2023 NBA Trade Grades
Who won and who lost a wild trade deadline?
Remember those halcyon days when it looked like the trade deadline would be chill?
“There aren’t enough sellers,” people claimed. Well, it turns out that you only need one store-closing sale to upend the NBA. Thanks, Brooklyn!
I promised myself I wouldn’t write 7,000 words about the trade deadline again. Unfortunately, it’s not looking promising. Self-love is not a strength.
I hit nearly every trade that matters with the details that were available as of late afternoon on this whirlwind Thursday; inevitably, some of the details are changed as reporters dive in deeper after the storm abates, so don’t hold that against me.
Kevin Durant For Phoenix’s Future
Suns receive: Kevin freaking Durant, TJ Warren (welcome back!)
Nets receive (takes deep breath): Cam Johnson, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, FOUR unprotected first-round picks (every odd year from ‘23 to ‘29), and a 2028 first-round swap.
Suns grade: B
We’ve talked plenty about Kevin Durant in these here digital pages. He’s moody. He’s old as hell. He’s injury-prone, and he generally has terrible taste in teammates.
Durant’s also got a jump shot so beautiful it could make the BrooklyKnight weep metal tears. Despite all the above, there’s no player teams fear more in the postseason (with the possible exception of Giannis). He always tries hard, plays defense, can pass the rock, excels off the ball, can’t be stopped in isolation… he’s legitimately the only NBA player with no on-court weakness.
Durant is 34 but averaging the highest field goal percentage of his career despite having defenders draped over him on every possession.
Devin Booker isn’t quite the same player as Kyrie, but he’s similar and arguably better, and he’s certainly more reliable. Chris Paul looks like he’s fallen off a cliff this season but is still one of the best table-setters in the league — and nobody eats quite like Durant.
Pairing those three with perpetually-unhappy center Deandre Ayton gives the Suns unquestionably the best foursome in the NBA.
TJ Warren returns to Phoenix while still struggling to come back from a two-year injury layoff, but like Durant, he’s another midrange savant. He’ll need to show improved physical abilities on defense to be a playoff-caliber guy, but he’s still shooting 51% from the field on a diet of tough runners and fadeaways.
Apologies to the Denver Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies, but these Suns — who have survived injuries up and down the roster to maintain the fifth seed up until this point — are now a clear favorite in the West. The only team in the league with the wing defensive talent to match up with both Durant and Booker resides on the other side of the country, and even they probably aren’t enjoying their lobster rolls as much today.
But but but.
The cost was enormous, as we’ll see below. Outside Durant ( (who is functionally more of a forward on defense, anyway) and Booker, there are no wings left on this roster because the Nets received all of them in the trade. The Suns’ bench promises to be heinous despite the presence of fourth-quarter god Damion Lee.
And those picks could be insanely valuable. Booker is only 26 years old, but Durant is always hurt, and someone apparently stabbed the portrait Chris Paul keeps locked in his attic. So by the end of the decade, who knows what this roster will look like?
Unfortunately, the picks are the cost of doing business. This trade would not have happened without them, and plenty of other teams would’ve taken the same swing. But it’s left this Suns team with a championship window that will last, at the absolute most, two seasons, and even that might be a stretch. It’s rare to see a trade this big for a player this old, even one as incredible as Durant, and it still doesn’t quite make the Suns the title favorites in my book.
But the new owner wanted to make a splash, and Durant wanted to make yet another super team. The playoffs will tell if this story more resembles Durant’s Warriors or Durant’s Nets tenures.
Nets grade: B-
Four unprotected firsts is an excellent but expected haul. Mikal Bridges is not an All-Star, but he’s shown flashes of growth this season while assuming bigger responsibilities that hint at that potential. He’s long been one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, and he’s shown some playmaking chops this season. Cam Johnson is the exact kind of 3-and-D player that teams will wildly overpay for. Jae Crowder was quickly traded for two more seconds. This is a good return for Brooklyn, but at the end of the day, it’s tough to get top marks when you were a championship contender just last week.
I have sympathy for the Nets. They swung for the fences in going for Durant, Irving, and Harden in transactions that any team would have done, and it went as poorly as it could have — they are genuinely in the Darkest Timeline.
The earlier trade of Kyrie Irving seemed to indicate they wanted to retool around Durant, but Durant reportedly agitated for trade again. Without Irving, the Nets didn’t have quite the same ceiling, and this time they opted for the full rebuild.
The trade with Phoenix was a good trade for Brooklyn in a vacuum, but it makes the Irving trade look far worse in comparison.
Nets Receive: Dorian Finney-Smith, Spencer Dinwiddie, 2029 1st, two seconds
Mavericks Receive: Kyrie Irving, Markieff Morris
I wrote about this trade in its immediate aftermath, but in a rare instance of foresight, I declined to grade until we had more information.
Well, with our new knowledge, this transaction looks significantly worse for Brooklyn. Finney-Smith and Dinwiddie made sense next to Durant, but they are high-end role players with no stars to orbit now, space junk aimless drifting. As distressed an asset as Kyrie is, it’s hard to believe Dallas’ offer was the best rebuild-centric package Brooklyn could find. DFS is a nice 3-and-D guy who is now upstaged by two younger, better versions of himself in Johnson and Bridges. Dinwiddie is overtaxed as the primary ballhandler.
The good news: Cam Thomas (the first Net to ever score 40+ in three straight games… consider that in this context) is free to cook to his heart’s content!
Irving has proven, time and again, to be a franchise killer. But as I wrote earlier, he indisputably possesses the most amount of pure talent that Dallas could have gotten with its limited assets. This almost certainly won’t amount to anything much, but it’s hard to blame Dallas for taking a shot.
Lakers — Timberwolves — Jazz
Lakers Receive: D’Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt, Malik Beasley
Timberwolves Receive: Mike Conley Jr., Nickeil Alexander-Walker, three second-round picks
Jazz Receive: Russell Westbrook, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Damian Jones, 2027 first from Lakers (top-four protected)
I am surprised to say it, but I think the Lakers made out quite well in this trade.
Westbrook’s struggles with Los Angeles have been well-documented. Obtaining him was a horrible decision that played out exactly as everyone expected, and we don’t need to belabor the point further. His absence will be a benefit to Los Angeles in and of itself.
D’Angelo Russell is back for a second go-round in LaLaLand as an older, wiser, and presumably less snitchy teammate. Every fan base Russell has ever played for has been driven mad by his nonchalant defense and wild shot selection… but the same could be said for the Russell that’s leaving LA, and at least this Russell can shoot the heck out of the ball. He’s nailed 39% from deep this year on a variety of both catch-and-shoot and off-the-dribble attempts. LeBron has always done well next to non-Westbrook score-first guards, like Kyrie Irving or Dwyane Wade, and while Russell isn’t nearly at those levels, he’s a passable enough imitation of Irving’s skillset that it should be an easy fit.
Russell has also dialed back some of his worst habits this year as he adjusts to being a clear third or fourth in the pecking order: he’s never shot less often or as well. The defense, however, will be a concern. He’s a terrible on-ball defender, and with LeBron often playing Russell’s preferred free safety role, I’m not sure how playoff-viable D’Angelo will be.
One note that could be positive or negative: Russell is an unrestricted free agent after this year, which likely depressed his trade value. For the Lakers, that means he could walk after the season, but it also gives them 25 games (and a potential playoff run) to decide if he’s worth the juice.
Vanderbilt is a longtime favorite of mine, a try-hard power forward with just enough passing and cutting savvy to make up for a lackluster shot. At times, he might be an awkward fit next to LeBron and AD, but he’ll at least provide high-end reserve minutes and valuable defense.
Quietly, Beasley might be the most important pickup. Sure, he used to date his new teammate’s mom, but he’s one of the best three-point shooters in the league and a passable defender. Give or take a little height, Malik is the exact kind of player that you want to put next to LeBron. He’s attempting 11.5 threes per 36 minutes, 0.1 behind Klay Thompson for the league lead, and he’s a career 38% shooter from deep.
The Lakers even managed to keep one of their two tradable first-round picks. Top-four protection prevents the worst-case scenarios from happening with the selection they sent to Utah (which turns into a second if it DOES roll over). We’ll see if they use their remaining first-round pick this summer to do something else.
All in all, a solid transaction for Los Angeles (far better than their trade for Rui Hachimura a few weeks ago).
This doesn’t make the Lakers a favorite in the West, but it indisputably makes them better. With limited assets, it’s hard to see how they could’ve done too much better. Even two juicy first-round picks were never going to land a star, so getting three valuable rotation players for the price of one pick is a great move.
Conley is a 35-year-old point guard who is a better defender and a more willing passer than Russell, but he’s also well on the downside of his career and doesn’t have the upside Russell has shown of late. However, he should be a better fit next to Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns, and he already has hard-earned chemistry with center Rudy Gobert from their time together in Utah. Where Russell had a maddening tendency towards tunnel vision, particularly during crunch time, Conley always makes the right play.
Alexander-Walker is a solid end-of-bench guard who has had some moments in limited opportunities for Utah but doesn’t move any needles. The three second-round picks feel like ammo for future trades.
The Wolves are hoping that Conley’s fit trumps Russell’s talent, and they might be right. They likely chose Conley and seconds over a late first from a different suitor, which may be short-sighted. But given all the Wolves gave up in the trade for Gobert, there might not be much point in being long-sighted.
Westbrook will almost certainly be bought out.
Conley, Vanderbilt, and Beasley were likely worth seconds or late-firsts by themselves, so bundling them together to get a first-round pick with just top-four protection is not a bad return. First-round choices are not all equal, and if this ends up being, say, the seventh pick in a good draft, this will end up being a fantastic trade for Utah.
Right now, though, as my friend CJ put it, the Jazz traded three useful NBA players for an eighth-grader.
Raptors — Spurs
Raptors receive: Jakob Poeltl
Spurs receive: Khem Birch, 2024 first (top-six protected through 2026), two seconds
I don’t understand this. The Raptors have not looked like a good team this year. Poeltl has traditionally been a robust defensive center, something the Raptors need, but he’s not a needle-mover. He can’t shoot, and he’s limited switching out on the perimeter. Even Jakob’s vaunted rim protection metrics have completely bottomed out — several advanced stats have him pegged as a bad defender this year. While that’s clearly untrue, it’s telling that so many different metrics are saying the same thing.
Worse, though, is that this doesn’t fix the Raptors’ most fundamental problem: a complete inability to score in the halfcourt. Poeltl does nothing to space the floor, and he is a horrific free-throw shooter. He can pass a little, but the Raptors are filled with B-level passers, and Poeltl won’t handle the ball much.
It’s not that Poeltl isn’t an upgrade; it’s that he’s the wrong kind of upgrade, the one with the least upside. I don’t like this for Toronto at all.
Birch hasn’t been productive or healthy for the Raptors, but this is about the picks. A first with reasonable protections and two seconds seems like outstanding value to me, although I may be lower on Poeltl than most. Toronto has too many solid players to be truly terrible (unless they go full firesale mode this offseason), so this feels like it should net San Antonio a late lottery pick or high-teens slot.
Knicks — Blazers
Knicks receive: Josh Hart
Trail Blazers receive: Cam Reddish, Ryan Arcidiacono, Svi Mykhailiuk, 2023 first (lottery-protected)
New York: C+
I like unusual players, and Hart certainly fits that bill. He’s a wrecking crew in transition, passes well, and rebounds like a power forward (more than eight boards per game!) despite standing 6’4” on a good day.
But Hart looked like a different, better player when the Blazers traded for him last year. He shot 37% from three on 6.4 attempts per game —legitimate sharpshooter numbers — after never being a major three-point threat. Unfortunately, he’s returned to Earth this season, hitting a career-low 30% from deep and refusing to shoot (down to two attempts per game).
The lack of aggression is as bad as the lack of accuracy, and with Portland flailing, Hart seemed an obvious candidate to be moved.
Josh will need to find his shot for the Knicks, and it’s unclear what role he’ll play offensively for a team already a little squeezed for spacing. The Knicks are thin at wing; at his best, Hart’s an awesome Swiss Army knife with a funky game and great energy that any team would love to have. But this current version threatens to be an offensive albatross unless his confidence returns.
Hart has been a disappointment in Portland this year. Despite the promise he showed last season, Portland was wise to unload him for a potential first.
High School Cam Reddish is an urban legend, something other NBA players whisper about in hushed tones. Perhaps no NBA player has a greater gap between in-league rep and on-court production, as he’s quickly worn out his welcome in both Atlanta and New York. Portland is sort of a weird fit — they already have several ball-dominant offensive pieces — but it’s a worthwhile flier for a team stuck in the mud and without much upside.
Clippers — Nuggets
Clippers receive: Bones Hyland
Nuggets receive: Two second-round picks
The Clippers have a sinkhole at point guard and traded both John Wall and Reggie Jackson today. Bones can, if nothing else, shoot the ball (38% from deep on very high volume). However, he hasn’t shown the ability to do much of anything else, so this won’t be a massive upgrade immediately. The Internet has been surprised at the relatively low price for Bones, but I think the NBA is finally figuring out that skinny, one-dimensional gunners are rarely winning players.
(The Clippers are also heavily rumored to be pursuing Russell Westbrook, for what that’s worth.)
Nuggets: see below.
Nuggets — Lakers
Nuggets receive: Thomas Bryant
Lakers receive: Davon Reed, three seconds
Denver essentially traded sixth-man gunner Bones Hyland, rarely-used backup wing Davon Reed, and a second-round pick for an offensively-minded backup big man in Thomas Bryant. Bryant can replace the scoring punch off the bench that Hyland provided, but like Hyland, he’s also a defensive sieve. Denver swapped a pot for a kettle here.
Bryant is useful but will be viciously attacked in the playoffs (as Bones would be). In addition, the Nuggets will need to figure out what happens to their backup point guard spot — Ish Smith, miraculously untraded, figures to get more run now, unless Mike Malone gets creative with Bruce Brown at point guard. Also, Bryant reportedly was unhappy with his limited playing time as Davis’ backup. Will he be content as Jokic’s understudy?
The Lakers, meanwhile, replenish some of their picks at the cost of Bryant. It feels a little unfair to Thomas, who played some of the best basketball of his career while Anthony Davis was out to help keep the team afloat. Still, his disgruntlement, defensive limitations, and nonexistent passing meant his playing time was likely to be cut even further after the trade for Jarred Vanderbilt.
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