Five big takeaways from NBA trade deadline

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So much for a quiet trade deadline — from when New York surprised Knicks’ fans by trading their favorite player, through the end of the trade deadline at 3 p.m. Eastern on Thursday, there were more than 20 NBA trades.

A few that shifted the landscape, a lot that were more about the salary cap or setting things up for the future. And the biggest trade of all did not happen.

Here are the five big takeaways from the NBA trade deadline.

1) Anthony Davis is still a Pelican, now Boston gets into the mix and this saga will drag out into the offseason. Rich Paul’s gambit failed. He told the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis would not re-sign with the team — which wasn’t surprising news to the New Orleans front office — and then demanded a trade. Then leaked that trade news to the press (and got Davis fined for it). Everything was orchestrated to get Davis to the Lakers to team up with LeBron James (another Paul client). The Lakers were all-in on the idea and put everything they could into an offer – Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, first-round picks and more were all on the table — to the point it has led to team chemistry issues.

And the Pelicans didn’t want to play. They listened to the Lakers, but never seriously engaged. Part of the reason for that, according to sources, is that people high up the food chain in the New Orleans organization didn’t want to be pressured into making a trade on someone else’s terms, to just blindly trade Davis where he wanted to go. They wanted some control over the process.

The other main reason for the delay is the Pelicans wanted Boston to get involved. While trades in the last few days weakened a couple of Boston’s potential first-round picks — the Clippers now will likely fall out of the playoffs and keep their pick; Sacramento got better so that pick gets a little worse — the future Memphis pick looks even better as the Grizzlies start their rebuild. Plus, if Jayson Tatum is in the mix, the Pelicans want him — almost every team/scout I have spoken to has him rated much higher than any of the young Lakers.

Add to all that Pelicans want to see how the draft lottery shakes out — if the Knicks get the No. 1 pick things get interesting. They want to see if a surprise team — maybe the Clippers now? — get in on the bidding. They want to wait.

This will get resolved by early July at the latest. But for now, Anthony Davis is a Pelican and the Lakers are worse for it.

2) There was an arms race at the top of the Eastern Conference and the East playoffs are going to be insane. Starting with the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, it could be a bloodbath. As happened in the West for many years (but not this one, at least not at the top), there was an arms race among the top teams.

It started when the Sixers traded for Tobias Harris from the Clippers — Philly now has the second-best starting five in the NBA. At least on paper. Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Jimmy Butler, Harris, and Joel Embiid can match up with anyone. The team needs to add depth, and the Sixers stars need to show they are willing to sacrifice points/touches for the betterment of the team, but the Sixers just got demonstrably better.

That woke up the other teams in the East.

Milwaukee responded by trading for Nikola Mirotic, the sharpshooting big man who will be a great fit with Giannis Antetokounmpo. Mirotic will thrive the same way Brook Lopez has in coach Mike Budenholzer’s system. Remember how much Mirotic looked good playing next to Anthony Davis in the Pelicans’ playoff run last season? Now the Bucks add that to the team with the best record in the NBA already.

The Raptors topped that with the addition of Marc Gasol in a trade from the Memphis Grizzlies. He provides floor spacing shooting, strong rebounding, fantastic passing, and just a high IQ game that Nick Nurse can use to great effect. Gasol is versatile and gives Toronto more ways to matchup in the postseason.

All of those teams got better, and the team we haven’t mentioned Boson — they have won 9-of-10 and have looked like the East favorite we expected of late. (And they got what they wanted at the deadline with Davis not getting traded.) Boston could still come out of the East.

The playoffs cannot get here fast enough.

3) The Clippers, Knicks, and Mavericks set themselves up to be big-time players this July. While a few teams went all in on right now, a few teams made some shrewd moves thinking about July.

The Clippers are at the top of that list. Los Angeles made the calculation that they could fight for the eight seed in the West, win it, lose their first-round pick this year (to Boston, lottery protected) and get smacked around by the Warriors in the first round. Or, they could trade Tobias Harris, takes some steps back out of the playoffs, keep their pick, get a haul of draft picks from Philadelphia in the deal — including a much coveted Miami 2021 unprotected first rounder — and clear out one max cap slot, plus set themselves up to have two (if they can trade Danilo Gallinari after the season). The Clippers have been all but stalking Kawhi Leonard and are in the mix for him this summer, Los Angeles has the assets to tempt teams with a big trade (Davis?), and they can chase a second free agent. This is a team poised to make a move.

The Knicks are right there with the Clippers in bold free agent planning — and what they did created a lot of buzz around the NBA. By trading Kristaps Porzingins and the nearly dead money contracts of Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee, the Knicks now have two max cap slots open next July (plus the Knicks picked up picks in the trade). Do they know something about Kevin Durant? KD hates that speculation, but it is all over the NBA (not the media, I mean front office types), as is the idea Kyrie Irving will follow him. The playoffs can change a lot of plans, but the Knicks seem confident.

Dallas did more than just add Kristaps Porzingis to Luka Doncic this deadline — although that in-and-of-itself was a bold move that could give the franchise two cornerstone pieces for a decade (if Porzingis can come back from his ACL injury to full unicorn status). However, moving Harrison Barnes to Sacramento also freed up cap space, and the Mavericks could have nearly $30 million of it next summer. Want to come play with Porzingis and Doncic? Dallas is setting itself up to be very good soon, if things break their way.

4) The race for the eight seed in the West is going to be fun. As of the trade deadline, the Los Angeles Clippers are the eighth seed in the West and with that own the final playoff spot. (The Spurs and Jazz hold down the six and seven seeds, but neither of them looks like they are going to fade away.)

As noted above, the Clippers traded their best player and have made a conscious effort not to chase the eight seed hard (not that they will admit that). It opens the door.

The Sacramento Kings are trying to barge through it. The team with the longest playoff drought in the NBA (12 years) is a surprising 28-26, just 1.5 games back of the Clippers. They traded for Harrison Barnes to give them the big wing/four they have needed in the rotation, a guy who can be a shot creator (mostly for himself) and get buckets in addition to De’Aaron Fox. While it’s fair to question the long-term ramifications of this move for the Kings, but in the short term Sacramento got better and they want that spot.

Just behind them, the Los Angeles Lakers. They were a playoff team in the East before LeBron James injured his groin, the conventional wisdom has been they would return to that form and own the spot. But Lonzo Ball is injured, and the Anthony Davis drama took its toll on the Lakers’ psyche, and it showed when they got blown out by 42 in Indiana. The Lakers are on the road (the Grammys forced them out of Staples Center) and are in the toughest stretch of their season. If the Lakers stumble a little, can they still catch the Kings?

This race got fun.

5) Markelle Fultz is getting a fresh start. Could Carmelo Anthony get one, too? The trade deadline saw a few players who wanted or needed a change of scenery getting one. Thon Maker wanted out of Milwaukee, now he gets a chance to come off the bench in Detroit. Stanley Johnson is out of Detroit and is now in New Orleans getting a chance, and Marquese Chriss will get some run and opportunity in Cleveland.

Nobody needed a fresh start more than Markelle Fultz, however. And he got it, the former No. 1 pick is now a member of the Orlando Magic.

Fultz was drafted with a lot of fanfare and a lot of pressure to be the third part of a “big three” in Philly with Embiid and Simmons, but after a short but decent Summer League, Fultz showed up at training camp with a new shooting form that was a disaster. Whether it was due to injury or trainers or alien abduction, it was a mess. Fultz missed most of the season getting injury treatment, spent the off-season working with a shot doctor, and by the end his confidence was clearly shot. He was in his own head. Then Fultz was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome and spent most of this season in rehab.

Orlando traded Fultz for Jonathan Simmons, a top-20 protected first-round pick (via Oklahoma City) and a second-round pick (via Cleveland). The trade raised a lot of eyebrows around the league because it was more than most thought they would get.

Orlando is a perfect spot for Fultz — not a big market, not as bright a spotlight, less pressure, and some other young stars he can grow with. Orlando has a lot of player development to do, but they have potential on that roster. We’ll find out what Fultz really has.

One other guy to watch: Carmelo Anthony.

The Lakers made a two-for-one trade sending Michael Beasley and Ivica Zubac down the hall at Staples Center to the Clippers for Mike Muscala — who can help the Lakers as a pick-and-pop big who will stretch the floor. But that’s not why everyone is talking.

That move opened up a roster spot on the Lakers, LeBron has said he wants Anthony on his team, and the Lakers have said the thing holding them back was a lack of a roster spot. Now they have one. Word is the Lakers are going to check out the full buyout market and see if they can land someone who can help them get to the playoffs, but don’t be shocked if that slot ends up going to Anthony. Which would send Lakers’ nation into a frenzy.

Adam Silver: Multi-year rebuilding not a winning strategy

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CHARLOTEE – Former 76ers president Sam Hinkie undertook one of the most ambitious tanking campaigns in NBA history. Over a four-year stretch, Philadelphia went 19-63, 18-64, 10-72 and 28-54.

That incensed many around the league.

The NBA pursued and eventually enacted lottery reform. Despite his denials, many believed NBA commissioner Adam Silver pressured the 76ers to oust Hinkie. In many ways, the league is still shook by Philadelphia’s bold strategy to lose so long.

“I personally don’t think it’s a winning strategy over the long term to engage in multiple years of rebuilding,” Silver said Saturday. “…There’s a mindset that, if you’re going to be bad, you might as well be really bad. I believe, personally, that’s corrosive for those organizations, putting aside my personal view of what the impact it has on the league overall.”

Except it is a winning strategy.

The 76ers are proving that.

They’re 37-21 and led by Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, two players drafted with high picks earned through tanking. Philadelphia traded for Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris using assets stockpiled through tanking. The 76ers signed J.J. Redick to a high salary because they had a low payroll, the byproduct of a assembling a roster of young, cost-controlled players acquired through tanking.

Few teams have ever planned and executed a multi-year tank. Most tanking teams entered the season planning to win then pivoted once that went sideways. Some teams decide to tank for a full season. But deciding in advance to tank even two straight years? It’s rare.

The SuperSonics/Thunder probably did it their last year in Seattle and first in Oklahoma City. With Kevin Durant already on board, that netted them Russell Westbrook, James Harden and a decade of strong teams. Of course, that situation is complicated by the franchise leaving one market and getting a grace period in its new location.

Few teams have the resolve to set out to tank that long, let alone the four years the 76ers committed to the cause. Most teams that go young still add a veteran or two in hopes of winning sooner than expected.

Even Chicago, which knowingly took a step back last season by trading Butler talked big about that being a one-year ordeal. Chicago’s struggles this season were unintended, at least initially. The Bulls have obviously shifted gears, but that was only after failing to win early.

Chicago isn’t alone in major losing this season. Four teams – Suns (11-48), Knicks (11-47), Cavaliers (12-46) and Bulls (14-44) – are on pace to win fewer than 20 games. The last time so many teams won fewer than a quarter of their games was 1998, when a six teams – Nuggets (11-71), Raptors (16-66), Clippers (17-65), Grizzlies (19-63), Warriors (19-63) and Mavericks (20-62) – performed so poorly.

Does that mean the NBA’s lottery reform is failing?

“I’m certainly not here to say we solved the problem,” Silver said. “I will say, though, that while you point out those four teams, we have many more competitive teams this year than we’ve had any time in the recent past of teams that are competing hard, competing for spots in the playoffs, and great competition on the floor. So I think we’ve made progress.”

Silver raises a good point. Judging the shape of the league by only the bottom four teams is far too simplistic. There are a historic number of teams in the playoff mix. Maybe that’s because of lottery reform, which offers better chances of a top-four pick to teams that barely miss the postseason.

Here’s how each team’s win percentage in each conference compares to teams in the same place in the standings in prior 15-team conferences. The 2018-19 teams are show by their logo. Prior teams are marked with a dot. Columns are sorted by place within a conference, 1-15.

Eastern Conference

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Western Conference

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The 10th- through 14th-place teams in the Western Conference are historically good for their place in the conference. That matters.

But the sixth- through 11th-place teams in the Eastern Conference being in a tight race is because the top teams in that group are historically bad for their place in the conference. That matters, too.

There’s no simple way to judge this.

The glut of terrible teams this season is somewhat surprising because the draft projects to feature only one elite prospect – Zion Williamson. The new lottery rules give the bottom three teams each an equal chance (14%) of the No. 1 pick. The advantage of finishing with the worst vs. second-worst vs. third-worst is getting slotted higher in the draft if multiple of those teams get their numbers pulled in the lottery.

Maybe it’s just that four teams happened to be quite bad, and all four are committed to avoiding the fourth-worst record and just a 12.5% chance of the No. 1 pick.

Though tanking has undeniably worked for some teams, it’s probably bad for the NBA. So many games are uncompetitive. Fans lose interest.

But as long as high draft picks remain so valuable and tied to having a worse record, teams will tank.

“You understand now why there’s relegation, in European soccer, for example, because you pay an enormous price if you’re not competitive,” Silver said. “I think, again, for the league and for our teams, there’s that ongoing challenge of whether we can come up with yet a better system.”

Report: Some within organization believe Anthony Davis has played last game for Pelicans

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Anthony Davis only added confusion about where he wants to go next.

But there’s also the pesky matter of what the Pelicans star will do the rest of this season.

Davis has repeatedly said he wants to play. The NBA threatened to fine the Pelicans if they didn’t play him. So, they put him in the lineup… to get booed by New Orleans fans. His performance in four games since the trade deadline has been incredibly uneven, ranging from elite to dreadful. In the Pelicans’ last game before the All-Star break, Davis left the arena after suffering an shoulder injury. He played just five minutes in the All-Star game, fewer than anyone but 40-year-old Dirk Nowitzki

So, what now?

Sam Amick of The Athletic:

According to sources on both sides, there is no plan yet in place for how they will handle this after the All-Star break. The Pelicans and Davis (with Paul advising) are re-evaluating the best way to handle his playing time – again.

While sources say the situation has not involved the National Basketball Players Association to this point, that would change if New Orleans attempted to protect its monumental trade chip by sitting Davis for the rest of the season – presuming he wanted to play. Then again, maybe Davis decides that he’s better off training in obscurity while we wait to see where his next stop might be.

Scott Kushner of The Advocate:

Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry called the situation a “dumpster fire.” New Orleans can’t just simply return to the status quo.

But who makes this call?

New Orleans just fired general manager Dell Demps to elevate Danny Ferry into the interim role. Pelicans owner Gayle Benson is seeking someone to run basketball operations and report directly to her, but she hasn’t made that hire yet. The league can obviously intervene, too.

I’m extremely uneasy about making Davis a healthy scratch for nearly two months in the midst of an excellent season. But even just four games of him playing has been so ugly. Pelicans fans don’t want it. The Pelicans probably don’t want it. After his injury scare and dealing with the fallout of his trade request, Davis might not still want it.

Does the NBA? That’s the big question. Davis is a national draw. In a league where every game is available streaming online, that matters. The controversy surrounding Davis only adds to the intrigue.

In the end, the interested parties – New Orleans, Davis, NBA – will choose among the uncomfortable options. But at least this part of the saga will end in fewer than two months.

Then, the bigger questions about Davis’ future will kick into high gear.

After All-Star glamour, Kemba Walker returning to mundane reality of carrying Hornets

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CHARLOTTE – Kemba Walker just started a basketball game alongside Stephen Curry, Paul George, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid. The NBA’s biggest stars came to his city. World-class entertainers performed throughout the weekend.

“It was amazing, man,” Walker said. “It was amazing.”

Walker will start his next game on the same court, but it’ll be alongside Jeremy Lamb, Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams and Cody Zeller. Walker’s 27-30 Hornets will face the Wizards in a battle for a low playoff seed in the Eastern Conference. Most celebrities will have long cleared out.

Except Walker.

Walker remains as the face of the Hornets, a role he has embraced despite the franchise’s mediocrity. When his name emerged in trade talks last year, he said he’d be “devastated” to get dealt. He has made Charlotte his home and was so delighted to play host for yesterday’s All-Star game and all the accompanying festivities.

His reality here otherwise has been markedly different. In his eight seasons with the Hornets, he has never had an All-Star teammate. Not a single one.

Here’s every player in NBA history who played his first eight seasons without an All-Star teammate (seasons, including partial, with each team in parentheses):

Player Teams
Kemba Walker (2012-2019) CHA (8)
JaVale McGee (2009-2016) WAS (4), DEN (4), PHI (1), DAL (1)
David Lee (2006-2013) NYK (5), GSW (3)
Monta Ellis (2006-2013) GSW (7), MIL (2)
Ben Gordon (2005-2012) CHI (5), DET (3)
Andris Biedrins (2005-2012) GSW (8)
Zach Randolph (2002-2009) POR (6), NYK (2), LAC (1)
Eddy Curry (2002-2009) CHI (4), NYK (4)
Jamal Crawford (2001-2008) CHI (4), NYK (4)
Elton Brand (2000-2007) CHI (2), LAC (6)
Adonal Foyle (1998-2005) GSW (8)
Shareef Abdur-Rahim (1997-2004) VAN (5), ATL (3), POR (1)
Erick Dampier (1997-2004) IND (1), GSW (7)
Lamond Murray (1995-2002) LAC (5), CLE (3)
Glen Rice (1990-1997) MIA (6), CHA (2)
Grant Long (1989-1996) MIA (7), ATL (2)
Herb Williams (1982-1989) IND (8), DAL (1)
Larry Drew (1981-1988) DET (1), KCK/SAC (5), LAC (2)

Of that list, just Walker, David Lee, Elton Brand, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Glen Rice became All-Stars in their first eight seasons. Walker’s three All-Star appearances lead the group.

Just three of those players – Walker, Andris Biedrins (Warriors) and Adonal Foyle (Warriors) – spent that entire time with only one team.

So, obviously Walker is the only player in NBA history with a first eight seasons like this – All-Star himself, one team, no All-Star teammates.

I asked Walker whether he felt playing with another star was a missing piece of his career.

“I don’t know. I don’t know,” Walker said, pausing as if he were truly contemplating then shaking his head and shrugging. “I don’t know.”

If Walker wants to play with other stars, he’ll have an opportunity this summer as an unrestricted free agent. Some teams pursuing Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler and Klay Thompson will strike out. There will be opportunities for Walker to land with better teams. The Bronx native has poohpoohed the Knicks, but there are many other possible destinations.

There’s something to be said about staying in Charlotte, too. Walker is probably already the greatest player in Hornets history, and another contract with them could cinch it. For a player who’s relatively underpaid, a five-year max-contract projected to be worth $190 million could be quite appealing. Walker could continue to stand alone in a league where stars frequently switch teams and join forces. That probably won’t lead to championships, but that isn’t the only way to define success.

“He’s made this franchise relevant,” LeBron James said.

Still, that has translated to only two playoff appearances for Walker, both first-round losses. Charlotte landed in the lottery the last two years and has a 55% chance to return there this season, according to 538. The Hornets are capped out with unappealing contracts, so significant progress soon seems unlikely.

But with All-Star Weekend behind him, the last All-Star left in Charlotte is focused on a stretch run with the Hornets.

“That’s what we do,” Walker said. “We play basketball. And for us, if we really want to make a push, we’ve just got to be locked in. So, I’ll try to my best to get some rest, recover a little bit from this weekend and keep it going.”

Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton narrowly miss teammate All-Star scoring record

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CHARLOTTE – Giannis Antetokounmpo walked into his post-All-Star press conference, held the door open for two of his brothers then pulled two chairs from behind the backdrop.

“We’ll make this family-oriented,” Antetokounmpo as he unfolded the chairs and placed them at the podium.

Antetokounmpo couldn’t play with his brothers in the actual All-Star game, but he came as close as he could to making that family-oriented, too. Antetokounmpo has stressed camaraderie within the Bucks, and he and Milwaukee teammate Khris Middleton surged together last night.

Antetokounmpo (38 points) and Middleton (20 points) combined for 58 points – the second-most ever by teammates in an All-Star game. The record is 60 points by former Heat teammates LeBron James (36 points) and Dwyane Wade (24 points) in the 2012 All-Star game.

At one point last night, Antetokounmpo and Middleton were outscoring LeBron’s entire team, 28-26. Antetokounmpo and Middleton each assisted each other a couple times, as Middleton acclimated quickly in his first All-Star game. But they cooled off just enough to miss on the teammate record.

Here’s every pair of teammates to score at least 50 combined points in the All-Star game:

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