Well, that was certainly eventful. The NBA’s trade deadline day came and went on Thursday, with major shakeups to show for it around the league — particularly atop the East where the Raptors, Bucks, and 76ers engaged in an arms race ahead of the playoff stretch.
Throw in the eight trades that went down in the 24 hours that preceded deadline day, not to mention the Kristaps Porzingis shocker that went down late last week, and the NBA’s trade season felt a lot like this:
Without further ado, let’s take a closer look at who won and who lost (because: sports) at the 2019 NBA trade deadline:
Winner: Milwaukee Bucks
Trading for Nikola Mirotic is undoubtedly a great pickup for Milwaukee — and one that should put Toronto and the rest of the East on further notice.
The Bucks have already established themselves as the team to beat in the East at this point, and the Mirotic trade only cements this. He might not have the name-brand cache as other names being tossed around in rumours, but he should have a significant impact on Milwaukee, giving them more shooting and lineup versatility.
This is a team that dropped 50 (!) points in the first quarter Wednesday night, and already boast easily the conference’s best offence. Mirotic, a premier shooting big man, fits into their offensive identity seamlessly. Simply put, the East’s best just got better — and they didn’t have to part with a first-round pick or meaningful rotation player in the process.
Loser:Winner: Toronto Raptors
Toronto reportedly prepared an offer for Anthony Davis and perhaps had a shot (Pascal Siakam is arguably a better piece than any young player the Lakers had to offer, so you wonder how far they could have really been to piquing the Pelicans’ interest). They were after Porzingis until the Mavericks swept in. They were in on talks to acquire Mike Conley.
And yet for most of deadline day, crickets.
Meanwhile, all around the East, the top teams were loading up. The Bucks nabbed Mirotic, the Sixers landed Tobias Harris, the Pacers were linked to Wes Matthews, the Nets got Caris Levert back from injury far sooner than expected. It seemed like everybody but Toronto was improving.
And then, just one hour before the deadline, the news broke: The Raptors had acquired three-time all-star Marc Gasol in exchange for Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, C.J. Miles, and a future second-round pick.
It hurts to lose Valanciunas who, like DeMar DeRozan before him, was one of the few good players who genuinely wanted to carve out a career in Toronto. But this was a move the Raptors had to make.
For starters, the Raptors’ window to compete for a berth in the Finals is only narrowly open thanks to the uncertain future of Kawhi Leonard. It could very well close just a few months from now, but by doing something to try to improve their contender status in the East it could help convince Leonard to stay.
Oh, and it makes the team better right now.
While Valanciunas was in the midst of his best NBA season before hurting his hand in early December, sidelining him for 31 games, Gasol has a lot more to offer on both ends of the court. The 2013 Defensive Player of the Year is a good rim protector and this season is averaging over a block and a steal per game. Offensively he’s a gifted passer and proven three-point shooting threat, the kind of player who positively impacts those around him.
It’s not hard to envision Gasol fitting in on this Raptors’ roster and he should improve their odds of competing in the playoffs. Expect him to slot in as Toronto’s starting centre, with Serge Ibaka coming off the bench — although it’s possible Nurse rotates his starters depending on matchups a bit like he did with Ibaka and Valanciunas.
Financially the trade works really well for the Raps, too.
Gasol’s contract — which is expected to expire after next season should he pick up his player option this summer — also fits in well with Toronto’s timeline in a scenario in which Kawhi Leonard doesn’t re-sign this summer. Now Gasol ($25M), Lowry ($33M), and Ibaka ($23M) all have deals that expire in the summer of 2020.
All in all, a win for the Raptors that helps the team this season, while still allowing them to retain flexibility going forward in murky waters where Masai Ujiri & Co. may or may not have a franchise player on their roster.
Now, the Raptors are going to hit the buyout market, looking to sign a veteran free-agent shooter in the post-deadline buyout period, and further add to the roster with two more spots to fill.
Winner: Philadelphia 76ers
The East improved considerably on Thursday.
There is an inherent risk involved in the Sixers’ biggest deadline deal. They sent the Miami Heat’s 2021 first-round pick to the Los Angeles Clippers as part of the package for Harris. That draft pick is projected to be in top-five territory, but given Philly is looking to build a winner in the present, it’s a risk they were obviously willing to take.
But it’s a risk nonetheless. Harris is an all-star calibre player (snubbed from this year’s team despite a career year) who undoubtedly makes the 76ers considerably better. Yet he’s an impending free agent, and there’s no guarantee either he nor Jimmy Butler, Philly’s other big trade splash from earlier this season, will re-sign with the club. The Sixers reportedly intend to bring both back long-term, and while of course we don’t yet know how Philly’s “big four” will co-exist, on paper, Harris seems like a good fit. His three-point shooting prowess and versatile game should suit their roster well and will complement Joel Embiid well.
In a subtler move, Philadelphia also acquired small forward James Ennis from the Rockets, a decent shooter and solid defender who provides some much needed depth. And then, just before the deadline, they dealt former first overall pick, Markelle Fultz, a guard who refuses to shoot, to Orlando for another wing in Jonathan Simmons, along with a first-round pick.
We’ll see just how impactful these deals turn out to be, but there’s no question the Sixers solidified their contender status and put the East on notice this week.
Winner: Sacramento Kings
The Kings have been arguably the biggest surprise team of the season. A perennial loser in recent years, the team looked to be travelling on course when they passed on Luka Doncic with the second-overall pick at the 2018 NBA draft. Another misguided move in a long series of them, it seemed.
The player they did select, Marvin Bagley III, has been on a tear of late and, more importantly, the team’s young starting backcourt of De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield have been playing out of their minds this season. Throw in Bogdan Bogdanovich, Willie Cauley-Stein, and now the recently-acquired Harrison Barnes and the Kings aren’t just one of the most exciting young teams in the league, but are poised to make a serious run at a playoff spot.
The Barnes trade, which went down on Wednesday night, is a huge coup for Sacramento, who could have really used a proven scoring wing to complement their lineup. Before making the deal, sending Justin Jackson and veteran big man Zach Randolph to the Dallas Mavericks (who were looking to free up cap space this summer to sign Porzingis to a sizeable contract extension), the Kings were poised to have among the most cap space of any team this off-season.
But what’s cap space if there’s nobody to spend it on? Sacramento was never considered a realistic destination for this summer’s biggest prizes, Leonard, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving, so instead the team has decided to jump on an opportunity to compete this season by taking on Barnes and the $25 million both this season and next. The Kings are building a winning team the right way. Who saw that coming?
Winner: Dallas Mavericks and the Luka Doncic era
Kudos to the Mavs for pouncing on an opportunity and fleecing the New York Knicks for Porzingis. As mentioned, the Barnes trade helps create cap room this summer to re-sign Porzingis, a possibility we should all hope happens given that pairing the seven-foot-three two-way star with Rookie of the Year favourite and future MVP candidate Luka Doncic would give Dallas one of the NBA’s most exciting duos and form one hell of a foundation to build upon.
These two put on a show competing against one another at the FIBA World Basketball tournament two years ago. Now imagine the pair doing this for the same team:
Anthony Davis had been practically gifted to the Lakers.
When the news leaked that Davis wanted out of New Orleans, the timing made it pretty clear that the door had been opened for the Lakers to swoop in with a trade offer to land him before the deadline — thus eliminating their biggest trade competition, the Boston Celtics, who have to wait until the summer to trade for Davis.
But the two couldn’t agree to a deal, and negotiations had fallen so far that the teams reportedly didn’t even talk on deadline day.
The Lakers, it’s said, didn’t want to offer the ransom of first-round picks New Orleans wanted, and were faced with the reality that their young players — Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart — just aren’t as valuable as they thought.
Consider this a colossal failure for the Lakers that could leave them outside of a playoff spot unless James goes into superhuman mode for the rest of the season. Davis may still wind up in L.A. as a free agent two summers from now, but the Lakers are now left empty handed with a team still not fit to compete in the West.
Loser: New York Knicks
It was hard to find a real loser after deadline day — outside of the NBA’s two marquee franchises, of course.
If their grand plans come to fruition, and the Knicks are able to parlay their newfound cap space into one or both of Durant and Irving, as rumoured, or if they get lucky and win the draft lottery, then the Porzingis trade saga will be water under the bridge.
But for now, the team sold wildly low on a rare talent, and can only hope that it works out in the end. Trading Porzingis isn’t the issue here — if he in fact said that he didn’t want to play for the team and wouldn’t re-sign there, then trading him is the move. But you’d have to think the team could have done better than Dennis Smith Jr. and expiring contracts, to say nothing of the fact that this all could have waited until the off-season when they could have acquired even more draft assets. We’ll see how it pans out, but for now, the Knicks are at least playing up to their reputation as one of the league’s most inept franchises.