While the Sixers seemed out of ideas when it came to reaching Fultz, their decision to cut bait now is curious. Philadelphia has taken on significant risk by trading for veterans Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris over the last six months, and they will either be paying through the nose to keep them or watching them leave this summer with no compensation.
In the event that Philadelphia’s win-now buildup fails to produce immediate playoff results, having Fultz around for next season and beyond would have been a nice organizational hedge. There are still reasons to believe that he could eventually live up to expectations. After all, he hasn’t turned 21 yet or suffered a catastrophic injury.
Trading Fultz is a defensible idea, but the face-saving return here is simply too modest: The first-round pick coming back is top-20 protected, and Simmons, who will fill a hole on the wing, is forgettable. If this was the best that the Sixers could do, they should have kept hoping and waiting. It seems like first-year GM Elton Brand has crossed the fine line between assertiveness and impatience this week.
Magic’s grade: B+
This is a reasoned gamble by Orlando, which is an ideal change-of-scenery destination for Fultz. The Magic have nothing to lose, they need a lead backcourt playmaker, they are desperate for a potential star, and they fly far under the national radar, giving Fultz a comfortable environment to collect himself. What’s more, Orlando isn’t really in a huge hurry, as its most intriguing talents — Mo Bamba, Jonathan Isaac and Aaron Gordon — are all 23 or younger.
Given that Fultz has two more full seasons before he enters restricted free agency, Orlando has plenty of time to oversee what will surely be a challenging rehabilitation. The Magic did very well not to part with one of their own future firsts, which will likely be in the lottery for the next year or two.
Grizzlies trade Marc Gasol to Raptors
Toronto gets: Marc Gasol. Memphis gets: Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, CJ Miles and a second-round pick.
Raptors’ grade: B-
By trading for Gasol, Toronto entered the East’s developing arms race in a big way. The 34-year-old center is a former defensive player of the year, a gifted passer, a decent three-point shooter and a savvy director of traffic.
Don’t underestimate the possibility of transition pains. Gasol has only known one home for his entire career, he’s been playing with the same point guard for more than a decade, and he’s slowed down noticeably from a few years ago.
Toronto has found success with big lineups (with Valanciunas at center) and smaller lineups (with Ibaka at center) this season, and Gasol should continue that versatility. However, the Raptors’ ceiling this season will be determined primarily by the success of its smaller lineup, particularly late in playoff games. How will Gasol respond if he is passed over in those situations?
Facing Kawhi Leonard’s uneven fit and the need to go all-in to pitch the all-star forward on re-signing this summer, the Raptors made a reasonable gamble here. Importantly, they didn’t part with a first-round pick or one of their top young prospects. But there is real backfire potential: If Leonard leaves and Gasol picks up his option, Toronto’s contending window will be slammed shut.
It’s too bad the Raptors don’t have a time machine to take their big three of Gasol, Leonard and Lowry back to, say, 2016. That team would have been a clear favorite to win the East and would give the Warriors some serious anxiety. This version is still intriguing, but will rely on Gasol to hit the ground running and deliver a late-career resurgence.
Grizzlies’ grade: B+
Memphis made out just fine trading its longtime franchise player, whose value had decreased due to his age and his $25.6 million option for next season. Reluctant to make rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. a full-time center, the Grizzlies smartly nabbed Valanciunas, a very capable stand-in starter. Valanciunas can opt out this summer and, if he does, Memphis will be motivated to retain him given their newfound hole in the middle.
The 26-year-old Wright looks like a keeper too, as the Grizzlies can use his ballhandling and defensive spirit as they proceed through an extended retooling process. Miles, a backup wing, has an $8.7 million player option. Considering the uncertainty around Gasol’s upcoming decision and the size of his option, this trade has noticeably increased the Grizzlies’ summer flexibility.
Pelicans trade Nikola Mirotic to Bucks
Milwaukee gets: Nikola Mirotic. New Orleans gets: Jason Smith, Stanley Johnson, four second-round picks.
Bucks’ grade: B+
Bucks fans have been treated to a spectacular season, and now GM Jon Horst’s willingness to be aggressive in the run-up to the postseason amounts to the cherry on top. Mirotic is a proven stretch-four who performed admirably in New Orleans’ first-round series win over Portland last season, and he makes for a clean fit in Coach Mike Budenholzer’s five-out offensive system.
This move amounts to a do-over on Milwaukee’s offseason signing of Ersan Ilyasova: The two forwards are cut from similar molds, but Mirotic is younger and much better on both sides of the ball. Johnson, who was acquired from Detroit earlier this week, and Smith won’t be missed. After spending years in development mode as Giannis Antetokounmpo grew into a star, Milwaukee’s roster suddenly has quality, depth and experience at all five positions.
Parting with four second-round picks for a rental player on an expiring contract is no small cost, but it’s better than parting with one first-round pick (or the two firsts that the Sixers had to send the Clippers for Tobias Harris). The Bucks are officially primed for a deep postseason run, and they have sent a nice message to Antetokounmpo about their commitment to winning.
Pelicans’ grade: A-
The Pelicans’ side of this one is straightforward, as the franchise is in sell-off mode after falling out of the playoff race and receiving Anthony Davis’s trade request. New Orleans parted with a first-round pick to obtain Mirotic last year, they extracted full value from him during a strong late-season push, and they moved him out right on time with a nice haul of picks: one from Milwaukee, one from Denver and two from Washington. Smith and Johnson are both free agents this summer, so this move is clean from a financial standpoint too.
Mavericks trade Harrison Barnes to Kings
Sacramento gets: Harrison Barnes. Dallas gets: Justin Jackson and Zach Randolph.
Kings’ grade: C
Barnes follows naturally in the footsteps of Rudy Gay as a Kings trade acquisition with impressive box score numbers whose middling advanced stats paint a very different picture. The 26-year-old forward hasn’t blossomed in a lead role since leaving the Golden State Warriors in 2016. His defensive commitment has been mediocre, his playmaking for others is severely limited, and his overall offensive efficiency lags because he doesn’t get to the rim or the line often enough.
On the plus side, he will fill an obvious hole; he will be better suited in a complementary role alongside Sacramento’s potent backcourt; his reliable three-point shooting will provide Coach Dave Joerger some additional lineup flexibility, and he possesses the athletic tools to keep up in De’Aaron Fox’s run-and-gun offense. The Kings surely felt motivated to take on Barnes’s expensive contract because they have struggled to compete for high-profile free agents, but there’s real potential for buyer’s remorse.
The real worst-case scenario: Barnes opts out this summer and leverages Sacramento into paying him big money on a new multiyear contract.
Mavericks’ grade: A
Between this trade and the acquisition of Kristaps Porzingis, Dallas has emerged as one of the biggest winners of the trade deadline. To get Porzingis, the Mavericks had to take on future money owed to Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee.
Dumping Barnes helps alleviate the financial crunch this year and next. Instead of being on the hook for Barnes’s $25.1 million player option next season, Dallas absorbed Randolph’s $11.7 million expiring contract and Jackson’s minuscule rookie deal. Although Randolph likely won’t see the court and Jackson is hardly a difference-maker, the Mavericks are now better positioned to compete for top-tier free agents this summer before they lock up Porzingis with a max-level rookie extension.
As a bonus, moving Barnes also makes Dallas worse on the court in the short term, furthering a potential tanking effort to keep their top-five protected pick.
Wizards trade Otto Porter Jr. to Bulls
Chicago gets: Otto Porter Jr. Washington gets: Bobby Portis, Jabari Parker and a second-round pick.
Bulls grade: B
Although Chicago has been on a run of dismal moves in recent years, taking on Porter looks like a savvy play. When the Bulls signed Jabari Parker over the summer, they turned a blind eye to his defensive limitations and tried to force a fit at the small forward position. That approach was doomed to failure, and now they’ve acquired a superior two-way player who is also a cleaner fit at the three.
Porter’s lack of ball dominance and defensive versatility will be very helpful when squeezed between the shot-happy duo of Zach LaVine and Lauri Markannen. With such a dismal collection of talent, Chicago was not prepared to compete for first-tier or second-tier free agents this summer. Porter’s arrival, then, counts as an early “signing” that didn’t cost them a blue-chip draft pick or a player of consequence.
Wizards’ grade: B+
This trade is a huge symbolic victory for the Wizards, who finally blew up a failed core after a season of denial. Dumping Porter makes Washington worse in the short-term, but it will help them avoid the luxury tax, set them up to re-sign Tomas Satoransky and Thomas Bryant, and increase their flexibility to retool around Bradley Beal this summer.
With John Wall missing at least 12 months with an Achilles’ injury, Washington really had no choice. Porter’s mediocre play and gargantuan contract ($27.3 million next season) stood as major impediments to progress in the standings.
In an ideal world, Washington would have received either a first-round pick or a worthwhile young prospect. Instead, they had to settle for a lesser pick and financial relief, as Portis is merely a backup quality forward and Parker is a fringe NBA talent after undergoing two season-ending knee surgeries.
Wizards trade Markieff Morris to Pelicans
New Orleans gets: Markieff Morris and a second-round pick. Washington gets: Wesley Johnson.
Pelicans’ grade: B+
The Pelicans essentially bought a second-round pick for the prorated difference between Morris’s expiring contract ($8.6 million) and Johnson’s expiring contract ($6.1 million). Given that a full-scale rebuilding effort is coming whenever Anthony Davis is finally traded, it makes all the sense in the world for New Orleans to accumulate spare draft assets.
The Pelicans could easily generate multiple additional picks before Thursday’s deadline if they decide to move veterans like Julius Randle and Nikola Mirotic.
Wizards’ grade: B+
This is a clean win/win, as dumping Morris allows Washington to move below the luxury tax line. Paying the luxury tax for a team that will likely finish below .500 and miss the playoffs in the East would have been unconscionable, and the Wizards’ brass deserves credit for finally pulling the plug. Johnson, a journeyman, is a placeholder for salary-matching purposes and not intended to be a difference-making acquisition on the court. The second-round pick was the sweetener needed for New Orleans to participate, and it offsets the second-round pick Washington acquired in the Porter deal with Chicago.
Kings trade Iman Shumpert to Rockets
Houston gets: Iman Shumpert, Nik Stauskas and Wade Baldwin. Cleveland gets: Brandon Knight, Marquese Chriss, and a 2019 first-round pick. Sacramento gets: Alec Burks and a second-round pick.
Rockets’ grade: A-
Daryl Morey has made far splashier deals during his Houston tenure, but this three-way trade accomplishes two key goals. First, the Rockets added Iman Shumpert, a dependable 3-and-D wing who has pulled his career out of the ashes, for their upcoming playoff run. Second, the Rockets continued to trim their payroll and luxury tax bill by moving Knight and Chriss, who were acquired together from Phoenix earlier this season. Rather than pay Knight $15.6 million next season, they will see Shumpert’s $11 million expiring contract melt off their books.
In the meantime, Shumpert is exceptionally well-trained for life playing next to James Harden, thanks to three-plus seasons with LeBron James in Cleveland. After falling off the map last year, the 28-year-old wing hit 37 percent of his threes and reestablished himself as a starter for the Kings. Given that Shumpert provides immediate help and comes on a team-friendly deal, a late first-round pick is a very reasonable price to pay.
Although Stauskas is a pure shooter who theoretically fits into Houston’s high-volume perimeter attack, his defensive limitations will likely prevent him from being a postseason contributor. Ditto for Baldwin, a journeyman who has moved from Memphis to Portland to Cleveland and now to Houston in the past 24 months.
Cavaliers’ grade: A-
Cleveland GM Koby Altman is one of the under-the-radar winners of this season, doing everything in his power to stockpile draft picks to speed up his post-LeBron rebuilding effort.
By taking on Knight, he adds a 2019 lottery-protected first-round pick that is currently on track to be the No. 21 selection. Add that to a stash that includes two second-round picks he received from Portland this week, a first-round pick and a second-round pick he received from Milwaukee in December, and two second-round picks he received from Utah in late November. Not too shabby. The Cavaliers have had a nightmarish season, but at least their front office has been busy.
Kings’ grade: B-
This would have been an inexplicable move for Sacramento, if not for its later trade to acquire Harrison Barnes from Dallas. Shumpert has been a quality, reliable starter and, frankly, a far superior player to the oft-injured Burks. Why break up a good thing for a late second-round pick from Houston?
Once the Kings acquired Barnes, a bigger option at small forward with a player option for next year, their need for Shumpert dropped now and in the future. Sacramento can call this a minor win because they did right by Shumpert and added a pick in the process.
Clippers trade Tobias Harris to 76ers
Philadelphia gets: Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, Mike Scott. Los Angeles gets: Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, Landry Shamet, two first-round picks, two second-round picks.
Sixers’ grade: C
First-year GM Elton Brand is hardly easing into the job. After plucking Jimmy Butler from his fog of unhappiness back in November, Brand has emptied the coffers for Harris, a smooth-scoring stretch forward who looks like an ideal fit next to all-star center Joel Embiid. The 26-year-old Harris is a bit underqualified as an alpha scorer, but he is a reliable outside shooter and a talented shot-creator who brings some badly needed spacing to the Ben Simmons/Butler pairing. Harris will be key for matchup purposes in the postseason, as Philadelphia must keep a spread court around Simmons or risk its offense short-circuiting like it did against Boston in last year’s second round. The Sixers’ new-look starting lineup — Simmons, J.J. Redick, Butler, Harris and Embiid — is talented, physically imposing and well-balanced.
Although Harris is a very good and underrated player, he’s not a great one. He’s played a grand total of four playoff games during his eight-year career, he’s a low-impact defender, and he’s set to hit free agency this summer after turning down a four-year, $80 million offer from the Clippers. As such, the Sixers have backed themselves into quite the predicament: Letting Harris walk this summer is out of the question after parting with so many draft picks, but paying him top-dollar will be painful and could make re-signing Butler prohibitively expensive. An ESPN.com report indicated that Philadelphia is committed to paying both Butler and Harris, but that approach would drastically limit the franchise’s ability to add depth and would amount to going all-in on a core that might not quite be title-ready.
Given that Philadelphia has now traded five rotation players to acquire Butler and Harris, the inclusions of Marjanovic and Scott should be viewed as more than footnotes. Marjanovic can easily be played off the court by many opponents, but the lumbering 7-foot-3 center is an efficient finisher who can fill minutes and give fouls behind Embiid. Meanwhile, Scott was an unheralded member of L.A.’s potent bench. As a passable stretch four, he will see rotation minutes given Philadelphia’s top-heavy roster construction. After parting with Shamet, a quality shooter who hit the ground running as a rookie, Philadelphia could really, really, really use a Markelle Fultz resurrection in time for the playoffs. To justify this trade’s risks and costs, the Sixers need to make the Eastern Conference finals at minimum.
Clippers’ grade: A
This is a gorgeous, tidy deal for Jerry West, Lawrence Frank and company. After trading Blake Griffin last year, the Clippers have positioned themselves as a superstar landing pad. With their sights set on signing A-listers such as Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard, paying Harris substantially more than their previous $80 million offer was not a preferred outcome. Neither was letting him walk for nothing.
Los Angeles therefore built a trade that involved selling high on Harris, taking back a boatload of picks, two expiring contracts (Chandler and Muscala), and Shamet, a useful rotation guard on a budget rookie deal. Given that one of the first-round picks is unprotected and comes via the Miami Heat, the Clippers arguably received a better pick haul for Harris than the New York Knicks got for Kristaps Porzingis. That shouldn’t be possible given that Porzingis is a superior two-way talent with a significantly higher ceiling, but that’s the advantage of not needing to dump bad contracts too.
The downside to this deal is that the Clippers could wind up being the odd team out in the West’s playoff race. That’s not the end of the world, as they had little hope of advancing past round one. In fact, the long-term benefits more than justify this sidestep. The Clippers now have a trove of draft picks to dangle in a trade for a superstar like Anthony Davis, they haven’t jeopardized their flexible cap position this summer, and they have plenty of quality role players and future picks to help fill out their supporting cast if they land a big name or two come July. Plus, if they miss the playoffs, they will get to keep their protected first-round pick, which they otherwise owe to Boston if it lands outside the top 14.
Aggressive owner Steve Ballmer is opposed to a teardown style rebuild, so this deal amounts to a threading of the needle: Los Angeles has improved its positioning as a destination for top talent without subjecting itself to the full-fledged pain that comes with an ugly tank.
Heat trade Tyler Johnson to Suns
Phoenix gets: Tyler Johnson, Wayne Ellington. Miami gets: Ryan Anderson.
Suns grade: B-
Phoenix has been stuck in a cycle of bad contracts, first trading Brandon Knight for Anderson and now flipping Anderson for Johnson. An optimist would note that the Suns were paying the past-his-prime Anderson $20 million to watch games from the sidelines and they will now be paying Johnson $19 million to play real backcourt rotation minutes.
But it’s not quite that simple. Johnson, 26, is a strange backcourt fit with Devin Booker because he’s not a traditional point guard. He’s also guaranteed roughly $3.6 million more than Anderson next season, and he’s not that much better than Austin Rivers, a far cheaper combo guard that Phoenix waived earlier this season. Given that Johnson is a marginal player who is unlikely to brighten the Suns’ outlook, shouldn’t they have targeted a more natural complement to Booker in exchange for Anderson’s partially-guaranteed contract? And how many more trades will they execute before they finally land a starting point guard?
Meanwhile, the sharpshooting Ellington reportedly plans to seek a buyout, offering nothing of value during his short stop in Phoenix.
Heat grade: B
This deal is purely financial from the Heat’s perspective, as it puts them one minor move away from dodging the luxury tax this season and cuts their payroll for next year. The Heat are a long shot to make the second round of the playoffs, and their roster is hardly good enough to justify running up a steep luxury tax bill. While Johnson has played major minutes in each of the past three seasons and moved into the starting lineup in recent weeks, he was clearly a disposable piece.
While Phoenix’s end goal in this transaction was murky, Miami’s was crystal clear: limit the damage caused by the disastrous signing of Johnson to a four-year, $50 million deal in 2016. The Heat are now in position to trade, waive or stretch Anderson’s partially-guaranteed $15.6 million contract for 2019-20. All things considered, Pat Riley did pretty well cleaning up a mess of his own making.
Pistons trade Stanley Johnson to Bucks for Thon Maker
Milwaukee gets: Stanley Johnson. Detroit gets: Thon Maker.
Bucks' Grade: C+
Milwaukee got the more useful player in this swap of lottery-pick washouts, but not by much. The 22-year-old Johnson projected to be a physical and athletic 3-and-D wing yet hasn’t established himself as a good enough shooter (29 percent on threes for his career) to be a functional starter on a playoff team. That said, the Bucks appear to be a good landing spot. Their ultra-spaced offense will give him nothing but clean looks, he won’t be asked to be more than a fifth scoring option, and his strength and versatility will fit right in with Milwaukee’s top-ranked defense. Johnson is in the final year of his rookie contract, and will likely prove to be a short-term rental as the Bucks seek to make a deep postseason push before making decisions on their long list of impending free agents.
Pistons' Grade: C-
Sometimes draft projects turn into stars (Giannis Antetokounmpo), but more often they fade away into obscurity like Maker. The 2016 lottery pick never really delivered on the heavy pre-draft hype, as his tantalizing physique was overshadowed by his lack of polish at the NBA level. While Milwaukee dreamed of deploying him as a versatile stretch five, he has been an unreliable outside shooter and a less-than-imposing interior presence. Ultimately, Maker had occasional flashes of useful play but never solidified himself as a key member of Milwaukee’s frontcourt rotation. The Bucks decided to grant his trade request in short order, and the 21-year-old center will get a fresh start in Detroit for the final year of his rookie deal in 2019-20. After moving Reggie Bullock to the Lakers in a separate deal on Tuesday, the Pistons have created a sizable hole on the wing that they should address before Thursday’s deadline.
Detroit Pistons trade Reggie Bullock to Los Angeles Lakers
Los Angeles gets: Reggie Bullock. Detroit gets: Svi Mykhailiuk and 2021 second-round pick.
Lakers’ grade: A-
As the Lakers suffer through ugly losses and daydream about Anthony Davis, LeBron James and company can at least console themselves with this savvy, under-the-radar pickup. Even when James has been healthy, L.A.’s offense has disappointed due to its putrid outside shooting. The 27-year-old Bullock, a low-usage perimeter specialist, will be a clean fit as a spot-up target for James. This trade package works on multiple levels for L.A.: Bullock is a starting-quality 3-and-D wing who can contribute right away, he isn’t owed anything past this season, and his acquisition didn’t require any prime assets that would be included in a Davis package. All things considered, this is a sound late-season rental for a team with the league’s third-worst three-point shooting percentage.
Pistons’ grade: C-
Shouldn’t Detroit have done better? Bullock’s bargain $2.5 million salary and 39.6 percent career three-point shooting combined to make him an intriguing target for virtually any team with playoff aspirations. After an impressive performance at Las Vegas Summer League, Mykhailiuk, 21, hasn’t shown much in limited time as a rookie. A machine-like shooter in practice, Mykhailiuk has connected on only 32.1 percent of his threes and has occasionally looked overwhelmed by the NBA’s size and speed. It’s strange that a bit player like Mykhailiuk and a future second-round pick was enough to convince the Pistons to part with a starting wing, especially because they are short on shooting and desperately chasing one of the East’s final playoff spots. Unless there’s another shoe to drop, Detroit sold low.
Knicks trade Kristaps Porzingis to Mavericks
Dallas gets: Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Trey Burke, Courtney Lee. New York gets: Dennis Smith Jr., DeAndre Jordan, Wesley Matthews, two first-round picks.
Mavericks’ grade: B+
The prospect of forming a Luka Doncic-Porzingis superstar tandem was well worth parting with a marginal prospect in Smith and taking on the future salary owed to Hardaway ($37 million over the next two seasons) and Lee ($12.7 million next year). Dallas has raised its long-term ceiling considerably, cashing in a few expiring contracts for a two-way impact player who has performed at an all-star level when healthy.
Nit-pickers should focus their attention on Porzingis’s health concerns and the lack of protections placed on the 2021 first-round pick that Dallas is sending out. Given the strength of the Western Conference, the Mavericks could easily still be a lottery team in 2021 and light protections could have come in handy. Porzingis’s health concerns extend beyond just his current anterior cruciate ligament recovery: The 7-foot-3 Latvian will have missed 43 percent of his team’s games by the end of this season, and his unusual frame may require stylistic compromises to keep him on the court consistently.
Knicks' grade: B-
The Knicks parted with a fan favorite, but they checked all the requisite boxes in this type of blockbuster: They achieved significant cap relief, they added a young prospect, and they acquired quality future draft assets. New York’s front office has manufactured enough room for two max-level free agents this summer, clearing the decks to pursue Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
While Steve Mills and Scott Perry deserve credit for proactively dealing Porzingis, who had apparently checked out on New York’s rebuilding plan, the Knicks' development and management of the 2015 lottery pick must go down as an abject failure. Porzingis was subjected to a regime change, multiple coaching changes and a cycling supporting cast. High-level franchises would never have backed themselves into a corner with such a promising talent. Rapid development from Smith, an erratic lead guard who was quickly usurped by Doncic, could help make this deal age better with time, but don’t count on it.
Cavaliers trade Rodney Hood to Blazers
Portland gets: Rodney Hood. Cleveland gets: Nik Stauskas, Wade Baldwin IV, two second-round picks
Blazers' grade: C+
Portland deserves an “A” in theory but something far worse in practice. Parting with minor draft picks and nonessential roster parts for a veteran wing is precisely what Blazers General Manager Neil Olshey should have sought to do before the deadline. Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic have been held back for years by a weak perimeter group, and their hopes for making real noise in the playoffs depend on upgrading this position of need. Unfortunately, Hood’s long-standing inconsistency and poor showing in last year’s playoffs make him unlikely to emerge as a reliable game-changing presence.
Cavaliers' grade: B+
This is a quintessential “something-for-nothing” liquidation that bottom-dwelling sellers pursue every year. Hood struggled to expand his role for the dreadful post-LeBron Cavaliers and he had no real future with the rebuilding franchise. Every draft pick is a useful draft pick for Cleveland GM Koby Altman, who has a heavy, multiyear lift ahead of him. Stauskas and Baldwin are afterthoughts.
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