Biggest Winners and Losers from 2020 NBA Trade Deadline
Another NBA trade deadline came and went, and we're left sifting through the rubble, hoping to piece together what exactly happened and how. After being assured over and over that nothing big was imminent, several major moves happened anyway.
We won't have enough information to properly judge all these transaction for several months. In some cases, it'll take years to determine who really came out on top and who got fleeced. But it's a deadline tradition to decide who looks like a winner or a loser in the immediate aftermath of all that activity.
Did the Golden State Warriors sell way too low on D'Angelo Russell, or will Andrew Wiggins blossom into a star who justifies his top-pick status and max contract?
Can the Memphis Grizzlies be both a winner and a loser?
Is Andre Iguodala a genius?
Sometimes, your first reaction is the one you should trust most. With the deadline just passed and the dust still settling, here are those who look like winners and losers at the moment.
Winner: Atlanta Hawks
If the sheer size of a trade determined a winner, the Atlanta Hawks would be in a four-way tie with the Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves for the 12-player doozy they pulled off on Wednesday.
In a rare feat, the four-way deal feels like a positive for every team involved.
The Wolves got good value for Robert Covington, a player who didn't fit in their Karl-Anthony Towns-focused timeline. Denver extracted a first-rounder and potentially helpful role-fillers for two young players it probably wasn't going to re-sign in Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez. Houston added another three-and-D wing to its small-ball experiment while realizing highly competitive teams shouldn't spend big on non-star conventional centers.
Atlanta, though...Atlanta came out the best.
The Hawks love the pick-and-roll, and Capela thrives as a diver who creates vertical spacing. A move away from sets featuring Capela as a screener limited his offensive value in Houston, as the Rockets went from 12th in percentage of plays finished by roll men in 2018-19 to dead last this season.
The Hawks' approach should emphasize the 25-year-old's strengths. Few ball-handlers have more gravity than Trae Young, and while there may not be a better pocket passer or lob-thrower in the league than James Harden, Young might be the player who comes closest.
And again, Capela wasn't being used nearly as often in tandem with Harden this year. His top offensive skills went to waste with the Rockets.
On D, Capela isn't the greatest switch defender. But we're only a couple of postseasons away from him kinda-sorta-passably hanging with the Warriors guards in mismatch situations. Besides, Capela's real role will be shoring up a profoundly porous interior defense. He'll block shots, rebound and get Atlanta out in transition. The only concern is his fit with John Collins, a defensively suspect 4 who'll have to prove he can stretch the floor offensively.
If you consider the Hawks' alternatives for addressing their center void, the Capela acquisition looks even better. They effectively turned a middling first-rounder into an in-prime quality starter who'll make about $17 million per season over the next three years. Sure, the Hawks sacrificed some of their massive cap space reserves to take on Capela, but this summer's free-agent class is underwhelming, and potentially available options—Andre Drummond, Hassan Whiteside, Montrezl Harrell—would have been more expensive and worse fits.
Bringing Dewayne Dedmon back into the fold via a separate trade with the Sacramento Kings means Atlanta has a somewhat uncomfortable $30 million or so invested in a one-two center punch next year. That's not the best allocation of resources in a vacuum, but the Hawks' interior needs were so glaring that it's not the worst investment. Plus, both bigs should retain value if Atlanta wants to flip them down the line, and Dedmon's 2021-22 salary isn't fully guaranteed.
Solid work, Hawks.
Loser: Sacramento Kings
In an impressive display of wheel-spinning, the Kings got a pair of second-round picks in the January deal that sent Trevor Ariza to the Portland Trail Blazers and gave up a pair to return Dewayne Dedmon to the Hawks. That's two offseason signees who were supposed to help in a playoff push gone for what amounts to nothing.
Unless you're convinced Jabari Parker and Alex Len, both acquired on expiring deals in the bargain, are hidden gems.
The Kings haven't done major damage, but they've executed a pretty solid waste of time and resources. This deal is an admission that Ariza and Dedmon were both free-agent misfires.
You could certainly praise Sacramento for moving on and making the best of a bad situation, but not without acknowledging that the Kings created the bad situation in the first place. A driver who keeps falling asleep at the wheel doesn't get credit for not totaling his car.
The Dedmon move was probably necessary. He fell out of the rotation when the Kings were healthy and requested a trade. It also trimmed salary, which should make it easier for the Kings to match offer sheets for Bogdan Bogdanovic in restricted free agency this summer. But that salary crunch wouldn't have been an issue if the Kings hadn't extended Buddy Hield, whom they've subsequently relegated to the bench, to a four-year deal this past October.
Dumping Dedmon to save cash signals the Hield contract may have been a mistake. Not only that, but if Sacramento is telegraphing its intent to keep Bogdanovic at significant cost, it's also setting itself up for an even heftier overall salary outlay when De'Aaron Fox comes due for his own fat extension in July.
Is it still damage control when the damage is self-inflicted?
Winner: Minnesota Timberwolves
I guess it’s possible Andrew Wiggins turns out to be a better player than D’Angelo Russell over the next several years, though the chances are low enough that they justify sweetening Golden State’s end of the deal with draft compensation.
But after five years and change, it was clear Wiggins wasn't going to reach his potential with Minnesota. That fact, plus the salary savings and positional need for a point guard, would be enough to make the Wolves a winner in the Wiggins-Russell exchange.
There's more, though.
Minnesota's season, which already includes a pair of double-digit losing streaks, was getting bleak. Perhaps not bleak enough for Towns to request a trade—whether at this deadline or over the summer—but certainly bleak enough to make that possibility seem likelier. Robert Covington, dealt to Houston, was among Towns' closest teammates.
It was easy to imagine the young star's discontent reaching a point of irreversibility.
So adding Russell, an even closer friend of Towns' and one who'll fit perfectly with him in pick-and-pop sets, was critical to preserving trust between superstar and front office. Maybe Minnesota doesn't quite know what it's doing, but the appearance for now is that it's doing what makes Towns happy. That's not a bad approach under the current circumstances.
Zoom all the way out, and this is pretty simple: Minnesota got a better, younger, cheaper player at a position of great need—one Towns wanted. That's worth a top-three protected first-round pick and a second in 2021.
Loser: Golden State Warriors
The theory of the deal that brought the Golden State Warriors Andrew Wiggins, a 2021 protected first-rounder and a 2021 second-rounder for D'Angelo Russell, Omari Spellman and Jacob Evans III makes some sense.
Wiggins, a wing, is a better fit alongside Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green than Russell, a combo guard who needs the ball. There's also the change-of-scenery angle to consider; maybe Wiggins will thrive and ditch his bad habits in an environment where winning is the expectation and not some impossible dream.
But, full disclosure, I wrote a whole section on why the Warriors were winners because they didn't deal Russell for Wiggins...and then the trade happened.
Though defensible, it still feels like Golden State got impatient.
Russell could have yielded a better return in the offseason—or even at the 2021 deadline. The Warriors could have waited, safe in the knowledge that Russell was younger, cheaper and already a more proven winner than Wiggins. If their intent was to trade Russell, which has always seemed to be the case, this deadline wasn't the time, as The Athletic's Marcus Thompson rightly argued on Wednesday.
It would have been strange to laud patience exercised by a Warriors team with so many reasons to act urgently. But even if Golden State's aging, expensive core should prompt a win-now mindset, passing on a "meh" deal for its best tradable asset (for now) would have been the shrewder move.
If Wiggins awakens and gets inspired to defend, compete consistently and embrace his role, this could work out reasonably well on the court. But that amounts to saying the best realistic case for this deal involves the Warriors paying about $95 million over the next three years for a third option.
That's what Russell was, true, but he cost significantly less and could have eventually netted more than the return Golden State got.
At least the move got the Dubs out of the luxury tax.
Winner: Los Angeles Clippers
In a perfect world, the Clippers would have used Moe Harkless and their 2020 first-rounder to land an upgrade at center—one more mobile than Ivica Zubac and more defensively reliable than Montrezl Harrell.
Barring an acquisition on the buyout market, the Clips will have to close playoff games with one of those imperfect options at the 5...unless they get weird and try JaMychal Green in that role again.
Marcus Morris is still a good get, though. He's got the heft to defend the likes of LeBron James and, perhaps down the line in a Finals bout, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Though not on the same level defensively as Kawhi Leonard or Paul George, Morris can hold his own.
If he comes anywhere close to sustaining the 43.9 percent he's hitting from deep on a career-high 6.1 attempts per game, Morris will also be a much more threatening floor-spacer than Harkless ever was. Come to think of it, there are scenarios against certain undersized opponents (looking at you, Houston), where Morris could fill the Clips' need at center in five-out lineups.
Can Morris embrace a diminished role in which he's mostly asked to hit catch-and-shoot threes while defending consistently across multiple frontcourt positions? It's worth a 2020 first-rounder, swap rights on a 2021 first-rounder (which won't come into play unless the Knicks improbably finish with a better record than L.A. next season) and a 2021 second-rounder (via Detroit) to find out.
Added bonus: The Clippers kept the Lakers from getting Morris.
Loser: Memphis Grizzlies
Justise Winslow is 23 years old and undeniably promising as a playmaking 4. He's proved he can defend and shoot accurately from deep for long stretches of his injury-hit career. He's an intriguing piece for a young Memphis Grizzlies core that was already overflowing with talent.
But is he worth sacrificing significant 2020-21 cap space by absorbing Dion Waiters and James Johnson (flipped for Gorgui Dieng)?
There's room for debate on that point, especially since we always encourage teams with cap room to consider using that space to add bad money with assets attached. Winslow is definitely one such asset, and the Grizz may have already decided that the 2020 free-agent class wasn't worth dipping into. Once projected for upwards of $50 million in space this summer, the Grizzlies are now basically out of spending money.
If Memphis merely wanted to punt on 2020 free agency and stay flexible for 2021, the full trade—which included Winslow, Waiters and Johnson (later swapped for Dieng) coming to Memphis for Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill—makes more sense. That said, it's also unclear whether this move makes Memphis more likely to retain the No. 8 playoff seed it currently owns. Particularly if Winslow, who's played one game since December 4, isn't healthy enough to help.
Maybe the Grizz simply didn't have better offers for Iguodala, and Miami knew it. The Heat, perhaps confident Memphis didn't want to buy Iguodala out, could have put the squeeze on the Grizzlies, forcing them to take back money. This offer might have been the best one Memphis got.
That doesn't make it objectively good. And that's OK, as the Grizzlies will wind up winners later on for another move.
Winner: Memphis Grizzlies
Hey there, Grizzlies! You're back already!
Memphis just earned a mild, debatable "loser" tag for its part in the swap that sent Iguodala, Crowder and Hill to the Heat for Winslow, Waiters and Johnson Dieng. But it bounces back with a clear win on the extension it inked with Dillon Brooks.
The Grizzlies will pay $35 million for Brooks' age-25-27 seasons on a three-year extension that starts next year, a phenomenal bargain for a starting-caliber wing who makes a difference on both ends.
Brooks is hitting 39.9 percent of his threes this year, a figure that feels sustainable in light of his career 37.7 percent conversion rate. Though inefficient inside the arc and not a natural distributor, Brooks' spacing is valuable, even if it's not worth as much as his relentless competitiveness. The guy is on the short list of guards nobody wants to face, an unashamed edge-seeker—whether through ref-baiting, extreme physicality or contact-seeking behavior—who can take opponents out of the game mentally.
It would have been difficult to imagine Brooks getting less than three years and $35 million in 2020 free agency, which only further pushes Memphis' deadline extension into the win category.
Loser: Moe Harkless
Standing rule: Until proven otherwise, nobody who gets traded to the Knicks is a winner.
That's especially true at the moment, as New York is in a three-way fight with Cleveland and Atlanta for the distinction of being the East's worst team and is in the midst of a front-office overhaul. Perhaps the installation of Leon Rose for the departed Steve Mills will be an upgrade, but it's generally best to assume nothing will work out in New York.
So, unfortunately, Moe Harkless has to earn the loser label. He goes from playing for a title in L.A. with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to, basically, NBA purgatory.
By definition, Marcus Morris, who's changing places with Harkless, grades out as a winner.
Winner: Andre Iguodala
Resting, training and deciding which Silicon Valley startup's mobile pet grooming app deserves a little venture capital is good work if you can get it.
Better still if you can follow all that chilling out with a two-year, $30 million extension from a title contender at age 36.
Andre Iguodala isn't just a trade deadline winner. He's a winner at life.
It's entirely possible Iguodala is run down from five straight Finals trips, and that at his age, he can't even crank up the intensity for another of his patented "he's still got it" playoff runs. But he's got his extension and (at least) 1.5 years locked in with one of the most successful, high-functioning organizations in the league.
Loser: 2020 Free Agents
Even before the deadline, the list of teams with significant 2020 cap space was underwhelming.
Free agents can't have been psyched about choosing between the Hawks, Cavs, Grizzlies, Hornets, Knicks and Suns. Now, though, we can likely cut the Hawks, Cavs and Grizzlies from that list, perhaps adding Detroit in the wake of unloading Andre Drummond to Cleveland. Miami also has added flexibility.
Still, the point stands. Free agents in search of cash and a chance to win will probably have to settle for one or the other this summer. In fact, the dearth of potential suitors could even result in several of the league's top potential free agents sticking with their current teams on discounts.
If you're Fred VanVleet, for example, and you see Miami use its space elsewhere, are you going to take the most money possible and consign yourself to several seasons in New York or Detroit? Or are you hoping you can get 80 percent of your market value to stay in Toronto?
That's a pretty easy call, but it's not one most free agents want to make.
Winner: Miami Heat
The Heat got their man in Iguodala, shed almost $42 million in 2020-21 salary and offloaded three players who'd made minimal impacts to this point in the season. All without giving up any draft compensation.
Miami now has three more options to deploy in its mostly positionless attack, all of whom can defend at several spots. That's not the worst roster makeup if you think you're going to see Giannis Antetokounmpo at some point in the playoffs.
Detractors could argue Miami had to use Justise Winslow to rid itself of two players it signed to bad deals in Johnson and Waiters. But Winslow's health and role were uncertain, and now the Heat are better positioned to pursue marquee free agents this summer or next.
There are ways for the Heat to wind up losers. Winslow could explode in Memphis, and Iguodala could either break down or prove unworthy of his extension. But those outcomes seem unlikely, and again, the Heat saved money in the bargain.
Loser: Andre Drummond
As I see it, Andre Drummond, dealt from the Pistons to the Cavs for Brandon Knight, John Henson and a second-round pick, has two choices.
He can opt in for 2020-21 and collect $28.7 million from the Cavaliers, almost certainly missing the playoffs as he toils in obscurity for a year before joining a relatively strong 2021 free-agent class.
Or he can opt out this summer, taking his chances as a conventional center in a market with few interested parties and little cash to spend.
Those aren't great options, and they probably feel even worse to Drummond considering the Pistons dumped him for nothing because they were afraid he'd opt in and stick them with that $28.7 million salary obligation next year.
That's not even an "I think we should see other people" breakup.
It's more like Drummond came home and found the locks had been changed.
He's justifiably salty about the whole thing.
Winners: Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III
The Warriors technically could occupy this spot, but we already let the Grizzlies be winners and losers, and it feels like you can only go to the well once on that move. Besides, the three future second-rounders Golden State got from the Sixers for Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III are all likely to fall between 45 and 60, which means they may never return any value at all.
Besides, the wins for Burks and GRIII are so much easier to explain.
These two inked cheap, short-term deals with the Warriors, revived their floundering careers on what turned out to be the worst team in the league and now head to a potential contender desperately in need of the perimeter scoring they provide.
Isn't this exactly what journeyman wings hope for? To validate their place in the league and wind up on a big stage with the chance to prove even more?
It's possible that neither player shoots consistently enough to make a difference for Philly. And the Sixers still need pick-and-roll playmaking, which neither Burks nor Robinson is known for offering. But that doesn't change the fact that these veterans went from being virtually out of the league to playing potentially significant roles on a winner.
Losers: New York Knicks Fans
Despite the best vocal efforts of the Madison Square Garden's disgruntled attendees, MSG Chairman and CEO James Dolan is not selling the Knicks.
He said so in a post-deadline press release, which is the type of thing that only happens when it is abundantly clear you should sell the team.
Meanwhile, the Knicks fired president Steve Mills on Tuesday (the right call at an awkward time), managed to offload only Marcus Morris from the many theoretically tradeable contracts they signed this past summer and are likely to finish with the league's worst record ahead of an uninspiring 2020 draft.
Things will get better someday, Knicks fans. Today isn't that day.
Winner: Washington Wizards
The Wizards didn't remake their core identity or anything, but there's something to be said for getting things right around the edges.
Washington held strong on Davis Bertans, refusing to move him unless a knock-your-socks-off package came across the table. Good for the Wizards. Frontcourt shooters with Bertans' range and capacity for high volume don't come along all the time, and he projects as a valuable piece of future teams built around Bradley Beal and John Wall...if Washington can re-sign him this summer.
The Wizards also snagged Jerome Robinson, the 13th pick in the 2018 draft. They elbowed their way into the Clippers-Knicks deal for Marcus Morris as a third-party facilitator, only giving up Isaiah Thomas in the trade Shabazz Napier can help, too.
These small shows of restraint and on-the-margins dealing provide hope that Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard has an actual plan to return this team to relevance.