In one of the most action-packed trade deadlines in recent memory, the NBA saw an avalanche of movement across the league. It all began with Kyrie Irving’s trade to the Mavericks on Sunday, and the action only picked up from there, including Kevin Durant’s overnight trade to the Suns on Wednesday and a flurry of movement before the deadline hit.
So what does all the action mean for the rest of the season? The Ringer’s NBA staff took some time to let the dust settle and examined five questions about the rest of the season.
1. Which under-the-radar deadline trade was your favorite?
Michael Pina: Mike Muscala to the Celtics helped fortify what may be a fragile front line, if not for the rest of this regular season, then during the playoffs, when Boston could’ve otherwise found itself starting Blake Griffin or Luke Kornet in a big playoff game against Joel Embiid or Giannis Antetokounmpo. The best, deepest team in the league got better and deeper without giving anything valuable up (sorry, Justin Jackson!) that will hurt it going forward. They held onto Payton Pritchard, Danilo Gallinari’s contract, and all their future first-round picks. Boston is an extremely good team now, and it still has some flexibility—which isn’t something most of its competitors can say.
Justin Verrier: Barring the status of a rogue core injury, I’ll take the Trail Blazers netting Matisse Thybulle, Cam Reddish, and picks for Josh Hart and Gary Payton II. Portland seems realistic about its situation. It’s not an OG Anunoby away from title contention, but it doesn’t need to dump Dame Lillard either. So instead, it made a series of reasonable decisions, getting a younger version of the Mitten in Thybulle and turning Hart, a flight risk this summer, into a likely first-round pick. (I would’ve kept Saddiq Bey instead of rerouting him for a bushel of second-rounders, but at least this clears Thybulle’s path to much-needed minutes.) The Blazers will probably need to pick a lane at some point, but stacking small wins in the meantime only makes things easier now.
Zach Kram: Opposing fans are going to be apoplectic when the Celtics win a playoff game this spring because Mike Muscala—a true stretch big and plus-minus monster—hits five open 3s.
Rob Mahoney: Luke Kennard to the Grizzlies. You almost have to appreciate the Clippers’ gall—not only to trade away some of their more reliable role players this season, but to send one of them straight into the arms of a conference rival. All it took Memphis to land one of the best long-range shooters in the league was Danny Green (who has already hit the buyout market) and a few second-round picks. It’s not a bad bit of business for a team with a real shot in the West this season to shore up one of its few real weaknesses, and maybe even a bit of poetry if Kennard winds up torching the Clippers in the second round.
Seerat Sohi: Gary Payton II’s (likely) return to Golden State. The Warriors put too much too early on their burgeoning youth movement and answered for it with a middling defense. Payton is a game-shifter on that end, bringing rim protection, perimeter defense, and veteran savvy in one bouncy package. Last year’s defense improved by two points when he was on the floor, and his deflections often made him the catalyst for his own incredible alley-oop finishes in transition.
Logan Murdock: This wasn’t an under-the-radar trade, but an under-the-radar haul was what the Nets got for KD and Kyrie. This throws the Nets back to 2018, when they were an organization of redemptive All-Stars that could develop any player that walked through the door. That credo netted them Durant and Irving but also put a spotlight on Brooklyn’s inability to keep its stars happy (for better or worse). Will the Nets be back in the star-chasing business in a few years? Do they build through the draft? Do they trade for a disgruntled star down the line? I don’t know, but I’m locked in.
Tyler Parker: Jalen McDaniels to Philly. He’s a big, stretchy wing finally on a team actually playing for something. Playing off Joel Embiid and James Harden, he’ll be more open than ever before. He can play some 4 if Doc Rivers needs him to, add some athletic juice to the somewhat ground-bound Sixers frontcourt, and clean up after Harden and Tyrese Maxey defensively.
2. Which team will be kicking itself the most over a trade it didn’t make?
Verrier: As disappointing as the conclusion to the Anuno-derby was, Toronto deserves credit for realizing that it’s better off keeping a player every team in the league wanted. But not moving Fred VanVleet, a future free agent, seems shortsighted. The Raps managed to sign and trade Kyle Lowry after rebuffing deadline offers, but the fact that they just traded for a center (Jakob Poeltl) to play over the center they got in the Lowry deal (Precious Achiuwa) should signal that Freddie’s value probably peaked on Thursday.
Pina: Where are the Bulls going? What is going on? It was a little shocking to hear their vice president of basketball operations, Arturas Karnisovas, say he viewed his team as a buyer heading into the deadline. Like, OK. That is a mistake, but fine. The main problem from there, then, is he didn’t buy anything! For some organizations, inactivity is death. The Bulls are one of them; it’s impossible to feel optimistic about their short- or long-term direction right now.
Sohi: When the Raptors are staring down the barrel of a $100 million–plus extension for Fred VanVleet following a play-in exit and their receipt of the no. 12 pick in the draft, they’ll be pondering the merits of a quick retool. Masai Ujiri has been shrewd and borderline Machiavellian about trades in the past, but going forward, it’ll be interesting to see how he handles the teetering future of the team he developed.
Murdock: The Grizzlies not making a significant move to improve their team will come back to bite them in the postseason, and it speaks to the overconfidence the Grizz have been exhibiting all season. Meanwhile, the Suns and Mavs retooled and have a chance to hand Memphis another early exit. The roster is talented but is missing a veteran to keep things steady. Things in Memphis seem a little too vibey, and this team will have major questions this offseason, especially if it sticks its chest out and suffers an early exit by mid-May—again.
Parker: Chicago. The Bulls are confusing to me. No-man’s-land is a bad place to be, and they seem intent on sticking there. At least give Dalen Terry some minutes.
Mahoney: Beyond all of the unconsummated interest surrounding OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, and Gary Trent Jr. in the lead-up to the deadline, Toronto held onto Fred VanVleet—a quality guard who may or may not fit into its future plans, beginning with the fact that he’ll be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Clearly, the Raptors aren’t prepared to fully bail on their current roster just yet (as evidenced by them being a surprise buyer at the deadline with a swing for Jakob Poeltl), but keeping VanVleet likely ends one of two ways: by paying out a massive new contract for a good but undersized player who may already be in decline or by losing him outright when another team signs him away this summer. It’s hard to say which would be worse, but both outcomes could have been avoided.
Kram: The Raptors entered deadline day 26-30, with a bottom-five half-court offense and several super-appealing players they could’ve traded—yet they decided to buy, sending San Antonio a top-six protected first for Jakob Poeltl? They definitely should’ve traded Gary Trent Jr., they probably should’ve traded Fred VanVleet, and, well, I’m as big of an OG Anunoby fan as anyone, but if the Raptors really were offered three unprotected picks for him, as reports suggest, then Masai Ujiri should’ve made that move too. A fire sale would have been better for the Raptors’ future, and it would have made the rest of this season more fun for national NBA viewers too. Imagine VanVleet and Trent nailing shots for real contenders! Imagine Anunoby on the Grizzlies, guarding Kevin Durant! Alas, I hope a road play-in game is worth it.
3. Which trade deadline homecoming is the most nostalgic?
Sohi: The Nets didn’t ask for this particular trip down memory lane, but Spencer Dinwiddie brings things full circle for Brooklyn. His original departure was a symbol of the final blow to the culture they spent half a decade building to attract Durant and Kyrie Irving. Now, they’re back to where they were in the aftermath of the Pierce-Garnett era: not owning any of their picks, incentivized to compete for the sake of it.
Murdock: I’m very excited for D’Angelo Russell to chuck shots in the purple and gold again while the Lakers figure out what the hell to do next. Big 2016 vibes, back when Los Angeles had no expectations, set its clock to the summer, and hoped a big free-agent splash would erase all its dysfunction. Insert this ice into my veins!
Parker: If Nick Young were still in a Lakers uniform, this answer would absolutely be DLo. Since he’s not, it’s John Wall by a landslide.
Verrier: As much as it warms my heart to see Spencer Dinwiddie back with his fellow crypto bros in Brooklyn, it’s Eric Gordon. After being jettisoned by the Clippers in the (first) Chris Paul trade, Gordon has largely played the role of sourpuss. He grew sullen in New Orleans, especially after being denied a chance to relocate to Phoenix, and eventually grew sullen in Houston after James Harden’s exit. But now Gordon is back is L.A., and while he isn’t the same downhill attacker he was 12 years ago, he’s the kind of switchable defender and shooter the Clips need to get to where they couldn’t in the CP3 era.
Pina: None might be my real answer. But Jakob Poeltl is probably the biggest winner. He goes back to an environment he’s familiar with on a team that really needs him to contribute on both ends and that wants to win at the highest level. Poeltl’s production in San Antonio probably flew under the radar a little bit, but he’s a very good starting center whose former/new team is clearly willing to pay him big money this summer.
Kram: Does James Wiseman’s ignominious “return” to Golden State after Gary Payton II’s failed physical scuttled the trade count?
Mahoney: Maybe I’m showing my blogging age here, but something about Gordon returning to the Clippers after all these years is really hitting home. I think it’s the closing of a loop—trading Gordon before his fourth NBA season to land Chris Paul and build a contender around him, ultimately failing, and later returning to Gordon all these years later to play a vital role for a different version of the team as it vies for a championship. It’s not quite as good as seeing what the erstwhile young core of Gordon, Blake Griffin, Eric Bledsoe, DeAndre Jordan, and Al-Farouq Aminu could have been.
4. Buyout matchmaker: What signing do you want to see the most?
Mahoney: The Cavs probably shouldn’t cut Kevin Love loose unless he really lobbies for an out; you just never know when a playoff matchup might shift in his favor, turning Love from an out-of-the-rotation veteran into strategically essential personnel. If Love did want an out, however, he’d be a terrific get for Miami—a team that could use a facilitator with his instincts and a natural stretch option to counterbalance the interior lean of the Heat’s best players.
Murdock: Russ to the Clippers, please and thank you. He gets to stay in Los Angeles, hang with his buds, and compete for a play-in with people who actually like him. Nothing could possibly go wrong, right?
Pina: Reggie Jackson can still be a pretty useful scorer for a good team off the bench. I was hoping the Nuggets would sign him after dealing Bones Hyland to the Clippers, and they did just that. The Nuggets needed a veteran backup point guard behind Jamal Murray: someone who can create shots for themselves, develop a solid two-man game with Thomas Bryant, and generally keep that offense afloat when Murray and Nikola Jokic need a breather.
Verrier: Get Patrick Beverley back on a scorer’s table in Minnesota. The Timberwolves desperately need a locker-room refurbishment, as evidenced by their swap of D’Angelo Russell for Mike Conley at starting point guard, and Pat Bev gave them their fuck-you de vivre last season. The chance to turn him loose on the Lakers in a play-in matchup alone is worth way more than the veteran’s minimum.
Kram: This question presupposes that bought-out players will make a difference in the playoffs, but the hype always exceeds the reality. So what the heck, send John Wall back to the Wizards and let him fight with Bradley Beal for a play-in spot.
Sohi: More nostalgia: It’s time for the Timberwolves to acknowledge the spiritual and tactical fuel Patrick Beverley provided their locker room and defense. If the D’Angelo Russell reunion wasn’t supposed to happen, maybe it was to make way for him to reunite with Anthony Edwards.
5. What’s your post–trade deadline Finals prediction?
Kram: Celtics over Nuggets. A fun by-product of the Durant trade is that I can now pick both no. 1 seeds to make the Finals and still feel like I’m choosing an underdog. But I’m really not convinced the new-look Suns are superior to the Nuggets. Sure, Phoenix’s starters are amazing now—but Denver’s starting five was already amazing, outscoring opponents by 15.6 points per 100 possessions this season, per Cleaning the Glass. The trio of Nikola Jokic, Aaron Gordon, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has an offensive rating of 126.7. The Nuggets also blitz teams with whatever combination of Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., and Bruce Brown takes the court. A Suns-Nuggets playoff series might average 130 points per team per game.
Mahoney: Bucks over Nuggets. And an immensely satisfying heavyweight bout between Giannis and Jokic for the title of the best player in the world.
Sohi: The Suns became obvious favorites out of the West after the Durant acquisition, but I’m wary of how they’ll handle the physicality and grind of a long postseason. I see them entering the Finals with tired legs and getting dispatched by the Celtics, who made a nice deadline deal for a rejuvenated Mike Muscala.
Pina: My preseason pick was Clippers versus Celtics, with the Clippers winning in seven. I’m flipping that around. Celtics in seven!
Parker: Bucks over Suns.
Verrier: Celtics over Nuggets. It’s hard to pick against the Suns’ firepower, but history isn’t kind to teams that dramatically alter their rosters at the deadline. (The Pistons, for instance, didn’t lose any major contributors when they added Rasheed Wallace at the 2004 deadline.) Give me continuity in both conferences, with Boston’s deep bench of defenders winning out.
Murdock: Suns-Celtics. Celtics in five.