Grading the Biggest Trades of 2022 NBA Free-Agency Period

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured Columnist IVJuly 1, 2022

Grading the Biggest Trades of 2022 NBA Free-Agency Period

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    A.J. Mast/NBAE via Getty Images

    With little cap space available around the league, we knew a lot of player movement would have to be facilitated through trades this summer.

    And we've already had a few since free agency tipped off on June 30.

    The Brooklyn Nets acquired a rotation wing (curiously, around the same time news of Kevin Durant's trade request broke). On Day 2, the Boston Celtics traded for one of the best playmakers on the market, and the Atlanta Hawks continued an overhaul that started with this week's Dejounte Murray pickup.

    As more deals pour in (including, potentially, the KD trade), we'll keep you updated here. In the meantime, let's break down how each team did in the moves that have already been completed.

Celtics Add More Versatility with Malcolm Brogdon

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    Boston represented the East in the NBA Finals, but it obviously wasn't satisfied with merely getting there.

    And on Friday, it addressed one of its few weaknesses by adding a dynamic creator (the Philadelphia 76ers were the only team that made it past the first round and had a worse playoff turnover percentage than the Celtics).

    Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn

    The Indiana Pacers are trading guard Malcolm Brogdon to the Boston Celtics, sources tell ESPN.

    ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski later reported that the Celtics are sending Daniel Theis, Aaron Nesmith, Nik Stauskas, Malik Fitts, Juwan Morgan and a 2023 first-round pick to the Pacers.

    Assuming Malcolm Brogdon can stay healthy (which is a pretty big assumption), this is an absolute coup for Boston.

    It already had a wealth of versatility and switchability between Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, and the 6'5" Brogdon supplements that and will be the team's best playmaker for others.

    Over his three seasons with the Indiana Pacers, Brogdon averaged 6.3 assists and 1.9 threes while shooting 35.2 percent from three.

    His willingness to move the ball and ability to space the floor make him a seamless fit. The potential problem, of course, is his availability (or lack thereof). He's averaged fewer than 50 games a season with Indiana.

    But for two fringe rotation players, three wild cards and a first-round pick that figures to be in the 20s, Brogdon is worth the risk.

    Celtics Grade: A

    The Pacers, meanwhile, likely canvased the league for the best offers for Brogdon. If this is the best they could get, great. Waiting for the trade deadline could've helped, but it also might've backfired.

    Given all the injuries Brogdon had suffered through over the last few years, another one in 2022-23 could've scared teams away from including any firsts.

    In this case, Indiana can at least tout that it got one, and Aaron Nesmith isn't a bad prospect to take a flier on.

    Nesmith struggled to crack Boston's stellar rotation, but he shot 41.0 percent from three in college and 37.0 percent as a rookie (before cratering to 27.0 in 2021-22). On a team clearly steering into a rebuild, he should get more developmental minutes. The 6'5" wing is only 22.

    As for Daniel Theis, he's mostly salary filler here. If Indiana is better than expected with Tyrese Haliburton and Myles Turner, though, he's certainly a capable backup 5.

    Pacers Grade: B+

Hawks and Kings Swap Wings

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    The Atlanta Hawks and Sacramento Kings got together for a wing swap that could help both teams. Wojnarowski was first to the news.

    Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn

    Atlanta is trading Kevin Huerter to Sacramento for Justin Holiday, Mo Harkless and a future first round pick, sources tell EPSN.

    For Atlanta, this is far from the seismic shake-up it made earlier this week when it acquired Murray, but it's not hard to see how the deals are connected.

    With Trae Young and Murray in the same rotation, ball-handling is wholly accounted for. Surrounding those two with three-and-D wings makes sense. And while Justin Holiday (33) and Maurice Harkless (29) don't have the overall upside of 23-year-old Kevin Huerter, they certainly check the second box in "three-and-D" more thoroughly.

    Both have had solid stretches as shooters too. Holiday has hit 38.2 percent of his threes over the last three seasons. Harkless is more of a wild card. He's had two seasons with an above-average three-point percentage, but the last one was in 2017-18.

    Losing Huerter before his second contract (which is very reasonable) even starts may be tough for some fans to accept, but getting two players with a good chance to make the rotation and a draft pick makes it worth it.

    Hawks Grade: B+

    Holiday and Harkless could've provided a lot of the same benefits to Sacramento, but they're obviously further from the timeline of De'Aaron Fox (24) and Domantas Sabonis (26).

    With Huerter, Malik Monk (signed in free agency) and Keegan Murray (the No. 4 pick in the draft), Sacramento now has three intriguing young wings it can evaluate in lineups with those two core pieces.

    Giving up a first-round pick for Huerter stings a little, but it's lottery-protected, and the Kings already have a lot of young talent to incorporate.

    This isn't a bad price to pay for a 2 who can shoot (he's at 37.9 percent from three for his career) and create a little (3.8 assists per 75 possessions) while fitting in with an intriguing core.

    Kings Grade: B+

Nets Add a Defender amid Their Implosion

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    Royce O'Neale is a solid role player, perimeter defender and catch-and-shoot option who'd make sense in plenty of contexts around the league, just not for a Nets team that might trade Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.

    Literally one minute after he reported that Durant had requested a trade from Brooklyn, The Athletic's Shams Charania broke this head-scratching news.

    Shams Charania @ShamsCharania

    Utah is trading Royce O'Neale to Brooklyn for a first-round pick, sources tell <a href="https://twitter.com/TheAthletic?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@TheAthletic</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/Stadium?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Stadium</a>.

    The machinations that led to those two events probably weren't jammed together quite as close or quickly, but it sure looks bad as reported.

    Again, O'Neale is fine in certain situations. A stable Nets team would've been one. He's proved he'll happily defend on one end and space the floor on the other for ball-dominant stars like Kyrie and KD.

    Paying a first for him to play on what might end up being a rebuilding team is bad. Even if they're able pull in a bunch of picks in deals for Durant and Irving (who might also be on his way out), the Nets likely want this one back.

    Nets Grade: D

    The Utah Jazz, meanwhile, have been comfortably better with O'Neale on the floor throughout his career.

    He doesn't have a wide-ranging offensive game, but he'll take on the opposition's toughest scorer (even if he's slipped a bit on that end in recent years), and he's a career 38.1 percent three-point shooter.

    He's also long been close with star Donovan Mitchell, who's seemingly been looking in all directions for excuses to ask out for months. It remains to be seen how this deal might affect his future.

    All that is probably nitpicky, though. O'Neale is 29 and doesn't offer much playmaking. There probably weren't many teams banging down the door offering a first to get him. With Brooklyn willing to go there, it probably felt pretty tough to say no.

    As noted on NBA.com, "the Jazz will receive the least favorable of the Brooklyn/Houston first-round pick swap and Philadelphia’s first-round pick that was previously acquired by Brooklyn."

    Jazz Grade: A

Minnesota Pushes Its Chips in for Rudy Gobert

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    The biggest blockbuster of the offseason so far came around midday on Friday, when the Minnesota Timberwolves sent a boatload of contracts and future picks to the Utah Jazz for three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert.

    Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn

    The Timberwolves are landing Rudy Gobert <a href="https://t.co/c0CnWWa2cZ">pic.twitter.com/c0CnWWa2cZ</a>

    Wojnarowski later broke down Utah's haul for the big man, and it's a sizable one: Malik Beasley, Patrick Beverley, Walker Kessler, Jarred Vanderbilt, a 2023 first-round pick, a 2025 first-round pick, a 2027 first-round pick (all unprotected) and a top-five protected first in 2029.

    Minnesota didn't have to surrender a star (or even a prospect with star potential), but that's a hefty price in draft compensation alone. For a 30-year-old center who offers nothing in terms of shot creation, there's a chance this deal ages poorly.

    Having said that, it's also not hard to see why the Timberwolves are going all in.

    Karl-Anthony Towns signed a max extension earlier in free agency. Alongside Vanderbilt, he already operated like a 4 on offense. His role won't change much there. In fact, it'll probably get easier. With Gobert dragging defenses down the lane on his rim runs, Towns should have a little extra time on his jumpers outside.

    And of course, that's not even where Gobert will help the most. Towns no longer needs to worry about being the anchor on defense. Gobert has been the best in the league in that role for over half a decade.

    Beyond the three DPOYs, Utah has the best defense in the league since the start of 2015-16 (Gobert's first season as a starter), and he's obviously the common thread through all those teams.

    Towns may struggle with some defensive assignments outside the paint, but the entire scheme figures to funnel guys to Gobert anyway. With those two, Anthony Edwards and D'Angelo Russell all in Minnesota's starting five, the Timberwolves could be a nightmare next season (and probably for the next couple).

    Of course, if Gobert starts to decline before his massive contract expires (he has a player option for $46.7 million in 2025-26), they might want those picks back, but this shows an admirable level of commitment to the young talent on the roster.

    Grade: B+

    It'll be very interesting to see what's next for the Jazz. In a clip that has spawned countless memes throughout the day, ESPN's Brian Windhorst suggested Danny Ainge may press the reset button and fire up a full-scale rebuild. If they do, the perception of this deal will probably change.

    For now, we'll operate under the assumption that this signals a commitment to make Donovan Mitchell the unquestioned face of the franchise and build around him.

    And from that perspective, appreciating this trade will likely require some patience.

    During their five seasons together, Utah was plus-7.5 points per 100 possessions when Gobert and Mitchell shared the floor, plus-10.3 when Gobert played without Mitchell and plus-0.1 when Mitchell played without Gobert.

    Replacing the backbone of the defense and one of the game's best lob rim-runners with several role players probably won't push the needle in the right direction in the short term, even if the incoming group is more switchable on defense.

    Where this pays off (if at all) is down the road.

    Kessler was a dominant shot-blocker in college. It may take some time to learn the nuances and adjust to the speed of NBA defenses, but he has potential as a rim protector. And if Gobert does indeed fall off soon, those picks could be valuable (either on their own or as part of future trades).

    The question, of course, is whether Mitchell is willing to exercise that patience.

    Jazz Grade: C+

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