NBA trade deadline: 3 winners and 3 losers after memorable week of deals

Will Lou and Alex Wong discuss the Philadelphia 76ers acquiring James Harden from the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for a package including Ben Simmons, saying both teams benefited from the deal considering their current situations.

The 2022 NBA trade deadline was one to remember. Two major deals were agreed to in the days leading up to the Thursday deadline, but the lasting memory will be the blockbuster trade between the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers, who made the rare move to swap all-stars during a season where both teams have serious championship aspirations.

So let's break down the winners and losers from a wild trade deadline.

Winner: Daryl Morey

Regardless of how James Harden fares in Philadelphia, the record will show that Sixers general manager Daryl Morey delivered on his word. He played hardball for months, resisting offers for the self-exiled Ben Simmons while insisting that he would land a superstar, and even in a down year, Harden is undeniably a superstar. The ordeal was messy, scandalous, and genuinely annoying to the large majority of NBA fans who were inundated with incessant reporting on this saga, but it played out as Morey said it would.

Harden and Joel Embiid have the potential to win the Eastern Conference. Embiid is having another MVP-calibre season and is leading the league in scoring — something that no centre has done in over two decades — and he alone has carried the Sixers to a top-four seed this season even with Simmons showing up for nothing more than a passive-aggressive cameo in training camp. In theory, Harden gives Embiid a legitimate running mate, someone else who can singularly carry the offence and to form a pick-and-roll partnership that can torture even the toughest of defences. But it would also take some significant concessions as well from both players. Harden hasn't played with a ball-dominant centre since Dwight Howard seven years ago, and that wasn't exactly a happy marriage. Embiid is used to playing with guards who move and cut around him while he gets touches every single time down the floor, so they would need to get on the same page quickly for it to work.

But nevertheless, this will bolster Morey's existing reputation as one of the league's toughest negotiators. Most general managers in his position would have taken the easy out before the season, especially since Sixers fans were practically frothing at the mouth to ship out Simmons based on last year's playoff disappointment, but Morey held his nerve. Now, he reunites two MVP-level players in an Eastern Conference that is wide open at the top. You can't do much better than that as an executive.

Winner: Celtics

The Boston Celtics were able to duck the luxury tax, while addressing their short and long-term needs. Derrick White is expensive and under contract through 2025, but he is a heady role player that plays both ends of the floor and can either start or serve as a sixth man, which is a huge upgrade over Josh Richardson who does little else besides shoot at an average rate. Getting off Dennis Schroder was always expected since his impact was never as great as his scoring totals would suggest, and in dumping him to the Houston Rockets, Boston also returns Daniel Theis who fit the Celtics' system in the past and is a useful veteran who adds to their frontcourt depth.

The impressive part is that it didn't cost much at all. Boston's history with mid-teen and early-20 draft picks has been wildly mediocre, so offloading one for an immediate contributor in White was an easy call. Parting ways with Romeo Langford — one of those aforementioned mediocre picks — is barely noteworthy. And while the Celtics still lack for shooting, it's been their elite defence (and a very soft schedule) that has powered their turnaround over the past month. They added a two-way contributor in White, offloaded two average bench pieces, got under the luxury tax and balanced out their roster. That's not bad for a rookie executive and former head coach Brad Stevens.

Winner: Pacers

The Pacers nabbed the best long-term piece at the deadline in Tyrese Haliburton and solved their longtime log jam at centre, while correctly pivoting into a much-needed tank. These are exactly the types of moves to sustain a small market franchise, and it gives Pacers fans some tangible hope for the future as they swallow another year of mediocrity in exchange for a high lottery pick.

Haliburton is a rising star who has all the tools needed to succeed as a playmaker in the modern game. He's an excellent pick-and-roll operator who has the unselfish vision to set up his teammates, while also having the scoring skillset between his funky stepback jumper and his lanky finger rolls at the basket. He is a willing defender and can operate both on and off the ball, which is important since the Pacers do have two other long-term options in the backcourt with Malcolm Brogdon and rookie sensation Chris Duarte. Haliburton is not a takeover level player just yet, but the 21-year-old is coming off a recent stretch of averaging 17 points, nine assists, four rebounds and two steals in his last month as a member of the Kings.

Losing Domantas Sabonis is not easy. He was the Pacers' best player and their lone All-Star representative. He is one of the best bigs in the league and an offence onto himself. Yet, he didn't fit on a roster with another starting-level centre in Myles Turner, and Sabonis' high usage from the post was always a philosophical clash with a coach like Rick Carlisle who has always emphasized a more spread-out attack from the perimeter. The Pacers cashed in Sabonis at exactly the right time with two years left on his deal, opened the opportunity to satisfy Turner who keeps publicly campaigning for more touches and got back a budding star to build around.

Flipping Caris LeVert into a first-round pick and a second is just the icing on the cake. LeVert did not fit with the Pacers, nor did he seem particularly invested in being with Indiana long-term and the backcourt is already too crowded with three guards vying for minutes in the rebuild.

Loser: Lakers

The Lakers are the best comedy show in America. This is a team with three top-75 players in NBA history, with the biggest star in the game playing in the world's biggest market, less than two years removed from winning a championship ... and yet, are four games below .500 with the hardest remaining schedule in the league. There is a public spat between head coach Frank Vogel and star addition Russell Westbrook, who is underperforming to such a degree that Lakers fans are actively booing him and discouraging him from shooting because of his propensity to hoist jumpers that land closer to the shot clock than the rim. And having expended all of their moveable pieces in the offseason to acquire Westbrook, the Lakers are completely stuck, with nothing more than an underperforming Talen Horton-Tucker and a distant first-round pick to offer in 2027.

So it's no surprise that the trade deadline came and went with nothing more than a peep from the Lakers. Westbrook's contract at $44 million this year and $47 million next season is an albatross, and their only other tradeable deal was Horton-Tucker, who is their only long-term option in the backcourt. Meanwhile, the biggest problem aside from Westbrook is the underperforming Anthony Davis, who is nowhere close to his championship form, yet he regularly ducks criticism since Westbrook and Vogel draw the entirety of the ire. The only recourse for the Lakers is to add someone through the buyout market, which is simple enough for the Lakers who can always count on the allure of Los Angeles to land an aging veteran looking for one last playoff push and some warm weather, except that already describes their existing roster. They are trapped in a tomb of their own hubris, while LeBron James wastes away another precious year of his prime. In that sense, perhaps the Lakers are actually a tragedy.

Loser: Knicks

What else is new: the Knicks continue to disappoint. They also failed to make any moves at the deadline, unless you want to count the Cam Reddish swap that has seen him score a grand total of four baskets in the past month while Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau openly holds him in contempt. New York is a play-in team at best, while also having won too many games to pivot into tanking, and not doing anything at the deadline only traps them in this current predicament.

Last year's team was a flash in the pan, but the front office bought in at full price. Outside of Laker fans with Westbrook and the Sixers with Simmons, there is not a more toxic relationship than Julius Randle and New York. Not only is he underperforming, but his lack of defensive effort and stagnant offensive play is hauntingly familiar to Knicks fans who have seen this movie before. Randle's response has been to lash back at the crowd and to dismiss the advice of coaches, which has only bred hostility with no resolution in sight as Randle just signed a new deal that pays him $29 million in 2026. Offseason additions Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker have underwhelmed, as both players are score-first veterans who don't make up for the defensive deficiencies, and there isn't a veteran leader on the floor who can keep the group together.

The only saving grace is that R.J. Barrett continues to cut through the noise in his ascent as a two-way wing player. Since the calendar flipped, Barrett is averaging 23 points, six rebounds and three assists while shooting 40 percent from deep while getting to the foul line over six times per game. The lefty forward from Mississauga is creating more of his own offence and showing that he was fully deserving of the third overall pick in 2019. What the Knicks should do is redesign the team around Barrett's timeline since he's 21 and under team control for the foreseeable future, but their lack of activity at the deadline suggests more indecision.

Loser: Blazers

The Portland Trail Blazers were correct to demolish the roster, but what they did was more like donation. In exchange for four productive veterans — Norman Powell, Robert Covington, Larry Nance Jr., and former cornerstone franchise player CJ McCollum — the Blazers got back one useful rotation piece in Josh Hart, one first-round pick, a few hopeful seconds, one rookie prospect and a bunch of expiring salaries that won't do much for them. The past week has been like an episode of Storage Wars, where the Blazers opened themselves to be scavenged at bargain prices.

The aim was to get younger since this core had clearly hit a humbling ceiling, but the bigger motive was to simply dump salary. The Blazers were deep into the luxury tax with a team destined for the lottery, with a new owner who is in the midst of resolving the former estate of a deceased billionaire, and her level of investment was only to divest. In doing so, the Blazers gave the Pelicans a huge boost in their playoff push, restocked the Clippers' depth, while gifting a promising prospect in Nickeil Alexander-Walker to the Utah Jazz for further savings.

Rebuilding is one thing, but what is Damian Lillard's place in all this? He's under contract for three more seasons after cutting this one short to resolve an abdominal injury. It's hard to imagine that he will stick it out much longer. If he was already on the fence with his last supporting cast, why would he want to stay around to babysit a bunch of prospects?

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