Biggest Winners and Losers from 2019 NBA Trade Deadline
Anthony Davis did not get traded—to Los Angeles or anywhere else—ahead of Thursday's deadline. He was the biggest story of trade season, following his request last week, and that saga will now drag out until the summer.
However, there were no shortage of other moves, both big and small, in the hours and days leading up to the deadline.
Several contenders went all-in on contending. A few luxury-tax teams made moves to cut salary. Rebuilding franchises picked up draft picks. With no Davis trade, most of the fireworks happened before Thursday.
Now that the dust has settled, there's plenty to sort through, and some teams came out looking better than others.
Winner: The Eastern Conference Arms Race
Three of the four presumptive Eastern Conference contenders added significant players for their respective postseason runs. On Wednesday, the Philadelphia 76ers acquired Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic and Mike Scott for Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, Landry Shamet and four picks. On Thursday afternoon, the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors countered. Milwaukee acquired forward Nikola Mirotic from the New Orleans Pelicans for Jason Smith, Stanley Johnson and two second-rounders, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe; Toronto landed Marc Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies for Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, CJ Miles and a 2024 second-round pick, as Wojnarowski first reported.
Mirotic is another shooter to play alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo. He should be a terrific fit in Mike Budenholzer's system and make Milwaukee even more formidable come playoff time. The Bucks traded Johnson a day after acquiring him from Detroit for Thon Maker, who had been unhappy with his role in Milwaukee and was not a part of their future plans. Effectively, they turned Maker along with Smith's dead salary into Mirotic, who had a big playoff showing for New Orleans last season and should be poised to do the same as the Bucks compete for a spot in the Finals.
Raptors president Masai Ujiri is going all-in on this season ahead of Kawhi Leonard's impending free agency. He didn't exactly give up nothing for Gasol—Wright is a nice young guard with some upside who will be worth a look in Memphis. But this is exactly the kind of win-now move Toronto should be making. At 34, Gasol isn't the player he was in 2013, when he won Defensive Player of the Year, but he makes the Raptors better and gives them another proven playmaker in the frontcourt. That they didn't have to sacrifice any of their top young prospects (Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby) to land him makes it even better.
Sixers GM Elton Brand is likewise pushing in all his chips for a run this year. A closing lineup of Harris, Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid and JJ Redick looks to be among the most dangerous in the league. A few other minor moves also give Philadelphia added depth, which was one of its chief concerns. Brand traded 2017 No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz for guard Jonathon Simmons, per Kevin O'Connor of The Ringer, and added Marjanovic, Scott and former Rockets wing James Ennis III (per Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium) in other deals. In addition to getting better at the top of the roster, Philadelphia now has more capable bodies on the bench.
Loser: Boston Celtics, for This Season
The only East contender who stood pat was the Celtics. Their reasoning is obvious and sound: They'll have a shot at making New Orleans an offer for Anthony Davis come July 1, and burning any of their possible trade chips right now would have been shortsighted. If Danny Ainge can ultimately swing a deal for Davis and re-sign Kyrie Irving this summer, it will be worth it.
But for the upcoming playoff race, Boston is now at a clear disadvantage as its three chief competitors got meaningfully better. The Celtics have looked better at times recently than they did earlier in the year, but they are far from the juggernaut they were expected to be at the beginning of the season. Gordon Hayward in particular has struggled to regain form after missing all but five minutes of last season with a leg injury.
Boston has won its last five games and 10 of its last 11. There's a chance the Celtics have turned things around and will be the team to beat in the playoffs. In leaving the roster as-is, Ainge stuck to his long-term plan, which was the right decision. But it's hard to feel great about their position for this season after seeing the moves the Bucks, Raptors and Sixers made.
Winner: LA Clippers
The Clippers got a lot for Harris, who was set to become an unrestricted free agent and command a max or near-max deal. The unprotected 2021 Miami Heat first-round pick, in particular, is as good a trade chip as any team has short of the upcoming draft's No. 1 pick.
In a smaller deal with Memphis, the Clippers traded guard Avery Bradley for forwards Garrett Temple and JaMychal Green, per Wojnarowski. Temple and Green could help keep them somewhat competitive in this year's playoff race ahead of a summer when they will have a massive amount of cap space and are preparing for runs at Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant.
With a cadre of future picks and rookie guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the Clippers have the ammo to make a competitive offer for Anthony Davis if they're so inclined. They could also keep their powder dry for the next time a star asks for be traded. They have plenty of options.
Loser: Memphis Grizzlies
In trading Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies took one step toward an inevitable rebuild. They got a nice return for Gasol, even though they'll have to pay Delon Wright this summer. The trade with the Clippers doesn't do much for them in the short term—Green and Temple were expiring anyway, and Bradley is guaranteed for $2 million for next season.
However, the Grizzlies ultimately opted not to deal longtime point guard Mike Conley. Unless they shut him down for the season, they'll probably still be slightly too good to drop into the top five of the lottery while not being nearly good enough to make the playoffs. Maybe there will be better offers for Conley this summer, but they would have been wise to sell high on him now.
In Jaren Jackson, Jr., the Grizzlies have a terrific cornerstone for their rebuild. But they didn't do as much as they could have in the short term to commit to a new direction.
Winner: Contenders Playing the Buyout Market
Good players on bad teams get bought out every year, but this year's pool is especially deep.
Marcin Gortat, Robin Lopez, Enes Kanter, Wesley Matthews, Wayne Ellington, Frank Kaminsky, Jeremy Lin and Milos Teodosic are all names that could hit the market before the March 1 deadline for playoff eligibility, in addition to Carmelo Anthony, who was waived by the Bulls last week.
Matthews already appears set to join the Indiana Pacers, per Charania, but there will be no shortage of players available as playoff teams look to bolster their rosters. The Lakers, Warriors, Rockets, Celtics, Raptors and Trail Blazers all would make plenty of logical sense as destinations for this group of proven veterans.
The buyout market almost functions as a second trade deadline, so expect a lot of teams' rosters to look different by March even if they didn't do anything Thursday. The Lakers added Tyson Chandler in November after Phoenix bought him out, and he's played meaningful minutes for them. Last season, Philadelphia got significant contributions in the playoffs from buyout signees Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova.
Matthews, Lopez and Gortat are productive enough that they could provide a similar impact in the postseason this year.
Loser: Everybody Involved in Anthony Davis Saga
The biggest domino is still standing, and Davis' future will be the biggest story of the offseason. The Lakers and Pelicans never reconvened negotiations on Thursday, per Wojnarowski, and now the circus will continue in July. Despite that Davis may not want to play in Boston (his father sure doesn't want him to), the Celtics have a real shot at landing him if Ainge puts Jayson Tatum on the table. If the Knicks win the draft lottery and offer Zion Williamson to the Pelicans, they may be able to trump all other offers.
The Lakers may still end up with Davis, but with the bidding opening up again after the lottery, they won't be in a position to come with anything other than their best offer. If they miss out on him after letting Paul George and Kawhi Leonard pass them by in the previous two offseasons, it will be a major black mark against president Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka, both of whom have talked a big game about going superstar shopping after landing LeBron James in the summer.
The Pelicans will almost definitely trade Davis after the season is over, but in the meantime, this drama will hang over their heads for at least the next five months. Davis wants to play again this season, per ESPN's Dave McMenamin, and the Pelicans are left with the choice of further alienating him to protect their asset or acquiescing and risking injury.
In the long term, it may prove the best decision for New Orleans to hold onto Davis and expand the pool of bidders in the offseason. But the rest of this season is going to be uncomfortable.
Winner: Markelle Fultz
If Markelle Fultz was going to salvage what has been a disastrous start to his career, it wasn't going to happen in Philadelphia. There has been so much dysfunction and uncertainty surrounding the 2017 No. 1 overall pick's bizarre shoulder injury and shooting struggles that there likely would have always been too much baggage around him if the Sixers had held onto him.
No one knows when Fultz will play again after he was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, which has limited him to 19 games this season. Once he does play, there's no telling how effective he'll be. But Orlando is an ideal landing spot for a change of scenery. Playing for one of the most anonymous teams in the league, which gets virtually no national media attention and doesn't have aspirations of contending this year, is exactly the right environment for him to get right on his own timeline.
The Magic are one of the few teams in the NBA without a long-term point guard—they've been trotting out the likes of D.J. Augustin and Jerian Grant this season. This was a low-risk play for them, taking a flier on a player who was once seen as the no-brainer top pick.
In Philadelphia, Fultz's selection had strong connections to the controversial Process, and the team is looking to make a championship run this season. It's a high-pressure environment, and it hasn't been conducive to Fultz sorting himself out physically. He'll have a lot more runway and less scrutiny in Orlando. It could be the best thing to ever happen to his career.
Notable Pre-Deadline Wins
Deadline day was relatively quiet, but there was a slew of major deals in the week leading up to Thursday. The biggest, by far, was last week's trade between the New York Knicks and Dallas Mavericks. New York sent would-be franchise player Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas along with Tim Hardaway, Jr., Courtney Lee and Trey Burke in return for Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews, DeAndre Jordan and two future first-round picks.
That wasn't the only move the Mavericks made—on Wednesday night, they cleared some salary by sending veteran forward Harrison Barnes to the Sacramento Kings for Zach Randolph and Justin Jackson. Barnes is a solid pickup for the Kings, a starting-caliber wing who will help them in their quest to make the playoffs for the first time in 13 years and is only under contract for one season (player option) beyond this one. And for the Mavs, the combination of cap-clearing moves and Unicorn acquisitions made for a nice overall deadline.
The Chicago Bulls also acquired the two years and $55.7 million remaining on Otto Porter Jr.'s contract from the Washington Wizards in exchange for the disgruntled Jabari Parker and restricted free agent-to-be Bobby Portis. Porter is expensive, but he gives Chicago a solid wing to plug in alongside its young core of Zach LaVine, Wendell Carter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen.
The Wizards sold off Porter and Markieff Morris (to New Orleans) to get under the luxury tax after Tuesday's news that John Wall will undergo surgery to repair a torn Achilles, sidelining him for the foreseeable future. The Miami Heat also made a cost-cutting move, sending Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington to the Phoenix Suns for Ryan Anderson.
With nothing happening on the Anthony Davis front, the Porzingis trade is the headlining move of this deadline season. If the Knicks land Kevin Durant this summer, it will look like a genius decision. But that won't be known until July.