been quite as positive in South Beach, where the Heat have dropped five of eight since bringing in guard Terry Rozier from the Hornets on the heels of the Siakam deal. But Miami has won four of five as mad scientist Erik Spoelstra cycles through new lineups and rotations, with Rozier dishing 32 assists against just five turnovers in that span — and flashing some signs of the downhill attacking and shot-creation juice that Spo and Co. are hoping he can add to their stuck-between-stations offense:

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The more time you’ve got for that kind of tinkering and problem-solving, the better — especially when you’re both jockeying for seeding and trying to find the best version of your team in time for the postseason. You might be able to squeeze out the best bargain by holding onto your offer until the last second before bidding ends; I’m betting, though, that the teams that jumped the line don’t have any regrets about just clicking “Buy It Now.”

Speaking of one of those early shoppers …

Winner: New York Knicks

It’s difficult to overstate the degree to which the Anunoby deal transformed the Knicks; since his debut, the Knicks have the NBA’s second-best record, net rating and defense, winning 16 of their last 19 and blitzing opponents by 14.2 points per 100. But while Anunoby has proven a perfect fit between All-Stars Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle in a starting lineup that ranks among the NBA’s best, the fact that he came in at the cost of Sixth Man of the Year runner-up Immanuel Quickley has meant that New York’s second unit has been operating at a ball-handling and shot-creation deficit for more than a month.

As incredible as Brunson has been, New York has scored just 103.9 points per 100 when he’s off the floor since the Anunoby trade, according to NBA Advanced Stats; that would be far and away the worst offensive efficiency mark in the league this season. The need for another source of playmaking has become even more acute of late, with Randle recovering after dislocating his shoulder, Anunoby sidelined by inflammation that we now know was being caused by bone spurs in his shooting elbow that required surgery, guard Quentin Grimes shelved by a sprained knee, and Brunson spraining his ankle during the Knicks’ Tuesday win over the Grizzlies. Suddenly, New York needed not only offensive punch, but also … y’know … just some dudes.

Knicks team president Leon Rose got both Thursday, sending Grimes, the long-mothballed Evan Fournier, reserve guards Malachi Flynn and Ryan Arcidiacono and a pair of future second-round picks to Detroit in exchange for erstwhile Thibodeau favorite Alec Burks and veteran forward Bojan Bogdanović. With so many Knicks so banged up, the newcomers can’t join the squad soon enough as far as the very tired Josh Hart — who has averaged 39.7 minutes a night over the past five games — is concerned:

The new arrivals should help in a number of ways. While Randle and Anunoby convalesce, Thibodeau can slide Bogdanovic — averaging 20.2 points in 32.9 minutes per game this season in Detroit — into one of his starting forward spots. When they’re healthy — or even for now, if Thibs prefers to keep rolling with the surprisingly killer two-big combo of Isaiah Hartenstein and Precious Achiuwa, in whose shared minutes the Knicks have absolutely feasted on the offensive glass and outscored opponents by a very strong 7.2 points per 100 — he can bring Bogdanović off the bench, adding a proven scorer who’s shooting 41.5% from 3-point range on more than seven attempts per game to a second unit in dire need of more buckets.

Two seasons after he spent a frankly surprising amount of time as the starting point guard of a Knicks team that didn’t get quite what it was looking for out of Kemba Walker, Burks returns to step into the more snugly fitting role of Backup Combo Guard Off The Bench. He’s not going to get to the rim very much, or finish very well once he’s there, but he comes back to the Big Apple scoring at a career-high per-minute clip and shooting 40.1% from deep on nearly 10 attempts per 36, with just 32 turnovers in 901 minutes. The 32-year-old can run a serviceable pick-and-roll, space the floor as a spot-up shooter, and generate a decent look one-on-one late in the shot clock — all skills sorely needed on a reserve group that’s ranked 25th in offensive efficiency among bench units over the past five weeks.

Moving Grimes — a tailor-made 3-and-D guard who shined as a starter last season, whom Thibs once trusted enough to run him for the full 48 minutes in a playoff game — hurts, just as moving Quickley and RJ Barrett did. But with Grimes eligible for an extension of his rookie contract this summer, and with the additions of Hart, Anunoby and Donte DiVincenzo cutting into his minutes and opportunities, he was in the most precarious position of any piece of New York’s existing wing structure — and, as a result, the cost of doing this bit of business.

Notably not part of that cost: any first-round picks, meaning New York still has up to eight first-rounders and eight second-rounders in the coffers for use come the summer. Nor did the Knicks add any long-term salary, with Burks’ $10.5 million salary coming off the books this summer and only $2 million of the $19 million owed to Bogdanović in 2024-25 guaranteed. That means he effectively replicates the utility of Fournier’s team-option deal for next season, giving the Knicks options: If the next few months go badly, they can cut him loose; if all goes well, they can keep him around for about 13.5% of the salary cap; and if Superstar X becomes available, they can guarantee Bogey’s contract and use him as matching salary in that long-awaited mega-deal.

Whether said superstar ever actually hits the market, of course, remains in doubt. What makes this iteration of the Knicks different than past models, though, is what they’re doing while they’re waiting — namely, building one of the deepest and toughest teams in the NBA, one flirting with top-five rankings on both sides of the ball, and one that can reasonably view itself as a contender to reach the conference finals for the first time in nearly a quarter-century. My goodness, how times have changed.

Losers: Los Angeles Lakers

It’s not a surprise, necessarily; Jake reported on Wednesday that there was “mounting noise around the league that the Lakers [wouldn’t] pursue a major upgrade before the deadline.” That stood to reason, considering the Lakers’ reported unwillingness to consider moving guard Austin Reaves. And the past deals that limited them to just one first-round pick to deal (either 2029 or 2030, not both) and several future pick swaps. And their uncertainty over whether packaging that pick with D’Angelo Russell (currently on an absolute heater, which is probably just a coincidence!) would net them an upgrade meaningful enough to justify the expense — or, perhaps, the Hawks’ evident uncertainty that accepting that package for Murray would improve their state of affairs enough to be worth their while.

But something doesn’t have to be surprising to be disappointing. And where the Lakers find themselves on Thursday evening — at 27-25, in ninth place in the West, with the NBA’s 19th-ranked offense for the full season and its 19th-ranked defense since winning the in-season tournament — has to be considered a disappointment, especially since LeBron James and Anthony Davis have combined to miss just 10 games. One year removed from completely remaking their roster, and riding that wave of change all the way to the Western Conference finals, the Lakers exit the trade deadline pinning their hopes to a buyout market sales pitch, the eventual returns of the injured Jarred Vanderbilt and Gabe Vincent, and the prospect of LeBron and AD once again proving overwhelming enough to outclass higher seeds in a short series.

And listen: all of that might pan out! We’ve seen it work before. But we’ve also seen things fizzle for these Lakers … and with LeBron holding a $51.4 million player option for next season, you wouldn’t blame Rob Pelinka and Co. if they came out of a quiet deadline waiting for something very loud. Like, say, the other shoe dropping.

Loser: Golden State Warriors

Much of the same can be said for the Dubs, who entered the deadline looking up at L.A. — 23-25, 11th place in the West, a game out of the play-in, a negative net rating since their 5-1 start — and who exit with nothing to show for it but an estimated $13.5 million in luxury tax savings after offloading Cory Joseph’s contract to Indiana.

Golden State reportedly tried to engage the Bulls on Alex Caruso, but Chicago made it clear they weren’t interested in moving the defensive-minded guard, according to NBC Sports Chicago’s KC Johnson, and inquired about young forward Jonathan Kuminga; that, evidently, was too rich for Mike Dunleavy Jr.’s blood.

Even without any deals, the Warriors could trend upward after the deadline. They’ve got the West’s second-easiest remaining schedule, according to Tankathon. They’ve been a top-10 unit on both ends since mid-January, when Draymond Green returned from his suspension. (Particularly encouraging: Units featuring Draymond, Kuminga and the beleaguered Andrew Wiggins have blistered opponents by 75 points in 166 minutes.) The injured Chris Paul and Gary Payton II could be back soon. And Steph, most importantly, remains Steph. When you’re facing as steep a climb as the Warriors are in this Western Conference, though, you’d prefer to have a little help; coming away without any has to be deflating.

Winner: Philadelphia 76ers

It wasn’t the brand of star-hunting that Daryl Morey likely envisioned with the extra first-round picks and expiring contract he got in that Halloween Harden deal, but I liked Philly bringing in Buddy Hield for two expiring contracts, three future second-round picks and our old pal Cash Considerations — partly because of what Hield can offer on the court and partly because of what making a run at him says about how the Sixers continue to view themselves even as their MVP recuperates following meniscus surgery.

The Sixers entered Thursday ranked 19th in team 3-point percentage, 26th in 3-point attempts per game and dead last in the NBA in the share of its shots that come from behind the arc; this is a team that, outside of ascendant All-Star point guard Tyrese Maxey and 3-and-D chaos agent De’Anthony Melton, lacks high-volume, high-accuracy, low-conscience shooters. Enter Hield, who has shot 39% or better from deep in six of eight pro seasons, who’s shooting 38.4% from deep on nearly 10 attempts per 36, and whose willingness to fire from anywhere at any time against any coverage demands constant defensive attention.

That sure sounds like the kind of dude that star players accustomed to seeing multiple defenders sitting in their laps would love to play with. Dudes like, say, Tyrese Haliburton, who recently offered effusive praise of Hield’s impact on Indiana’s elite offense:

For what it’s worth, the Pacers scored nearly 120 points per 100 when Hield was on the floor without Haliburton this season. Gravity matters.

It’s not hard to imagine Maxey benefiting from that kind of gravity, whether Hield’s spotting up on the weak side of the action, pulling a help defender out of Maxey’s path as he prepares to rev up the engine on a downhill drive. Or, for that matter, whether Hield’s ambling up to set a ghost screen on Maxey’s man before flaring out to the wing — the kind of inverted pick-and-rolls with which Haliburton and, briefly, Siakam made hay in Indiana, and that could make it awfully tough for defenses to blitz and trap the ball out of Maxey’s hands without feeling three points of pain on the back end of the transaction.

It’s also easy to see a knockdown shooter with a neon-green light entering into a delightfully symbiotic relationship with Embiid: Hield one pass away from Embiid in the post to punish doubles; Hield coming off a dribble handoff and firing; Hield constantly moving in search of an open 3, distorting coverages and forcing opponents to just live with playing Philly’s big guns straight up.

Realizing that potential, of course, requires Embiid to actually be healthy and on the floor; with this deal, the Sixers continue to represent that they believe he’ll be both in time for the stretch run and the postseason. If that’s true, Philly could be one of the most dangerous teams in the East come springtime. If it’s not … well, regardless, the Sixers fight on that lie.

There’s a reason a shooter as accurate and prolific as Hield has now been traded three times. He’s a shoot-first-second-and-third gunner without much playmaking vision or touch, and a pretty glaring negative on defense — a small and steps-slow stopper at the point of attack without the strength or length to consistently bother opposing scorers. In the context of a playoff matchup, he’d be the Sixer that an offense would target, hunting switches every chance it got. That is a legitimate concern; in those circumstances, Nick Nurse and his coaching staff will have to get pretty creative to either hide him, mitigate the damage that the other guys can do to him, or get him off the floor before it gets ugly.

When fully healthy, though, the Sixers wouldn’t necessarily need Hield to log major minutes against the most dangerous opponents, and getting a shooter with that kind of punch and potential for the cost of non-rotation expiring contracts — Marcus Morris Sr. and Furkan Korkmaz, whose trade requests have finally been honored a scant five-plus years after he began making them — feels like a pretty good outcome for the Sixers. Doing it while also moving Danuel House Jr. to open a roster spot and get below the luxury tax line, putting themselves in position to get into the buyout market — where they might come to find a certain hard-bitten, veteran point guard with a ton of big-game experience, who used to play for Morey and Nurse, and who’s also a Noted Philly Guy — seems even better. All that’s left, then, is to get everybody healthy … especially the big guy.

Source: Yahoo Sports

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