The 2023 NBA trade deadline has come and gone, and with it, the league has shifted vastly thanks to one earth-shattering move taking place in the wee hours of deadline day itself.
Here’s a look at five winners and losers from the big event.
Just a little past 1:00 a.m. ET, when most sane people would be fast asleep, the NBA world came alive as word broke that the Phoenix Suns had managed to swing a blockbuster deal with the Brooklyn Nets for Kevin Durant – and T.J. Warren.
The cost was steep, with the Suns giving up Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Jae Crowder and four unprotected first-round picks in 2023, 2025, 2027 and 2029, plus a 2028 first-round pick swap.
Those unprotected picks could certainly come back to bite Phoenix in the butt down the road, and Bridges and Johnson are quality players whose talents are still ascending, but none of that matters because the Suns landed, arguably, the greatest basketball player playing today to add to a core that includes a fellow surefire Hall of Famer in Chris Paul and superstar guard Devin Booker.
With one move, the entire Western Conference has been put on notice and the Suns now look like the favourite to emerge as the West’s Finals representative.
Durant is still out with a knee injury, and will miss next weekend’s all-star festivities because of it, but while he was healthy this season, he put up MVP numbers to the tune of 29.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game on shooting splits of 55.9/37.6/93.4.
There’s no reason to suggest that once he’s back in the lineup he can’t continue to play just as well as he did before and there should be no worries about him possibly being unable to fit in with his fellow stars in Phoenix as he thrived as a member of the Golden State Warriors, helping them win two championships.
Say what you will about Durant’s mercenary-like career, his ability on a basketball court is undeniable. Because of this, the Suns are the biggest winners of the deadline.
Considering what‘s transpired over the last six days to the Nets, you might think them being up here is a mistake.
Losing both Kyrie Irving and Durant is not exactly a good thing, but, all things considered, Brooklyn’s come out of this not as terribly as you might imagine.
In the Irving deal with the Dallas Mavericks, that took place a few days before the deadline day, the Nets brought back good players in Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith and in the Durant deal, the aforementioned Bridges and Johnson aren’t any slouches, either.
It may not be the most talented roster in the league but the team Brooklyn’s assembled at the moment could be among the deepest.
As the Nets stand right now, they have a projected starting lineup of Ben Simmons, Dinwiddie, Bridges, Johnson and Nic Claxton, with names like Patty Mills, Seth Curry, Cam Thomas, Joe Harris and Finney-Smith coming off the bench.
All of these guys can play, and with Brooklyn still locked into a playoff spot, there’s a chance it could remain there.
Having a team full of good, winning players who can be used in future deals to help augment any future building plans with all the picks the Nets have amassed at this deadline is some good work.
The Los Angles Lakers, as a whole, improved over the deadline period, beginning with their low-key move to acquire Rui Hachimura from the Washington Wizards in late January.
Then, the night before deadline day, they made their big move by trading Russell Westbrook in a three-team blockbuster with the Utah Jazz that saw them land former Laker D’Angelo Russell and solid role players Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt.
Afterwards, the Lakers offloaded Thomas Bryant to the Denver Nuggets and found his replacement Mo Bamba in a deal with the Orlando Magic that saw them ship off Patrick Beverley.
In less than 24 hours, the Lakers had transformed their roster, but not at the expense of giving up LeBron James or Anthony Davis.
This could be a big win for the Lakers if it all works out for them, who knows? But there is a certainty that this is a win for James. At 38 years of age, James continues to play like an MVP, averaging 30.2 points, 8.5 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game this season, but it was looking like it would have been all for naught with his team playing poorly all season long.
It may not work, but at least the Lakers’ front office has made an attempt to help James out here, something that wasn’t looking guaranteed to happen.
East’s top three
The top three teams in the Eastern Conference – the Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers – all made small improvements to their already formidable rosters on deadline day.
The Celtics added sharpshooting big man Mike Muscala from the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Bucks landed Jae Crowder shortly after he was traded to Nets as part of the Durant blockbuster and the 76ers nabbed Jalen McDaniels from the Charlotte Hornets.
None of these players will have the impact that a true star will have on a team, but Muscala provides additional floor spacing for an already potent Boston offence. Crowder is a proven veteran for the Bucks, the only concern will be how much rust he may have after sitting out the year so far. However, his defensive chops and timely three-point shooting will fit with what Milwaukee wants to do well. Finally, even though it probably felt painful for Sixers fans to see Matisse Thybulle go, McDaniels is an easier offensive fit.
All three of these teams are already good enough to legitimately compete for a title, so a deadline that just saw them augment around the edges makes a lot of sense.
After two and a half seasons of being trapped in Houston, Eric Gordon was finally freed when he was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Gordon was a consummate pro during the last few years of his time in Houston in the aftermath of James Harden’s departure, but now it looks like he’ll finally get another shot at competing for a championship again with a Clippers side that was quite busy at the deadline.
The Clippers managed to snag promising second-year point guard Bones Hyland from the Nuggets for only a pair of second-round picks and also added Mason Plumlee from Charlotte for Reggie Jackson to help backup Ivica Zubac.
With Jackson no longer there, the Clippers only really have Hyland who can naturally play point guard, which could be problematic, but that isn’t Gordon’s worry.
He managed to get out of Houston and should be glad for it.
The Toronto Raptors were supposed to be a major player at the trade deadline with valuable assets such as O.G. Anunoby, Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. at their disposal to help kick start what many assumed would be the beginning of a rebuild.
Instead, Toronto only made one move, a trade to re-acquire Jakob Poeltl from the San Antonio Spurs for Khem Birch, a first-round pick in 2024 only protected from picks Nos. 1-6 and a 2023 and 2025 second-round pick.
So, instead of being these great, alleged sellers at the deadline, the Raptors ended up being buyers – and the reason why is confounding.
Given the way the Raptors laid out the protection on the first-round pick, Toronto is likely banking hard on being a good team so that it conveys next season outside of the lottery. That’s a lot of confidence in a group that’s still clinging to a play-in spot at the moment.
But even more problematic, is if the Raptors are going to accomplish this goal then they’re going to need their best players to make it happen, which brings forth the problem the team will have will three pending unrestricted free agents who will all be looking for raises in the off-season.
Poeltl is an unrestricted free agent at season’s end and it’s likely that both VanVleet and Trent Jr. will opt out of the final year of their respective deals to become free agents as well. If the Raptors want to re-sign all three – which would be ideal if the goal is to keep winning next season – then Toronto will almost assuredly dip into the luxury tax.
But would paying the tax really be worth it when you consider this team has already proven itself to be an underperformer for much of this season?
Additionally, the Raptors will have to worry about Anunoby’s impending free agency at the end of next season as well. Had they not been gun shy when it looked like his value was at its highest during this whole trade deadline period, they likely would be facing easier decisions.
Chicago Bulls/Miami Heat
Both the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat decided to stand pat at the deadline and you have to wonder why?
The Bulls have had a season similar to the Raptors where they’ve appeared to be stuck in the doldrums, and while they can’t actually tank because their first-round pick this season belongs to the Magic, it’s clear that the status quo isn’t working for them, so why not go ahead and use a name like Zach LaVine or a DeMar DeRozan to try and shake things up on the team and inject some life into what has been lost season so far?
As for the Heat, they shipped out Dewayne Dedmond and a second-rounder just for some cash, but didn’t do anything to improve themselves, even a little, like the other Eastern Conference contenders did. Sure, there’s always the buyout market, but will bargain hunting really help them out much?
Golden State Warriors
The Golden State Warriors could’ve re-signed Gary Payton II in the off-season, but opted to let him walk and saw him sign with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Flash-forward a few months and now Payton is back with the Warriors, but he comes at the expense of former No. 2 overall pick James Wiseman – and Payton is earning the raise he was looking for in the first place.
This isn’t to say that Wiseman is a great player or anything, but he’s still only 21 and was never been given much of an opportunity with the Dubs. His move to the Detroit Pistons could see him finally fulfill some of his potential – something that wouldn’t look great for Golden State as Payton, while a decent player, will never be a star.
There was much rejoicing among Lakers fans when it was announced that they managed to trade Westbrook and his colossal salary.
Westbrook is a flawed player. An athletic super freak in his prime capable of putting up MVP numbers despite a poor jump shot because of his physical gifts. Now, at 34, that athleticism has dwindled, and with it, the weaknesses in his game became that much more glaring – especially as he attempted to play alongside James and Davis.
He’s now a member of the Jazz but is widely expected to be bought out with the Heat and Clippers as possible suitors. If it doesn’t work out there, then this just might be the last we see of Westbrook in the NBA.
A nine-time all-star and one of the most dominant players of the last decade, who will potentially exit the league with a whimper.
Kind of sad to think about.