Grading Every Deal at the 2021 NBA Trade Deadline
So much for a quiet NBA trade deadline, right? Many, many (many) deals were struck. It was chaos. Like usual.
Kyle Lowry is still with the Toronto Raptors (congrats, We-the-Northers), but he was not the only All-Star on offer, apparently. Nikola Vucevic moved to the Chicago Bulls. Evan Fournier (Boston Celtics) and Aaron Gordon (Denver Nuggets) followed him out of Orlando.
Whoever Victor Oladipo is these days will set up shop with the Miami Heat. He is joined by Nemanja Bjelica. George Hill is on the Philadelphia 76ers. The Sacramento Kings kept Harrison Barnes and picked up Delon Wright.
And it doesn't end there! There are more trades to discuss. There are always more trades to discuss. And we're discussing all of them, red pens in hand. Let's party.
JJ Redick to Dallas
Dallas Mavericks Receive: Nicolo Melli, JJ Redick
New Orleans Pelicans Receive: James Johnson, Wes Iwundu, 2021 second-round pick
JJ Redick's right heel injury caps the immediate optimism with which this deal can be viewed. Who knows what he'll look like upon return. He is 36, and it took a while for his outside shooting to normalize.
At the same time, the price of admission to Redick's next act is inconsequential enough to love this for the Mavericks. Anyone claiming they have a three-point-shooting issue is working with outdated samples, but they still need another ball-handler for minutes with and without Luka Doncic.
A healthy Redick gives Dallas' offense most of that player. His career shooting 41.5 percent clip from deep speaks volumes, but it only tells part of the story. He is functional spacing at full strength, someone who can hoist threes coming around screens and off-balance.
None of Redick's previous stops have included a ton of initiation duties, but he is a threat to score out of the pick-and-roll. He has not ranked outside the 95th percentile of points scored per possession as the PnR ball-handler since 2016-17.
Oh, and for the salary-cap enthusiasts out there, the Mavericks are actually trimming $1.8 million off next year's payroll by unloading Wes Iwundu. Also: Nicolo Melli might go from theoretical floor-spacer to actual floor-spacer when being fed by Doncic, assuming he plays at all.
Mutually winning trades are fun.
Everything the Pelicans are getting amounts to a pretty good return for the injured Redick. They don't take on any long-term money, they are just barely staying under the tax, and they're netting more than merely second-round currency.
James Johnson is an intriguing fit in the frontcourt. His performances can be all over the place, but he should allow Zion Williamson to function like a point 5 on offense without letting that positional responsibility spill over to the defensive side.
Dozens of us, at least, still believe in Iwundu. He flashed competent standstill shooting last year in addition to some slower-motion pull-up mechanics, and the Pelicans are light on wings who can maybe, possibly, potentially hold up positionally on defense.
Victor Oladipo to Miami
Houston Rockets Receive: Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk, 2022 first-round pick (swap rights)
Miami Heat Receive: Victor Oladipo
Houston had zero leverage during Victor Oladipo negotiations in the moment. He already turned down a two-year extension, and his efficiency has dropped off a cliff since he came over from the Indiana Pacers. The time he missed with another right quad injury and his impending free agency made matters worse.
The Rockets deserve credit for moving him at all. It could have been tempting to keep and re-sign him just to try saving face. That's about all they deserve credit for here, though. They have now effectively turned Caris LeVert and a 2023 second-round pick into two rentals and a pick swap they will more likely than not never use.
That is objectively terrible. And it isn't only terrible with the benefit of hindsight. The Rockets' decision was beyond questionable in real-time. It only made sense if they thought Oladipo could be flipped for more than LeVert and a second-rounder at the deadline.
Spare yourself the cap-space takes. Houston has clean books now. (Avery Bradley has a team option for next season.) Big whoop. The two years and $36.3 million left on LeVert's contract are market value at worst and a net positive at best. They could have shipped him into another team's cap space over the summer while also getting an asset back in return.
Trading for a soon-to-be free agent you have the cap space to sign outright is always a shaky proposition. Well, provided you give up any long-term value whatsoever to get him.
Olynyk has played well during his minutes next to Bam Adebayo, but he's a free agent after this season, and the Heat just traded for Nemanja Bjelica. With Trevor Ariza and Andre Iguodala also around to sponge up reps in the frontcourt, Olynyk quickly became expendable.
Bradley's three-and-D skill set is a loss in theory, but he hasn't played since the beginning of February, during which time the Heat's defense has fared quite well. They need another shot creator who can drill jumpers off the dribble and put pressure on set defenses a lot more than an injured-yet-useful role player.
Oladipo might be that guy. He also might not be. The Heat aren't paying much to find out. That pick swap will likely never be exercised, and they now have the opportunity to see how Oladipo fits their roster before potentially paying him over the summer.
Lou Williams to Atlanta
Atlanta Hawks Receive: Lou Williams, 2023 second-round pick, 2027 second-round pick, cash
Los Angeles Clippers Receive: Rajon Rondo
Rajon Rondo has missed a ton of time this season with injuries and failed to wow when he's been on the court. Losing him may have repercussions on Atlanta's postseason defense, but it's a minor blow—and one the Hawks are well equipped to withstand.
Kris Dunn's eventual return from an ankle injury should replace whatever defensive value the team lost when it matters most. And then some. Lou Williams will take care of the playmaking while adding a hefty dose of shot-making. His foul-baiting historically hasn't worked as well in the playoffs, but from-scratch creation is super pivotal beyond the first round.
The Hawks have reinforcements for Trae Young when Bogdan Bogdanovic and Danilo Gallinari are both healthy. But Williams—who will stick in Atlanta, per The Athletic's Shams Charania—gives the reserve minutes even more of a punch and is yet another safety net in the event Bogdanovic or Gallinari misses more time.
That the Hawks are getting two second-rounders is mind-melting. Rondo is guaranteed $7.5 million next season. That's a not-insignificant amount for any backup point guard, but especially one who is averaging under 15 minutes per game and remains the ultimate wild card.
Let's start here: Justifying this deal for the Clippers is not impossible. They have the league's best offense and plenty of flame-throwing shooters who can generate their own looks. Williams is relatively expendable when he doesn't much boost the pressure Los Angeles puts on the rim, and when he doesn't draw nearly as many fouls in the postseason.
Rondo brings more game-managing value. The Clippers need that extra dose of captaincy. Their offense can stall despite its supernova efficiency. Engaged Rondo will also give them a better defender to roll out against opposing guards. He was instrumental to the Los Angeles Lakers' success during last year's playoffs and could have that same effect on the Clippers.
Still: This is a weird move. Rondo just turned 35 and is guaranteed $7.5 million next season. His three-point shooting has improved dramatically, but he's not a huge threat to actually score. He will pass up his fair share of super-uncontested triples and potential looks in the lane.
Perhaps the Clippers are making this move as a show of faith in Terance Mann and the suddenly much perkier Luke Kennard. That is completely understandable. They still shouldn't have been the team to give up draft equity here.
Daniel Gafford to Washington
Boston Celtics: Luke Kornet, Moritz Wagner
Chicago Bulls Receive: Troy Brown Jr., Javonte Green, Daniel Theis, cash
Washington Wizards Receive: Daniel Gafford, Chandler Hutchison
Luke Kornet and Moe Wagner are probably temporary gets with free agency on the horizon. That's fine. Daniel Theis is hitting free agency himself and mostly expendable with both Robert Williams and Tristan Thompson (player option) on the books for next season.
Boston is cutting a little bit of money from this season's bottom line after absorbing Evan Fournier into the Gordon Hayward trade exception. Avoiding the tax doesn't warrant a parade, particularly when you're giving up the best or second-best player in a deal. But it is a team concern with Jayson Tatum's max extension set to kick in next year.
Resident trampoline Daniel Gafford is an intriguing prospect who no longer had a clear path to minutes in Chicago. The Bulls just traded for Nikola Vucevic and have made Thaddeus Young-at-the-5 minutes a thing. Gafford would be sitting on the roster as the third or fourth big.
Daniel Theis can now take on that role. He has some stretch to his offensive game and will be able to hold up defensively alongside Young and Patrick Williams.
Troy Brown Jr. is the more pressing acquisition. His playing time dissipated in Washington, but he showed inside last season's Disney World restart that he can run pick-and-rolls and inject a dab of off-the-dribble oomph. He should play more than the outgoing Chandler Hutchison, and the Bulls get to monitor him for another year after this one at a reasonable(ish) $5.2 million price point.
Anyone who wanted the Wizards to build out their frontline depth should love this trade. This is to say: Everyone should love this trade.
Gafford is what happens when moon boots run on jet fuel, and he has shown he can be more of a rim-running threat than he's been this season. His rim protection is an immediate upgrade over Wagner's defensive minutes, and the Wizards have another two cost-controlled years to explore the depth of his skill set.
Hutchison is most likely an afterthought, but Washington is in dire need of 6'6''/6'7" dudes who can log wing minutes. His $4 million salary next season is prohibitive if the Wizards don't play him, but they're not going to be a cap-space team anyway.
Taking on money for next year was the price of adding Gafford. And the price is worth it.
Nemanja Bjelica to Miami
Miami Heat Receive: Nemanja Bjelica
Sacramento Kings Receive: Maurice Harkless, Chris Silva
Miami's offense has needed another frontline option since losing Jae Crowder in free agency. Nemanja Bejlica should provide at least some of it.
He doesn't have the same off-the-dribble range, but he is pure, unadulterated floor spacing. Throw this season out the window and he's shooting 39.3 percent from beyond the arc for his career.
But, you know, this year is happening. Bjelica has canned just 29.3 percent of his treys thus far. The Heat are hoping that mark progresses to its mean.
It probably will. Bjelica's spot in the Kings rotation was inconsistent—and, at times, nonexistent. He'll have more room to fire away in Miami's offense. Even if he still doesn't find nylon from beyond the arc, he's sneaky physical when dribbling downhill, whereas Maurice Harkless isn't legally allowed to dribble.
The Heat are tying their hands on defense a little bit. Bjelica cannot be thrown onto bigger wings. But Harkless wasn't a prominent part of the rotation, and Miami has margin for error on the less glamorous end after landing Trevor Ariza. It is more important that the Heat are acquiring a potential lights-out shooter who bolsters their frontcourt rotation following the exit of Kelly Olynyk.
The Heat probably wanted a second-round pick for Bjelica, but the Heat don't have any of those to unload.
Just as well, too: Chris Silva might be the better flier. He has flashed some rim protection and aggressive rebounding in limited run over the past two years, and he'll have a spot within an NBA offense if he starts finishing stronger at the basket off his rolls and increases his willingness to uncork uncontested threes.
Sacramento can use a big-man flier with Richaun Holmes speeding toward free agency. He is undersized at 6'8", but he plays slightly bigger and will cost under $1.8 million next season (team option).
George Hill to Philadelphia
New York Knicks Receive: Terrance Ferguson, Vincent Poirier, 2021 second-round pick (via Philadelphia)
Oklahoma City Thunder Receive: Tony Bradley, Austin Rivers, 2025 second-round pick (via Philadelphia), 2026 second-round pick (via Philadelphia)
Philadelphia 76ers Receive: Ignas Brazdeikis, George Hill
Oklahoma City now has 34 draft picks over the next seven drafts—17 firsts and 17 seconds, per ESPN's Bobby Marks. What a time to be alive.
This is sound value on George Hill for the Thunder. He would've ideally brought back more than two seconds from what might be a top-shelf contender, but he hasn't played since Jan. 24 after having right thumb surgery.
Austin Rivers' arrival is going to be temporary. He may even have already texted general manager Sam Presti "Buyout?"
Tony Bradley is slightly more interesting. He is covering more ground at both ends this season and has cobbled together a few nice appearances for the Sixers. Oklahoma City has always loved length, and he's still only 23, so he should factor into the big-man rotation before entering free agency this summer.
Others will be more inclined to give the Knicks a better grade. Rivers had fallen out of the rotation, and they now have another wing-sized player to trot out on defense if they're so inclined.
As a staunch "Austin Rivers should be playing over Elfrid Payton or just please at least stop playing Elfrid Payton!" hardliner, I'll be inclined to revisit this grade if the Knicks do something else. For now, they've traded two players they weren't using for two players they might not use but also could use while netting another second-rounder.
Hill is not Kyle Lowry. He's still good. And cheaper. A lot cheaper.
Wrenching Lowry from the Toronto Raptors, insofar as it was even possible, was always going to cost a haul. That's on top of whatever the Sixers would've needed to pay him in an extension. Hill is making roughly one-third of Lowry's salary this season, and only $1 million of his $10 million price tag in 2021-22 is guaranteed.
Compared to Lowry, Hill's offense is more basic. He doesn't provide the same off-the-dribble juice or pressure. But he can chaperone an offense. He is hitting 61.5 percent of his looks on drives—a top-six mark among 194 players who have taken at least as many shots in such situations. His 38.6 percent clip from deep should climb when he's catching passes from Ben Simmons.
Whether the Sixers are going the alternate route by choice is irrelevant. They've upgraded their roster and preserved their main assets for larger trades down the line while opening up a roster spot for the buyout market.
Portland and Toronto Swap Wings
Portland Trail Blazers Receive: Norman Powell
Toronto Raptors Receive: Rodney Hood, Gary Trent Jr.
Someone else might need to explain the Blazers' logic. This move feels unnecessarily lateral in a vacuum.
Gary Trent Jr. has gone cold from the floor in recent weeks, but that slump is going to normalize. Maybe the Blazers are nervous about his free agency (restricted), but they can't feel much better about Norman Powell's next price point (player option). Both players will get paid.
This isn't to say choosing Powell over Trent is ridiculous. He is slightly shorter but has more length to weaponize on the defensive end and will score from more levels. Trent has shown off-the-dribble pizzazz but doesn't get to the rim nearly enough to weaponize.
Powell is also having himself a year. He's averaging 19.6 points while canning 55.2 percent of his twos and 43.9 percent of his threes, including 41.0 percent of his pull-up triples. Zach LaVine is the only other player who matches his scoring average and those shooting splits. Portland can feel better about Powell impacting a playoff series as both a complementary floor-spacer and from-scratch creator.
Much about this trade for the Raptors will play out in free agency. It will be fascinating to see how the market values both Powell and Trent.
Initially, though, the latter seems like a better fit for a franchise very clearly in transition. Outside suitors are less inclined to tie up their cap in restricted free agents, and Trent is just 22 while Powell turns 28 in May. There's a chance the Raptors of next season just got younger and cheaper.
Toronto shouldn't be starkly worse in the immediate term, either. Trent's three-point clip will rebound, and Rodney Hood gives head coach Nick Nurse an additional wing to trot out across two, if not three, positions. The Raptors lose some volume at the rim and the foul line, but that's readily manageable if they finish the deadline with Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet all on the roster.
Aaron Gordon to Denver
Denver Nuggets Receive: Gary Clark, Aaron Gordon
Orlando Magic Receive: Gary Harris, RJ Hampton, 2025 first-round pick (top-five protection through 2027)
This is the quintessential midseason get for the Nuggets—exactly the type of player they need to fortify their defense against two certain Western Conference superpowers that pose two impossible frontcourt covers.
Aaron Gordon is better suited to tussle with Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard than anyone else on the roster. He's even better suited to handle those responsibilities than Jerami Grant, a player Denver has missed to this point.
Lineups featuring Michael Porter Jr. and Nikola Jokic up front have been suspiciously stingy so far. (Opponents aren't shooting well from deep during those minutes.) Gordon gives those combinations a real chance of staying that way. He can handle the assignments Porter doesn't match up well against, and Porter allows him to operate like the 4 on offense.
The Nuggets are getting some offensive upside, too. Gordon has too often been miscast as a pure wing and primary creator, but he's not without ball skills. He has improved his feel and vision in the half court over the past two seasons. His 43.5 percent clip on spot-up threes should translate nicely and sustain amid more volume within Denver's offense.
Surrendering RJ Hampton and a first-round pick is fairly steep. The Nuggets traded another future first to get the former. But developing youngsters is hard when you're a contender, and Denver has Will Barton (for now), Facundo Campazzo and Monte Morris to supplement backcourt minutes alongside Jamal Murray.
This is likewise the cost of offloading Gary Harris. He still has intense defensive value but doesn't possess the size or length to rumble with the biggest wings. Both his offense and availability have become wild cards over the past two years, rendering him a net negative at $20.5 million next season. Any lingering unease on the Nuggets' behalf should assuage knowing Gordon is cheaper in 2021-22 and younger.
Harris' arrival does a better job explaining why the Magic flipped Evan Fournier for two seconds and cap relief. Talk about damning praise.
Orlando's return on Gordon is muuuch better. The extra year remaining on his contract helped. Harris doesn't figure into the next relevant iteration of the Magic, but he can capably pester either backcourt slot when healthy and used to shoot a pretty good clip from three. His expiring contract will be useful next season if the front office wants to make larger trades.
Hampton is still very much an unknown at the NBA level, but he arms the Magic with a lead ball-handling prospect who should operate well next to a healthy Markelle Fultz and still has three years left on his rookie-scale deal. Orlando is smart to go the cost-controlled mystery-box route.
Protections on the Nuggets' 2025 first-rounder diminish its appeal somewhat, but acquiring distant first-rounders from contenders is a shrewd edge. Though Denver's core remains on the younger side, a lot can happen over the next four years.
Evan Fournier to Boston
Boston Celtics Receive: Evan Fournier
Orlando Magic Receive: Jeff Teague, two second-round picks
Pretty much everyone's initial reaction should be along the same lines: This was all it took to get Evan Fournier?
Boston is hitting a triple and maybe even a home run. Fournier probably won't be part of the closing unit with Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker all in the fold. But he expertly fills some of their biggest voids: ball-handling, reliable outside shooting and general wing depth.
Fournier is averaging 19.7 points and 3.7 assists while downing 38.8 percent of his threes and can be featured as an on-ball creator or floor-spacing complement. Head coach Brad Stevens should not be above fielding lineups in which he's the pseudo point guard when Tatum and Walker both sit.
The Celtics are assuming virtually no risk. Burning a huge chunk of their Gordon Hayward trade exception on a could-be rental isn't ideal, but it's a no-brainer decision when that could-be rental is an ideal fit and the opportunity cost doesn't include a first-rounder.
I repeat: This was all it took to get Evan Fournier?
Expiring contracts of non-stars have fuzzy value around this time of year. Teams will usually only give up so much when acquiring someone they'll either rent or have to pay in a few months.
This is a lackluster return even by those standards. Fournier is capable of being the third option on a really good team and effectively straddles the line between featured ball-handler and plug-and-play accessory.
Orlando creates a large trade exception, saves a ton of money and strengthens its midseason tank by sending him into Boston's own TPE, but snagging a first-round pick or actual prospect would've been more impressive.
Nikola Vucevic to Chicago
Chicago Bulls Receive: Al-Farouq Aminu, Nikola Vucevic
Orlando Magic Receive: Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr., 2021 first-round pick (top-four protection), 2023 first-round pick
Too much time is spent romanticizing future first-round picks and what they could become. There will be those who criticize the Bulls for buying rather than selling. This writer might be one of them. Chicago is betting heavily on a future built around Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic.
That's not a bad gamble by any stretch. Vucevic is averaging 24.5 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists while banging in 40.6 percent of his threes, most of which come from above the break. The two-man game between him and LaVine should be instant fire, and both LaVine and Coby White will have driving lanes they could only dream about before now.
It feels a little surreal to see the Eastern Conference's No. 10 seed buy this hard—but hey, 10th place is play-in territory, baby. It is also just a stone's throw away from a top-four seed (three games). Seriously.
Chicago has inoculated itself against a disastrous end to this season with top-four protection on its 2021 pick. That helps. The 2023 draft obligation is a little unnerving. Vooch will be under contract that preceding season (it's his final year), but the commitment post-dates LaVine's deal.
Complicated still, the Bulls have punted on cap space this summer by taking on Vooch and Al-Farouq Aminu, who owns a $10.1 million player option he will definitely exercise. Renegotiating and extending LaVine's contract is, for now, a no-go.
This might not be a problem. Chicago can still pay LaVine more than anyone else when he hits free agency, and nothing out there suggests he's unhappy or already window shopping. He's also going to get paid no matter what. The Bulls can send a stronger message by being really good. They're on that track now.
A core built around LaVine, Vooch, White, Thaddeus Young and Patrick Williams is a higher-end Eastern Conference noisemaker. Chicago deserves credit for its aggressive risk-taking. But this is still an aggressive risk. The Bulls had clearly lost faith in Wendell Carter Jr., and Otto Porter Jr. wasn't part of the future.
Forking over two first-round picks is nevertheless a tall order for a team so far away from the contender's clique. And Vooch alone doesn't put it over the hump. The Bulls need White or Williams to go boom. That by itself is not a total pipe dream, but this deal has the faint markings of a process rushed.
Blowing it up has been the right call in Orlando for a while. It's finally happening now.
Vucevic is fantastic, but he has limitations as a franchise's best player. The Magic never surrounded him with the co-star necessary to be more than a semi-middling playoff team. Moving him allows them to formulate a more gradual vision with a higher peak almost from scratch. Jonathan Isaac, who is out for the season with a torn left ACL, projects as this rebuild's focal point, but Orlando is no longer beholden to its stagnant place in the league's pecking order.
Getting two first-round picks from a could-be playoff team seems unimpressive on its face. The Bulls currently have the 10th-best lottery odds and should only get better with Vucevic. That 2021 first may, if not probably will, convey outside the lottery.
Chicago's 2023 first remains a potential golden ticket no matter what by virtue of post-dating LaVine's current contract. Carter might qualify as one himself. His passing and range haven't shined during his time with the Bulls, but he's battled injuries and restrictive opportunities. Orlando has the runway to let him play through whatever and plumb the depths of his offensive volume. His defensive mobility will be put to good use under head coach Steve Clifford.
The Magic have now also positioned themselves to be cap-space players over the summer. They've cut $27.3 million off next season's payroll (so far) by exchanging salaries for Vooch and Aminu with WCJ's negligible cap hit and Porter's expiring salary. Orlando is not an available-superstar destination, but this frees up the front office to take on unwanted contracts attached to assets or get mega-aggressive on offer sheets for restricted free agents.
Terence Davis to Sacramento
Sacramento Kings Receive: Terence Davis
Toronto Raptors Receive: 2021 second-round pick (via Memphis)
Terence Davis was recently granted an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal of charges "stemming from an October incident in New York in which he allegedly got into a verbal argument with his girlfriend" and "'hit the victim in the face,'" and he is included mostly for salary purposes. That incident must be part of this calculus.
Sacramento's logic tracks when looking only at Davis' potential impact on the court. He is only 23, knocks down threes at a decent clip and has a nifty second jump around the basket. At 6'4", he has shown a capacity to compete defensively versus certain wing-sized assignments.
The Kings will have the flexibility to keep Davis around this season if they're so inclined. He is set to enter restricted free agency and doesn't, as of now, rank as one of the most sought-after names. He stands to become more of a rental should they look to clear out cap space to re-sign Richaun Holmes—they only have his Early Bird rights—but the cost of this flier is low enough (a mid-second-rounder and the creation of a roster spot) for the dice roll to make sense from a pure basketball perspective.
Jettisoning Davis does not count as a moral awakening. The player who became known as "Redacted" on Raptors Twitter was still a moderate part of the rotation.
Toronto is getting enough when weighing basketball implications only. Davis is a restricted free agent after this season, and the Raptors will have enough money invested in sub-6'5" players even after trading Norman Powell if they float the Kyle Lowry-Fred VanVleet partnership for another year or two.
Brad Wanamaker to Charlotte
Charlotte Hornets Receive: Brad Wanamaker
Golden State Warriors: Cash
Brad Wanamaker has been up-and-down this year—and mostly down. But the Hornets could use another guard in light of LaMelo Ball's potentially season-ending wrist injury.
Landing Wanamaker does almost nothing to increase Charlotte's shot-creation ranks. That burden will fall to Devonte' Graham, Gordon Hayward, Terry Rozier and Malik Monk. At his best, though, Wanamaker will stroke threes, shoot gaps on straight-line drives and put up a fight on defense.
Sending Wanamaker to Charlotte doesn't do anything tangible for the Warriors. They're not receiving a draft pick or player.
But they do open a roster spot, which will serve them well on the buyout market. If nothing else, it opens minutes for other players in the guard rotation—a not-so-minor deal given how poorly Wanamaker has played for most of this year, and a massive deal if your name is Jordan Poole.
Marquese Chriss to San Antonio
Golden State Warriors Receive: Rights to Cady Lalanne
San Antonio Spurs Receive: Marquese Chriss, cash
Golden State created yet another roster spot to help itself on the buyout market while cutting its luxury-tax bill.
Hang the banner, Joey L!
Marquese Chriss isn't expected to play again this season after suffering a left ankle injury, but who doesn't love cold, hard cash?
Also: Should the Spurs want to re-sign him, they have his "Early Bird" rights.
Matt Thomas to Utah
Toronto Raptors Receive: 2021 second-round pick (via Golden State)
Utah Jazz Receive: Matt Thomas
Matt Thomas is an actual flame-thrower and is cost-controlled at $1.8 million for another season after this one. It feels like the Raptors should've aimed for more than a single second-rounder.
Counterpoint: Toronto also traded for Gary Trent Jr. and wasn't really playing Thomas. That Golden State second-rounder has a chance to convey in the late 30s to early 40s as well, and the Raptors opened a roster spot by completing this deal and the Terence Davis trade.
In the end, Thomas still feels a tick more valuable, but Toronto didn't necessarily botch this.
Utah needed a wing defender more than anything else. Thomas doesn't give the Jazz that player.
He does, however, outfit them with another knockdown shooter on a cheapo contract. He has taken almost twice as many threes (140) as twos (72) for his career and is swishing them at a 45.7 percent clip.
This is more long-term play than something that fills an immediate need. And that's OK. The Jazz didn't have the assets necessary to get in the running for difference-makers at their largest area of need. Further stacking an already stacked depth chart is a nice bit of biz by the league's best team.
JaVale McGee to Denver
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: Isaiah Hartenstein, 2023 second-round pick (protected Nos. 31-46), 2027 second-round pick (unprotected)
Denver Nuggets Receive: JaVale McGee
It is difficult to dislike this trade for the Cavs. That 2023 second-rounder would be largely whatever even if it wasn't protected, but they're grabbing some mystery-box value with a 2027 selection. Denver is set up for sustainable success, but six years remains an eternity by NBA-title-window lifespans.
Besides, a handful of contenders no doubt had JaVale McGee listed among their possible buyout options. Getting two seconds for a player who, at 33, fits neither the immediate nor long-term vision of the team is rock-solid.
Isaiah Hartenstein is at least somewhat interesting to a rotation without a permanent backup 5 behind Jarrett Allen. He has above-the-rim pop, and while he doesn't match up particularly well against brawnier centers, he's flashed serviceable help instincts around the basket.
Rest in peace, rogue JaVale McGee three-point attempts.
This isn't the quasi-blockbuster Nuggets fans are hoping for, if not outright expecting, but Denver needed to shore up its backup-big rotation. The center minutes behind Nikola Jokic have been populated by Hartenstein, Bol Bol, Vlatko Cancar, JaMychal Green, Paul Millsap and Zeke Nnaji. McGee gives this carousel more size and length and is better suited than most of the incumbent options to tackle emergency minutes against a healthy Anthony Davis, Rudy Gobert, Ivica Zubac, et al.
At the bare minimum, McGee gives the Nuggets a more imposing rim protector. They've done a good job limiting opportunities at the basket, but they rank dead last in shooting percentage allowed around the hoop. Opponents are hitting just 47.4 percent of their looks at the rim when being challenged by McGee—the stingiest mark in the league among 120 players who have defended at least 100 such attempts.
Denver's point of entry here is also relatively low. Distant seconds hold little value to franchises with three cornerstones under the age of 27, and Hartenstein wasn't a rotation staple.
Burning some of their maneuverability below the tax line is the bigger concession. That's hardly prohibitive. They're still a little over $3 million away from it, and they have the mid-tier salaries to match money nearly dollar-for-dollar in potentially larger deals.
Delon Wright to Sacramento
Detroit Pistons Receive: Cory Joseph, 2021 second-round pick (via L.A. Lakers), 2024 second-round pick
Sacramento Kings Receive: Delon Wright
This is at once an eminently justifiable and unspectacular trade for the Pistons. They now have three second-round picks in this year's draft, none of which are their own, and Cory Joseph's $2.4 million partial guarantee this summer stands to free up an additional $6.1 million in space. That money will matter if they plan to hunt for talent given how large the contract hold will be for their first-round pick.
Nabbing the Kings' 2024 second-rounder could end up being a shrewd move. These don't appear to be the Kangz anymore, but the Western Conference is brutal. Non-crappy teams can convey seconds in the top half of the second round.
It isn't like Delon Wright is pivotal to the Pistons' big picture, either. He turns 29 in April and isn't someone who will pilot a top-flight half-court offense as a full-time starter. Detroit has cannonballed fully into later-not-now mode and is experimenting with Saben Lee and Dennis Smith Jr., who will eventually be joined by Hamidou Diallo (groin) and rookie Killian Hayes (hip) once they return from injuries.
Something still just seems off. Maybe I'm not properly valuing the Lakers' 2021 second-rounder. They're a threat to reach play-in territory as they navigate the absences of both Anthony Davis and LeBron James. Wright has also seen his three-point clip plunge since returning from his strained right groin.
But he is without question a useful NBA rotation player, someone who puts legitimate pressure on the rim, albeit without drawing a ton of fouls, and can defend both backcourt slots. Rostering competent players is important even when you're not aiming to be good.
Neither of the seconds the Pistons return profiles as attractive enough to complete this move now. Wright wasn't hurting the organic tank, and they could've feasibly shipped him into another team's cap space over the offseason without taking back money.
Bagging Wright is, in no uncertain terms, a great move by Sacramento. He instantly becomes the best backup point guard they've housed during the De'Aaron Fox era. (Tyrese Haliburton has spent more time off the ball.)
As someone who can knife into the teeth of set defenses and disrupt plays on and off the ball at the other end, Wright figures to be the player they thought they signed in Cory Joseph—not to mention the player they thought they traded for over the offseason in Donte DiVincenzo.
Wright's size (6'5", 185 lbs) might even invite head coach Luke Walton to roll out a three-guard lineup featuring him, Fox and Haliburton. That trio makes so much more sense defensively than pairing the latter two with Buddy Hield, and Wright was shooting a high-enough clip on spot-up threes prior to his injury (44.9 percent) to operate beside another alpha ball-handler.
Lottery-odds purists might flinch at the Kings acting like buyers. That's not actually an issue. They didn't mortgage any real part of their future, and this doesn't prove they're chasing a play-in bid.
On the contrary, this deal augurs another one. The Kings tacked $6.1 million onto next season's payroll, a significant amount that, as of now, leaves them to operate as an over-the-cap team this summer.
Carrying that extra money becomes problematic when looking at Richaun Holmes' free agency. His Early Bird rights only let them pay him up to 105 percent of this year's average salary before using cap space. The market for centers can be wonky, but Holmes ranks as the best free-agent 5. Some team will offer him more than $10.5 million(ish) in the first year of his next contract.
Sacramento can always open up space later when it has a more concrete grasp of the marketplace for Holmes. The Kings may also not be inclined to pay him top dollar. He could be the next move. Either way, regardless of how or when it happens, Sacramento isn't done.
P.J. Tucker to Milwaukee
Houston Rockets Receive: D.J. Augustin, D.J. Wilson, the right to swap their 2021 second-round pick for Milwaukee's 2021 first-round pick, Milwaukee's 2023 first-round pick (unprotected)
Milwaukee Bucks Receive: Rodions Kurucs, P.J. Tucker, 2022 first-round pick (their own), $110,000 cash (via Phoenix)
Phoenix Suns Receive: Torrey Craig
Various reports had the Rockets requesting quite a bit for P.J. Tucker. They were never getting that by dealing him alone. He turns 36 in May, will be a free agent this summer and saw his corner three-point percentage dip below 34 percent through 32 appearances. What little leverage Houston had was compromised further when he left the team.
Taking on D.J. Augustin from the Bucks allowed the Rockets to glitz up their return. He is a net negative at $7 million next season, but Houston has been thrust into a more gradual timeline and can reroute him as a quasi-expiring contract in 2021-22. (He's guaranteed just $333,333 in 2022-23.)
That's an acceptable cash load to swallow for two tantalizing pick obligations. The Rockets are smart to push back the Bucks first they were owed from 2022 until 2023. It should still convey in the bottom seven, but delaying it an additional year leaves more time for something to go unexpectedly wrong in Milwaukee.
Making that move also gives them a chance to jump eight or so spots in this summer's draft. Their second-rounder currently checks in at No. 34, and they can swap it for the Bucks' first, which presently sits at No. 26. It is a modest climb, but they now project to have three first-rounders: Milwaukee's, their own or the Oklahoma City Thunder's and a lottery-protected selection from the Portland Trail Blazers.
It was tempting to go with an A-plus. The Bucks certainly get that grade for their creativity. Second-for-first swaps are rare, and they found a nice workaround to their pick situation following the Jrue Holiday blockbuster.
Tucker is two games into his Bucks tenure at this writing, so the jury is still out on his impact. The idea of him, though, is a home run. His corner-three clip should rise within a more coherent offense, and more importantly, he diversifies a Milwaukee defense that has lacked dynamism in the postseason.
Brook Lopez has lost a step this year and remains most valuable in drop coverage at a time when the Bucks are experimenting with more switching. They have already switched more pick-and-rolls than they did all last season, per ESPN's Kevin Pelton.
Lineups featuring Giannis Antetokounmpo without Lopez have so far killed. Tucker's defensive profile amplifies those arrangements. If his play picks up, Milwaukee is better off running him beside Antetokounmpo on the frontline rather than Bobby Portis.
Granted, the Bucks could find out Tucker is toast. They're betting he's not, but his potential improvement is not the only value they're extracting from this deal. They have shaved nearly $4.9 million off their books, giving them more breathing room under the hard cap while creating two extra roster spots.
Both will serve them well when they peruse the buyout market or pursue other trades. For those who care about billionaire team governors saving money, Milwaukee now also has a line to ducking the tax entirely if Jrue Holiday's contract incentives don't hit.
Some might dock the Bucks for depleting their backcourt reserves. Torrey Craig was barely playing, but they no longer have a conventional backup point guard. Whatever. They get enough collective playmaking from Antetokounmpo, Holiday, Khris Middleton and even Donte DiVincenzo.
Career conspiracy theorists might see the Craig acquisition as portending another move from the Suns. It's possible. If they deal Jevon Carter, E'Twaun Moore or Abdel Nader as part of another package, Craig arms them with a three-position defender to soak up minutes.
More likely than not, Phoenix is making a straight value play.
Craig is a bulldog defender who can be tossed onto some of the toughest perimeter covers. He won't be ticketed for a prime-time role unless the Suns suffer injuries or make other moves—he's logged 28 minutes through his first two appearances—but he's a subtle needle-nudger if he's draining enough of the ultra-wide-open threes opposing defenses will give him.
Taking a flier on even the mere concept of Craig is a win when it costs only a roster spot and $110,000.
Trevor Ariza to Miami
Miami Heat Receive: Trevor Ariza
Oklahoma City Thunder Receive: Meyers Leonard, 2027 second-round pick
This is the second consecutive season in which the Heat have acquired a veteran who hasn't taken the floor in basically a year. They picked up Andre Iguodala, who never reported to the Memphis Grizzlies, in 2020 as part of a contract dump that just so happened to net rotation players.
Ariza, who never joined the Thunder and hadn't played since last March after opting out of the bubble to spend a court-ordered one-month visitation period with his son, comes to Miami as a strict value grab.
Rolling the dice on a 35-year-old who hasn't played in that long is not without risk. Ariza has looked rusty in his first three appearances with the Heat, drilling just two of his 10 three-point attempts.
Still, the cost is so minimal it almost doesn't matter. Miami desperately needs an alternative to Moe Harkless minutes, and if Ariza can hold up defensively, it'll be easier to give Kelly Olynyk more time at the 5 rather than using him as the de facto 4 next to Bam Adebayo.
Flipping any picks that don't convey until 2027 can be a tad unsettling. But this was, quite literally, the only second the Heat could send out. It's also tough to imagine them netting better value for Meyers Leonard's expiring contract. He isn't expected to play again this season following left shoulder surgery and remained away from the team after he used an anti-Semitic slur while playing Call of Duty on a live stream.
If anything, this deal is a reminder of how much Miami misses the punch Jae Crowder provided post-trade deadline last season. Ariza won't offer as much offensive volume or occasional off-the-dribble juice as Crowder, but he's at least a conceptual facsimile: a wing-sized 4 who should stretch the floor. Having him might also embolden the Heat to move Iguodala's salary to facilitate a larger deal.
How's that age-old saying go? Oh, right: Life, death, taxes and Thunder general manager Sam Presti hoarding distant draft picks.
Inbound second-rounders won't make headlines, but shorting any team's future six years in advance is never a terrible decision. The Heat have been all-in on the present for so long that it's possible their 2027 second conveys in the 30s.
Oklahoma City also created another sizable trade exception ($12.8 million) while using one that was about to expire. That is, as basketball folks say a lot nowadays, a nice piece of business. They can also still reroute Leonard's expiring salary (2021-22 team option).
The Clippers Clear Room Under the Hard Cap
Los Angeles Clippers Receive: 2022 second-round pick (heavily protected)
Sacramento Kings Receive: Mfiondu Kabengele, 2022 second-round pick (top-55 protection, via Atlanta)
Jettisoning a No. 27 pick less than two seasons into his career for wiggle room under the hard cap and what figures to be a fake second-rounder should theoretically warrant criticism. But the Clippers decided long ago Mfiondu Kabengele wasn't part of their future when they declined his third-year option. This deal must be weighed in the context of that choice.
Wiping Kabengele from the ledger leaves the Clippers a little more than $2.6 million beneath the luxury-tax apron. That isn't a ton of runway, but it's enough to allow them to pull off another trade that brings back extra salary. The roster spot they created opens two-for-one scenarios and buyout possibilities.
This goes down as a small victory in the interim for the optionality it affords the Clippers. Their grade can move in either direction, though, depending on what they do with this additional flexibility.
Sacramento will end up getting more cash from the Clippers than Kabengele is owed for the rest of this season. Hooray. Or something.
More uncertain benefits anchor much of the Kings' grade. They don't have a settled backup big rotation, so Kabengele could technically get some run for the rest of this year. He proved willing to chuck threes during his stints in the G League, where he also notched a 5 percent block rate.
Of course, Sacramento cannot pay him more than the $2.3 million option that was declined if things pan out. That shouldn't be a problem. The market for his services won't be especially frothy regardless of how he closes the season.
Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference, Stathead or Cleaning the Glass and are accurate entering games on March 24. Salary information via Basketball Insiders and Spotrac.