The NBA trade deadline was promoted with the hype of a possible Category 2 Hurricane but actually turned out to be a light drizzle.
The threat of the upcoming stiff luxury tax penalties which are set to kick in under the current collective bargaining agreement set the stage for more activity but actually proved to be a deterrent. Most teams were unwilling to take back future salary, and few wanted to take risks by offering up cheap assets – like draft picks or productive players on rookie deals – to acquire a talented rental for a playoff run.
After weeks of speculation and anticipation that players such as Josh Smith, Paul Millsap, Monta Ellis, Eric Gordon or even Kevin Garnett could possibly get moved, the deadline produced 12 middling deals with J.J. Redick – a backup on the NBA’s second-worst team – emerging as the biggest piece to change addresses.
Still, the ramifications of the player movement, or lack thereof, could be felt for some time.
Three teams that came out ahead by dealing
Houston: Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is having quite the year after raiding cost-conscious Oklahoma City to land eventual all-star James Harden and building a potential playoff team with free agents Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik. Instead of making a subtle roster tweak for a push, Morey got Thomas Robinson, the fifth pick in the 2012, out of messy situation in Sacramento – where the team could be on the move – without having to sacrifice anything of significant value. The Rockets parted with the serviceable Patrick Patterson and dealt Marcus Morris to Phoenix in another trade that will give Robinson a chance to develop and grow with a young core that features Harden, Lin, Asik and Chandler Parsons.
Oklahoma City: Most of the serious contenders for the title either stood pat or simply cut salary at the back end of the roster, content with the makeup of their teams. But Oklahoma City made two minor deals that could help them in the short and long term. After Harden torched the Thunder for 46 points, general manager Sam Presti added another perimeter defender in Ronnie Brewer. Brewer, a starter earlier in the season in New York, gives Oklahoma City more flexibility when they go small. Oklahoma City also shipped reserve Eric Maynor to Portland in a deal that yielded a trade exception that could be used in future trades, shaving nearly $1 million from the books.
Milwaukee: The Bucks failed in their pursuit of Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith, who could’ve made them an entertaining and more competitive team. But they used a similar package to get Redick, Gustavo Ayon and Ish Smith from Orlando for Tobias Harris, Beno Udrih and Doron Lamb. Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings have never meshed very well but Redick gives the Bucks some much-needed perimeter scoring and is already the most efficient scoring guard on the roster. Redick will probably remain in a sixth man role with the Bucks but general manager John Hammond also acquired Ellis insurance should Ellis opt out of his $11 million deal and become a free agent this summer.
Three teams that might regret standing pat
Atlanta: The Hawks actually made a deal at the deadline, but they swapped Anthony Morrow for Dallas’ Dahntay Jones instead of finding a taker for Smith. General manager Danny Ferry gave away Joe Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets with the sole purpose of getting out from under his massive contract. His plans for dealing Smith were much different; he wanted actual value in return for a 27-year-old borderline all-star who has helped the Hawks remain a playoff team in the absence of Johnson. Smith is now in an awkward situation – leaving for less money and losing the Bird rights that would allow a team to go over the cap for his services or staying with a team doesn’t seem eager to pay him the maximum salary that he desires. The situation could disrupt the Hawks for the rest of this season and leave them with just cap space if Smith bolts this summer.
Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers face another Dwightmare since all-star center Dwight Howard could leave them empty handed in free agency. General manager Mitch Kupchak was a tad over the top in proclaiming that he’d like to one day have Howard’s statue in front of Staples Center but Howard still remains non-committal. Marquee free agents don’t leave the Lakers as free agents, but Howard has been unhappy during his short stint. His union with Kobe Bryant has been bumpy and Mike D’Antoni has been unable to get the best out of him. But the Lakers still can pay him more.
Utah: The Jazz roster remains unbalanced with an overcrowded front court and shaky backcourt. Utah had two trade chips to address that concern in big men Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson but didn’t deal either, even with Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter both waiting for the opportunity to get more minutes. Millsap and Jefferson could both leave as free agents this summer, but the Jazz can take some comfort in knowing that it could have nearly $40 million in cap space to make improvements around a young core Favors, Kanter, Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks.