For the Warriors, who have had a stranglehold on the title race all season, this was close to ideal. Given their stacked front line of Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins, none of those maneuvers should scare them from a matchup standpoint. What’s more, Golden State’s biggest cause for concern — Anthony Davis leaving New Orleans to form a superteam in Los Angeles or Toronto — didn’t materialize.
Meanwhile, West challengers Houston and Portland fiddled with their rotations by adding Iman Shumpert and Rodney Hood, respectively, while Denver and Utah sat on their hands. The gap between Golden State and their conference foes remains vast.
Loser: Kevin Durant
Of course, this was hardly a clean victory for the Warriors, who were bystanders to Kevin Durant’s erratic news conference on Wednesday. Incensed by growing speculation that he might be headed to the New York Knicks this summer, the all-star forward ripped into reporters and told them to “grow up.” The cognitive dissonance registered off the charts given that Durant’s rant came immediately after a 39-point home win.
The bizarre and unnecessary display, which followed a week of silence in the media, was intended to focus the media’s attention on Durant’s contributions to the Warriors. Instead, it highlighted how out of step with his teammates and organization when it comes to their treatment of the media. Durant’s complaints about being pestered about his upcoming free agency should fall on deaf ears given that his last decision completely altered the NBA’s landscape and launched a dynasty.
Winners: Dallas Mavericks
The Lakers spent all month dreaming about landing a second star to support their franchise player, but the Mavericks actually did it. Mark Cuban and his front office had an exceptional week, grabbing Kristaps Porzingis to be Luka Doncic’s sidekick, quietly setting up a tank to keep their top-five protected pick, and clearing out Harrison Barnes’s contract so that they can be aggressive this summer.
Losers: LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers’ desperation was evident for weeks, and they were forced to settle for minor moves rather than a Davis blockbuster. LeBron James will welcome the addition of two shooters — Reggie Bullock and Mike Muscala — and L.A. is in position to pursue Carmelo Anthony and others in the buyout market.
Still, L.A. must be smarting after its Godfather offer of numerous prospects and picks was so easily ignored by the Pelicans. With Boston potentially entering the Davis chase this summer, L.A. must now turn its attention to climbing back into the playoff race and then plotting its next moves to find James some real help. The early landscape is not pretty: Porzingis has moved to the Mavericks, Kawhi Leonard has expressed no interest in the Lakers, Durant and Kyrie Irving have been linked to the Knicks, Klay Thompson seems happy with the Warriors, and Khris Middleton has indicated he wants to re-sign with the Bucks. Magic Johnson has promised a second star, but who will it be if it’s not Davis?
Winners: Boston Celtics
Although Boston’s path to the 2019 NBA Finals got more difficult with Toronto, Philadelphia and Milwaukee all gearing up, the fact that Davis wasn’t traded still makes this week a net positive for Danny Ainge and company. Due to salary-cap restrictions, the Celtics couldn’t bid on Davis until the summer and their worst-case scenario was the Lakers swooping in early to grab a superstar that they’ve targeted for years. Ainge will now get a chance to change Davis’s mind about coming to Boston and potentially partnering with his good friend Irving.
Losers: New Orleans Pelicans
Rather than proactively chart a course for their franchise’s future by trading Davis, the Pelicans settled for accumulating five second-round draft picks in a pair of smaller deals and punted their big decision to the summer. Taking the patient approach is understandable given the stakes, but now New Orleans must do an awkward dance with Davis. How much damage will this uncertainty, and their decision to play hardball with Davis, do to their draft positioning, General Manager Dell Demps’s job status and their reputation as a player-friendly destination?
Winners: Milwaukee Bucks
While Toronto and Philadelphia landed bigger names, Milwaukee targeted a very clean fit in Mirotic. One nice feature of having both a superstar centerpiece in Giannis Antetokounmpo and a well-constructed five-out offensive system: Role players like Mirotic, a stretch-four who represents a clear upgrade over the aging Ersan Ilyasova, often thrive. Mirotic’s shooting ability and strong play in last year’s postseason combine to make him a solid late-season rental, and Milwaukee didn’t have to part with a first-round pick to get it done.
Bucks General Manager Jon Horst deserves some executive of the Year love after trading for George Hill and Mirotic and dumping the long-term money owed to Matthew Dellavedova and John Henson. Horst has sent Antetokounmpo a clear message this season: Milwaukee has not only committed to constructing a contender-quality supporting cast, it has carefully prepared to re-sign key free agents such as Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and Eric Bledsoe this summer.
Losers: Philadelphia 76ers
First-year Sixers General Manager Elton Brand has serious guts, but the sum total of his moves this season leaves his organization susceptible to overly inflated expectations, chemistry concerns and a messy summer. By taking on Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris and overhauling his bench, while simultaneously deciding to part with former top pick Markelle Fultz, Brand has moved all-in with a roster that must pull together over the next two months.
Even if the Sixers succeed in making the Finals, which is certainly no guarantee, they will need to fork over big-dollar deals to Butler and Harris in free agency. Butler’s fit with Ben Simmons and possible age-related decline are concerns, as is Harris’s limited playoff resume. There’s a real possibility that Brand will be paying superteam money for a group that doesn’t live up to that moniker.
Winners: Washington Wizards
There’s no question that losing a core piece in Otto Porter without acquiring a first-round pick is painful. But the Wizards were looking down the barrel at greater pain: Paying the luxury tax for a likely lottery team, being stuck without any room to retool around Bradley Beal this summer and risking a trade request from Beal in the wake of John Wall’s latest injury. Moving Porter allows Washington to begin to turn the page, freeing up room to re-sign Tomas Satoransky and Thomas Bryant while also opening some free-agency spending power.
Losers: Sacramento Kings
As a general principle: If presented with the opportunity to make an aggressive play for Harrison Barnes, just don’t do it. Barnes is a decent fit with Sacramento’s existing core pieces and style of play, but he’s just not as helpful as his box score stats indicate. If he opts out in search of a longer-term contract, Sacramento will likely feel obliged to pay up. It’s hard to get very excited about that.
Winners: Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers’ haul for Tobias Harris’s expiring contract — Landry Shamet, two first-round picks and two second-round picks — was arguably the most impressive return this week. L.A.’s hopes of making the playoffs this year take a big hit after trading their leading scorer, but they’ve set themselves up brilliantly to chase A-list free agents and construct trade packages similar to the Mavericks’ Porzingis offer.
Losers: Detroit Pistons
Trading away wings Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson with precious little to show for it does not exactly inspire confidence in the post-Stan Van Gundy regime.
Winners: Cleveland Cavaliers
Although most observers won’t care because the post-LeBron Cavaliers are pitiful, General Manager Koby Altman has enjoyed a nice run of accumulating draft picks. Since November, he’s landed two second-round picks for Kyle Korver, a first-round pick and a second-round pick for George Hill, two second-round picks for Rodney Hood and a first-round pick for agreeing to take on Brandon Knight. Digging out of the basement is no fun, but kudos to Altman for getting straight to work.
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