2022 NBA Trade Grades
Who won (spoilers: we all did) and lost a surprisingly monumental trade deadline?
The 2021-2022 NBA Trade Deadline has finally passed, and it made a hell of a bang. As the dust settles, it’s time for us to take stock of what the heck just happened and assign arbitrary grades to teams. Is it silly to judge actions whose consequences won’t be fully understood for years? Yes. Are we doing it anyway? Of course!
Note: This isn’t a comprehensive list of all trades (I’m assuming you don’t want to see my trade grades for a PJ Dozier/second-round pick swap when I’ve already written 6,500+ words). I focused on analyzing the moves that might make a noticeable impact on the involved teams; after all, brevity is my strength.
Some of the details may change as further information is released, but this is all up-to-date as of 3:45 pm today, Thursday. Any major changes will be addressed in the next newsletter.
Clippers receive: Norman Powell, Robert Covington
Trail Blazers receive: Eric Bledsoe, Justise Winslow, Keon Johnson, 2025 second-round pick (from Detroit)
It must be nice to have Microsoft money to throw around. Not many owners can stomach steep luxury tax1 bills, but Ballmer has shown his willingness to use his finances as a competitive advantage time and again. It’s much easier to “win” trades when you can afford to pay premium salaries.
Even with that in mind, though, LA knocked this one out of the park. Norm Powell is a 28-year-old bucket-getter who can shoot threes (41% this year on 5.7 attempts per game) and attack the basket. His 22 points per game provide an instant dose of scoring to a resilient but offensively poor Clippers team. Powell is also on a fair long-term contract (~$15.5M this year, rising to $20M by 2025-2026).
It’s hard to overstate how much the Clippers needed offense with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George out with injuries. They’re 25th in offensive rating on the season. Their leading scorer before Powell joined was Reggie Jackson, who’s averaging less than 17 points per game on a ghastly 39% shooting from the field.
Powell is just 6’3”, but he’s a solid defender 1-3. He’s had experience with the switching defenses that the Clippers often use, and he won a championship during his time as Kawhi’s teammate in Toronto.
Covington has had a rough go this season and has lost a step, but he remains a long defender with excellent off-ball help instincts. The Blazers traded two first-round picks for him just 15 months ago. His value offensively depends entirely on his streaky three-point shot, but he still brings yet another smart defender with range to a Clippers roster filled with similar players.
Covington’s contract expires this season, but the Clippers will have the ability to re-sign him in the offseason. He’s a solid rotation guy who, at worst, will likely hold some trade value into next year.
The Clippers are still in the thick of the playoff race despite Paul George and Kawhi Leonard’s long-term injuries. If they can come back this season, Powell and Covington further bolster a championship-caliber rotation (remember, the Clippers made it to the Western Conference Finals last season even without Kawhi), but thanks to Powell’s long-term contract, there’s less pressure on Kawhi and George to rush back if they aren’t ready.
This team will begin the 2022-2023 NBA season as one of the favorites to win the title, and they could even re-enter that discussion for this season depending on injury recoveries.
It’s tough to grade this from the Blazers’ side because they accomplished exactly what they were trying to do: get out of the aforementioned luxury tax.
The ownership group decided that they didn’t want to pay the tax for a team that was trending towards missing the playoffs entirely, and that’s fair! But it’s hard to get excited about the return the Blazers received.
Eric Bledsoe is a defensively-solid point guard who hasn’t shot well enough to play off-ball much. There is some hope he could come off the bench next to Damian Lillard or rising star Anfernee Simons (two ball-dominant, offense-first guards) to counteract their defensive deficiencies, but that fit could be clunky. Bledsoe’s contract is $19M next year, but only $3.9M is guaranteed, so he’ll probably be traded or cut in the offseason.
Injuries have completely derailed Justise Winslow’s once-promising career, and he seems unlikely ever to be a helpful player in the NBA again. Keon Johnson is the most interesting piece. Johnson was the Clippers’ first-round draft choice after a hyped but underwhelming collegiate season at Tennessee. He hasn’t done much of anything this year, but the Blazers must have seen something they liked from him, as they apparently preferred Johnson to other teams’ late first-round picks.
It is worth acknowledging that the Blazers trade of Powell (and their later trade of CJ McCollum, which we discuss below) has cleared the way for them to feature their young talents much more. Anfernee Simons and Nassir Little (who was playing superbly before injuring his shoulder) have both taken leaps this season. Their promise has brought glimmers of hope to what had been a broken team for much of the year.
The Blazers aren’t necessarily trying to be good this season, either. This trade absolutely makes the on-court product worse, which improves their chances of friendly ping-pong balls in the lottery.
The cold reality of the basketball business is that some teams will always need to cut salary to stay under the luxury tax, but I hoped the Blazers could get something a little more exciting back for the actual team.
Cavaliers receive: Caris LeVert, 2022 second-round pick (from Miami)
Pacers receive: Ricky Rubio, 2022 first-round pick (lottery-protected), 2022 second-round pick (from Houston), 2027 second-round pick (from Utah)
This trade has upside, but I hate it for Cleveland.
The Cavs absolutely had a need for an on-ball creator to spell Garland and provide some secondary playmaking. With Collin Sexton and Ricky Rubio, the Cavs’ other two real ballhandlers, out for the season, it was clear the Cavs were going to sniff around for an upgrade.
But they landed on the wrong guy.
Caris LeVert has been a source of NBA fascination for years with his tantalizing skills. He’s shown glimpses of being a plus passer, a solid isolation scorer, and a versatile playmaker able to get into the teeth of a defense and make a play. His last game for Indiana showed his upside: 42 points and eight assists with just three turnovers.
Caris averaged 19 points and six assists per game for the Pacers on mediocre 45/32/76 shooting splits. LeVert has a bit of a herky-jerky dribble game that lets him get into the paint (he’s 10th in the league in drives per game). Too many of his drives, however, end with weird contortions to avoid contact:
LeVert averages only 3.7 free throws per game, a meager number considering how many shots he takes near the rim. He often gets tunnel vision and misses open teammates, which is all the more frustrating because he drops some beautiful dimes.
The Cavs are betting on the upside here. He’s 6’7” with long arms and quick hands. He has the ability to play defense, if not the willingness. Teams have generally played better on offense when he’s on the court.
Darius Garland is a solid off-ball player, used to taking turns with Sexton and Rubio bringing the ball up the court. He’ll be able to adjust when LeVert has the ball. The issue is when Garland has the rock, which he will for most of the time they both share the court. This is the first season in LeVert’s seven-year career where he’s been above-average on catch-and-shoots threes (a surprising 38.6%, but on just 70 total attempts), and he doesn’t look comfortable shooting them. He has not been a good jump shooter in his career and prefers firing off the dribble.
Given that awkward fit, the Cavs seem likely to make LeVert the focal point of their bench attack, commanding the offense whenever Garland needs a breather. That’s a perfect role for him, and he’s likely to be better against inferior bench defenders.
However, if he’s a glorified sixth man, is that worth the steep cost to acquire him? The Cavs gave up a gaggle of draft picks, including their first-rounder and a very high second-rounder this year from Houston (they’ll get Miami’s likely late second-rounder instead, a significant difference in value). They also lost Rubio, a solid player on a reasonable contract.
The opportunity cost here is what hurts. The Cavs have now fired most of their best trade bullets for a guy who might not be on the floor for them in crunch time. LeVert is also up for a contract extension in a year and a half, something the Cavs seem likely to offer. Collin Sexton's return next year will exacerbate the clunky fit between LeVert and Garland, and Sexton will likely be moved if LeVert is extended.
LeVert’s role as a non-superstar ball-dominant point-forward with little defense or shooting is one of the most difficult roles to fit into a winning team. It’s an archetype that tends to put up big stats on bad teams before floundering horribly in the playoffs, and I worry that’s exactly what will happen here.
There is a version of Caris that transforms Cleveland. That player engages on defense, taps his latent passing abilities to create for his teammates, and hits enough open jumpers to play next to Garland. We’ve seen that guy before, so we know he exists. The Cavs need to find a way to bring him into the light permanently.
I honestly didn’t think that a market for Caris LeVert existed commensurate with the value the Pacers reportedly wanted.
As mentioned, LeVert is at his best with the ball and attacking the rim, but his erratic decision-making and poor outside shooting clashed with Pacers coach Rick Carlisle’s efficiency-obsessed, controlling nature. Moving him also allows the incoming Tyrese Haliburton (more on that trade below) and recovering Malcolm Brogdon to handle the ball more.
The Pacers have kickstarted their rebuild by gaining a lottery-protected first and two juicy seconds, plus a beloved player in Rubio who has helped every team he’s played with (although they may very well move him again before he ever suits up for them). That is about as fruitful a bounty as the Pacers could have possibly expected.
New Orleans Pelicans receive: CJ McCollum, Larry Nance Jr., Tony Snell
Portland Trail Blazers receive: Josh Hart, Tomas Satoransky, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Didi Louzada, 2022 protected first-round pick, two second-round picks
Pelicans Grade: B
The race for the 10-seed in the West is HOT! The Pelicans kicked things off with their acquisition of CJ McCollum2 for Josh Hart, a uniquely protected first-round pick, and two seconds.
Losing Hart hurts. The 6’5” shooting guard/small forward/power forward has been a bright spot for the Pelicans this year, playing solid defense and showcasing improved handles and passing in Zion’s continued absence.
But CJ fills an extremely pressing need for the Pelicans: backcourt offense. Nickeil Alexander-Walker has been an ongoing disaster this season on both sides, a bitter disappointment after some encouraging signs in his first two seasons. Devonte’ Graham, the starting point guard, has struggled to find his shot consistently and can’t penetrate or finish at the rim. Herb Jones is a sensational defender but a low-usage option on offense.
Given Zion Williamson’s absence, Brandon Ingram has shouldered virtually all of the creative burden. Although he’s risen admirably to the challenge, Ingram needed help.
CJ McCollum comes in as a bonafide offensive star. He’s immediately the best shooter on the team, shooting 40% from deep for his career on a high volume of difficult shots, and he is a much better passer and driver than Graham or NAW. He also is used to playing with a ball-dominant star in Damian Lillard, making him an easy offensive fit next to Ingram or human avalanche Zion Williamson (whenever he retakes the court).
There will be challenges. Replacing Hart with CJ in the starting lineup removes a plus defender and adds a minus one. CJ is tiny and not particularly athletic. The Pelicans will hope that a lineup of CJ/Jones/Ingram/Williamson/Valanciunas will be able to overwhelm opponents with scoring, as Jones is the only above-average defender in that group.
That fivesome will cause many headaches for opposing coaches on offense, though. Williamson has never played with a shooting threat as dynamic as CJ. They should develop a fun two-man dribble-handoff game similar to what Bam Adebayo and Duncan Robinson have developed over the years - except CJ can do a lot more with the ball than Duncan, and Williamson is a much more dangerous scorer than Bam.
McCollum is expensive; he makes almost $70M in the next two years after this one. That’s a lot of money to pay for a guy who’s never made an All-Star team and never will. Trading for him could have significant cap ramifications down the road, although a lot of variables are still in play given the uncertainty of Zion’s health.
The Pelicans had a lot of internal pressure to make a move for two reasons: GM David Griffin is reportedly on the hottest of seats after a series of bad PR and poor moves, and Zion Williamson’s camp has been signaling that the star isn’t excited about New Orleans’ direction. This move is definitely a last-gasp desperation attempt to address both of those concerns and cement the Pelicans’ surprising status as a low-level playoff team.
New Orleans has emerged from the trade deadline having addressed a clear need. CJ’s offensive fit on the team should be seamless both with and without Zion. Losing the top-4 protected first-round pick is not as painful as it might appear. The Blazers get the pick if it falls between 5 and 14 in the draft. Interestingly, the Pelican had already traded their pick with top-15 protection to Charlotte for Devonte’ Graham, so they essentially traded the same pick twice3. Nifty!
Trail Blazers grade: B+
A first and two seconds plus a starting-caliber wing is a pretty strong haul for the Blazers. CJ and Dame had run their course, and the emergence of yet another small, offensively-minded guard in Anfernee Simons had clearly made CJ and his enormous contract expendable.
Some would argue that CJ actually should have had negative trade value given how expensive he is to employ, but that goes a little too far for a guy who’s still an excellent shooter and passer. His skill set was redundant on the Blazers (and has been for quite some time, if we’re being honest). It’s unclear what the trade market was for McCollum (outside of some outlandish Philadelphia requests), and this return feels pretty fair.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker has already been traded for a prospect (Elijah Hughes), Joe Ingles, and a second-round pick. Ingles just suffered a severe injury and is unlikely to contribute soon.
The Pelicans’ pick seems fairly likely to convey to Portland this year, giving them two potential lottery selections (including their own, which should be better now that their team is worse).
Hart is interesting. He’s a relatively cheap player whose defense and rebounding would benefit Portland, but he’s probably best as a two, and Portland already has plenty of guards and small wings. It’s a little unclear what Josh’s role will be, but he’s too talented to get left behind. At the very least, he’ll hold some trade value for other teams (he’d be a solid fit on Utah, for example).
The Blazers also gain oodles of cap space from this trade, but I’m not sold on that having much value given their inability as a franchise to attract notable free agents. Flexibility is rarely a bad thing to have, however.
It’s also tough to judge what the Blazers’ moves mean for unhappy superstar Damian Lillard. Lillard has been agitating for Portland to improve its roster, but it’s hard to argue that their moves so far are anything other than a rebuilding effort. What impact will this have on his willingness to stay in Portland? At the premium price tag he’s bound to demand for his new contract, would Portland even want to resign him? Those are questions for a rapidly-approaching future.
Sacramento Kings receive: Domantas Sabonis, Jeremy Lamb, Justin Holiday, 2027 second-round pick
Indiana Pacers receive: Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, Tristan Thompson
Kings grade: C+
Goodness gracious. If you listen to the Internet, people act as if the Kings just traded away the best young prospect since Michael Jordan and received dog droppings in return. That’s a wild overreaction, but it depends on how you rate Tyrese Haliburton’s ceiling.
Which of these lines you’d take going forward predicts how you would feel about this trade:
Haliburton is the promising young player making a leap in his second year but whose ceiling is still unknown, while Sabonis is the player who’s improved over time but has steadied out at a low-All-Star level.
The Kings have had a logjam at guard all year, and it was obvious that either Haliburton or De’Aaron Fox, whose superb campaign last year has been sullied by struggles this season, would be moved.
The Kings chose Fox. We’ll never know what competing packages were out there for Fox versus what they received for Haliburton; maybe they decided selling high on Haliburton was a better idea than selling low on Fox.
Haliburton’s per-game averages of 14 points, seven assists, and four rebounds (with 1.7 steals) might not jump off the page, but that’s only part of the story. In 12 games without Fox this year, Haliburton has averaged 19 points and ten assists with 39% shooting from three. He’s been an efficient shooter from basically everywhere on the floor (except, notably, at the rim), as shown by Kirk Goldsberry:
Tyrese also took pride in being a Sacramento King, a novelty for long-suffering Kings fans who are used to players treating the franchise as a joke.
So the public outcry is understandable. However, Sabonis is no slouch.
The talented big man (still just 25 years old, entering his prime!) is already a two-time All-Star. He’s a deft finisher down low and from floater range and a nifty passer, capable of running an offense through the high post or shoulder-checking defenders into smithereens under the hoop.
Sabonis will be an interesting fit with Fox, the speedy point guard. Both are subpar (although not disastrous) shooters, and both have defensive challenges. Sabonis is particularly unique on that end. Advanced defensive metrics rate Sabonis as a better-than-average defender, but the eye test shows a guy without the athleticism to protect the rim or the footspeed to chase smaller guys around on the perimeter. He’s usually in the right place at the right time, however, and he’s very strong. Sabonis is also one of the best rebounders in the league, which helps close out defensive possessions.
I am impressed that the Kings got Sabonis without giving up a pick at all. Just last year, the Chicago Bulls traded two firsts and an intriguing young player in Wendell Carter (nowhere near Haliburton’s level, admittedly) for Nikola Vucevic, a player very similar to and slightly worse than Sabonis.
Justin Holiday is a quality seventh or eighth man on a good team - and I mean that as a compliment. He’s a 3-and-D wing who provides less shooting but much more defense than the departing Buddy Hield. Lamb is a versatile off-the-bench veteran who knows his role and usually performs well when given minutes. He’s not a throw-in.
Sabonis vs. Haliburton is the meat of this deal, however. Trading Haliburton makes it indisputably clear that the Kings are moving forward with Fox as their centerpiece. Sabonis is the kind of offensive floor-raiser that might be able to stabilize the Kings on that end, but we’ve probably seen close to his peak.
Haliburton could end up being a sharpshooting do-everything combo guard capable of running an offense himself or playing off of other stars. He’s indisputably an easier player to plug into a variety of winning teams even if he never gets better.
But he’s also reliant more on craft and guile than athleticism, which may put a hard cap on his potential to take things up another level. The often-repeated but very fair comparison for Haliburton is his new teammate Malcolm Brogdon, another nice combo guard who would never be the #1 or even #2 option on a great team.
This is a relatively fair trade for both sides, but I’m not sure it helps either of them all that much. The Kings are desperate to make the play-in tournament; this trade does improve them today, but enough to surpass the also-improved Pelicans or the spiraling Lakers for the last two play-in spots? We’ll have to wait and see.
Pacers Grade: C+
We covered the Haliburton vs. Sabonis angle sufficiently above. Although Haliburton is an exciting young addition, I am disappointed that the Pacers had to send a second-round pick and couldn’t get any draft capital back at all; their determination to remain an average team limits the value of their own draft picks, so it would be nice to have had a first-round pick from someone else (they did get a low-level first-rounder in the Caris LeVert trade, which makes this pill easier to swallow).
But if you believe that Haliburton is a future stud, then this trade is a success for a Pacers team that has been a first-round or play-in loser for the last six seasons. They clearly had no potential with their current roster, so I applaud them for finally mixing it up.
Buddy Hield is one of the best shooters in league history, and a change of scenery may reinvigorate him on both sides of the ball. If not, the Lakers or other teams will always pay a price for that level of rainmaking. Thompson can soak up some big man minutes left behind in Sabonis’ wake (if he’s not bought out).
Kings receive: Donte DiVincenzo, Trey Lyles, Josh Jackson
Bucks receive: Serge Ibaka, two second-round picks (from Detroit), cash
Pistons receive: Marvin Bagley
Clippers receive: Rodney Hood, Semi Ojeleye
Kings grade: B+
Despite DiVincenzo’s struggles since his return from injury, he fills a need for Sacramento as another two-way wing (in addition to their recent addition of Justin Holiday). The Kings have a glut of players at the wing position now, but you can never have enough 3-and-D types, and Moe Harkless (their current starter) probably doesn’t need as many minutes as he’s been getting. DiVincenzo brings a little more juice defensively, on the boards, and as an off-ball cutter than any of these other guys, as well, and he should carve out a role for the Kings quickly.
The Kings tried to grab Donte over a year ago in a botched sign-and-trade with Milwaukee. Now they finally have their guy.
Lyles and Jackson are low-risk, low-upside flyers who have both had moments this season and will provide needed big-man depth for the Kings.
Bucks grade: A-
Rodney Hood was out of the rotation, and Semi Ojeleye had been unplayable. Losing those two in order to pick up Ibaka was a no-brainer.
Ibaka isn’t what he used to be, but he can still hit jumpers and provide some rim protection in limited minutes. He approximates Brook Lopez’s skill set for the Bucks while Brook continues to recover. It’s not a massive needle-mover, but anytime a team can paper over a major roster hole for cheap, it’s a win.
Pistons grade: C+
Bagley was the #2 overall pick just three years ago after a dominant season at Duke, but he’s been a bust in Sacramento.
A power forward by nature, Bagley can’t shoot and won’t play defense (although, to his credit, he’s been a little better on that end this season). He’s a good offensive rebounder with elite athleticism for the position. Bagley settles for jump hooks and floaters more often than I’d like, and even though he has decent touch in the post, I’d love to see him attack the hoop more aggressively instead of settling. He’s flashed a decent dribble-drive game at times, but his lack of a jumper stymies the efficacy of that strategy.
He is not a passer, and there’s a report that he refused to check into a Kings game when he was unhappy with then-coach Luke Walton. There’s clear talent here, but definitely a risk that he hurts the culture that Detroit is trying to build. Then again, it could just be the typical Sacramento stink.
Overall, two picks and two players seems like a slightly high price to pay for the talented but troubled Bagley, but the upside is real. For a team like Detroit, who is searching for the future cornerstones of a winning team, it’s an okay swing to take.
Clippers grade: C
The Clippers may give Hood a chance in their offensively-challenged lineups. He’s a theoretical shooter who hasn’t made much of an impact recently due to injuries and inconsistency.
But this move was about creating a trade exception. Without getting into the mechanics of it, the trade creates an almost $10M salary slot that the Clippers can use for a calendar year to improve their team in the future in a different trade. It also saves Steve Ballmer a ton on his luxury-tax bill, although as we’ve seen, that’s not really a motivating factor in his decision-making process.
Trade exceptions are nice to have, but you can’t put a jersey on them. So until we know what the Clippers are planning on doing with it, their only real tangible return is tax savings.
THE MOTHER OF ALL TRADES
Nets receive: (takes big breath) Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, two first-round picks (unprotected this year with the right to defer a year, 2027 protected)
76ers receive: James Harden, Paul Millsap
NBA fans receive: Joy, relief
Nets Grade: B+
It’s happened! Ben Simmons has finally, finally been dealt! No more will we have to hear fake rumors and made-up trades that never go anywhere. We’re free!
This must be a good trade because every single person on the internet hates it; that’s always the sign of fair value.
For the Nets, losing Harden is a bitter blow no matter who comes back. Durant, Harden, and Irving are still the most talented offensive trio in NBA history, but putting three of the NBA’s most mercurial personalities together was always a risk. Irving’s refusal to get vaccinated (and iffy health for all three) was a tipping point for Harden. He is running out of chances to get a title while still near the peak of his powers (something he desperately craves for career validation), so he forced his way to Philly.
And you know what? It’s a good fit for both sides.
If we assume the Nets felt forced to trade Harden, Simmons is a perfect return. Ben Simmons hates shooting but is a talented passer and superb defender. Durant and Irving are happy to soak up all the shots Harden is leaving in his wake, and Simmons can replace Harden as the team’s point guard with an even greater emphasis on distribution. He’s younger and spryer, and a Nets team with Simmons/Irving/Durant can flexibly play all-offense (Patty Mills/Seth Curry/Joe Harris) or all-defense (Claxton/Bruce Brown/Kessler Edwards) with ease.
Simmons’ drawbacks are mitigated with the bevy of shooting the Nets possess, and his strengths will be accentuated. The Nets desperately need a large wing stopper, someone to match up with the Jimmy Butlers and DeMar DeRozans of the world, and Simmons fits that perfectly. He’ll likely even guard Harden if the 76ers and Nets meet in the playoffs, a very real and oh-so-tantalizing possibility (please, please basketball gods, make this happen).
The downside, of course, is that Irving is only able to play half the games right now, and that’s where Harden’s loss is felt most keenly. Durant is an offense unto himself, but in a long playoff series, the lack of a secondary offensive hub in home games could come back to haunt Brooklyn. Simmons can put up points in transition and while attacking the basket, but it’s not just his confidence and mental struggles that have hampered him in the playoffs. His skill set offensively is legitimately limited against playoff-caliber opponents with the time to gameplan for him effectively.
Seth Curry is an excellent addition for the regular season, at least, as his shotmaking can replace what the injured Joe Harris usually provides. Even when Kyrie is missing, an offensive lineup of Simmons/Mills/Curry/Durant will absolutely torch opponents (and give up bushels of buckets on the other end). Curry might get targeted on the other end in the playoffs.
Drummond has been surprisingly productive this season for the 76ers as Joel Embiid’s backup. He’s a nice addition to a crowded but uninspiring center rotation for the Nets. He also is almost certain to be their go-to guy against Embiid in a potential matchup, and while that’s not a great option given Embiid’s habitual torturing of Andre in the past, it’s better than any of the other choices the Nets have.
I have a sneaky suspicion that the Nets wanted Curry and Drummond to weaken the 76ers as much as to help themselves.
I’m not sure whom the Nets could have realistically gotten for Harden that would’ve been better than Simmons, but it’s still a slight downgrade overall. The picks and the supporting cast are a nice addition, and this seems like good value for a player who is nearing the end of his superstar days and wanted out of town.
76ers grade: B+
Harden and Daryl Morey, united forever. If every relationship was as rock-solid as that bromance, divorce lawyers would be out of business. Sixers GM Morey spent all year saying he wasn’t going to trade Simmons for anything less than a star, and despite constant ridicule and public pressure, he eventually got everything he wanted and more.
Let’s get the bad out of the way: yes, Harden has slowed down. He’s still working back into shape. He’s averaging the lowest three-point percentage of his career (33%) and is scoring just 22.5 points per game, the fewest since his third year in the league. He’s not a good perimeter defender. He might not be a perfect fit with Embiid.
None of that matters.
Harden remains a uniquely talented, one-of-a-kind offensive player who’s equally comfortable setting up teammates or getting his own bucket. He’s a top-five passer in the league, and he has a history of shooting better when he’s in a happier mood. Harden has no offensive weaknesses, a rarity even among superstars.
You’ve probably heard people saying, smugly, that the rule changes this year have hurt Harden too much and limited his effectiveness. Now you know who to ignore in the future. Harden is actually averaging more free throw attempts per game this year than last year (eight per game, third in the league…right behind his new teammate, Embiid).
Harden has never played with an interior player like Embiid, largely because interior players like Embiid don’t really exist anymore. There will undoubtedly be a transition period where Harden and Embiid figure out how to play with each other: when to attack and when to space, when to force the issue and when to defer. That’s normal, and it almost certainly will lead to a slow start for the 76ers as they figure out a brand new team identity.
But don’t panic, Sixers fans. We won’t know how good this trade was for Philly until the playoffs come, and the 76ers have the most dominant 1-2 punch of anyone in the East now.
Losing Curry hurts, but he has a history of struggling defensively in the playoffs. The 76ers kept young guard Tyrese Maxey (who can now focus more on getting buckets and less on setting up Embiid) and defensive wings Danny Green and Matisse Thybulle. Backup center minutes behind Embiid will likely go to Paul Millsap, who gives the Sixers a small-ball option at the five.
There are plenty of Sixer fans wailing that the team gave up too much, but they are ignoring an unpleasant reality: Joel Embiid is not going to age gracefully. Seven-footers with his history of injuries do not typically remain dominant for long. Morey would never, ever say this, but he has to be thinking that the 76ers’ championship window is this year and next year. The odds of Embiid staying healthy enough to be dominant at this level for much longer than that are slim.
This is a win-now move, and in a wide-open East, there’s no reason not to go for it. Morey has never shied away from big bets. He’s one of the very, very few general managers who actively sought to beat the Warriors (and he was one Chris Paul hamstring away from doing so!) when Golden State was building the greatest team in NBA history. Today, he ended up paying a steep price, but he won his game of chicken with the rest of the league. Now, we’ll see if he can finally win a championship.
Spurs receive: Josh Richardson, Romeo Langford, 2022 first-rounder
Celtics receive: Derrick White
Spurs grade: A-
The Spurs have been unusually active on the phones this year, which makes sense for a team with a bunch of somewhat talented young guys but only one stud. Getting a first-round pick and a productive rotation player in Josh Richardson is a great trade for Derrick White, who despite his obvious talent had too similar of a skill set to star guard Dejounte Murray.
Richardson shores up the Spurs’ shaky wing depth and can both defend and shoot. He’s a jack-of-all-trades but will help the Spurs win games, an important consideration as coach Pop chases the all-time wins record.
Langford was worth a flier as a talented but oft-injured two-way wing.
I love this trade for SA, as they don’t get markedly worse now but gain a valuable draft asset for the future. The Spurs now have several selections in the upcoming draft, which they can use to reboot or to package together for a star. They’ll be a team to watch this offseason.
Celtics grade: B-
White is a decent fit for the Celtics, but not perfect. He’s a strong defender and a willing passer, but he’s more of a combo guard than a true point guard. It’s possible that White, free from Dejounte Murray’s shadow, turns into more of a playmaker who focuses his efforts on setting up the Celtics’ offense. He might grow into the role.
Richardson had been productive for the Celtics this season, and there is opportunity cost to losing him and the first-rounder, although there don’t seem to be too many other potential trade targets that would’ve fit in better than White.
I’m not convinced that White is a massive upgrade over Richardson, and he overlaps a lot with Marcus Smart, but it’s definitely possible he has more in him than he showed in San Antonio. I’m cautiously optimistic for the C’s.
Mavericks receive: Spencer Dinwiddie, Davis Bertans
Wizards receive: Kristaps Porzingis, 2nd round pick
Dallas grade: C-
Look: the Porzingis thing never worked in Dallas. The Mavs paid a hefty price a few years ago to pry the giant unicorn from New York, but injuries and inconsistency took a toll. He also clashed with superduperstar Luka Doncic.
KP’s expensive contract was always going to make him difficult to move, but the Mavs were desperate to get him out. Dinwiddie was another distressed asset on the market. He disappointed in Washington after coming back from an ACL injury, and he was not well-liked in the locker room (Dinwiddie has always had a very strong personality).
Dallas desperately needed someone else who could dribble a ball besides Doncic and Jalen Brunson, however, and Dinwiddie should slot in nicely as a backup guard with starter upside. He’s also insurance for the Mavs if Brunson’s looming free agency gets too rich for their liking. He’s a smart passer who knows how to move off-ball, but he’s never been a shooter, which could limit his effectiveness next to Brunson and Doncic.
Bertans is a 6’10” marksman who’s forgotten how to shoot this season. If he finds his stroke again, he should feast on opportunities from Doncic and Brunson, but that’s a big if. He’s a defensive liability.
Porzingis had plenty of flaws, but his absence is going to put a lot of pressure on remaining center Dwight Powell to step up defensively. KP had an onerous contract, but both Dinwiddie and Bertans are overpaid to lesser degrees, as well.
My biggest knock on this trade is that Porzingis had the most upside for Dallas. It’s hard to see this new Mavs team as being more likely to win a championship in a best-case scenario for all three players involved. It does diversify their salary in a way that could create more flexibility in the future, but that’s a hazy benefit right now.
Wizards Grade: B-
Washington took a swing on Dinwiddie this summer and whiffed, badly. Not only did he not produce on the court, but he and Montrezl Harrell (also traded separately) both caused rifts in the locker room and did not get along with the Wizards’ injured star player, Bradley Beal.
Bertans received an $80M contract last year and promptly forgot how to shoot. That contract looked bad at the time and looks horrible now, so unloading it is addition by subtraction.
As mentioned above, Porzingis is on his own giant contract, but he at least has star potential. The Wizards cleaned house this trade deadline (remember the good ol’ days just three months ago, when they were the talk of the East?), but streamlined their rotation in a way that will clearly feature Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma offensively (and Beal, when he returns next season from injury).
Porzingis’ health is always the looming question, but in theory he provides a rim-protecting, bomb-dropping center to go with Beal’s slithery offensive game. I don’t know that this will work out, but it was clear the status quo had to change. At least they got a second-round pick out of it.
That’s it! If you somehow made it through this entire article, thank you and please re-evaluate your life choices. More on the trade deadline to come next week once we’ve had a little time to process everything.
The luxury tax essentially fines teams that consistently spend way over the salary cap. It’s a mechanism to try and keep richer teams from just straight outbidding poorer teams for stars, and it has worked fairly well to that end. However, even amongst NBA owners, your Steve Ballmers and Joe Lacobs are a step above. To people like them, money is more of an abstract concept than a concrete reality, and their willingness to pay enormous luxury taxes grants their teams a true team-building competitive advantage.
Larry Nance would’ve been a nice addition to the Pelicans as a small-ball center or playmaking four, but he is undergoing knee surgery, possibly ending his season.
To summarize: the Pelicans keep their pick in a worst-case scenario where they miss the playoffs and the pick ends up being 1-4. The Blazers get it if it’s 5-14, which currently seems like the most likely scenario. Charlotte will get it if it’s 15-30. Charlotte will get two second-rounders if the pick is not conveyed to them this year, while the Blazers will get it a future first-rounder if they don’t get the pick this year. It’s a little bit brain-melting!