NBA Trade Deadline Winners, Losers: It’s a good day to be LeBron

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The NBA Trade Deadline did not disappoint.

The stunners started when the Clippers traded Blake Griffin and continued through the Cavaliers blowing up their roster, and Memphis holding on to the one guy that everyone thought would be traded.

Trying to figure out who won and lost trades on the day they happen tends to be a fool’s errand — we often don’t see the wisdom, or we miss the flaws at first. That’s not going to stop us. Here are our Winners and losers from the wild 2018 NBA Trade Deadline.

Winner: LeBron James.
For the first two-and-a-half months of the NBA season, LeBron James played like an MVP and carried the Cavaliers as far as he could. And it wasn’t far enough. It was clear that the Cavaliers were not on the level of the Warriors or Rockets, and they may not be on the level of the Celtics or Raptors. LeBron became dispirited, his effort waned, particularly on defense, and there wasn’t enough on the team to lift the Cavs up without them — Isaiah Thomas returned and was a shell of his former self, Jae Crowder was a disappointment, and Cleveland just looked look old and slow, particularly on defense. They were not contenders and didn’t look like a team that could make the Eastern Conference Finals.

LeBron should be energized now — the Cavaliers will be younger, more athletic, better defenders and better shooters. How much better is an open question, but better. They also should play faster and be more entertaining. That should fire LeBron up — he’s got a chance again. This team could get him back to the NBA Finals. It could help him stay a Cavalier this summer. Maybe it can’t, it’s far too early to know, but we know for sure the previous iteration of the Cavs couldn’t. A chance is all LeBron can ask.

Losers: Boston Celtics/Toronto Raptors. While the Cavaliers found reinforcements and got better, the two top teams in the East stood pat. The gap closed, and that has them as losers.

Both teams tried to make moves. Boston was active making calls — they tried to move Marcus Smart in a trade, they made calls about Tyreke Evans and were close. However, in the end, the only move the Celtics made was to bring in Greg Monroe to add a little scoring punch off the bench and that is it. The Raptors picked up Malachi Richardson in a trade, but the former Syracuse shooter is a project who doesn’t help them now. Toronto contacted the Clippers about DeAndre Jordan, but there was no deal to be had.

The Eastern Conference Finals could still be Boston vs. Toronto, we don’t know how good these Cavaliers are going to be. But the gap narrowed, Cleveland still has LeBron, he can still dominate, he has some help now, and that should worry Boston and Toronto.

Winner: Koby Altman, Cavaliers GM. Within the 48 hours before the trade deadline, Altman was called a puppet of owner Dan Gilbert and a guy thrown in the deep end who couldn’t really swim. There were questions if he was up for the job.

Any more questions?

Altman pulled off what nobody saw coming — in two trades he revamped the problem areas of the roster on and off the court. Cleveland is now more athletic, should defend better, and has more shooting. Altman did all without giving up the Brooklyn Nets pick. Yes, the Cavaliers took on a lot of future money and had to give up their own first-round pick, but this was a bold stroke from the GM to give his team a chance this season. And a chance to retain LeBron James.

Loser: Isaiah Thomas. Think about where Thomas was one year ago. Around the All-Star Game in 2017 we were talking about how IT was carrying the Celtics to a surprisingly good season, he was one of the league’s leading scorers, and he was on the fringes of the MVP conversation. He ended up an All-NBA player.

What a fall it has been. He was traded to Cleveland in the Kyrie Irving deal — a trade the Cavaliers considered rescinding after they saw just how injured his hip was (not that they would have gone back on it, what the Cavs wanted most was the unprotected Brooklyn 2018 draft pick). Thomas missed the first couple months of this season, and since his return he has not been his vintage self — shooting 36.1 percent (but still gunning away) and being one of the worst defenders in the NBA. Despite all his flaws this season, he was happy to talk publicly about how everything else was wrong with the Cavaliers. So Cleveland sent him to the Lakers in a three-way trade, and now Thomas will soon be back to a sixth-man role behind Lonzo Ball (once Ball gets healthy), then IT heads into free agency with a lot of question marks. His stock is falling fast, and the Cavaliers pulled the ripcord.

Thomas was classy on his way out the door,

Winner: Detroit Pistons. For now. Don’t forget about the other big deadline trade, just a week earlier. Detroit has won five straight games since Blake Griffin came over from the Clippers, and it’s not a coincidence. The Pistons are dramatically better when Griffin and Andre Drummond share the court (plus +22.4 points per 100 possessions, albeit in limited minutes so far). Detroit has a top-eight offense and defense since the trade. Griffin himself is averaging 21.5 points and 7.8 rebounds a game, plus he is assisting on 31.3 percent of teammates buckets when on the court. The Pistons look like a playoff team.

The short term — as long as Griffin stays healthy — was never the question. The negatives were long-haul — the Pistons are loaded with salary and all-in with this roster, considering how much Griffin, Drummond, and the injured Reggie Jackson make there’s not a lot of flexibility. The Pistons are what they are, and they have paid a lot of money for a guy with a long injury history in Griffin. A lot of us think the Pistons will come to regret this trade. Just not this season.

Winner: Dwyane Wade. He gets to go home. Wade had come to Cleveland to play with LeBron again, but as everything went wrong in Cleveland his people made it known he would eventually like to get back to Miami to finish his career there. Thursday, as they blew up the roster, the Cavaliers did Wade a solid and moved him where he wanted to go (for only a protected second-round pick). Wade got what his heart desired.

Loser: Memphis Grizzlies. If there was one thing that was supposed to happen on Thursday, it was Tyreke Evans getting traded. Memphis wanted a first-round pick, but nobody was offering one. The thought was they would eventually cave and take a couple of second-round picks, or a player and a second rounder, just because they had to do something. Evans is on a one-year deal and has played himself to a much bigger contract than the minimum one he was on, but the Grizzlies do not have his Bird rights and likely will not have the cap space to bring him back. Hence the idea was they would trade him.

Memphis was stubborn, they would not come off the first-round pick demand. So the Grizzlies get nothing.

Combine that with them not even considering a Marc Gasol trade, and you get the sense Memphis believes they are just a tweak or two away — plus a healthy Mike Conley — from making it all work and them being in the playoffs. I’m not sold, but they are playing it like they are.

Winner: Los Angeles Lakers’ dreams. With the Lakers getting off Jordan Clarkson‘s contract in the Cavaliers deal (and not bringing any long-term salary back, Channing Frye and Isaiah Thomas will not be with the Lakers next season), Los Angels can reach its goal of having enough cap space to bring in two max free agents. They have to waive and stretch Loul Deng, plus make a couple other small moves, but the dream is within reach.

What dream? To lure both LeBron James and Paul George to the Lakers next season.

That’s incredibly unlikely. LeBron wants to win now and even with himself and PG13 the Lakers are not ready to challenge the Warriors. Meanwhile, George has said he’s happy in Oklahoma City. The odds are against the Lakers. But it’s possible. The door is open. And in Los Angeles, that will fuel dreams of this summer (even though it’s more likely they make a big splash in the summer of 2019).

If nothing else, the Lakers picked up another first-round pick, something that was hard to come by on this deadline day. Just ask Memphis.

Magic Johnson: Former Pelicans GM Dell Demps leaked Anthony Davis trade-talk details

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The Pelicans reportedly blame the Lakers for details of Anthony Davis trade negotiations leaking.

Former Lakers president Magic Johnson blames former Pelicans general manager Dell Demps.

Johnson on ESPN:

I told Dell Demps, “Let’s just do it in private. What we offer, let’s keep it between us.” Well, Dell didn’t do that. So, that’s how it got out.”

The Lakers have intriguing assets – Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, the No. 4 pick, all their own future first-round picks. Los Angeles will likely try again to land Davis.

Johnson and Demps are out. So, maybe these sour grapes don’t matter.

But enough people remain in each organization – including Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka, whom Johnson blasted today – from those winter trade talks. Whether or not there’s an edict in New Orleans forbidding new lead executive David Griffin from sending Davis to the Lakers, there’s clearly mistrust between these franchises. That makes it harder to reach a deal.

Lakers haven for failed coaches

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In the last two decades, 16 teams changed coaches, gave a majority of their minutes to returning players the following season and won 15 more games than the year prior (or equivalent in lockout-shortened season).

Only one of those 16 deposed coaches has gotten another non-interim NBA head-coaching job.

The Lakers will introduce him today.

His lead assistant is also one of the 16. Another member of the 16 was instrumental in hiring them.

Frank Vogel, Jason Kidd and Kurt Rambis make quite a trio.

The Lakers’ new head coach, Vogel is only one year removed from guiding Orlando to a 25-57 record. The Magic’s roster seemed to be the main culprit when they fired him, but Steve Clifford led a similar roster to a 42-40 record. That certainly didn’t reflect well on Vogel.

Ditto how the Bucks responded to Kidd’s departure. After going 44-38 and losing in the first round last season, Milwaukee ascended to 60-22 and is leading the Eastern Conference finals this season under Mike Budenholzer. Yet, Kidd – who’ll assist Vogel – was clearly a priority for the Lakers.

In 2011, the Timberwolves finished 17-65 and fired Rambis. Minnesota went 26-40 the following year under Rick Adelman. After bouncing around other jobs, Rambis is now playing a leading role in Rob Pelinka’s front office.

Every team changes between seasons. Players come and go. Those who stay get older and develop. Injuries happen inconsistently. The NBA hardly runs controlled experiments on coaches.

But these situations don’t instill confidence in Vogel, Kidd and Rambis. That they’re all working together now is remarkable.

Vogel has the most prominent role. Fortunately for the Lakers, he’s also the one least likely to be defined by his fixed-after-he-left tenure. Before Orlando, Vogel had plenty of success with the Pacers.

Kidd also did some positive things with the Bucks. Rambis…

People can learn from their mistakes. Second chances are sometimes warranted.

But the Lakers have LeBron James, whose prime years are dwindling. They’re a prestigious franchise in a premier market. High-end coaches and executives are particularly important and attainable.

The Lakers have given power to this group – maybe for good reason, maybe not.

I hope they explain why today, though there are several other issues they’ll have to address, too.

Magic Johnson on Lakers GM Rob Pelinka: ‘If you’re going to talk betrayal, it’s only with Rob’

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Around the time Magic Johnson stunningly resigned as Lakers president, rumors swirled about his poor work ethic. The source of that rumor was suspected to be Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka. Johnson acknowledged an internal problem the night he quit, citing “backstabbing” and “whispering.”

“If you’re going to talk betrayal,” Johnson said in an incredibly candid interview on ESPN today, “it’s only with Rob.”

Johnson admitted to spending only limited time on the Lakers. But he said Lakers owner Jeanie Buss approved that plan when hiring him.

“I told her, I said listen, ‘I can’t give up all my businesses. I make more money doing that than becoming president of the Lakers. So, you know that I’m going to be in and out. Is that OK with you?’ She said yes,” Johnson said. “I said, ‘Do I have the power to make decisions?’ Because that was important for me to take the job, as well. She said you have the power to make the decisions. So, I said, ‘OK, let’s go do it.’ She said, ‘I’m going to put you with Rob Pelinka,’ because I didn’t know Rob.

“And then I started hearing, ‘Magic, you’re not working hard enough. Magic’s not in the office.’ So, people around the Lakers office was telling me Rob was saying things – Rob Pelinka – and I didn’t like those things being said behind my back, that I wasn’t in the office and so on and on. So, I started getting calls from my friends outside of basketball, saying those things now were said to them outside of basketball. Now, not just in the Lakers office anymore. Now, it’s in the media and so on.

“Just Rob. Other people didn’t bother me. It’s really funny, as I sit here. I don’t worry about those type of things. I’m not a guy who is like, oh man, he said this about and I worry about it. What happened was I wasn’t having fun coming to work anymore – especially when I’ve got to work beside you knowing you want my position. And I’m OK with that. Because this is what happened, Stephen A. I told him in year two, I’m only going to be here three years. So, my job is, Rob, to get you ready for this position. So, I was going to help elevate him to the president’s position. And so, when all this was coming back to me and guys calling me saying, ‘You better watch out for him’ – and then what crazy was, when I took the job, you know how many agents called me and said, ‘You’ve got to watch out for him.’ And I said, ‘Eh, I’ve got to give the guy a fair chance.’ I can’t listen to people. But he was a hard-worker, smart guy. But now you have that position, so I’m good with that.”

Though he said the backstabbing came from only Pelinka, Johnson clearly had friction with other members of the organization.

Johnson described mentoring Joey Buss (Vice President, Research & Development) and Jesse Buss (Assistant GM / Director, Scouting). Johnson made clear he had no problem doing so and liked those Buss brothers. But he also indicated he saw ambition that created complications.

“They felt they should have been in powerful positions, whether that’s the general manager or the president,” Johnson said.

And there’s Tim Harris President (Business Operations, Chief Operating Officer).

“The straw that broke the camel’s back was, I wanted to fire Luke Walton,” Johnson said. “And we had, Max, three meetings. I showed her the things he did well and the things he didn’t do well. And I said, ‘Listen, we’ve got to get a better coach. I like him. He’s great. Former Laker, the whole thing.’ The first day, ‘Well, let’s think about it.’ Second day, ‘OK, you can fire him.’ Then, the next day, ‘No, we should try to work it out.’ So, when we went back and forth like that and then she brought Tim Harris into the meeting with some of the guys. And Tim wanted me to – he wanted to keep him, because he was friends with Luke. Luke’s a great guy. He’s a great guy. So, when I looked up and said wait a minute, I only really answer to Jeannie Buss. Now, I’ve got Tim involved. And I said it’s time for me to go.”

Walton, since hired by the Kings, has been accused of sexual assault.

There’s a ton to digest here, but I can’t escape two ironies:

Johnson – who had never worked in a front office before, didn’t work hard enough running the Lakers, felt his power wasn’t concentrated enough, didn’t build a winner – said people should ascend in the organization only  “once you show that you can drive excellence.”

Johnson – who described the Lakers as a mess, called their general manager a backstabber, said their owner is failing to define clear roles – plans to help them recruit free agents this summer.

Report: Tim Connelly rejects Wizards, staying with Nuggets

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Nuggets president Tim Connelly could have led the Wizards’ front office, worked close to his native Baltimore and presumably gotten a raise from his reported $2 million salary.

Instead, he’s stay in Denver.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This is a huge win for Denver and even bigger setback for Washington.

Connelly has put the Nuggets into a great position. They’re young and good in a combination rarely seen in NBA history. Connelly drafted Nikola Jokic in the second round then built around him a short time later. This season, Denver won 54 games and reached Game 7 of the second round with 24-year-old Jokic flanked by Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Paul Millsap.

More decisions always lie ahead – notably Millsap’s $30 million team option for next season. But the Nuggets’ core is already in place and mostly under team control.

The Wizards need far more work. John Wall‘s contract is arguably the NBA’s worst. Ian Mahinmi and Dwight Howard are also roadblocks. Several key players will be free agents this summer. If he makes an All-NBA team this season, Bradley Beal be eligible for a super-max extension – a tricky decision for the club.

It would have been great for Washington to entrust Connelly with all that. He has proven excellent at his job.

Troy Weaver, Danny Ferry or Tommy Sheppard might do well for the Wizards. But they’re candidates who offer far less certainty.