A day before the NBA’s trade deadline, many thought all would be quiet.
Teams rightfully didn’t want to part with first round picks as assets. With the free agent market projected to be barren, major players such as Oklahoma City’s Paul George simply weren’t available. Others, such as Los Angeles Clippers guard Lou Williams, had already signed contract extensions with their current teams. Players like Blake Griffin and Nikola Mirotic had already been traded.
Because of this, there was high potential for a lack of drama at Thursday’s deadline.
But, we were wrong.
Oh, were we wrong.
The Lakers, Jazz, Cavaliers, Knicks and Magic all pulled the trigger on deals. Some of them blew up their cores. Some traded highly valued rotation players. Others traded starters, or for starting caliber talent. In a span of about 90 minutes, the NBA became Wall Street on a day of high volatility.
With the smoke now cleared, who won the day? Who lost the day? Who fortified themselves and who clearly went backwards? Here are the winners and losers of what, unexpectedly, became a hectic NBA trade deadline.
Winner: Cleveland Cavaliers
We still have to sit back and see if the new team Cleveland assembled meshes on the court. Still, it looks much better than the team we saw in the first half of the season. In acquiring Rodney Hood, George Hill, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr., the Cavs got younger and more athletic. They cleared their locker room of a few cancers and they gave LeBron James more of a chance to reach yet another NBA Finals.
More importantly, they got better on the court, and didn’t mortgage their future. They actually gave themselves a better opportunity to keep James, who hits the free agency market this summer.
Cleveland kept its coveted first round pick, via the Brooklyn Nets. It means the Cavs are a lock to pick in the top-10 of a loaded NBA draft, and did so while making themselves better on the floor. For all the deserved criticism general manager Koby Altman took for being fleeced in the Kyrie Irving trade, he deserves major kudos for making some terrific trade deadline deals.
Loser: New Orleans Pelicans
With almost every team hoarding its first round picks like a Willy Wonka golden ticket, the Pelicans burned theirs on … wait for it … Nikola Mirotic.
Look, I understand the Pelicans are trying to make the playoffs and needed a replacement for DeMarcus Cousins, who is out for the season with an injury. But, Nikola Mirotic is not worth surrendering a first round pick. He’s not going to push the needle for New Orleans. I know the argument: The Pelicans were able to find a way out of Omer Asik’s toxic contract, sending him to the Chicago Bulls. But, New Orleans won’t have financial flexibility either way. So, the Pelicans are now left with Mirotic, no first rounder this summer, and a roster that forces Anthony Davis to play the center spot, which he has no interest in. Baffling.
Winner: Los Angeles Lakers
General wisdom suggests there has to be a winner and loser to every trade. But Cleveland and Los Angeles both won. In trading Clarkson and Nance, the Lakers were able to clear enough cap space to chase two max contract free agents this summer. That puts them in prime position to steal Paul George and/or LeBron James and add them to what is a really nice core of young guys. This summer, financial flexibility will be gold. And the Lakers will have more than anyone in the league. They’re now a team to watch in July.
Loser: Isaiah Thomas
I’ve never seen a guy talk himself out of town faster than Thomas. But from the outset, it was clear Cleveland had to trade him. You simply don’t come to a team and try to take over a locker room like Thomas did. And you doubly don’t do it with a team that has LeBron James and Kevin Love in said locker room. So, Thomas, who was an MVP candidate last season in Boston, was shipped to Los Angeles. Here’s hoping he can regain his past form. But there’s a reason Thomas has been traded from every single team that he’s been on in the league.
Winner: Utah Jazz
On the surface, trading Rodney Hood for Jae Crowder looks like a downgrade for the Jazz. But here’s what they were facing on the trade market. Every team knew Hood wanted to leave Utah, and while there were plenty of inquiries, teams were hesitant to spend assets on a player who they thought they could get in the summer on the free agent market.
In that sense, getting a starter-level player for Hood, who is on a great contract, was a win for the Jazz. For this to completely be a win for Utah, Crowder has to return to the form he had with the Boston Celtics. If he’s the player he was with Cleveland, it turns into a loss. Because Hood still has a chance to be a guy who can score 20 points per game in this league.
Loser: New York Knicks
What are the Knicks doing? They bury Willy Hernangomez, who is a good player, on the bench all season behind Kyle O’Quinn, who isn’t as good. Then, they trade him to the Charlotte Hornets for pennies on the dollar. And then, they trade for Emmanuel Mudiay, who plays the same position as their current lottery pick Frank Ntilikina, whom they should be giving all the minutes he can handle in a season going nowhere. I’m so confused.
NBA POWER RANKINGS
1. Golden State Warriors (42-13) • Draymond Green has 14 technical fouls this season, two shy of earning a suspension.
2. Houston Rockets (40-13) • One game behind the Warriors for the top spot in the Western Conference.
3. Boston Celtics (40-16) • Officially signed Greg Monroe, who was in uniform Thursday.
4. Toronto Raptors (38-16) • Traded for Malachi Richardson at the deadline, who can help off the bench.
5. San Antonio Spurs (35-21) • Starting their annual rodeo trip.
6. Minnesota Timberwolves (34-23) • Said to be interested in point guard Derrick Rose on the buyout market.
7. Milwaukee Bucks (30-23) • Have been playing much better since firing Jason Kidd.
8. Cleveland Cavaliers (31-22) • They have a brand new team. Will it energize LeBron James?
9. Oklahoma City Thunder (31-25) • Westbrook was relentless in a great road win over the Golden State Warriors.
10. Washington Wizards (31-24) • Gortat criticizes Wall, who goes on ESPN and fires shots back.
11. Portland Trail Blazers (30-25) • Shed Noah Vonleh at the deadline to get under the luxury tax.
12. Denver Nuggets (29-25) • Primed to make a run once Paul Millsap returns to health.
13. Indiana Pacers (30-25) • With six players averaging in double-figures, this is one of the most balanced teams in the league.
14. Detroit Pistons (27-26) • The Blake Griffin trade is working great. They’ve won five straight.
15. Utah Jazz (26-28) • If Rubio’s improvement is for real, the Jazz could sneak into the postseason.
16. Miami Heat (29-26) • Miami is Wade Country once again.
17. Philadelphia 76ers (26-25) • Will Markelle Fultz play again this season?
18. New Orleans Pelicans (28-25) • Matchup against Pacers was postponed due to a leaky roof.
19. Los Angeles Clippers (27-25) • Gave Lou Williams a three-year contract extension.
20. Los Angeles Lakers (23-31) • What will they do with Isaiah Thomas?
21. Charlotte Hornets (23-31) • Took Portland to overtime, before falling, hung with Jazz until the end.
22. New York Knicks (23-33) • Losing Porzingis is truly a worst-case scenario.
23. Chicago Bulls (18-35) • Dealt Jameer Nelson to the Pistons, among other small moves at the deadline.
24. Brooklyn Nets (19-37) • Jeremy Lin, out for the season with injury, opts into his contract for next season.
25. Memphis Grizzlies (18-36) • Frustration setting in: Bickerstaff, Brook, ejected by Marc Davis in loss to the Jazz.
26. Dallas Mavericks (17-38) • Nowitzki passes the 50,000 minute plateau.
27. Orlando Magic (18-36) • Have won three straight, as Simmons drops career-high against Cavaliers .
28. Sacramento Kings (17-36) • Had a fire sale at the deadline.
29. Atlanta Hawks (17-38) • Belinelli will be a nice addition to someone on the buyout market.
30. Phoenix Suns (18-38) • The 48-point loss to the Spurs was ghastly, even by their standards.