The NBA trade deadline has come and gone. Boy, was it an active period around the Association filled with drama and intrigue. It pretty much started off when the Sacramento Kings shocked the basketball world by sending DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans.
This came immediately after Cousins himself took part in the All-Star Game in New Orleans, which acted as a nice little backdrop to one of the biggest trades in recent NBA history.
Then, as the week played out, other contending teams were busy making moves to improve their standing. This came at the same time that Magic Johnson became the biggest power player in Los Angeles, ultimately dealing super-sub Lou Williams mere hours after taking over as the Lakers’ president.
These are among the biggest stories from the NBA trade deadline. But who came out on top in these deals? Who showed themselves to be amateurs going up against top-level front offices?
Here’s a look at the biggest winners and losers from the NBA trade deadline.
Winner: Anthony Davis and the Pelicans
It’s been a long time coming for Davis and the Pelicans. The team has been trying to find a running partner for its All-Star power forward over the past two years. After potential deals fizzled out during the summer, and following a disastrous pre All-Star break showing, New Orleans finally made the move.
The Pelicans took advantage of ineptitude in California’s capital city, acquiring All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins from the Sacramento Kings for pennies on the dollar. They would eventually send rookie top-10 pick Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway and a top-four protected 2017 NBA Draft pick to Sacramento for Cousins.
Now, firmly in the mix for the eighth spot out west, New Orleans features the best front-court combo in the entire NBA. And if we were to make a list of the top-10 players in the Association, two would reside in the Bayou. Cousins and Davis are combining to average 56.5 points, 22.7 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 2.7 steals and 3.8 blocks per game. That’s just astounding.
What makes this trade so much more absurd from the Pelicans’ standpoint is that they now have a distinct advantage should the team earn a spot in the playoffs. Whether it is against Golden State, San Antonio or Houston in the first round, none of those three teams can match what New Orleans brings to the table from the low-post. At the very least, it would make an early-round series very interesting.
Loser: Orlando Magic
Let’s get this straight. Just a few short months after sending Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the 11th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Serge Ibaka, Orlando dealt away Ibaka for Terrence Ross and the Toronto Raptors’ first-round pick this year (more on that here).
That in and of itself is just horrendous. But when we look at the whole picture, it’s even more ridiculous. Ilyasova Was originally acquired by Orlando in the deal that sent Tobias Harris to Detroit last year. He came with Brandon Jennings, who played in a handful of games with the Magic last season before signing as a free agent with New York during the summer.
What does this mean exactly? The Magic actually moved Tobias Harris, Victor Oladipo and the 11th pick in last year’s draft (Domantas Sabonis) for Terrence Ross and what promises to be a late first-round pick this year. Talk about just horrible.
At 21-37 on the season, Orlando boasts Eastern Conference’s second-worst record. The team has no clear philosophy in its front office. And in reality, it has given up too many solid assets for nearly nothing to be taken seriously as a legitimate franchise in the Association.
Add in the fact that Orlando reportedly turned down a deal that would have brought in DeMarcus Cousins earlier this season, and that’s magnified even further. Simply put, Orlando is an absolute dumpster fire right now.
Winner: Los Angeles Lakers
We can certainly question whether hiring an inexperienced former player to lead a team’s front office is a good idea. We can even question this if said individual is Magic Johnson, one of the greatest players in NBA history. When such a massive shake up is conducted days before the trade deadline, that’s magnified even further.
What we can’t question here is Johnson’s initial strike capability as the Lakers’ new president. Within hours of landing the job on Tuesday, Johnson traded super-sub Lou Williams to the Houston Rockets for forward Corey Brewer and a 2017 first-round pick (more on that here).
Despite Williams’ scoring prowess (18.6 points per game), he’s 30 years old and was averaging less than 25 minutes per game for a 19-39 team. That’s some tremendous value to receive in return for Williams.
The Lakers’ ultimate goal is to land a superstar to team up with their young core. In fact, Paul George could potentially be in play here soon. But the team must build up its capital and create change from within before any top player will want to come to Los Angeles. It’s a model that worked well for the Golden State Warriors, and it appears the Lakers are following that to a T.
If so, sending away a 30-year-old reserve for a first-round pick is a nice initial move for Johnson. Williams didn’t figure into the team’s long-term plans. This trade also enables youngster Brandon Ingram to see the court more, which has to be the Lakers’ biggest goal moving forward on the season.
Loser: Sacramento Kings
We’re not entirely too sure the Kings know what they’re going here. The backstory behind Sacramento’s trade of DeMarcus Cousins reads like a Saturday Night Live skit. Did Vlade Divac pull the trigger quickly because he feared owner Vivek Ranadivé would back out at the last minute? Is this why the Kings received just one potential long-term starter and a draft pick in return?
Heck, Divac himself admitted that he had better trade offers on the table days before he pulled the trigger to move Cousins to the Pelicans. This, despite the fact there was still four days remaining before the trade deadline. If this weren’t enough, agents and players now have real fears that the Kings are an absolute mess, meaning no big-name player will want to join the team.
From an on-court standpoint none of this makes sense. Even with an opportunity to earn a playoff spot in the Western Conference, Sacramento decided to sell low on Cousins while he has a year remaining on his contract. It did so knowing full well that the Philadelphia 76ers have the right to swap their first-round pick with Sacramento.
Considering the Sixers themselves are on an upward trajectory and Sacramento just traded away its only viable star, it’s common logic to assume the Kings just traded down a few spots in the first round by moving Cousins. Again, why not wait until the summer?
Sure, Buddy Hield might end up being an All-Star one day. There’s also no guarantee that the pick Sacramento received from New Orleans won’t be in the lottery. But the Kings failed miserably here.
They ruined an opportunity for a playoff run in 2017, likely worsened their draft standing with Philly, caught the ire of agents around the NBA and traded away their only star player. In the process, Sacramento was made out to look like the Three Stooges with Ranadivé and Divac playing the role of Curley and Moe, respectively. Biggly sad.
Winner: Houston Rockets
The deal sending Lou Williams from Los Angeles to Houston was a win-win for both sides. First off, the Rockets were pretty much able to match contracts for next season by sending Corey Brewer packing for Williams. That will be a big deal when the summer hits. Secondly, what projects to be a late first-round pick is not bad value for a player of Williams’ ilk.
From a pure basketball standpoint, it’s rather clear what Houston is attempting to do here. Put as many three-point shooters on the court at the same time and see if it can somehow replicate the Warriors. More than that, we’ll get to see if the Rockets can challenge Golden State come playoff time.
James Harden, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza and Williams all rank within the NBA’s top-20 three-point shooters this season. By adding Williams and his 18-plus points per game, Houston can match any small ball lineup in the NBA with the best of them.
If need be, the team can play Williams at point with Harden at shooting guard, Gordon manning the three and Anderson playing the stretch-four. Try guarding that lineup.
Houston knows what it was doing by adding an instant scorer to the mix in Williams. Whether it’s enough to overcome Golden State and San Antonio out west remains to be seen. But at least this squad was being extremely proactive while finding optimal value in a mid-season trade. That’s never a bad thing.
Loser: Philadelphia 76ers
The prevailing thought heading into Thursday’s trade deadline was that Nerlens Noel would provide Philadelphia more in return than Jahlil Okafor. If that’s the case, Okafor himself isn’t seen as anywhere near a valuable commodity around the NBA.
Philly dealt Noel to the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday in exchange for Andrew Bogut, Justin Anderson and a first-round pick. That selection is protected from picks 1-18, which means Dallas would have to earn a playoff spot for the Sixers to collect. If not, it reverts to a second-round pick in each of the next two drafts. Ouch.
It’s reasonable that the Sixers would want to move Noel and/or Okafor. They have a log jam at power forward and center. Add in the fact that Noel is slated to become a restricted free agent, and this is magnified even further.
The issue here is that general manger Bryan Colangelo got no real value for Noel. Anderson, a first-round pick of the Mavs in 2015, is averaging just 6.5 points in 13.9 minutes per game this season. He might end up being a fine rotational player, but that’s not the haul you’d expect for a youngster in Noel that plays a premium position and offered a tremendous amount of upside.
This came on the heels of Philadelphia sending Ersan Ilyasova to the Atlanta Hawks for Tiago Splitter. The idea behind that trade was to give rookie Dario Saric more playing time. While Anderson can play the two, his presence may end up limiting Saric’s minutes as well.
Philadelphia has a young core upon which to build. The likes of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Saric is a really nice starting-off point. Unfortunately, the team didn’t receive any real value in the two trade deadline deals it made. This will obviously lead to questions about Colangelo’s strategy moving forward.
Winner: Denver Nuggets
One of the biggest issues for Denver this season has been a lackluster performance defensively in the low-post. For as good as Nikola Jokic is offensively, he’s an equally horrendous defender. Add in lackluster defensive performances from Kenneth Faried and Jusuf Nurkic, and this is one of the primary reasons Denver has failed to take that next step.
In the weeks leading up to Thursday’s trade deadline, Denver sought to fix this issue. And it succeeded big time. The team moved Nurkic to the Portland Trail Blazers in exchange for fellow big man Mason Plumlee. Sure, sending a first-round pick to Portland in the deal might hurt long-term. But Plumlee is a marked upgrade here.
A former first-round pick from Duke, Plumlee is averaging 11.1 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. More than this, he’s a tremendous defensive presence in the block. Simply put, the Nuggets traded away a horrendous defender in Nurkic for a top-end defender.
That’s what we would call targeting a weakness and making sure to address it. That might not lead to the Nuggets earning a playoff spot, but it was a good move for both the long term and moving forward this season.
Loser: Chicago Bulls
Talk of the team potentially trading Jimmy Butler gave way to a lesser move that really makes us question the direction of the Bulls’ franchise. Chicago dealt stud power forward Taj Gibson and sharp-shooting guard Doug McDermott to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Cameron Payne, Joffrey Lauvergne and Anthony Morrow on Thursday (more on that here).
Sure Chicago was fearful of losing Gibson in free agency this summer. So it makes sense that the team might look to move him. But instead of receiving draft pick compensation in return, the Bulls added two struggling youngsters to the mix. All the while, Oklahoma City actually received the only draft pick — a 2018 second rounder — that changed hands here.
It just doesn’t make any sense.
Why move a former lottery pick with a tremendous perimeter game and a bulldog of a power forward for pennies on the dollar? That’s only magnified by the fact that Chicago is now stuck between bottom-end playoff contention and irrelevance in the Eastern Conference.
The team simply needs to decide whether it wants to contend short term or build for the long term. Thursday’s trade did absolutely nothing to clear that whole mess up.