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The 2022 NBA trade deadline was not short on activity. Things got moving in the days leading up to the deadline with a few notable trades, and once Thursday arrived, there were tons of fireworks.
A lot of teams got involved and a lot of players are now on the move to new locations, whether that’s for good or after they hit the buyout market. It was a deadline that saw numerous former All-Stars get traded, some teams commit to being sellers, contenders bolstering their rosters, and a few teams getting left out in the cold. Here, we’ll look at the winners and losers of the last week of trade action, starting with the participants of the biggest trade of the day.
Everyone involved in the James Harden-Ben Simmons trade: This was genuinely great work by everyone involved in a rather disastrous situation they all shared responsibility for creating. Ben Simmons goes to a legitimate contender where he fits extremely well on paper, getting to play defense and be a connector and cutter offensively between two elite scorers in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. James Harden goes to a contender where he, likewise, fits very well, getting to do the bulk of the ball-handling while not needing to do absolutely everything offensively next to Joel Embiid. Seth Curry moves from contender to contender and slots beautifully into the role vacated by the injured Joe Harris. Daryl Morey proves himself right to drag this out and demand a superstar return for Simmons, all while holding on to Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle in — pun not intended — the process. Sean Marks gets a star under team control for longer than the guy who looked primed to leave this summer, plus Harris insurance and several first-round picks to maintain the flexibility to either add young talent or have real trade assets should they want veteran help. Joel Embiid got to do a funny tweet. We, the basketball viewing public, get to be done with reports about Simmons and the Sixers, as well as reports about Harden and the Nets.
Just a great job all the way around. Now, give me the playoff series between these two in a few months.
Boston Celtics: While their divisional rivals were swapping superstars with each other, the Celtics went out and had a very nice deadline. Brad Stevens accomplished ownership’s goal of ducking the luxury tax, which no one outside of the ownership group should celebrate, but he did so while also upgrading Boston’s roster as they look to be a factor come playoff time. Sending out Dennis Schröder, Enes Freedom, Bruno Fernando, Josh Richardson, and a first rounder to get Derrick White and Daniel Theis in return is pretty terrific deadline maneuvering. They know Theis is a good frontcourt fit and it allows them to bolster their center rotation. Meanwhile, White should fit like a glove next to Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown as a terrific perimeter defender and capable off-ball connector guard on offense, which they really needed. His shooting will be the swing skill that determines if this looks like a steal for the Celtics, but if nothing else, they bolstered their roster for a playoff run and managed to add some upside they previously didn’t have in the form of White.
Phoenix Suns: While the top contenders in the East were going wild, the Suns went about their business, bolstering depth as they look to cement their place at the top of the West. Torrey Craig returns, and having to only give up Jalen Smith and a second is a worthwhile price for a team that wanted some more wing depth and was overflowing with centers ahead of Smith. They also went out and snagged Aaron Holiday for a touch more guard depth, which is more of a regular season help as Cam Payne continues to rehab a wrist injury (and make some headlines by jumping in Twitter Spaces).
Also making the Suns a winner is that the rest of the top of the West stayed mostly pat at the deadline, with the Warriors, Jazz, Grizzlies, and Nuggets all punting on making a big move. One possible contender that made a swing was Dallas with a wild trade that left a lot of people scratching their head (we’ll get to them in a moment, but as you can guess, it’s not in this section). No one around them got better, which is always a welcome sight for the top team in the conference.
Sacramento Kings: You know what? I’m in on the Kings deadline. Yes, trading Tyrese Haliburton gives up something significant, but they acquitted themselves nicely in terms of adding talent that actually makes sense in terms of roster building. When graded on a curve against other Kings deadline and offseason moves in recent years, this deserves a winner tag. Domantas Sabonis is really, really good, and showed how he can help elevate the rest of this team in his first game on Wednesday night. Adding Donte DiVincenzo is, at worst, a major upgrade on the wing on the defensive end and adds a quality spot-up shooter around De’Aaron Fox and Sabonis. If he can regain some of his pre-injury form, it might look like a steal to snag him for the price of Marvin Bagley III, who simply had not worked out and was not going to be a factor in their future, particularly after the Sabonis trade. Whether it results in a playoff berth over the next few years to snap their decade-plus drought remains to be seen, but for a team that has been so miserable this season, there’s some genuine reason for optimism and sometimes that’s important.
Indiana Pacers: The Pacers are very good at dealing with a situation where everyone knows they have to trade a star. I am not saying this as a backhanded compliment, it is just a truly astounding skill they have as an organization at navigating these situations. They have done about as well as one could imagine in the Paul George, Victor Oladipo, and Domantas Sabonis situations (both of those players, ironically, were who they got for George). I am not in the “Tyrese Haliburton is an absolute lock to be a future All-Star” camp, but he is a very good young player who absolutely could take that step. Getting him and Buddy Hield, who will be quite tradable this summer, for Sabonis is good return as Haliburton is, in my eyes, better than getting a lottery ticket in the form of a draft pick from a Sacramento team that’s aiming to be competent. They also got the draft pick they were craving in the Caris LeVert trade, as they manage to wheeze the juice from a disastrous situation with Oladipo in which his value cratered after getting injured, getting LeVert in last year’s Harden trade and then getting a first for him this deadline. This summer figures to be more rebuilding moves, as Malcolm Brodgon becomes eligible to be traded and Hield certainly doesn’t feel like a longterm Pacer, but for a team everyone knew needed to hit the reset button, they still managed to extract value.
Fans of chaos: Congrats to everyone who craves chaos at the deadline, because we sure got it this week. The big trade everyone hoped would happen but wasn’t sure would went down. There was a true WTF trade between the Mavs and Wizards that no one saw coming. And we even got some lovely appetizers in the days leading up to the deadline. A truly entertaining deadline with a little something for almost everyone. We say “almost everyone” because it leads nicely into…
Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers moving Russell Westbrook was never something people should’ve expected them to be able to do, but the fact that they couldn’t do anything to upgrade this roster is an abject disaster that is hard to see getting fixed on the buyout market. It’s either a failure of creativity to go find something out there that could inject some much needed life into this team, or a failure of roster construction to not have anything approaching a desirable asset. Neither option speaks well of the Lakers front office. Maybe they can coax Goran Dragic on over, but he’ll have suitors that are better positioned right now than the Lakers for a deep playoff run. Otherwise, it’s rare to find buyout guys who can make a real impact on winning, and the Lakers just seem stuck where they are, which is, currently, what appears to be rock bottom. The problem is, there isn’t a guarantee there isn’t further to dig.
New York Knicks: Speaking of horrendous vibes, it’s the Knicks! Despite reports that literally everyone on the roster was available for the right price, the Knicks also were unable to make any moves at the deadline to shake up a stagnant roster that has struggled to replicate the surprising success of last year. The one trade they made, acquiring Cam Reddish, has been a dud, in part because Tom Thibodeau has barely played him. Like the Lakers, finding value for guys playing poorly right now is really hard to do, and the Knicks are choosing to weather the storm and hope there’s a turnaround coming at some point. It’s hard to see what that is, but Knicks fans can at least cling to the belief that no move is better than making a bad one, which they’ve unfortunately seen happen far too many times in the past.
Dallas Mavericks: You can’t say the Mavs didn’t try to make a splash at the deadline, but color me skeptical on this being a deal that raises their ceiling much at all. Davis Bertans has been dreadful this season in Washington, but maybe playing alongside Luka Doncic in a new place can bring back the magic in that shooting stroke and open up the floor for Dallas. Spencer Dinwiddie likewise has not been good after a hot start in Washington, and the Mavs are banking on him finding the pre-injury form that we just have not seen yet consistently in 2022. They do get off the Kristaps Porzingis contract, which was obviously the goal here, but they didn’t gain any flexibility financially beyond the concept that it’s easier to trade one $18 million contract than it is to trade a $34 million one. I just don’t see how this does much for them this season in terms of leaping into the contender tier in the West, but for a more optimistic look, Tim Legler’s a big fan of the move.
Portland Trail Blazers: Portland seemed to be trying to set up something by getting the Powell-Covington and McCollum deals done in the days leading up to the deadline, but as 3 p.m. on Thursday came and went, the Blazers had done nothing else. There were reports they were chasing Jerami Grant, whose fit between Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic for the future makes sense, but Grant remains in Detroit and one would expect trade talks to pick up again around the draft regarding his availability. The problem for Portland is that more teams are usually able or willing to get involved in offseason trade talks, and the competition for Grant might mean they have to pivot to Plan B or C for all that space they opened up.
It wasn’t a disastrous deadline and this is maybe a bit nit-picky, but they didn’t acquire a ton in terms of young talent, nor considerable draft assets, and fell short on the promise of continuing to seek out help at the deadline to replace all the production they dealt away. This is really an indictment of Neil Olshey, who held onto this roster for too long and left the Blazers in a situation needing to sell low, but it just felt like Portland wanted to salvage something with one more deal to bring someone in. Maybe they can make that move this summer, but I’ll admit to being skeptical of top free agents choosing Portland despite their cap space.