The NBA trade deadline should be a national holiday.
Thursday was electric. The dearth of a Kevin Durant-era Warriors superteam encouraged win-now swings by title contenders sensing a window. Elsewhere, lottery-bound teams swapped huge names in deals that reshape their trajectory. There were two-, three- and even four-team trades involving teams on all ends of the contention spectrum.
I’ll be analyzing the five largest, most consequential trades, and omitting minor deals around the fringes. I know you didn’t click to read about the Jordan McRae/Shabazz Napier swap.
The D’Angelo Russell/Andrew Wiggins blockbuster
G D’Angelo Russell
SWING Jacob Evans
PF/C Omari Spellman
2021 top-3 protected first-round pick
SWING Andrew Wiggins
2021 second-round pick
Timberwolves: Minnesota finally gets the man whom they’ve lusted after like he’s Michael Jordan. Their interest in Karl-Anthony Towns’ BFF began in the summer and maintained even after the Warriors maxed him out.
The unwatchable Wolves have belched out the league’s worst record since an unlikely 10-8 start. It was time to shake the snowglobe, if for no other reason than to keep a disgruntledTowns happy. The 24-year old’s body language has ranged from ‘Somebody stole my lollipop and I’m pouting’ to ‘I’d rather make a living bagging groceries in Boise, Idaho than play another minute with Andrew Wiggins.’ Though he’s on a long-term contract, we live in an era where players can force their way to other teams. Placating him is all that really matters; if he wanted D’Angelo Russell, they had to get D’Angelo Russell.
Andrew Wiggins is toxic; parting with him and his contract is addition by subtraction. Not only did they acquire a young All-Star (Russell), but they acquired air freshener to cleanse the air of Wiggins’ stench. Parting with next year’s first-rounder is painful, but you have to give something to get something.
The Russell/Towns duo should be potent offensively and atrocious on the less glamorous end. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start towards cultivating a healthier ecosystem.
Warriors: When I first learned of this trade, I hated it for Golden State. Then I began to understand the thought process and disliked it a bit less.
First, the Warriors deserve a ton of credit for facilitating the sign-and-trade for Russell during the chaos of Kevin Durant’s departure. While he never made long-term sense in the Bay, he was an asset that could be flipped. After a half-season test drive, the Dubs had seen enough and traded him for a similarly-priced wing and juicy first-rounder.
That sounds great, until you realize that they traded him for Andrew Wiggins. His contract is so crippling that it renders this trade a loss, despite the attached draft pick.
We have years of evidence that Wiggins just doesn’t have it. His effort has been consistently lethargic, and it’s not clear if he likes basketball. He’s played with two All-Star teammates, Jimmy Butler and Towns: Both were unhappy with him as a teammate. His inflated scoring totals and jaw-dropping athleticism don’t translate into wins.
Golden State will argue that they can rehabilitate Wiggins. They’ll ask him to play a simple role like early-career Harrison Barnes: shoot corner threes, cut, run the floor and get the occasional bucket. He’ll be surrounded by the best trainers and shooting coaches. He’s had four head coaches in five seasons; surely, Steve Kerr and his kumbaya locker room can bring the best out of him.
I see it going the other way. Durant, who like Wiggins is mopey and aloof, didn’t have a good relationship with the Warriors. His relationship with Draymond Green was particularly rocky. If Green couldn’t mesh with KD, how is he going to gel with Wiggins, who unlike Durant did not earn his money and doesn’t work hard on or off the floor?
The trade isn’t an F. D’Lo didn’t fit, and the draft pick is a gem. But it still wasn’t worth absorbing Wiggins, who has four years and $122 million left on his maximum contract. He and the Dubs are stuck with each other, which could prove disastrous if he doesn’t improve.
Rockets go small, Hawks go big in four-team, 12-player bomb
F Robert Covington (from Timberwolves)
F/C Jordan Bell (from Timberwolves)
2020 second-round pick (from Hawks via Warriors)
C Clint Capela (from Rockets)
C Nene (from Rockets)
SWING Malik Beasley (from Nuggets)
SWING Evan Turner (from Hawks)
F Juancho Hernangomez (from Nuggets)
F/C Jarred Vanderbilt (from Hawks)
Conditional future first-round pick (from Hawks via Nets)
F Keita Bates-Diop (from Timberwolves)
G Shabazz Napier (from Timberwolves)
SWING Gerald Green (from Rockets)
C Noah Vonleh (from Timberwolves)
2020 first-round pick (from Rockets)
Rockets: Houston traded it’s only playable center for yet another wing and didn’t bother filling the hole. With postseason matchups looming against Anthony Davis, Rudy Gobert and Nikola Jokic, the Rockets will trot out lineups in which their tallest guy is 6’5”.
I love it.
As constructed with Capela, the team had no chance of defeating the Clippers or Lakers in seven. Knowing this, Daryl Morey and Mike d’Antoni pushed their ideology to the extreme and went all-in on small ball and threes. It’s a wager placed on variance and randomness: Maybe, just maybe, they catch fire and hot shooting carries them to the Finals.
I’ve long appreciated the work of Robert Covington. He might have been designed in a lab at the Sloan Analytics Conference: He’s a low-usage, 6’7” wing who bombs threes and clamps on the other end. He’ll be like Trevor Ariza for the Rockets, only a little better shooter. His contract, which has three years remaining, is delicious.
Do the Rockets have enough defense and rebounding to make the Finals? No, but hot shooting may render those concerns obsolete. They at least have a puncher’s chance, which they didn’t with Capela. If they win the title, I hope there are ambulances waiting outside the TNT studio for Shaq and Chuck.
Trading Capela for Covington makes the Rockets a worse team. It also gives them the best chance to win the title.
Hawks: One of the pressing questions for Atlanta as they rebuild: Is John Collins a center? By adding Capela, they clearly don’t think so.
I disagree. The Trae Young/Collins pick-and-roll is unguardable when surrounded by three shooters. The marginal offensive impact of having Collins at the five is greater than the defensive loss. He’s skilled enough to make it work either way, but he’s a five in the modern game.
The trade isn’t awful. Capela, 25, fits the Hawks’ timeline. He gives Atlanta’s defense an anchor, and he’s a dangerous screen-setter and rim-runner. He’s a good player, and it’s good to have good players. His cost-certain contract is tradeable if things go sideways.
I just hope he doesn’t impede the development of Collins, who has overlapping offensive skills. Plus, this pushes De’Andre Hunter up to small forward, I presume? Ugh. This feels uncomfortably similar to the Aaron Gordon/Jonathan Isaac/Nik Vucevic frontcourt logjam in Orlando.
When rebuilding, you don’t want to act like the Knicks and acquire veterans who complicate the development and roles of your young players. Capela is at least young and on a decent contract, but this gets a thumbs down from me. I sense an ownership group putting pressure on the front office to improve right away, rather than being patient.
Timberwolves: The Wolves did the smart thing and acquired assets for Covington, who at 29 had no use on a lottery-bound squad.
They targeted Beasley, an intriguing young swingman with a pretty jumper and adequate defensive potential. His low-usage, spot-up offense will mesh nicely with Towns and Russell. Some team might throw a big offer sheet at the impending restricted free agent this summer, but Minnesota will close their eyes and match.
Hernangomez had fallen out of Denver’s deep rotation, but is worth a look. It feels like he’s been around forever, but is still just 24. Vanderbilt is an interesting flier: He demonstrated unique defensive versatility at Kentucky, and I think there’s a rotation player in there somewhere. The future first-rounder is a sweet bonus.
In sum, Minnesota sold a 29-year old who wasn’t part of their future for intriguing young players and a pick. That’s solid work. I would have held onto Bates-Diop, though.
Nuggets: Denver had no desire to pay Beasley’s next contract, so they flipped him for assets that could be used as trade ammo this summer.
Houston’s 2020 first-rounder isn’t itself super valuable, but can be traded during the draft for a future first-rounder to maintain asset liquidity. Bates-Diop is an intriguing combo forward who I’ve long thought was underrated; there isn’t room for him in the rotation, but he’s an asset.
Beasley was a rotation piece, but the Nuggets’ extreme depth made him expendable. The assets they acquired are potential sweeteners in a trade for a star. They’ll be monitoring the Bradley Beal situation closely.
Clippers add Morris to bolster title hopes
F Marcus Morris (from Knicks)
G Isaiah Thomas (from Wizards)
2020 first-round pick (from Clippers)
F Moe Harkless (from Clippers)
Protected 2021 first-round pick swap (from Clippers)
2021 second-round pick (from Clippers via Pistons)
Draft rights to G Issuf Sanon (from Wizards)
SG Jerome Robinson (from Clippers)
Clippers: While the Lakers surprisingly stood pat at the deadline, the Clippers picked up another body to throw at LeBron James.
Morris upgrades the Harkless spot: He’s a tougher, more physical defender and better spot-up shooter. His sparkling 44% three-point clip is due for regression, but he’s a very good player with playoff experience.
He makes the Clippers better, but what’s his marginal impact in a rotation that already includes Kawhi Leonard and Paul George? Of all the contenders, the Clippers needed Morris the least. You could argue the Clips would have been better served acquiring a ball-handler or Tristan Thompson.
But how can I view this trade as anything but a win? Provided he accepts his role, he’ll add toughness, versatility, shooting and defense. Those are things worth trading Moe Harkless and a late first-rounder for. Have fun trying to score against a Beverley-George-Kawhi-Morris-Harrell fivesome!
Seeing Isaiah Thomas thrown in to make the salaries work is a sad reminder of his swift, injury-fueled fall from grace.
Knicks: The mystery of Morris’ availability was one of the deadline’s X-factors. After insisting for weeks that he was staying put, the Knicks found religion and traded him for assets before the buzzer. The firing of ex-president Steve Mills (who wasn’t very good at his job, as I outlined here) may have had something to do with the about-face.
New York botched this one — shocker! Although Morris is on an expiring deal, he’s good enough to have warranted at least one young piece in return that the Knicks could point to as being part of their future. Instead, they acted too late and had to accept the Clippers’ pu-pu platter. The first-round pick will fall in the late twenties of a bad draft, and Issuf Sanon and the second-rounder are merely lottery tickets. There’s a good chance that the Knicks look back in the coming years and realize they got nothing for Morris. Contrast that with the Grizzlies, who just seized Justise Winslow in return for Andre Iguodala.
Still, I can’t give them an F. At least they got something for Morris rather than watch him walk this summer. The mere act of trading him is a rare display of competence by this franchise.
Edit: After this was published, it came out that the Knicks accepted the Clippers’ pu-pu platter over a Lakers’ package that included Kyle Kuzma. Oops! I discussed the Knicks’ moves further in a Twitter conversation with The Ringer’s Dan Devine.
Wizards: To help make the finances work, Washington acquired a 2018 lottery pick who’d been buried in LA. Robinson never should have been drafted so highly, but that’s beside the point: The Wiz acquired an ex-lottery pick who’s in his second season, and gave up nothing of note. The grader is pleased.
Pistons dump Andre Drummond
C Andre Drummond
Less favorable of Golden State’s 2023 second-round picks
C John Henson
G Brandon Knight
Disclaimer: This trade makes my brain hurt. I’ll do my best.
Pistons: In return for a healthy 26-year old who has made the All-Star game twice, Detroit received a crappy second-rounder, two veterans whom everyone forgot were still in the league, and nothing else.
Optically, it’s embarrassing to dump him for such a meager return, but there wasn’t much of a market and they wanted him off their team as they embark on a long rebuild. Sure, they could have kept him until his contract expired in 2021, but like Wiggins and Minnesota, sometimes it’s best to cleanse the stench and turn the page.
That said, if I’m going to hammer the Knicks for mishandling the Morris trade, I have to do the same here. There were earlier opportunities to trade Drummond for a less humiliating return.
Cavaliers: The stinky Cavs were never going to be able to trade Kevin Love. They’ve miscalculated his value: They expect teams to give them assets for the right to acquire a declining 31-year old who’s guaranteed $120 million over the next four years. Love will remain in Cleveland until Koby Altman gets serious about what it’ll take to get him out.
With Love talks stalled, naturally, Cleveland doubled down on overpriced bigs who nobody wants by trading for Drummond.
There’s little risk here. They surrendered nothing of value, and he will be an expiring contract next year after accepting his $29 million player option this summer. He’s not a winning player and won’t hurt Cleveland’s tanking efforts.
There’s also little reward. Drummond doesn’t move the needle in either direction, so all he’s really doing is taking Dan Gilbert’s money.
Actually, I guess that’s a good thing.
Heat (kind of) go all-in
SWING Andre Iguodala (from Grizzlies)
F Jae Crowder (from Grizzlies)
F Solomon Hill (from Grizzlies)
F Justise Winslow (from Heat)
G Dion Waiters (from Heat)
C Gorgui Dieng (from Timberwolves)
F James Johnson (from Heat)
Heat: Miami did a nice job of adding win-now pieces while keeping the bulk of its young talent.
Winslow was expendable. Working the margins and back of the lottery to perfection yielded Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, Kendrick Nunn and Derrick Jones Jr.; retaining them cushions the blow of losing the former no. 10 pick. Ditching the toxic contracts of Waiters and Johnson is a nice windfall.
Iggy has lost a step or three, but he adds doses of cutting, playmaking, savvy defense and championship mettle. Crowder’s three-point shooting nosedived after an outlier 2016-17 season, but he’s a scrappy wing option. Those two — particularly Iguodala — make the Heat better.
By how much, though? Miami’s proposed trade for Danilo Gallinari fell just short of the finish line, and it’s too bad; he would have been awesome in Miami. Despite their depth, nobody offers his blend of size, shooting and defensive versatility.
Iguodala’s immediate two-year, $30 million extension is an overpay, but it’s fine. It’s basically a one-year deal (the second is non-guaranteed), so it won’t hinder Pat Riley’s pursuit of Giannis Antetokounmpo and other star free agents in 2021.
I appreciate the Heat cashing in Winslow for win-now pieces. They got better Thursday, and did so without mortgaging the future. It’s just a shame they couldn’t come to terms with Gallo, who would have pushed them into another tier.
Grizzlies: Quick timeline:
July 2019: Grizzlies trade Julian Washburn to the Warriors in exchange for Andre Iguodala and a protected first-round pick
Feb 2020: Grizzlies trade Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill to the Heat in exchange for Dion Waiters and Justise Winslow
Summary: Grizzlies turn a 28-year old G-Leaguer into Justise Winslow and a first-round pick.
That is how smart teams teams accelerate their rebuild. They utilized their leverage to grab a first-round pick for taking Iguodala’s $16 million contract off the Warriors’ hands, then refused to buy him out and flipped him for another asset at the trade deadline.
Winslow is divisive. He’s not a traditional point guard, but is best on the ball and struggles away from it due to a clunky jumper. He’s a good and potentially great defender, but won’t develop if he can’t stay healthy.
I’m bullish. The dude is 23. He has years to hone his outside jumper and figure out who he is. It’s hard to acquire young, productive wings who have upside, let alone ones on cost-effective, long-term contracts. He’s a great grab for a Grizzlies squad that’s way ahead of schedule.
Acquiring Waiters and Dieng’s contracts is the tax for getting Winslow. No problem. Dieng, who has added the three-ball, adds center depth until his deal expires after next season. Waiters, meanwhile, is toxic and should be disposed of immediately.
The Los Angeles teams were hoping for an Iguodala buyout, but Memphis, true to their word, dealt him for a great return. They’ve done an incredible job building over the past two years, and this is a prime example.
Timberwolves: A third team was needed to make the money work and the über-active Wolves obliged, sending Gorgui Dieng to the Grizz and absorbing James Johnson from the Heat.
Good move. Dieng was a malcontent in Minnesota, and the versatile Johnson will play minutes on a shallow team.