Re-grading the 2023 NBA Trade Deadline
Revisiting a tumultuous time
The NBA trade deadline is just a week away. While most of the giant dominoes have already toppled, I refuse to believe there won’t be at least one surprise. Too many teams are too good right now, so even title favorites should be eyeing the market, looking for upgrades.
While we sit on our hands, let’s revisit the past. It’s instructive and fun to review the previous year’s deadline and examine how the most significant moves from last year have aged. Don’t worry; I’m not wasting your time or mine re-grading the Devonte’-Graham-and-seconds-for-Josh-Richardson deal, although I will say it was a lot of draft capital for the Spurs and a worse deal for the Pelicans than I expected at the time.
…I guess I wasted your time after all. Ahem. Anyway, let’s get into it.
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-round pick from Lakers (top-four protected)
Lakers old grade: B+
Lakers new grade: B-
Remember the excitement after this monster trade was made? The Lakers went on a big surge post-deal that continued all the way to the Western Conference Finals, a massive improvement from the doldrum-ridden disappointment they were while Westbrook still toiled away in gold and purple. Their new additions played well, infusing energy and hope into Lakers faithful.
That said, both Vanderbilt and Beasley fell out of the Lakers’ rotation pretty quickly when the playoffs rolled around. Russell mostly stuck, but against the Nuggets in the WCF, he was a combined -41 in Games 1 and 2 (which the Lakers lost by six and five points, respectively) before having his playing time cut dramatically.
Russell has been one of the Lakers’ only reliable shooters this season, but he seems almost certain to be moved at the trade deadline. (It’s weird how teams always seem to want to ship Russell out almost as soon as they get him, right?)
Losing Westbrook was addition by subtraction, but he was on an expiring contract! Giving up a top-four protected first in ‘27 hurts. That’s likely to be a valuable pick.
But at the end of the day, they did putter to within a round of the Finals, even if their added pieces didn’t do much of the driving on the way there. It’s hard to judge harshly in that light.
Jazz old grade: B-
Jazz new grade: B
The Jazz love the way that Lakers’ pick is looking, and they accomplished their goal of making themselves worse at last year’s deadline to snag a better draft pick for themselves. We won’t really know what the Jazz’s grade should be for years to come, but trading three role players for a potentially very juicy pick is a strong value play. This is a high-value first-rounder, the type you rarely see traded away in deals that don’t involve superstars.
But man, Utah sure could use a point guard to steer this season’s feisty team (please give Lauri Markkanen some passers!). Conley’s absence hurts.
Timberwolves old grade: C+
Timberwolves new grade: A
Minnesota is the clear winner here. Conley has been a stabilizing presence for the oft-frazzled Wolves, and he’s held up well enough on both sides to be a clear positive on the court, something I worried about last year. Don’t let his modest stat line fool you. He’s the adult in the room for a team that too often seemed in need of one in prior years, and the Wolves would not be fighting for the top seed in the West without him. I underestimated the impact that just not having D’Angelo Russell would have on the team, particularly Rudy Gobert, whom Russell despised. And Russell was about to become a free agent; getting value for someone the Wolves had no interest in re-signing was a nice bit of work. Nickeil Alexander-Walker has emerged as a legitimate 3-and-D role player, too, a welcome and surprising development.
Excising a team cancer, adding two role players who fit perfectly around the stars, and filching some excess draft capital on the way out like a teen shoplifting some candy bars? That’s a pretty good deal for Wolves kingpin Tim Connelly, who took a public beating after the Gobert trade but has made several savvy moves since.
Kevin Durant For Phoenix’s Future
Suns receive: Kevin freaking Durant, TJ Warren
Nets receive: 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 old grade: B+