These NBA Teams Blew It at the Trade Deadline
Not only was the end to swapping season gloriously chaotic, but it came and went with no more than a handful of questionable deals. Most transactions were easy to justify, if not flat-out like.
Three of the Eastern Conference's foremost contenders—Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto Raptors—went at each other via separate blockbusters. The Detroit Pistons didn't give up a draft pick, sold off players they would have otherwise overpaid or lost for nothing this summer, and kept their lone superstar, Blake Griffin, in the loop through it all.
The Los Angeles Clippers are now trade-deadline darlings. The New Orleans Pelicans drummed up the importance of the postseason and this spring's draft lottery by (wisely) holding onto Anthony Davis.
Tucked within the palatable bedlam, though, were a few bad beats.
Certain teams did nothing when they should have done something. Some squads did the wrong kind of something. Others are merely coming out of this looking unintentionally worse were wear.
The impact of what happens—or what doesn't happen—around this time always needs to be litigated again a few months later. Each one of these teams might be end up being fine. For now, their trade deadline either could have gone way better or looks like a total flop.
Marc Gasol negotiations between the Hornets and Memphis Grizzlies fell apart over "some last-minute haggling," according to ESPN.com's Zach Lowe. There's something admirable about missing out in that way.
Lightening the protections on what was, per Lowe, a lottery pick just to acquire a 34-year-old big would've been potentially disastrous. Kemba Walker needs help, but mortgaging so much of the future for a chance to get bounced in the first round is never the right play.
At the same time, Kemba needs help. The Hornets offense is getting sentenced to death whenever he's off the floor since the last time they were over .500. Walker attempts more contested threes per game than anyone other than James Harden, and his usage rate in the clutch is the third-highest among 300-plus players with at least five crunch-time appearances.
Charlotte doesn't get brownie points for restraint in Gasol negotiations. Nor does it get a pass for having a dearth of assets. If the Hornets want to re-sign Walker, they need to build something around him. But they couldn't even find a taker for Frank Kaminsky, whom they're now expected to buy out, per Sporting News' Sean Deveney.
Failing to make the slightest upgrade to their rotation or asset pool is indefensible. When the highest form of praise the Hornets can get is that they didn't worsen their fringe-playoff situation or long-haul outlook, then something's wrong.
"The Timberwolves didn't buy at the deadline and they didn't sell," The Athletic's Jon Krawczynski wrote. "Then they dropped another ugly one at Orlando. They just seem to be wandering in the wilderness right now."
You will not find a better summation of the Wolves' deadline. They're close enough to the West's playoff bracket to try spinning their state of doing nothing, but they're aimless enough for us to know their postseason chase is futile.
Push comes to shove, they should have sold. Except, of course, they don't have much worth buying. Taj Gibson's expiring contract is too large to move without taking back bad salary. Derrick Rose's expiring deal is too small to get something that matters. Jeff Teague's $19 million player option is a roadblock. Markelle Fultz going to Orlando and Tyler Johnson ending up in Phoenix nuked Tyus Jones' appeal.
Andrew Wiggins generated some interest, according to Lowe, but the Wolves weren't game for giving him away. Because, obviously, if you have the chance to keep an inefficient scorer owed $122.2 million over the next four years, you pounce on it.
The he's-still-23 romantics are running out of road. Minnesota is facing a reset this summer with a core both light on cap flexibility and desirable assets. Passing on the opportunity to move Wiggins isn't a no-brainer. Maybe the Wolves weren't getting big-time cap relief, but they would've needed to saddle themselves with two or three really bad contracts to lose the deal.
That doesn't make keeping him the wrong decision. (It probably is.) The Timberwolves just needed to do something, anything, that tilted them in a discernible direction. They chose to stay lost in the wilderness.
Look, It's Complicated: Memphis Grizzlies Edition
Some thought the Grizzlies botched the Marc Gasol trade. I'm not one of them.
Gasol's curb appeal isn't what it was a year or two ago. His defense has slipped as frontcourts are getting rangier. The IQ is very much there, but he needs to be paired with a mobile big or collection of switchy wings. (Toronto has both.) And for all his nifty passing and floor-spacing, cobbling together an above-average offense with him as the first or second in command isn't easy. (The Raptors are good here, too.)
Couple that with a $25.6 million player option for next year when he's 35, and the Grizzlies were never in line for a blockbuster return. Avoiding any truly bad Reggie Jackson-type money while picking up free-agent-to-be Delon Wright (restricted) and a distant second-rounder is a fair, if underwhelming, return.
Still, it stings not to get even a heavily protected first for a franchise cornerstone. And the three-for-one deal the Grizzlies brokered with the Raptors essentially demanded they swap JaMychal Green and Garrett Temple for the tough-to-watch Avery Bradley just to remain under the tax. That's too many hoops to jump through when you're giving up the best player in a blockbuster.
More concerning is the lack of clarity gained on the Grizzlies' direction. They held onto Mike Conley, the final remnant of the now-defunct Grit and Grind era. That's not a huge failure. His value might improve over the summer, when he still has two years left on his deal and Memphis can solicit overtures from jilted free-agency suitors.
Conley's value could also drop. He's not a bargain with $67 million coming to him through 2020-21. He has a history of Achilles issues, is a tad undersized at 6'1" and turns 32 in October. Even more awkwardly, what if Memphis isn't just delaying the inevitable but hoping to entirely forgo it?
This happened last year. The Grizzlies let their tank play out and tried to run it back. Keeping Conley could suggest they want to convey their top-eight-protected first-rounder to the Boston Celtics in a shallow draft class this year, rather than deal with top-six protection next year or zero protection in 2021. But if they keep this season's selection—a real possibility—what's to stop them from thinking Conley, Valanciunas, maybe Wright, Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson Jr. and another top prospect can give it a real go in the West?
Attempting to stave off some version of a reset and youth movement would be a mistake. Gasol's departure should guarantee the end to Memphis' treadmill of sub-mediocrity. That it doesn't, at least not yet, falls short of a disaster but is, if nothing else, severely uncomfortable.
Look, It's Complicated: Washington Wizards Edition
At the core of their trade deadline, the Washington Wizards didn't do anything terribly wrong.
Owner Ted Leonsis initially said they wouldn't deal Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. or John Wall. Washington didn't so much go back on his word as get force-fed a sobering reality. Wall's latest setback, a ruptured left Achilles tendon, could cost him all of next season.
The Wizards acted accordingly. First they flipped the two years and $55.7 million left on Porter's deal (2020-21 player option) for the expiring contracts of Jabari Parker (team option) and Bobby Portis (restricted). Then they sent a 2023 second-round pick and Markieff Morris, since released, to the Pelicans in exchange for Wesley Johnson. Swapping their expiring deals dragged the Wizards beneath the tax.
That's good. And also bad.
Washington has now flitted away its second-round picks, through 2023, at a time when the entire franchise is on tilt. This isn't just about next season. It's about the one after, and the one after that, and then the one after that. Wall's injury could be career-altering, and he's owed $170.9 million through 2022-23 (player option).
Even if he's peachy keen upon return, the Wizards were threading the needle of mediocrity before he went down. His return to form doesn't promise a contender or brighter future on its own. Washington has to deftly construct a roster around him first.
This isn't to say the Wizards needed to burn it all down. Wall's contract is immovable in his current state, and they would have never fetched adequate value for Beal. Plus, they control all their own first-round picks and have a relatively effortless path to staying under the tax next season.
What they don't have is evidence they've truly changed their mode of thinking. They didn't reroute Trevor Ariza or Jeff Green at the deadline because they're hoping to re-sign them, according to NBC Sports' Ben Standig. Both are non-Bird free agents, and while Ariza's $15 million salary gives the Wizards a leg to stand on, they'll need to eat into one of their exceptions for the minimum-salaried Green.
Next season doesn't need to be a wash. Beal is good enough to try filling out the roster around him on the fly. But this summer shouldn't be a repeat of offseasons past. The Wizards cannot shell out questionable contracts in general (keep an eye on Thomas Bryant and Tomas Satoransky), let alone to aging vets. A more forward-thinking franchise would've sought to recoup whatever value possible—especially after basically salary-dumping Porter.
At the bare minimum, the Wizards' trade deadline needed to leave little doubt they're no longer the team that will use a first-round pick or stash of seconds to grease the wheels of an Ian Mahinmi clearance sale this summer after getting into negligible needle-movers for real money over multiple years. That didn't happen.
Los Angeles Lakers
Tampering jokes in the middle of the All-Star draft.
The Lakers didn't blow this year's silly season because they failed to trade for Anthony Davis. That was unavoidable. It sounds like they were willing to surrender almost everything they have, but almost everything they have isn't good enough when packages built around Jayson Tatum from Boston and a top-five, perhaps first overall, pick from New York potentially await this summer.
The Pelicans know the Lakers' best offer will be there over the offseason. It has to be. Playing hardball risks squandering another year of the 34-year-old James' prime even if they land a star free agent—which, by the way, they're not guaranteed to do.
And yet, this inescapable letdown didn't need to turn the Lakers into a caricature of a basketball team. Leaks were coming from everywhere. Talks between Los Angeles and New Orleans, however skewed by the agendas of those relaying the information, were too public. It's hard to keep a situation of this magnitude under wraps, but high-stakes negotiations don't need to be so open-sourced.
It'd be one thing if the rumors didn't impact the Lakers. They clearly did. Kyle Kuzma turned Bird Box into a damn verb. Now the Lakers get to soldier on with a supporting cast assembled for the sole purpose of disassembly. They'll make the playoffs, probably, because...LeBron. But this junior-high spectacle that their season has devolved into should've been avoided, even if striking out on Davis could not.
Oh, also: The Ivica Zubac trade was kind of lame. The Reggie Bullock trade was not.
Since the last time they were under .500, the Utah Jazz are 11-3 with the league's second-best defense and top-five point differential per 100 possessions. Donovan Mitchell has largely left his sophomore slump in the rear view, Rudy Gobert has the value of a top-15 player, and they have certain lineups that kill.
Left alone, Utah might be due for one of its trademark surges after the All-Star break. Maybe Ricky Rubio starts splashing in jumpers again. Maybe the Gobert-Derrick Favors frontcourt finds a gear beyond good-not-great. Joe Ingles will definitely work himself out of his coldish streak. Perhaps Jae Crowder will do the same, while Dante Exum transitions from his gradual come-up into a faster and more consistent developmental arc.
All that could happen, and it won't matter. This is a deadline the Jazz shouldn't have let go by without doing anything. Swinging a midseason trade for Kyle Korver is not enough. They needed—and still need—a shot-creating safety valve and additional combo forward who allows them to mirror Crowder-at-the-4 lineups for a full 48 minutes.
If it comes as any consolation (it doesn't), the Jazz were tied to the right names. They were involved in the Mike Conley sweepstakes, but based on the Grizzlies' asking price from the Pistons, according to The Athletic's James L. Edwards III, they were demanding the moon.
Seeing Otto Porter Jr. go to the Bulls is tougher to stomach. The Jazz sniffed around him in the weeks leading up to the deadline, per The Athletic's Tony Jones, and he seemed like the perfect fit—a supercharged Crowder.
As the Hardwood Knocks podcast's Andy Bailey, a Jabari Parker enthusiast, mind you, wrote after Utah stood pat: "This is why I wanted the Jazz to get Otto Porter. It sounds like Washington's initial demands were crazy. But that obviously changed after the John Wall injury. That package he wound up going for was not good."
Let's be clear: The Jazz aren't damned because they didn't. They have the West's second-easiest schedule to close the year, according to PlayoffStatus.com. They can get to max space this summer. Or they can guarantee Favors' salary and hope to broker an offseason blockbuster.
Overpaying for the right player can still be the wrong move. The Jazz played it safe. To give them a pass, though, would suggest they didn't have viable alternatives. They did. How high was the asking price for Jeremy Lin? Entering the fold for Harrison Barnes would have been too much of a stylistic breach, but what about Danilo Gallinari following the Tobias Harris trade? (They'll be forgiven if they're saving picks for a Jrue Holiday swing this summer.)
The Jazz, safe as they seem, are not in a strong enough position to have done nothing. Had Conley or Porter gone for a king's ransom, they might get a pass. They didn't, and one of them was moved for a deal Utah easily could have beaten. The Jazz are supposed to be scrapping and clawing in the tier above "most probably going to make the playoffs." They're not, and they didn't need the benefit of hindsight to know it.