No need to wait for NBA free-agency for the big-offseason acquisitions to take place. Some of those transactions happened, or nearly happened, leading into Thursday’s NBA Draft.
The reason? The NBA Draft creates leverage with draft picks often becoming part of the deals. That event also gives teams clarity both with whom to draft and how to finalize free-agency priorities once those sweepstakes start on June 30. Generally, though, trades happen for many reasons. Those include acquiring a franchise player or a final championship puzzle piece, shipping a star ahead of an expiring contract presuming he wants to leave as a free agent, addressing positional needs, shedding salary and/or collecting draft picks.
The various deals so far hit on those themes and more. Below are the takeaways from those trades.
Did Warriors make the right move trading Jordan Poole for Chris Paul?
Once the Warriors lost in the second-round to the Lakers, it became clear they would prioritize building around Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green than further investing in their young players. Even amid the controversial Green-Poole punch in training camp followed by mixed feelings about his progress, it appeared the Warriors became open to trading Poole with a caveat. They would do it if they found the right deal. They wouldn’t do so for addition-by-subtraction reasons.
That explains why I initially wondered if the Warriors could’ve extracted more from Poole than a future Hall-of-Fame point guard who has struggled with major injuries in the playoffs for two consecutive seasons. Instead, the Warriors also gave up second-year player Ryan Rollins, a protected 2030 first-round pick and a 2027 second-round pick, per the Athletic and ESPN.
I have no doubt that Paul will fit in well with the Warriors culture and with co-existing with the team’s other stars in personality, roles and strategy, especially since he has a real shot at winning his first NBA title. It also helps that Paul will likely have a reserve role and play limited minutes in hopes to keep himself healthy through the rest of the 2023-24 season. I completely understand the Warriors’ need to shed salary amid looming luxury tax penalties that will make it harder both to construct a roster and to retain players under the NBA’s new labor deal. Even if Poole bears no blame with these dynamics whatsoever, I also understand if the Warriors concluded it’s better to part ways both to clear salary in hopes to retain Green when he becomes a free agent and to remove any lingering issues from the punch. And I trust that Paul will do everything correctly with his training, dieting and recovery to fight back against Father Time.
But what if Paul suffers yet another ailment during the playoffs once again? The Warriors would miss Paul when they need him the most. Unlike Phoenix, the Warriors have more roster balance and can absorb the worst-case scenario a lot better than the Suns could. But that goes back to the original point. Couldn’t Poole have landed something more significant for either another established player or a handful of veteran role players? The Warriors will be proactive with making sure this deal works out in their favor. They won’t know the payoff until the postseason.
Can Kristaps Porzingis stay healthy in Boston?
The Celtics seemed dangerous enough offensively with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Just imagine how unstoppable Boston will be with adding Porzingis, a dynamic center that can score via post ups, pick-and-pops, rim runs and 3s. Porzingis can help space the floor and ensure quality ball movement that Tatum and Brown have shown in spurts. And although he’s not an elite defender, Porzingis has improved in team schemes, effort and rebounding.
Still, the Celtics must weigh the question that has followed Porzingis throughout his eight-year NBA career. Can he stay healthy? In fairness, Porzingis is a season removed from posting a career-high 23.2 points in Washington. Though Porzingis missed 16 games last season, he has appeared in much better health during his time in New York (2015-18) and Dallas (2019-22). He detailed to me last season his efforts on combating those injuries and explained his optimism that his worst days are behind them.
Nonetheless, it’s still advisable to take a wait-and-see approach on how that actually plays out. If nothing else, the Celtics will need to become proactive with handling Porzingis with care. That makes it inevitable Porzingis will miss at least some time with minor ailments, which will reveal whether the Celtics are equipped to deal with multiple lineups with and without him.
Are Wizards getting enough in return with roster blowup?
Initially, it appeared that Washington got fleeced. The Wizards first dealt a star player (Bradley Beal) and two role players (Jordan Goodwin, Isaiah Todd) to Phoenix for a future Hall-of-Famer that has struggled to stay healthy (Paul), a decent role player (Landry Shamet), first-round pick swaps (2024, 2026, 2028, 2030) and second-round picks (2024-28, 2030), per ESPN. Then, it appeared the Wizards performed front-office wizardry. They shipped off Porzingis to Boston while acquiring a quality point guard (Tyus Edney) from Memphis. They then acquired Poole, Rollins, a protected 2030 first-round pick and a 2027 second-round pick from Golden State.
Add things up, and the Wizards collected a boatload of draft picks, a player that could become one of the NBA’s top scorers (Poole) and some quality role players (Shamet, Jones). The Wizards may not have needed to deal Bradley right away. Per his trade clause, the Wizards were limited. They also wanted to maximize this trade window to collect assets. Poole will bring a mixed record with being the face of the franchise. He’ll provide lots of scoring and some wisdom from playing for Golden State. Yet, the Warriors dealt Poole partly because he didn’t fit their system that emphasized ball movement and disciplined defense. But this is about the Wizards just collecting assets and figuring out the direction later.
Michael Winger, the Wizards’ recently-hired president of basketball operations, was part of the Clippers’ front office that ended the “Lob City” era and helped with ensuring Kawhi Leonard and Paul George join the franchise four years ago. Though the Wizards face a more difficult rebuild, Winger has a proven track record to ensure a successful one.
Grizzlies will enjoy Marcus Smart’s leadership partly at Celtics’ expense
Finally, Memphis landed an established player that will fit well in its “grit and grind” mentality. Finally, Memphis landed an established player that will also keep the team’s young players accountable. On the court, Smart will help the Grizzlies with quality perimeter defense, the occasional 3s and emotional energy. On and off the court, Smart will make sure teammates are playing the right way and are staying out of trouble.
The Grizzlies surely need Smart’s presence. Through last season’s second-round playoff run, the Grizzlies often showed more interest with displaying on-court trash talk than perfecting on-court execution. Off the court, Ja Morant received a 25-game suspension for filming himself on Instagram Live while holding a gun for the second time in two months. Though Morant needs to take responsibility, the Grizzlies also enabled his poor decisions. Smart will stop any of that nonsense from continuing. He will also help the Grizzlies mitigate Morant’s absence through the first 1 1/2 months of the 2023-24 season.
Meanwhile, the Celtics will soon regret parting ways with Smart. Boston’s success mostly revolved around Tatum and Brown. Yet, Smart complemented their offense, reducing their defensive workload and called them out when they didn’t pass enough. The Celtics underachieved last season with their seven-game loss to Miami in the Western Conference Finals, but they arguably would have fared even worse without Smart’s efforts to be a bridge among the Celtics’ stars, role players and coaching staff.
Clippers should feel relieved Malcolm Brogdon deal never happened
The Clippers came close toward acquiring a respected veteran point guard that can thrive in a scoring and passing role as both a starter and reserve. So why should they feel happy that they couldn’t acquire Brogdon? That’s because a potential deal fell apart after the Clippers became concerned about Brogdon’s recent injury history, according to Substack’s Marc Stein.
Brogdon reportedly played through a partially torn tendon in his right arm during the playoffs, marking the latest example of his poor injury history through his seven-year NBA career. The Clippers already have an injury-riddled roster for the past four seasons, most notably to Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The last thing they needed was another established player who couldn’t stay healthy enough to build cohesive chemistry and be available in critical moments.
It’s not ideal for the Clippers to have to pivot to a backup plan. They may also have to deal with the fallout with nearly trading an inconsistent veteran (Marcus Morris) and an emerging young player (Amir Coffey). But I suspect all parties can put their best foot forward. Even if this deal fell through, the Clippers made the right move with pursing Brogdon because of how well he would have meshed with Leonard and George. That’s under the assumption that Brogdon would stay healthy, so it’s good the Clippers probed into that issue before regretfully agreeing to a deal.