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.
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.
Klay Thompson on the deadline rumors: “I don’t partake in NBA discourse.”
-On his desire to be with the Warriors long term: “That is correct. Good assessment.”
-On his belief in this team: “I see Steph Curry. I see Draymond. I go home and check our playoff record.” pic.twitter.com/tMe2IH5MCy
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) February 8, 2024
"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.
Klay Thompson isn't paying attention to any trade rumors. pic.twitter.com/Nn5aVJlgyk
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) February 8, 2024
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.
Miles Bridges has decided he won’t approve any trades and he will remain with the Charlotte Hornets the rest of the season, agent Rich Paul tells ESPN.
Bridges will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and the Hornets will retain his Bird Rights.
— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) February 8, 2024
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) February 8, 2024
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) February 8, 2024
The Toronto Raptors are keeping Bruce Brown Jr., sources tell ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) February 8, 2024
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:
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 ratingand 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:
Boys better hope on that PJ and suit up 😂
— Josh Hart (@joshhart) February 8, 2024
The new arrivals should help in a number of ways. While Randle and Anunoby convalesce, Thibodeau can slide Bogdanović — 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 defensesince 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.
Mike Dunleavy: "We explored a lot and frankly there wasn't a lot out there that we thought could improve us significantly at an appropriate price."
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) February 8, 2024
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:
"The one thing people need to understand with Buddy Hield is the gravity he has as a basketball player," Tyrese Haliburton said postgame. He was excited to have a chance to talk about Hield. He thinks a lot of the Hield chatter is overblown. "I've got the utmost faith in him."
— Tony East (@TonyREast) February 7, 2024
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.
Winners: Contenders Adding Insurance
When you’ve got legitimate championship aspirations, chances are you’ve already burned most of your draft picks and movable contracts to reach that rarefied air. (Yes, the Thunder, who hold 35 picks in the next seven drafts, are a very loud exception.) That means you’ve got to work in the margins to find what you’re looking for — and when you’re already running out a top-of-the-conference-caliber rotation, that’s most likely the kind of player who can help keep things humming when your top guns need a breather, and who, in a pinch, could credibly shoulder a larger load should one of your most important pieces pick up an injury.
Boston added interior insurance on Wednesday, snagging Xavier Tillman from Memphis for the Hawks' 2027 second-round pick, the Mavericks' 2030 second-round pick, and reserve forward Lamar Stevens. The former Grizzlies big man has struggled to finish this season, shooting just 56% at the rim and 36% from floater range — one wonders whether that might tick up in a less cramped, less chaotic, more talented offensive context in Boston — but he has remained an excellent defender, capable of both protecting the rim and holding his own when switching out on the perimeter.
Opponents are shooting just 54.9% at the cup against Tillman this season, according to Second Spectrum tracking — 19th out of 170 players who have guarded at least 100 up-close tries — and he’s posting elite block and steal rates for a big man. We’re just 10 months removed from Tillman more than holding his own against AD in a playoff series; not bad as a fail-safe behind Kristaps Porziņģis and Al Horford.
Out West, the Timberwolves found their own fail-safe: a steady pair of hands behind Mike Conley Jr. in the form of Monté Morris, whom Wolves president Tim Connelly drafted in Denver back in 2017, at the price of wings Shake Milton and Troy Brown Jr. and Minnesota’s 2030 second-rounder.
Morris turned into one of the game’s premier backup point guards during his tenure as a Nugget, routinely ranking among the league’s leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio. After two up-and-down seasons as a full-time starter — first in Denver while Jamal Murray recovered from an ACL tear, and then, after being dealt for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, in Washington for the forever-meandering Wizards — he landed in Detroit, where a right quadriceps injury kept him on the shelf until about two weeks ago.
Connelly and head coach Chris Finch and Co. are hoping the 28-year-old can knock off the rust, return to table-setting form and help elevate a Wolves team that has the NBA’s third-worst turnover rate and has seen its offense crater without Conley on the floor. They’re scoring just 114.8 points per 100 without the veteran floor general — just above what the 21st-ranked Rockets have mustered over the course of the full season.
Like the aforementioned Hield, the 6-foot-2 Morris will likely find himself hunted by the kind of search-and-destroy pick-and-roll players the Wolves will have to face in the crucible of the Western Conference playoffs. But if he can get back to being the kind of high-floor, high-efficiency complementary player who drilled 39.2% of his triples with a 4.7-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio over the last four seasons, he could have the kind of stabilizing effect that Minnesota’s offense needs to allow its league-leading meat-grinder defense to fuel a deep playoff run.
And hey, speaking of insurance …
Winner: Oklahoma City Thunder
I guess I can’t say for certain that Thursday’s events mean that Sam Presti thinks his precocious squadron has officially finished its breakfast. But the decision to deal for Gordon Hayward does suggest that Oklahoma City’s braintrust is at least considering looking at bigger meals.
The version of Hayward who’ll turn 34 next month isn’t the All-Star iteration we watched in Utah; that model, for the most part, disappeared less than six minutes into his debut as a member of the Celtics back in 2017. But the one who’s been plying his trade in Charlotte since 2020 could be a perfect finishing piece for an Oklahoma City squad that entered the deadline tied for first place in the West and ranked fourth in the NBA in both offense and defense, with a better net rating than any team save Boston.
Hayward brings a little bit of everything to the party, averaging just under 15 points, five rebounds and five assists in 32 minutes per game in Charlotte this season. At 6-foot-8 and 225 pounds, he’s got the size to play either forward spot — or, hell, maybe even some small-ball 5 in Mark Daigneault’s five-out/spacing-over-everything offense — with great passing vision. He’s shooting 70% at the rim and 40.8% on catch-and-shoot 3s; he hasn’t taken a ton, but his frequency and efficiency could play up on a drive-and-kick Thunder squad that generates a ton of clean looks off the slashing of MVP candidate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jalen Williams and Chet Holmgren. And he’s played more minutes in the playoffs than the entire Thunder roster.
The concern, as ever, is that Hayward won’t stay on the court enough to provide all that help; he hasn’t played more than 50 games in five years and has been sidelined by a calf strain since the day after Christmas. But given the price OKC paid for his services — third point guard Vasilije Micić; lightly used reserves Tre Mann and Dāvis Bertāns, who played a combined 210 minutes this season; and two of the Thunder’s 21 future second-round picks — that’s not too damning of a downside risk.
Worst-case scenario? Hayward never gets healthy enough to really matter; Oklahoma City continues to roll with what has been arguably the best team in the West this season; and his $31.5 million contract comes off the books after the season, giving Presti ample flexibility to continue to maneuver. If things swing the other way, though, the Thunder might have found the antidote to the defensive strategy that just about every smart team’s going to use against them when it counts — stash your center on Josh Giddey, treat him like a non-shooter, plug up those driving lanes and force him to beat you with his shooting — and turned themselves into an even more dangerous opponent in April, May … and maybe even June.
Loser: The Present-Tense Jazz
For the second straight season, Utah headed into deadline week in the mix for a play-in spot, riding the All-Star-caliber play of Lauri Markkanen and an offense that’s been one of the league’s best for the last two months to a surprising level of contention for a team that’s been rebuilding ever since moving Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert a couple of summers ago. And, for the second straight season, the Jazz dealt from their pleasant-surprise rotation with an eye toward bigger and better things than merely being “in the mix for a play-in spot.”
Out went Simone Fontecchio, shooting 39% from deep as Utah’s starting small forward, to Detroit in exchange for former lottery pick-turned-journeyman Kevin Knox and a 2024 second-round pick. Out went Kelly Olynyk, arguably the best passer on the team and an important cog in Will Hardy’s smooth-functioning offensive machine, and Ochai Agbaji, the 14th pick in the 2022 NBA draft, to Toronto in exchange for a 2024 first-round pick, veteran forward Otto Porter Jr., and former Pelicans guard Kira Lewis Jr., a 6-foot-1 lightning bolt who’s been limited by injuries, ineffectiveness and a crowded New Orleans roster to less than 800 minutes over the past three seasons.
On one hand, it’s possible that dealing multiple rotation players for multiple players who might not be, and maybe shouldn’t be, rotation players won’t hamper Utah too much this season. For the most part, the Jazz will go as Markkanen, the resurgent Collin Sexton (averaging 21.2 points and 5.4 assists per game on 50/42/89 shooting since becoming a starter) and that go-go offense will take them. In the absence of another good option at small forward, Markkanen’s versatility as a 7-foot big wing could allow them to pivot back to a super-sized lineup construction, reinserting shot-swatting center Walker Kessler into the lineup alongside John Collins at power forward and Markkanen at the 3, with Sexton and defensive ace Kris Dunn in the backcourt. That group, with high-scoring sixth man Jordan Clarkson running the second unit while rookies Keyonte George and Taylor Hendricks get more run, could be enough to keep Utah’s chances of playing meaningful late-season games alive.
If it’s not, though …
Winner: Danny Ainge’s Ongoing Rebuilding Project
… one suspects Utah’s head honcho won’t mind all that much. Especially considering the Jazz owe their first-round pick to the Thunder this season if it falls outside the top 10 — the bill coming due for offloading Derrick Favors’ contract back in 2021.
Utah entered Thursday with the NBA’s 13th-worst record; if the season ended today, that would mean their (likely late lottery) pick would head to Oklahoma City. If a Jazz team suddenly down a few rotation pieces pumps the brakes on winning a smidge, though, that pick could slide back into top-10 territory, giving Ainge and Justin Zanik and Co. another asset to use this summer as they work toward building the franchise’s next bona fide contender.
And if, in the process, you add two more picks — the least favorable of Utah’s own, Oklahoma City’s, Houston’s and the Clippers’ in this June’s first round, plus Washington’s 2024 second — plus a draft-and-stash prospect (Euroleague wing Gabriele Procida) without taking on any guaranteed salary beyond the end of this season … well, then, so much the better.
Especially because only having about $95 million on the books for next season means Utah’s got plenty of financial flexibility to, say, work out a renegotiate-and-extend deal with Markkanen, bumping him up from the ludicrous bargain contract slated to pay him $18 million next season to something a hell of a lot higher. That would ensure that, instead of hitting unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2025, the 26-year-old spends the rest of his prime in Salt Lake City, serving as the cornerstone of whatever that next competitive iteration of the Jazz winds up looking like.
Winner: Today’s Dallas Mavericks
Sure, when you trace back the chain of transactions — multiple second-rounders and an unprotected 2030 pick swap to get Grant Williams; another first to move off him — it doesn’t exactly feel clean. But yesterday’s price can’t influence today’s price; the entire point, for a team in Dallas’ position, is to build the best race car you can for Luka Dončić to drive. Everything else is just conversation; nothing else matters. And I think Dallas exits the deadline with a sleeker, faster, better-built machine than it had at the start of the week.
The summertime sign-and-trade swing on Grant Williams wasn’t working out. The ex-Celtic left the starting lineup on Christmas, was shooting under 40% from the field and 34% from 3-point range since New Year’s Day, and he had the worst on-court/off-court splits of any Maverick getting rotation minutes. So Dallas sought a do-over, flipping Williams, guard Seth Curry and a top-two-protected 2027 first-round pick to Charlotte for similarly styled small-ball-4/5-type PJ Washington and a pair of second-round picks.
Dallas also bolstered its big man rotation, giving Oklahoma City swap rights on its 2028 first-round pick in order to get a 2024 first-rounder to send with reserve center Richaun Holmes to the Wizards for Daniel Gafford. A three-year starter in D.C., Gafford was shooting 69% from the field, blocking 2.2 shots per game (seventh in the NBA), pounding the offensive glass and producing 1.43 points per possession finished as the dive man in the pick-and-roll — the eighth-best mark out of 95 players who’ve finished at least 25 such plays this season, according to Synergy Sports Technology.
What Washington lacks in, um, defensive comportment, he theoretically brings in offensive versatility as a shooter who shot above league-average from 3-point range in his first three seasons before dipping the last two on a Hornets team mired in a morass of injuries and ineffectiveness; in theory, playing off Dončić and Kyrie Irving, he should see the best looks of his career. Gafford effectively duplicates what standout rookie Dereck Lively II offers at the 5 spot, affording Dallas 48 minutes of high-end rim protection and vertical spacers. With two lethal lob threats and pick-and-roll finishers, a Mavericks offense that sits just outside the top 10 in points scored per possession might soon reach a new level — one that could make it one hell of a handful for the other teams in the West to deal with.
Potential Loser: The Future Dallas Mavericks
Going back to last year’s Hail Mary for Kyrie, the Mavs have now traded away control of all of their first-round draft picks between 2027 and 2030.
Which is to say: their entire inventory immediately following the point where Luka can become an unrestricted free agent.
Which is to say: Dallas better friggin’ win, and win big, or else that hangover might huuuuuuuuuuuurt.
Winner? (I Think? Pretty Sure?): Indiana Pacers
I’m on the record as loving the Siakam move. I had some concerns about moving Hield — especially to Philly, the team that the Pacers are chasing in the standings — and what impact it might have on the offense that has been Indiana’s calling card all season. Kevin Pritchard and Co. mitigated those concerns somewhat by pulling a late-afternoon deal to bring back another movement sharpshooter, small forward and former Rick Carlisle favorite Doug McDermott from San Antonio in exchange for Marcus Morris (whom they got from Philly in the Hield deal) and a second-round draft pick.
McDermott brings a lot of the same shooting oomph — 41.2% from deep for his career, 43.9% this season, albeit on lower volume in fewer minutes — in a bigger package, allowing him to play the 3 or 4 and help with Indiana’s frontcourt spacing while opening up more minutes for the young guards the Pacers have invested in over the past couple of drafts.
Bennedict Mathurin, Andrew Nembhard, Ben Sheppard — these guys all need to play and should get more opportunities to do so in the absence of Hield, who was headed to unrestricted free agency and perhaps unlikely to come back. Clearing that pathway while adding several second-round picks to the hopper for use in future deals as the Pacers try to retool their roster around Haliburton, (a presumably re-signed) Siakam, Myles Turner and the rest of the young core feels like good stuff.
Winner: Charlotte Hornets
Sure, there might not be any parades through the Queen City for what Mitch Kupchak and the Hornets’ new ownership pulled off here. But the Hornets looked at the state of affairs in a circling-the-drain season, took a deep breath, swallowed hard and did the next right thing — plan for tomorrow today.
Shipping Rozier to Miami brought back a protected 2027 first-round pick. Moving Washington to Dallas brought back another, with that wafer-thin top-two protection. Hayward-to-OKC nabbed a pair of second-rounders. None of that will make the prospect of watching the next couple of months any more exciting; luckily, that’s what Brandon Miller is for. And the moves of the last couple of days set the Hornets up to better surround Miller — and a hopefully healthy LaMelo Ball, center Mark Williams and possibly a re-signed Miles Bridges — with the kind of talent that might be able to render seasons like this one a distant memory as the Hornets turn at long last toward a sustainably competitive future.
(I know, I know. But dare to dream!)
OK, So What Are We Doing Here, Guys? Toronto Raptors and Detroit Pistons
I understand, conceptually, that the Raptors are, if not rebuilding, then at least retooling. Reorient the roster around newly minted All-Star Scottie Barnes; turn Anunoby into two hoped-for future cornerstones in Quickley and Barrett; turn Siakam into first-round picks and Bruce Brown, who could then be turned into more first-round picks; and chart a new course.
But how does trading a first for Olynyk — an about-to-be 33-year-old on an expiring contract — square with that? How does it square with trading a first-round pick last year for another center, Jakob Poeltl, whom you re-signed to an $80 million deal? Or with not moving Brown, who reportedly had multiple suitors? Or Gary Trent Jr., who’s two months from unrestricted free agency?
Maybe it’s as simple as Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster and Co. thinking this all sets them up to be better: that Poeltl, a re-signed Olynyk and a retained Chris Boucher would give the Raps a full complement of positive center play, that Olynyk’s playmaking and shooting are hand-in-glove fits in head coach Darko Rajaković’s preferred offensive system, that the 23-year-old Agbaji can grow to fill the 3-and-D wing hole left behind by Anunoby (and, to some extent, Siakam). Maybe they think Brown will have even more suitors at the draft; maybe that, plus the financial flexibility that comes with flipping Dennis Schröder’s multi-year deal for Spencer Dinwiddie’s expiring one and then waiving him, gives Toronto enough summertime optionality to get something meaningful done.
Maybe. But maybe this is the Raptors paying the price for not making more decisive moves earlier. Sometimes, when you just keep kicking the can down the road, all you get is a bunch of dents. Time will tell whether the group the Raptors have put together — one that’s lost 12 of its last 15 games and is now, I don’t know, weirder? — can buff those out and turn into something shinier.
And Detroit …
Well, their can-kicking turned into Grimes and Fontecchio, who could profile as nice floor-spacing, point-of-attack-defending fits next to the young core of Cade Cunningham, Jalen Duren, Jaden Ivey and Ausar Thompson. Fontecchio’s going to enter restricted free agency, and Grimes is extension-eligible, but now general manager Troy Weaver gets a couple of months to take a look at how they fit alongside the main dudes. Moving Bogdanović and Burks removes two trusted veterans that head coach Monty Williams would play over those guys; releasing former No. 7 overall pick Killian Hayes, while a pretty glaring organizational embarrassment, removes another.
It continues to feel like none of the other stuff matters if Cunningham, in particular, doesn’t really pop. The best path to put him in position to do so, though, is probably to surround him with more shooting; the Pistons, at least, gave that a try. I guess that’s not nothing.
The Biggest Loser: Chicago Bulls
Listen. I get it.
You think Andre Drummond is good. I think he’s good, too! He’s out here posting the best offensive rebounding rate in NBA history! He’s one of the best backup centers in the NBA, and when you need to start him, all he does is average like 14 and 17 in 28 minutes per game! You don’t want to give up that guy for just anything. You want to compete!
You think DeMar DeRozan is good. I think he’s good, too! Dude’s putting up an efficient 22-4-5 per game at 34, playing more minutes per game than anybody but Luka, and scoring more in the clutch than anybody but Steph, Dame and Trae Young. You don’t want to give that guy up for just anything. You want to compete!
You think Alex Caruso is really good. I think he’s really good, too! He’s, like, a defensive estimated plus-minus god! He’s shooting 40% from 3 on volume! Your team, which is not very good, is actually pretty good whenever he’s on the floor! You don’t want to give that guy up for just anything. You want to compete!
"We didn’t see anything that was going to make us better. We would take a step back, which we don’t want. We want to stay competitive," Bulls executive vice president Artūras Karnišovas told reporters on Thursday. "We have an obligation to this organization and this fan base and this city to stay competitive and compete for the playoffs. That’s what we’re doing."
Here’s the thing, though: You’re not competing. Not really.
You’re under .500, again and mucking about in the play-in mix, again, and staring at a best-case scenario of needing to win two games to get waxed by a top seed … again. You’re holding fast to the idea of the team you built in the summer of 2021, because you saw it work really well for a while there, but it stopped working that way and that well after Lonzo Ball’s leg did. Things stopped working so definitively that Zach LaVine, your highest-paid player, asked to go somewhere else, only you couldn’t send him anywhere, thanks in large part to how highly paid he is, and now his leg isn’t working so hot either.
There’s some stuff that works — Coby White, primarily, and Ayo Dosunmu, secondarily — but not a ton. And when things aren’t working, and you have an opportunity to make a clean break and try to identify some new pathways to find some more things that might work, you should take them. Especially when those guys you don’t want to let go for just anything … are either about to hit unrestricted free agency (DeRozan, Drummond) or enter the final year of a contract (Caruso), which makes him the sort of expiring contract that teams aren’t likely to fork over an exorbitant amount of young players or draft capital to bring in.
So, you sit. You wait. You don’t do anything. For three years.
"A shakeup doesn't guarantee your success," Karnišovas told reporters. "Words like rebuild and all this stuff is thrown around, I think this group gives you the best chance to compete."
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. The definition of inertia is a tendency to do nothing, or remain unchanged. I’m not positive which one best describes the Bulls under this regime. I do know, though, that the race is competitive.