The NBA’s trade deadline came and went Thursday without the kinds of big-name moves that highlighted the days leading up to it.
With DeMarcus Cousins (to the New Orleans Pelicans) and Serge Ibaka (Toronto Raptors) having already been traded, deadline day was highlighted by a series of smaller moves — mainly teams either shedding salary or attempting to rise to the salary floor — with a couple of exceptions: the Dallas Mavericks grabbing Nerlens Noel and Toronto getting P.J. Tucker.
Here’s a complete recap of the NBA’s trade season, including both today and everything that has happened over the past couple weeks:
The Toronto Raptors are the big winner
Heading into the all-star break, the Raptors had been reeling. After spending most of the season within striking distance of the Cleveland Cavaliers at the top of the Eastern Conference, Toronto had fallen apart, going 11-16 over the past two months and falling behind both the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards in the East.
Now, by adding Ibaka and Tucker, the Raptors have clearly reestablished themselves as the best conference challenger to the defending champions in this year’s playoffs. If Toronto can get past Washington — which is very possible, given that the Wizards are only three games ahead in the loss column and have a brutal schedule in March — it now should be a favorite to win its first two series and reach the Eastern Conference finals for a second straight year. That wasn’t something anyone was saying as recently as a week ago.
Another trade deadline, another lack of a big deal for Boston
The Boston Celtics have been rumored to be on the verge of making a blockbuster trade for years now. But, once again, the Celtics failed to make a big deal Thursday, after being linked for days to both Paul George and Jimmy Butler.
Getting either player, however, was going to require the Celtics to, at the very least, part with this year’s first-round draft pick from the Brooklyn Nets, part of the trade from four years ago that keeps on giving. The pick is virtually guaranteed to be among the top four of this year’s draft, since the 9-47 Nets are all but assured of finishing with the NBA’s worst record, and will allow Boston a chance to draft a potential future star in what is thought to be a loaded 2017 draft.
That won’t help the Celtics in this year’s playoffs, though, and both the Raptors and Washington Wizards made deals to make themselves better this week entering the stretch run. Time will tell whether the Celtics will rue not trying to improve themselves to make their current team better, or whether standing pat once again was the right move to make.
There remains a logjam of big men in the NBA
Most of the biggest trades that were made over the past two weeks involved big men, from Jusuf Nurkic and Mason Plumlee getting swapped for one another to Ibaka, Cousins and Noel all being dealt over the past several days. But even with those trades, Greg Monroe, Brook Lopez, Jahlil Okafor and Nikola Vucevic all remained with their current teams, despite each having been made available for quite some time.
The price for several of the players traded was lower than expected, and several others were unable to be moved — yet another sign that the NBA simply has too many bigs at the moment, even as the sport tries to shift to being smaller and faster. Monroe, Lopez, Okafor and Vucevic all have talent, but finding a home for any of them outside of their current teams wasn’t possible, and that’s unlikely to change moving forward, either.
This deadline, more than anything, was about money
Particularly on deadline day itself, the theme of most of the trades was money: either shedding it or taking it on to get to the salary floor. Houston made a pair of trades, sending out K.J. McDaniels and Tyler Ennis, in order to clear about $3 million in salary-cap space to sign free agents. McDaniels also helped get the Nets closer to the salary floor while giving them a free look at a young prospect who hasn’t developed much to this point.
Brooklyn had a similar thought in mind when snagging Andrew Nicholson from the Wizards, as it used its salary-cap space to help ease the future salary burdens for Washington, at the cost of a first-round pick. The Wizards will need every penny they can, as they are 100 percent committed to keeping Otto Porter Jr. at any cost this summer. The Los Angeles Lakers used Lou Williams to get back a first-rounder of their own, also at the expense of taking a similar contract for Corey Brewer off of Houston’s hands.
Meanwhile, the Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns made small moves Thursday that did nothing but bring each closer to the salary floor, saving them some money in the process but doing nothing to improve them this season or add value in the future. That was the theme of an mostly boring day.
What happens next in New Orleans will be must-see TV
The Pelicans snagging Cousins during the All-Star Game was the one truly shocking move of this deadline season, and how that translates going forward will be equally fascinating to watch. In a league where “pace and space” is en vogue (as someone happened to write about this week), pairing arguably the game’s two most talented big men in Cousins and Anthony Davis is a truly fascinating experiment and one that will be fun to watch unfold.
There are few teams that have a more talented trio than Davis, Cousins and point guard Jrue Holiday. But Cousins can leave as an unrestricted free agent after next season, Holiday could leave as an unrestricted free agent this summer, and it’s still not entirely clear what will happen to General Manager Dell Demps and Coach Alvin Gentry if the Pelicans are unable to make the playoffs.
New Orleans is three games behind the eighth-place Nuggets in the loss column with 25 games to go — and also is facing a brutal early schedule coming out of the all-star break, beginning Thursday night at home against the Rockets — so making the playoffs won’t be easy, either.
Several players, teams rumored to do something wound up standing pat
The Minnesota Timberwolves have had Ricky Rubio on the trade market for weeks now. Ditto for Reggie Jackson of the Detroit Pistons and Derrick Rose with the Knicks. In the end, though, the same issue that helped keep those big men from moving wound up being an issue for these point guards: In a league flush with them, why is anyone going to give up assets to get one?
Several teams expected to make moves for different reasons likewise wound up standing pat. The Sacramento Kings had several players on expiring contracts, but none of them wound up going anywhere — in part because the Kings, like other teams with players on expiring deals, were hoping to get first-round picks for them. The price for expirings wound up being either a first or a pair of second-round picks, which is how Ersan Ilyasova and Tucker moved, but no one else was willing to step up and pay that price.
Boston wasn’t the only good team looking to make an upgrade that didn’t. The Pacers, in addition to having people call about George, were hoping to try to find a boost for a deep playoff run. Instead, they were one of several teams that had nothing to do as 3 p.m. came and went.
The buyout market might be hotter than the trade market
Even in the moments after the deadline passed, players such as Mavericks guard Deron Williams and his until-Thursday teammate, now-Philadelphia 76ers center Andrew Bogut, were already being talked about as possible buyout candidates to be scooped up later by contending teams. They likely won’t be alone, as other players who are on expiring contracts or have been waived recently — such as Matt Barnes, cut as a roster casualty from the Cousins trade, or Tyreke Evans, who was acquired by the Kings in the deal — could prove to be valuable additions for contenders if they hit the open market.
They should have suitors. The Cavaliers are already being linked with Williams, assuming he gets out of his deal with the Mavericks, while Bogut would make sense both there and Boston. The Rockets, as said above, cleared cap room to entice players to go there, and both the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers will likely scour the buyout market for any additions they can make. The same goes for the Wizards, assuming they can find a point guard who is an upgrade over Trey Burke.