The inexorable march towards the playoffs reached another milestone last Thursday with the passing of the NBA trade deadline. A flurry of moves took place over the last eighteen hours or so leading up to the 3 PM ET deadline, and now that the dust has mostly settled, it’s time to zoom out and assess the damage. Some contenders tinkered around the margins (Miami, Philly, Denver, and the Clippers), some rebuilding/rebooting teams looked to add future assets and/or undervalued pieces (Golden State, Atlanta, Memphis, Washington, and New York), and Detroit, well…yikes.
I already gave my thoughts about the four-team, twelve-player mega-deal between Minnesota, Houston, Atlanta, and Denver last week, and you can find them here. That analysis is baked into the grades you’ll see this week, and to the extent subsequent moves by those teams changed my thinking on the original trade, we’ll cross those bridges as we come to them. Let’s get started, and where else to begin but with the deadline’s most active team, now sitting on an almost completely reshaped roster:
Received: D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez, Evan Turner (waived), Jarred Vanderbilt, James Johnson, Omari Spellman, Jacob Evans, 2020 first-round pick (via Houston)
Sent: Robert Covington, Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng, Keita Bates-Diop, Noah Vonleh, Shabazz Napier, Jordan Bell
Considering the Wolves overhauled their entire roster almost overnight, this grade feels like a hedge, but it amounts to an averaging out of some things I liked and some things I didn’t. In a vacuum, I wasn’t huge on the return they got for Robert Covington, in light of how Houston clearly coveted him. They had the Rockets over a barrel, and basically came out of it with a middling first-round pick, two rotation guys they’ll have to pony up for over the summer, and a flier on a completely unproven young dude. It’s fine, I guess, but RoCo’s contract was phenomenally team-friendly, so again, they really didn’t have to do anything with him, especially since he didn’t factor into what came after.
The main event turned out to be the swap of perennially disappointing former no. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins (plus picks, which we’ll get to in a second) for Karl-Anthony Towns super-friend D’Angelo Russell. In addition to Wiggins, Golden State received a top-3 protected first-rounder from Minny in 2021 — apparently the timing and protections on this pick were a sticking point — as well as a 2021 second-rounder, while the Wolves also get Jacob Evans and Omari Spellman from the Warriors. Minnesota gets the best player in the trade (and the contracts are essentially a wash), so bully for them. At the same time, in the exact inverse of the Houston situation, the Warriors weren’t under duress to move Russell, but knew they could extract a premium from Minny, who had very publicly courted D’Lo as the running mate to appease the disgruntled Towns.
The premium is the top-3 protected 2021 pick — a draft which experts say is much stronger at the top than the upcoming 2020 draft — and should the pick roll over, it becomes unprotected in 2022. [This could end up being the mystical “double draft,” the year players just graduating high school again become NBA-eligible.] Conceding the pick represents a significant gamble. If the trade works, KAT is spurred into actually trying, and the new-look roster quickly rounds into form, then no harm, no foul. The pick becomes a middling asset they likely won’t miss. On the other hand, it’s not as though the Towns/Russell pairing is a guaranteed home run. The defense might still be a train wreck, and the remainder of the rotation is populated mostly with guys who are either young, will have to adapt to an expanded role, or both.
The West isn’t about to turn Charmin soft, either the rest of this season or next. If this new edition of the Wolves goes south and they are forced to pivot into another multi-year rebuild, that 2021 pick suddenly becomes one of the league’s best trade chips for Golden State. The Dubs will be getting the band back together next season and will likely be in possession of the top-5 pick they garnered from punting this year. With the contracts they have on the books and two potential top-5 picks on the way, the light-years-ahead crew will be able to elbow their way into the conversation for any superstar who shakes loose in the trade market. [Just speculating, but if a certain Wisconsin-based superhuman who just happens to be friends with Steph Curry should turn down the supermax extension offer he will receive this summer, we could be headed for another protracted, AD-like courtship next season. Again, I don’t know anything, but the Warriors’ actions do nothing to dissuade the notion they are planning for this contingency.]
Back to the Wolves, though. It’s not crazy to think this new jumble of players could jell into something interesting, even though it probably won’t get them back into the playoff conversation following the thirteen-game losing streak they endured leading up to the deadline. A core of KAT, Russell, Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez, James Johnson (also acquired at the deadline in a swap for Gorgui Dieng’s onerous contract), Josh Okogie, Jarrett Culver, Jake Layman, Spellman, and Jarred Vanderbilt carries some intrigue, but also a metric shit-ton of uncertainty.
The new squad (minus Russell) handed a surprising 142-115 beat down to the listless Clippers on Saturday, perhaps raising expectations to an unhealthy degree given the roster’s lack of experience, continuity, and dudes who generally take an interest in stopping the opposition from getting buckets. [Apologies to Josh Okogie. You’re cool.] The remaining 31 games of this campaign will serve as a chemistry laboratory, and there won’t be a ton of business for them to do over the summer beyond making their draft picks and shelling out for Beasley and/or Hernangomez. This is their team now, for better or worse. On the whole, they have more talent — and maybe a hair more flexibility — than they did last week, but the Wolves remain a far cry from something resembling contention, even if KAT will now be more content with this reshuffled mediocrity.
Received: Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder, Solomon Hill
Sent: Justise Winslow, James Johnson, Dion Waiters and gummies to be named later
Miami’s three-teamer with Memphis and Minnesota at the deadline was an excellent move, all things considered. They nabbed Iguodala, who should be fresh as a daisy after golfing for the last four months rather than grinding through an NBA season. Even at 36, he should offer the Heat some semblance of the multifaceted game which is his trademark, as well as his championship experience and pedigree. [If he turns out to be washed, just memory hole that last sentence.] Iggy’s leverage play also paid off financially, as he was able to negotiate a two-year, $30M extension with Miami as part of the trade. [Year 2 is a team option.] Snagging Crowder and Hill adds to their depth, though it’s unclear whose minutes they’ll be annexing. In any case, while both players have their warts, either one can be trusted to soak up some court time in a playoff series, a statement we can’t yet definitively make about some of the younger names on Miami’s roster.
Pat Riley may have sold a little low on Justise Winslow, but he’s been a massive injury risk throughout his short career, and in reality, he was going to be the cost of doing business. The deal ends up being a financial masterstroke for Miami, as they get off of nearly $29 million worth of James Johnson and Dion Waiters in ’20-’21, assuming Johnson picks up his player option. [Which he would be crazy not to.] Not even counting the $12.6M they were going to have to discreetly ship to Waiters Island in a brown paper bag next year, getting him away from the team clearly amounts to addition by subtraction of distraction. Memphis must either REALLY like Winslow or just felt pressure to get something done, because they immediately waived Waiters, instantly flushing that $12.6M down the toilet. [The Grizz are projected to have a ton of cap space next season, so they can probably tolerate eating the cap hit rather than using the stretch provision on Waiters, but man, that’s a lot of dead money.]
What was most notable about Miami’s deadline, however, is what they didn’t do. The trade also almost ended up involving Oklahoma City, who would have sent Danilo Gallinari and his expiring contract to Miami as well. We haven’t gotten the exact story on why the deal didn’t go through, but the issues appeared to be the length of the extension Gallo was attempting to negotiate with Miami, as well as removing the protections on the picks Miami already owes to OKC as part of the Paul George-to-L.A. trade so that Miami would then be able to trade additional firsts to the Thunder in this deal. [If that sounds confusing, trust me, it is.] Whatever the reason, it’s kind of a bummer Miami couldn’t thread the needle on the Gallo part of the deal, because adding the Rooster and Iggy to their existing roster without giving up any of their major young pieces would have vaulted them from nice story and second-tier contender to “Oh shit, these dudes are a PROBLEM.” I understand wanting to keep their cap flexible for the summer of ’21, but it’s still hard to justify not taking a swing at a wide open title window in the service of preserving far-off cap space which may not even be worth anything by the time they can use it. That’s the difference between an A- deadline and what could have been an A+ one.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
Received: Marcus Morris, Sr., Isaiah Thomas (waived), cash
Sent: Moe Harkless, Jerome Robinson, Derrick Walton, Jr., 2020 first-round pick, swap rights for 2021 first-round pick with Knicks (lol), 2020 second-round pick (via Detroit)
The Clips were the only one of the inner circle contenders to add a rotation-caliber piece at the deadline. [Milwaukee would later announce they were signing Marvin Williams after his buyout from Charlotte, but whatever.] L.A. was a virtual lock to do something. Harkless’s contract is expiring and amounted to a helpful number for salary-matching purposes. And due to the PG trade (and the Stepien Rule), their 2020 pick is the last first-rounder they’ll be allowed to deal until sometime long after Los Angeles has fallen off California into the Pacific. Moving Walton and Robinson cleared up roster spots and helped them get under the luxury tax, at least for the moment.
It all makes sense, and I get why teams would want to take on Morris and his expiring contract, even in spite of what an asshole he seems to be. He’s a big-bodied forward who can create his own shot, space the floor, and credibly defend other power wings. Those dudes are valuable in today’s game. Only thing is, the Clippers already have TWO better versions of that player in Kawhi and George. When watching L.A. play, there is often a disconnect between how good they should be and how good they actually are. Part of it is the lack of continuity and how often Kawhi and PG have been in and out of the lineup, but another noticeable trend is how the ball tends to get a little sticky on offense. With Kawhi, obviously the juice is worth the squeeze, and the same is mostly true of George. But even if there is a clear talent upgrade from Harkless to Morris, is adding yet another potential ball-stopper to the mix really the answer?
The assumption coming into the season was the Clippers had the entire season to figure out the proper distribution of roles and touches before the playoffs started. It’s been 51 games, and by and large that hasn’t happened yet, and now they’re injecting another wild card into the mix. With only two months to go — and even more load management cutting further into the chemistry-building process — is the extra talent valuable enough to risk the very real possibility this roster will be unable to discover its best self at any point in Year One of this two-year experiment?
Received: Jerome Robinson, Shabazz Napier
Sent: Isaiah Thomas, Jordan McRae
I’m putting the Wizards here because they are basically the remora to the Clippers’ shark, benefiting off the detritus of L.A.’s need to gobble up Morris. Robinson has been a little disappointing in limited opportunities, but he should get a real chance in the wasteland of Washington’s rotation. The guy was a lottery pick a year ago, so taking a flier on him just for acting as the intermediary on L.A.’s behalf is a nice piece of business. Being able to use Thomas as the throw-in to the deal is an added bonus. It looks to be the end of the line for IT, and simply removing him from the equation should be enough to improve the Wizards’ defense from “one of the worst of all time” to “merely dreadful.” The swap of McRae for Napier amounts to trading expiring contracts of guys who don’t factor into either team’s future plans, though Napier’s steady hand at the point should be marginally more valuable to this edition of the Wiz than is McRae’s semi-efficient scoring.
These aren’t massive, needle-moving deals by new GM Tommy Sheppard. Washington is still faaaaar away from any sort of contention, and what to do with John Wall is going to continue to be an anchor on the team’s flexibility for the foreseeable future. But the ability to nail these more marginal asset plays — along with the opportunistic heists he pulled off for Davis Bertans, Moritz Wagner, and Isaac Bonga over the summer — paints the picture of a competent executive who is building towards bigger things and will be able to consummate “real” deals when they present themselves. After the fifteen years of ineptitude fans endured under former GM Ernie Grunfeld, this front office renaissance is a breath of fresh air.
Receive: Alec Burks, Glenn Robinson III, 2020 second-round pick (via Orlando)
Sent: James Ennis III, 2020 second-round pick (via Dallas), 2021 second-round pick (via Denver), 2022 second-round pick (via Toronto)
Credit to GM Elton Brand for trying to plug a major hole (shooting) at a low cost on this bat-shit crazy Philly roster. Burks and Robinson had both been enjoying career years amid limitless opportunity on a depleted (to put it charitably) Golden State team. Both guys bring solid catch-and-shoot chops (37.2% this year from three for Burks; 39.5% for Robinson) and additional athleticism on the wing, which is always useful. Their court time will obviously be drastically reduced in Philly, so there may be some diminishing returns on their potential impact, but the thought process (pun intended) was at least in the right place. Given the quality of the teams’ picks who they traded, it’s unlikely they’ll be missed.
As with Miami, this grade is based on the things they couldn’t fix. Some marginal shooting is nice (and I’ve liked what I’ve seen out of “Little Dog” Robinson so far for the Sixers in particular), but it doesn’t do anything to solve the big, jumbled Rubik’s Cube that is this roster. It’s unclear if there was any potential deal out there involving either Al Horford or Tobias Harris for a shot-creating guard — that’s a heavy lift, I know — but it’s equally unclear if Brand was even trying to search one out. There is an ungodly amount of talent on this team, but it simply doesn’t fit, and even as notoriously tight-lipped a teammate as Horford isn’t afraid to say it.
The trade deadline isn’t the time to address the Ben Simmons/Joel Embiid conundrum, but that time may be fast approaching, especially if the Sixers flame out early in the playoffs. The consensus has long been Philly would ultimately build around Embiid if one of them had to go, but I’m starting to lean pretty hard in the other direction. The Sixers looked like a totally different team when Embiid missed nine games with a broken finger and Simmons was given the keys to the car. I don’t know what kind of package would be out there for a guy like Embiid, given his injury history and the direction of the league, but if there were a way to somehow restructure this team around Simmons’s gifts (like a Diet Giannis), that feels like the true path to inner circle contention. Besides the actual on-court logistics, Philly’s real problem is they are playing a not-so-quiet tournament in front of our eyes, and the prize is alpha dog status on the team. Until this struggle for dominance is resolved — internally or otherwise — the physical product is going to suffer. But yeah, shooting doesn’t hurt.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Received: Andrew Wiggins, 2021 top-3 protected first-round pick (via Minnesota), 2020 second-round pick (via Utah), 2020 second-round pick (via Dallas), 2021 second-round pick (via Minnesota), 2021 second-round pick (via Denver), 2022 second-round pick (via Toronto)
Sent: D’Angelo Russell, Omari Spellman, Jacob Evans, Willie Cauley-Stein, Alec Burks, Glenn Robinson III
Seems high, I know. I was confused at first by their approach to the deadline as well, but it’s turned into something of an acquired taste. While trading away so many players that you can barely field a team in the middle of the season could be seen as a questionable strategy, it sort of amounts to a *shrug emoji* for a team with the league’s worst record trying to reload for next year. [Robinson has a player option for ’20-’21 and perhaps could have been a decent low-cost piece when they’re at full strength, but it’s a minor quibble.]
Pure and simple, this was a contending team felled by unfortunate circumstances and stuck in a gap year. Instead of bemoaning their misfortune, however, they’ve used it as an opportunity to spin assets forward and possibly reboot their juggernaut on the fly. How do I come to this conclusion when their major acquisition was Andrew Wiggins, you ask? First, there is the remote possibility inside of Wiggins lives the dominant ultra-wing many envisioned coming out of Kansas, and he just needed a change of scenery and a better organizational culture to access it. It’s unlikely, sure. Five-and-a-half seasons is an awful lot of evidence. But we also can’t prove the negative because we haven’t seen it until now.
Second, it’s important to view this as an asset play. Wiggins the basketball player is less important to Golden State than Wiggins the asset, just as D’Angelo Russell was before him. D’Lo was never meant to be a fit with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson; he was merely a way to recover some value from the loss of Kevin Durant and keep the Warriors in the great game long-term. Wiggins is a continuation on the theme, as his minimal trade value — along with Minnesota’s poorly-hidden game of footsie with Russell — allowed the Dubs to extract the real prize in the deal, the top-3 protected pick in 2021. The Warriors will likely never trade Steph, but now they are armed with three big, potentially tradeable contracts (Klay, Draymond, and Wiggins), a top-5 pick in the upcoming draft, and a pick of indeterminate-but-easy-to-be-dreamed-upon value in 2021. That’s A TON of ammo to make yet another league-shaking move in one of the next two seasons, and with all of their stars (Wiggins notwithstanding) pushing into the “late prime” phases of their careers, one suspects the front office won’t hesitate to push all its chips to the center one more time.
That’s why they get such a high grade from me. Their window wasn’t going to slam shut in any case, but they could have allowed this lost season to drop it down part of the way. Instead, they may have managed to prop it open even further. It depends what happens from here, of course, but we shouldn’t be in the business of doubting Golden State.
NEW YORK KNICKS
Received: Valar Moe Harkless, 2020 first-round pick (via Clippers), 2020 second-round pick (via Detroit)
Sent: Marcus Morris, Sr.
We’ll end the adjudication with everyone’s favorite punching bag. To be clear: I’m not down on spinning Marcus Morris — their leading scorer this season, sadly — into some draft assets, including a late first which was burning a hole in the Clippers’ pockets. That’s a smart deal! What brings their grade down is not doing the exact same thing with any veteran not nailed down. Even with team options for next season, Taj Gibson and Bobby Portis might not have had a ton of trade value, but some (other) foolish front office might have at least given them something. Wayne Ellington and Reggie Bullock almost certainly could have netted useful assets (everyone needs shooting, right?), and a smart GM would even have kicked the tires on getting off all that Julius Randle money.
Was it wise for James Dolan — famous last words, I know — to tip over the managerial apple cart two days before the deadline? Perhaps axing Steve Mills was the impetus for the Morris trade, but did the lack of structure at the top also scuttle additional deals which may have been out there? Hard to know, but as always under the reign of Czar Straight Shot, it’s one step forwards, two steps back.
Others Receiving Grades:
Houston Rockets: B+
Memphis Grizzlies: B
Atlanta Hawks: B
Denver Nuggets: B+
Detroit Pistons: D-
Cleveland Cavaliers: C-
Sacramento Kings: D- (KANGZ!!)
Top Photo Credit: David Berding/USA TODAY Sports
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