For the Warriors, taking the plunge on the $90 million-plus owed to Wiggins over the next three seasons boiled down to fit. Russell, a 23-year-old guard whose scoring ability far exceeds his defensive aptitude, needs to be the primary ballhandler to be an effective contributor on a winning team. Russell was bound to be marginalized once Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson return from injuries, and his max contract was going to limit Golden State’s ability to fill its gaping hole on the wing. Wiggins, by contrast, can be plugged cleanly into a Harrison Barnes-like role for Golden State: He will be a complementary option on offense — spacing the court and attacking defenses that overload on Curry — and a decent option as a perimeter defender.
No one is going to mistake Wiggins for a LeBron James-stopper or a Kawhi Leonard-stopper, and this move will never compensate for the departures of Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala this past summer. Still, Wiggins has good size and athletic tools, he has been remarkably durable throughout his career, and he should benefit from a narrower offensive role. The Warriors don’t need Wiggins, still just 24, to live up to his enormous contract or to blossom into a star. They just need him to accept his new role and commit himself to doing the little things that contribute to winning.
There will surely be frustrating moments for Wiggins in the Bay, but Russell’s early tenure in Golden State wasn’t impressive and his value on the court and in the trade marketplace was likely to decline upon Curry’s return. Picking up a first- and a second-round pick in the deal only makes it more appetizing for Golden State.
Loser: Minnesota Timberwolves
The good news is that the Timberwolves finally got their man in Russell, whom they had tried to sign as a free agent last summer. The bad news? They lost Wiggins, Jeff Teague and Robert Covington and multiple picks over multiple recent trades to make their vision a reality.
Timberwolves President Gersson Rosas talked himself into that price knowing that his top priority was appeasing franchise center Karl-Anthony Towns, who happens to be close friends with Russell. The two young all-stars should enjoy a lethal two-man game offensively, and their shared perimeter shooting ability will enable Minnesota to play a fully spaced modern style.
Unfortunately, the new duo will present its own challenges. Both Towns and Russell have performed poorly on the defensive end this season, and it will be difficult for Minnesota to aspire to an above-average defense when they will need to share the court for long stretches every night. Russell makes the Timberwolves more exciting and he should make Towns happier, but will he make his new team any better? That remains to be seen.
Winner: Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers probably won’t dominate the headlines, but they had the best deadline of any top contender. By trading Moe Harkless and draft picks to the New York Knicks for Marcus Morris Sr., they landed another quality frontcourt rotation player who can defend multiple positions and shoot the three. Morris is an ideal late-season rental: He has enjoyed a career year with the Knicks, he is still in his prime at 30, and his contract expires this summer. Clippers Coach Doc Rivers already had an embarrassment of riches at his disposal, and Morris will allow him to play extremely long and physical lineup combinations in the playoffs.
Adding Morris was nice, but there were other wins by extension for the Clippers, too. The Los Angeles Lakers were reportedly interested in Morris and Iguodala, who landed on the Miami Heat, and either of those players would have helped the Lakers match up better with the Clippers in the playoffs. The Rockets, another aspiring contender in the West, had also been linked to Iguodala, but had to settle for Robert Covington in a trade that cost them center Clint Capela. Now that the trade deadline dust has settled, the Clippers should be viewed as the favorites to win the West.
Loser: Houston Rockets
Houston addressed its fatal flaw by adding Covington, a skilled perimeter defender who will be asked to guard the likes of James and Leonard in the playoffs, but it really needed to pull a rabbit out of a hat at the deadline. That didn’t happen. Instead, the Rockets parted with Capela, leaving Coach Mike D’Antoni without many interior options. The small-ball approach has worked in the past, but it’s hard to believe Houston will win a clash of styles in the playoffs against the Lakers or the Clippers, who both have far superior frontcourt talent.
Winner: Miami Heat
The Heat has enjoyed a dream season to date, but it had good reason to agonize at what might happen in the playoffs. Its team defense was the worst among the East’s top teams, and it was at a disadvantage compared with Milwaukee, Boston and Philadelphia when it comes to wing depth. The trade with the Memphis Grizzlies for Iguodala also landed Jae Crowder, giving Coach Erik Spoelstra two veteran, playoff-tested wings to add to the mix.
Signing Iguodala to a two-year, $30 million extension was apparently the cost of doing business, and there are real questions about his age and health. Even so, Miami meaningfully improved its playoff rotation and its chances at advancing to the conference finals. Unloading Dion Waiters, a season-long malcontent, is icing on the cake.
Loser: Philadelphia 76ers
To be clear, the move that Philadelphia made — acquiring Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III from the Warriors for three second-round picks — was a no-brainer. The Sixers’ offense ranks 19th in the league — the worst among aspiring contenders — and they can use the double dose of scoring pop.
It’s hard to view the 76ers as a true winner, however, because their glaring fit questions remain unresolved. Like Houston, this was a team that should have been considering a more radical shake-up at the deadline to improve its positioning before the playoffs. Instead, it feels like the shaky 76ers are just hanging on for dear life.
Winner: Milwaukee Bucks
The NBA’s most dominant team sat on its hands, deciding that its deep, well-fitting roster was good as is. Milwaukee goes home a winner, though, because none of its major competitors in the East significantly narrowed the gap. Boston and Toronto stood still, Philadelphia added a nice piece in Burks, and Miami landed Iguodala, who will be helpful in the playoffs. The Heat’s pursuit of Danilo Gallinari, which would have applied real pressure on the Bucks, came up short, and Burks will hardly fix all that ails the 76ers’ clunky offense. Giannis Antetokounmpo can get back to work with a sigh of relief.
Loser: Detroit Pistons
Detroit’s efforts to cash out on one-time franchise center Andre Drummond before his free agency this summer went absolutely nowhere. The Pistons’ final haul was Brandon Knight, John Henson and a second-round pick from the Cleveland Cavaliers — an astonishingly low price for a two-time all-star who is leading the league in rebounding.
This isn’t all Detroit’s fault, as Drummond’s need for a new contract and his status as an iffy defender and a non-shooter limited his pool of potential suitors. Still, this is a sad way for a former lottery pick to end his eight-year tenure with an organization, and the Pistons are left with very little to show for the experience.
“If there’s one thing I learned about the NBA, there’s no friends or loyalty,” Drummond wrote on Twitter. “I’ve given my heart and soul to the Pistons, and to have this happen with no heads up makes me realize even more that this is just a business!”
Winner: Atlanta Hawks
Despite regular heroics from Trae Young, the Hawks have been essentially unwatchable because of their lack of structure and pathetic defense. Atlanta acquired Capela and Dewayne Dedmon in separate deals with the Rockets and Kings, adding two trustworthy interior defenders while only parting with draft picks and nonessential players like Evan Turner and Jabari Parker. The road back to respectability begins here.
Loser: Sacramento Kings
General Manager Vlade Divac will have a hard time explaining the past eight months to his bosses. This past summer, he overpaid for multiple veterans in hopes of making a playoff push. In recent weeks, with Sacramento languishing near the bottom of the West’s standings, he hit the undo button by trading Trevor Ariza to the Portland Trail Blazers and Dedmon to the Hawks. So much for that plan. On the bright side, at least he didn’t trade Bogdan Bogdanovic, a talented scoring wing who will need to be re-signed as a free agent this summer.
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