Well, the 2019 NBA trade deadline has passed and Anthony Davis is still a Pelican. But a lot of other major stuff went down, most of which will have a major impact on this season’s playoffs and this summer’s free-agent chase, which should be absolutely wild. This includes a boost for several contenders in the Eastern Conference after the Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors all made trades to improve their chances come playoff time. While the West didn’t experience too much change — aside from the Dallas Mavericks landing Kristaps Porzingis from the New York Knicks — it did see the Lakers fail to land the Pelicans‘ coveted big man.
While there were plenty of deals made, obviously not every team made out as well as others.
Below are the winners and losers from this year’s trade deadline:
- Grades: Porzingis trade
The first big domino to fall leading into trade-deadline week, the Mavs hit a home run when they landed Kristaps Porzingis as the centerpiece of a package from the New York Knicks, sending out Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews and DeAndre Jordan along with two first future first-round picks. Dallas had to take on Tim Hardaway Jr.’s contract, which has $37 million left on it over the next two years assuming Hardaway opts in to the final year.
That said, Hardaway isn’t some empty contract. A bit overpaid, perhaps, but a legit scorer and plenty useful player. Besides that, the Mavs were subsequently able to clear enough money to have close to a max contract slot available this summer by trading Harrison Barnes to the Kings for Zach Randolph’s expiring deal and second-year pro Justin Jackson. So this is simple: The Mavs not only paired Kristaps Porzingis with Luka Doncic for potentially the next half-decade at least, they also cleared enough money to add a third star player, or a combination of really good players, to that duo. Huge, huge winners.
New York Knicks
As was the case with many deals around this deadline, the Porzingis deal was as close to a win-win as you’ll find. Yes, the Knicks had to give up the best asset they’ve had in decades, but in doing so they cleared enough cap space to bring on two max players this summer. The speculation that this triggered has been well chronicled. The Knicks must have a pretty good idea that they’re getting either Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving, or perhaps both, or at least some combination of upper-class max free agents, for them to move a player of Porzingis’ caliber in what basically amounts to a salary dump, right?
This could very well be the case. If this deadline showed us anything, it’s how much of this stuff is controlled by power players behind the curtain. That said, I texted with a league exec who was with the Knicks in 2010 when they were pretty darn optimistic they were going to get LeBron James. He reminded me, with a little smiley face on the text: “That didn’t work out totally as planned.”
So, no, it’s not a sure thing the Knicks are going to get two big-time free agents. Or even one. But the fact they they can offer two max spots is a really big deal. Guys love playing with other stars these days, obviously, and to be able to say to a prospective free agent like Durant that he can — assuming the other guy is down for New York, too — pretty much pick his running partner is a major leg up in the battle for these stars’ services. If New York isn’t able to capitalize on the cap space come July, we’ll revisit this evaluation. But for now, simply having created it is a big win and the potential first step to building something of an overnight title contender in the Big Apple.
Los Angeles Clippers
Speaking of cap space, man are the Clippers doing work. First they sent Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic and Mike Scott to the Sixers in exchange for Landry Shamet, Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, a 2020 first-round pick, a 2021 first-round pick (via Miami), a 2021 second-round pick and 2023 second-round pick. Then they turned around and moved Avery Bradley, and his $2 million guaranteed for next season, to the Grizzlies for two expiring contracts in Garrett Temple and JaMychal Green.
All told, the Clippers have created $59 million in cap space to go with a ton of high-leverage draft picks. It’s a package that could potentially be used to trade with the Pelicans for Anthony Davis ON TOP OF (!!!) having the money to sign not one, but two max players. Can I interest you in Kawhi Leonard, Davis and a third star, Clips fans?
As if this wasn’t enough, the Clippers also seemingly took themselves out of the playoff race by moving their best player (Harris), and in doing so, give themselves a better chance to retain their own 2019 first-round pick, which is lottery protected and would go to the Celtics if the Clippers were to make the playoffs. That would be another asset that could be used in a potential blockbuster trade.
Even if no trades are made, you’re looking at a team that can simply sign two max guys while also continuing to build its youth slowly through a ton of huge-value draft picks. In the NBA, you almost never get to do both. You either sell the future to win now, or the other way around. The Clippers have worked it so they don’t necessarily have to make that decision.
The Sixers spent years losing on a historic level to put themselves in position to play for a championship at some point. Well, that point is now, and give first-year GM Elton Brand credit for pushing Philly’s chips in the middle when he saw an opening. The East hasn’t been this wide open, with four teams virtually inseparable at the top, in more than a decade, and in bringing on Tobias Harris from the Clippers, Philly, in my opinion, now has the best starting lineup in the East and the second best in the league behind Golden State.
Back when Jimmy Butler was traded to the Sixers, I was talking with a scout about how Butler and Ben Simmons might fit together, and whether acquiring Butler was enough to put the Sixers into the championship conversation, and he didn’t quite think so. He said Butler alone didn’t “move the needle” dramtically. But it was the first step, and he wanted to see what Phllly would do next, because that next move would be the one to more clearly tell the tale.
“By getting Butler, you’re saying you’re all in for a championship,” the scout said. “But this team isn’t there yet. I definitely don’t think they’re done.”
So here the Sixers are, with what to me is a perfect fit in Harris. Whereas Butler and Simmons are always going to operate best with the ball, as primary initiators, Harris functions naturally on the periphery while possessing the clear ability to take the lead in stretches. He’s out of his depth as the No. 1 guy on an elite team. He’s a capable No. 2 guy and a perfect No. 3 guy. Make him your No. 4, and you have a monster squad.
And Harris isn’t the kind of No. 4 option who’s going to be hard to fit in because he’s so used to being the guy. To the contrary, Harris is one of those star players who still feels best suited for a support role. Kind of Klay Thompson-like in that way.
Harris can play on or off the ball, which gives Brett Brown much more lineup versatility. The Sixers were in desperate need of consistent spacing, and Harris shoots the 3-ball at better than 43 precent. He can serve as a secondary playmaker in the Sixers’ movement-based offense, and he’s a switchable defender at 6-foot-8. He’ll play as a stretch four in a lot of lineups. Good luck dealing with Joel Embiid when you have JJ Redick spacing one side of the court and Harris spacing the other, all with Simmons and Butler orchestrating.
Philly also addressed its depth problem, particularly on the wing, by bringing in James Ennis from Houston and Jonathon Simmons from Orlando, as well as Mike Scott as part of the Harris trade. Boban Marjanovic can spell Embiid. Jonathon Simmons came to Philly, of course, by way of the Sixers finally giving up on Markelle Fultz, who was sent to Orlando. We need a whole column to talk about Fultz and how bad this went, but for now, at least Philly recouped a first-round pick from Orlando (via OKC), albeit a heavily protected one. At least it’s something for a guy who literally might not ever be able to fully function as an NBA player.
But let’s not sour the mood right now. The Sixers came out golden here. They are a legit threat to win the East, right there with the Bucks, Raptors and Celtics. Anyone who tells you they can definitively say which of those four teams should be the favorite to come out of the East is either way smarter than me or lying. Nobody knows. There is no clear favorite, and that’s not something that can be said often in the NBA. The East playoffs are going to be wild.
- Grades: Mirotic trade
Harris to Philly started the dominoes falling in the East, and the Bucks were the next team to answer by acquiring Nikola Mirotic from the Pelicans. I hardly have the words to describe how perfect a move this was for Milwaukee. Yes, there are going to be some issues with Mirotic and Brook Lopez getting spotlighted on the defensive end, but Milwaukee survives on conservative team defense anyway.
The upside of Mirotic on the offensive end outweighs any defensive problems that can’t be mitigated elsewhere. Milwaukee plays a very simple style of basketball, putting all five guys around the perimeter and giving Giannis a clear lane to the rim. It only works if everyone around the perimeter can shoot and thus keep defenders attached, and Mirotic is nothing if not a sniper. He’s just under 37 percent from deep this season, a solid number, but is a far more dangerous shooter/scorer than that number would indicate.
And he’s a tough-shot maker. Defenders worry about him. With Milwaukee having so many shooters, the collective threat they pose is what it’s all about. Only a few of them have to be hot on a given night, but they all have to be guarded every night. This is so perfect I’m spinning my wheels trying to talk about it. Milwaukee is a problem.
- Grades: Gasol trade
Landing Marc Gasol doesn’t move the needle quite as much for me as it does for a lot of people. At this point, he’s a better player than Jonas Valanciunas, but it’s marginal from a pure production standpoint. Gasol isn’t an elite defender anymore, though he’s still very good and can put Toronto on solid footing in certain star-center matchups that would’ve staggered the Raps in the past.
The big win here is the fit. In Nick Nurse’s offense, a big man that can pass like Gasol, orchestrate offense from the high post and stretch the defense out to the 3-point line is deadly. My CBS Sports colleague James Herbert, who knows the Raptors as well as anyone having come from, and worked in, Toronto for years, put it like this:
In another ideal marriage between player and system, Marc Gasol will soon be facilitating offense under Nick Nurse. The Raptors, hoping to maximize the only season they’ve been promised with Kawhi Leonard, upgraded from the solid Jonas Valanciunas to a center who knows how to make everyone around him better. As long as Gasol is healthy, he is a significant upgrade, both in terms of skills and how he reads the game. In order to make this happen, Toronto sacrificed guard Delon Wright, who is headed into restricted free agency, and wing C.J. Miles, who had lost his spot in its crowded rotation.
The move likely pushes Serge Ibaka to the bench, but it will be interesting to see how the frontcourt playing time get divided. Despite his resume, Gasol might have to live with his minutes getting reduced against, say, Al Horford. He will help the Raptors deal with Joel Embiid, though, and Gasol, who has taken more than four 3s a game over the past couple of seasons, has the ability to space the floor more effectively than Valanciunas did. He is the rare player who makes any team he is on tougher and smarter.
Had the Raptors given up one of their three main young guys — Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby or Fred VanVleet — this deal would be a lot harder to call a win. But keeping that young core and getting Gasol clearly positions the Raptors to maximize what might be the only year with Leonard without compromising the future. The Sixers made a move. The Bucks answered. Then the Raptors followed suit. All year long I’ve had scouts tell me they think Toronto, along with Boston, is the most complete team in the East, the one with the fewest holes. I can’t imagine getting Gasol will somehow change those opinions.
I’m going to keep this very simple: Anthony Davis didn’t get traded. That means the Celtics, who are ineligible to trade for Davis until this summer because of a CBA quirk that doesn’t allow Kyrie Irving and Davis to be on the same team under their current contracts, are probably the leader in the clubhouse to land Davis. If that’s not a win, I don’t know what is.
Los Angeles Lakers
New Orleans didn’t budge for the Lakers’ best offer — Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, Ivica Zubac, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and two future first-round picks. That’s no bum offer, people. But the Pelicans clearly think it’s an inferior package to the one the Celtics can potentially offer this summer, which would presumably include Jayson Tatum and a couple potential lottery picks, among other ready-made, valuable players like Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and/or Al Horford.
Most people I’ve spoken with around the league agree with the Pelicans: Understanding the risk of waiting on an unknown with a solid offer on the table, Boston’s potential offer looks better, perhaps significantly. So the Lakers miss out. For now. If Boston can’t come though this summer for whatever reason, New Orleans can probably go back to the Lakers, or perhaps deal with the Clippers, who continued putting together quite the trove of draft assets at the deadline. At least that’s what New Orleans is banking on. We’ll see.
In the immediacy, with this being a winners and losers column, it’s hard for me to attach either evaluation to the Lakers. Everything could change this summer if they get another max player and/or end up with Davis anyway — perhaps without having to give up so much if leverage swings back their way. Still, with the information we have right now, we have to deem the Lakers a deadline loser.
Stripping away all the qualifiers, the bottom line is the Lakers went all-in for Davis came up empty. They put all their eggs in a basket that was never quite full enough. To avoid this, they could have gone harder after Paul George when he was still in Indiana and available for far less than the Lakers just offered for Davis. They could’ve offered a huge package for Kawhi Leonard, but they didn’t, again assuming he would just come to them on his own, and now it’s the Raptors who are in the championship picture. The Lakers, along with a lot of other teams, clearly messed up not taking a one-year, low-risk gamble on DeMarcus Cousins, who would have made the Lakers at least a scary playoff team and could’ve potentially been had for roughly the same money they handed out to Lance Stephenson.
The list goes on. Had the Lakers drafted Jayson Tatum or De’Aaron Fox rather than Lonzo Ball, this deal for Anthony Davis would likely be done already. Instead they took Ball and shipped off D’Angelo Russell, who was just named an All-Star with the Brooklyn Nets. At every turn the Lakers have assumed their name and geography would do the work for them. It got them LeBron, but that’s not enough in the West. The Sixers didn’t wait for Tobias Harris or Jimmy Butler. Meanwhile, as all these other teams have been the aggressor in becoming a championship-caliber team, the Lakers, who talked so big about their commitment to patience and the development of young players, are left with a hot-seat coach, a disenchanted superstar and a potentially very sour team that is in real danger of missing the playoffs.
To be fair, the Lakers did improve their team on the margins, adding two shooters in Reggie Bullock from Detroit and Mike Muscala from the Clippers, who’d gotten Muscala from the Sixers. Why the Lakers didn’t prioritize shooting more last summer, when instead they focused on adding “multiple playmakers” like Stephenson and Rajon Rondo, is another conversation. But they’ve addressed the hole to some degree now and it should help them down the stretch.
Will it be enough for the Lakers to get into the playoffs, let alone make any noise? That remains to be seen. After Thursday’s win over Boston (hugely impressive after the week they’ve been through), the Lakers have to go 19-8 over their final 27 games to reach 47 wins, which still might not be enough to get them into the playoffs. To reach 50 wins and presumably secure something better than the No. 8 seed — which, in all likelihood, would merely net them a first-round death sentence vs. the Warriors — the Lakers would have to finish the season on a 22-5 run. Do you really see that happening?
Of the three people in the league to whom I posed this question after Thursday’s deadline passed, two do not see the Lakers making the playoffs this season. That 17-game LeBron absence is just going to be too much to overcome, said one. The other thinks LeBron turning on the late-season jets will be “just enough” to allow the Lakers to squeak in. It’s a modest goal for a team that had designs on becoming a championship contender in a matter of one trade, but it’s where the Lakers are at. And if things don’t go their way in a few months, they might be stuck there for some time.
- Grades: Porter trade
As bad omens go, John Wall rupturing his Achilles tendon by slipping in his house certainly didn’t bode well for the Wizards‘ trade-deadline prospects to somehow improve their outlook. Despite multiple reports indicating the Wizards intended to keep both Otto Porter Jr. and Bradley Beal, only Beal remains. Porter was shipped to the Bulls for … wait for it … Bobby Portis, Jabari Parker and a 2023 second-round pick. Parker and Portis are short-timers on expiring deals. A second-round pick five years from now is, well, a second-round pick five years from now.
So the Wizards cleared Porter’s money. Great. But I can’t believe they couldn’t have gotten a bit more for him, and besides that, if you’re going to at least start down the rebuild road, why not get something for Trevor Ariza? Why not get more aggressive with the rest of your roster and actually cut your losses with Wall out for a year at least, and perhaps in a position where he won’t be back to the old Wall for two years, if ever? As it stands, the only player with enough value to kick-start a rebuild on the open market is Beal, and now he’s left as a lone wolf on a team going nowhere fast. Oh, and did I mention that Wall’s $170 million contract extension hasn’t even kicked in yet? That he’ll be making $38 million next season to rehab? That the Wizards are still operating as if this is a team that should be kept intact and can win in an Eastern Conference that has blown up with elite teams?
Yeah, the Wizards are losing all over the place.
The Hornets have gone from looking for a trade for Kemba Walker to looking for a trade to help Kemba Walker. Dude has been so good Charlotte can’t even think about looking at him as an asset lure. Now Walkers needs a co-star like nobody’s business, and Charlotte was reportedly this close to getting Marc Gasol. It wouldn’t have had championship implications, but, man, that would’ve been big for a Hornets team that is pretty good and is probably going to make the playoffs but just can’t win enough close games to take a real step forward. Gasol would’ve been so big, and Charlotte doesn’t get many shots at players like that. Disappointing.
Grizzlies guard Mike Conley
At this point in his career, Mike Conley deserves to play on a winning team. He’s too good to be riding out the rebuild in Memphis. We heard his name mentioned as a possibility for the Jazz, and that would’ve been a great pairing with Conley running the show next to Donovan Mitchell and playing pick and roll with Rudy Gobert. We also heard Gasol and Conley might be headed to Toronto together. That would’ve been amazing.
Instead, Conley’s Grit N’ Grind brother gets a shot at a championship and Conley does not. Who knows, maybe Conley is happy to stay home in Memphis. Maybe he’s comfortable in his life there. But from a basketball standpoint, there are a lot better situations out there and it looked like a cinch he was going to be heading to one of them. Just didn’t happen.