14 Quick Takes on the NBA Trade Deadline
Instant analysis from NBA Substack!
With 20 trades(!) this week in the NBA — after several blockbusters before February even arrived — it’s time to bring in the wide range of NBA voices from across the Substack landscape.
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Are you not entertained? |
This has been such a wild Trade Season. We had six in-season deals before this week (James Harden! OG Anunoby! Pascal Siakam!) and it's really eight if you factor in the Damian Lillard and Jrue Holiday trades right before the season started. And then Deadline Day itself, even after all that action, still managed to be quite unpredictable — New York made some nice upgrades, Dallas went uber-aggressive, Pat Bev broke the news of his own trade to Milwaukee and Oklahoma City naturally sneaked in with its usual stealthy swing by acquiring Gordon Hayward. Fans of The Transaction Game have been treated very, very well these past six months.
Is that it?!? 🙄 |
I cannot emphasize enough how mid the vibes are. Some of the trades these teams have made feel like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. It’s like The Office after Steve Carell left. The earlier seasons are like the James Harden trade, and the trades close to deadline day lack star power. Do I care about what happens to Andy and Erin? I guess? Listen: I will watch later seasons of The Office, but I’m scrolling on my phone while doing so.
OKC does not go all-in
The question all year has been: Are Sam Presti’s Thunder shrewdly wedded to long-term development, or shrewdly wedded to long-term development and cheap?
Dāvis Bertāns’ $17 million deal and a crown-jewels collection of draft picks meant the Thunder arrived at the deadline poised to be the high bidder for any player. (Pascal Siakam went to the Pacers for three first-round picks; the Thunder could have offered five, or twelve.)
Then they traded Bertāns for the large expiring contract of profoundly injured Gordon Hayward. So they won’t land, say, Lauri Markkanen (who David Thorpe says would make them instant contenders).
Will they ever add another star to the mix of Shai, Chet, and Jalen? Or are they hanging on to all those draft picks because they don’t demand salaries and health insurance?
The biggest of this week’s many moves … |
With the most important trades (James Harden, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby) coming earlier, the best player dealt this week was Buddy Hield, according to my Wins Above Replacement metric. Hield is tracking for a modest 3.5 WAR per 82 team games.
But a few things stood out:
The Sixers are going for it despite Joel Embiid's injury — they added the most net WAR of any team, edging out Dallas.
Speaking of, the Mavs are also making a push to improve their current No. 8 seed in the West and 64% playoff odds.
The Knicks improved, too — this really could be the year!
And I'm really curious whether Gordon Hayward (with his 29 previous career playoff games) will offer enough to an OKC team that has every championship ingredient except playoff experience.
I ❤️ NY’s heist |
I almost can't believe it, but the New York Knicks are … smart and well-run and doing all the right things?!? It's wild, given what has gone on for basically this entire century. New York kinda stole Alec Burks and Bojan Bogdanović from Detroit, essentially giving up only Quentin Grimes and two distant second-round picks that seem likely to fall in the latter half of the round.
The Knicks now have a deep, versatile team that also has the requisite size and flexibility to deal with other Eastern Conference contenders. What a world!
Feeling Philly |
Though I think he’s probably bummed to leave Indy, the fit for Buddy Hield in Philadelphia will be a good one so long as they let him leap around the floor like a jackrabbit and pull up from anywhere. What made Hield a fever dream to watch way back in Sacramento, when the place was quiet as a Western movie set, was the sense that at any moment he might knock too hard into one of the façades — in the Kings' case, not a saloon cutout but one of a "working team.” The Sixers, in my gut, are a franchise that could use some speed and a couple solid knocks around the foundation, to make sure that thing is ready to stay standing when the postseason shows up.
Otherwise: Stoked for Xavier Tillman, a sweetheart of a dude; Robin Lopez does the best bits, and too many people are getting waived!
Calculating the Hield yield |
So the Sixers have Buddy Hield, but they don’t run a drive-and-kick offense, as Tyrese Maxey's second-worst passing percentage on drives tells us. That's in contrast to Tyrese Haliburton's third-best ranking in that department.
Without a playmaker to kick the ball out, the Sixers may not be able to utilize Hield's current 42% catch-and-shoot percentage from beyond the arc. Hield’s contract expires after this season, so this is a win-now move — Joel Embiid's meniscus allowing. Of course, even if Hield departs, you can expect Philly to reboot quickly with their cap space this offseason.
Procrastination is a thief |
What's the old adage? Good things come to those who wait?
For teams hoping to siphon a first-round pick or two (or three) for the Dejounte Murrays of the world, maybe follow this cliché instead: A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
The Hawks didn't get the return on Dejounte Murray that they hoped for. OG Anunoby didn't draw a single first-round pick (albeit two solid young players and a high second). Other players of that caliber stayed put. I'm fairly certain the Hawks and Raptors would have received bigger offers last offseason but were unwilling to pull the trigger.
Sometimes, good things come to those who don't procrastinate. Rolls off the tongue!
To Cav and Cav Not |
I’m intrigued by a team that didn’t make any moves — Cleveland. While some top teams wheeled and dealed, the Cavs … hung out. Watched the deadline with us. Ate some pierogies. Apparently, Cleveland is confident in its guys. Right now, that’s understandable. Dean Wade, Isaac Okoro and Sam Merrill have been phenomenal during Cleveland’s 15-1(!!!) stretch. But with players like Buddy Hield, Gordon Hayward, and Royce O’Neale available, could Cleveland be haunted in the postseason by not adding another depth piece? We’ll see!
How the Knicks and Mavs won the deadline |
Bojan Bogdanović and Alec Burks will provide the Knicks shooting and depth, and — just as importantly — New York didn’t give up any first-round picks. The Knicks now have a chance in the East this year and a bright future, too.
In Dallas, Daniel Gafford gives Luka Dončić another athletic lob threat (and rim protector), while PJ Washington is an upgrade over Grant Williams, and Washington should see his 3-point percentage rise with all the open looks he’ll have playing next to Dončić. Mavs GM Nico Harrison has discussed the need for the Mavs to become more athletic, and with Gafford and Washington, they did.
All the smoke … not much fire |
I wonder if we're reaching the point of diminishing returns on the Trade Rumor Industrial Complex. Outside of the Knicks and maybe the Mavericks, every team that did something at the deadline was essentially just moving money around, but that didn't stop every trade from being broken — some in multiple parts — by the reporters everyone has mobile notifications on for, so we all feel obligated to react to these deals as though they're anything other than trading just to do something.
Hornets migrate West |
I’m tempted to focus on Gordon Hayward — you have to love the bright-present Thunder making a Go For It move — but I’ll go with another Charlotte Hornet out the door. P.J. Washington landing in Dallas has been foretold for many moons now, but the deal sure feels good. Succeeding as a wing next to Luka isn’t guaranteed — ask the guy leaving, Grant Williams — but Washington presents much-needed upside at the 4 on a workable deal.
The Celtics are the sun |
I’m only here for my Celtics to win the Championship — in five. If Xavier Tillman blocks enough shots to help make that happen, he’s welcome at the deeply nerdy Celtics party, where no lead is safe.
I’m a bit interested in Milwaukee, though, because Doc Rivers coached the 2008 championship Celtics, because Dame Lillard and I are both from Oakland, and because I like Giannis more ever since he chased down that game ball. Gnarly Pat Beverley is no Rajon Rondo (who is?), but the Bucks will benefit from his bully ball.
My hope for the West? It’s that the Kings’ mighty Malik Monk gets some real help in the offseason. That’ll shake things up.
Now what? |
Let's be clear: Most deadline deals don't dramatically change a team's rotation, which means that win-loss records after the deadline don't change a lot either.
In the past week, Dallas and New York have changed their rotation players the most (and maybe Philly, in part due to Embiid’s injury), but probably not enough to dramatically change their chances in the playoffs. The Knicks' acquisition of Anunoby a month ago was the big piece. These two new rotation players come with more challenges in terms of fit.
What usually changes a rotation is a team deciding to change its rotation, by entering player development mode or tanking (but no one likes saying that). Sometimes teams do that even without making a deal at the deadline. Portland basically did it the last two years. You can look into teams outside the bottom four in the NBA standings and it's reasonable that one or two aim to, well, "change their rotation" down the stretch.
Only five teams didn't do a deal this year? And three of them — the Lakers, the Hawks, and the Bulls — were among the most commonly mentioned in rumors over the last few weeks … because those would have been big deals!
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