Winners and losers at the NBA trade deadline

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So much for a quiet trade deadline.

For a couple of months in the run-up to the NBA trade deadline, sources around the league talked about all the reasons not to expect a lot of trades this year, from a lack of cap space to take on bad contracts to a lack of sellers. Then came Kobe Bryant’s tragic death, which became a black cloud over the league and blotted out talk of things as trivial as trades.

But when the doors opened on trade talks again, it felt like the whole league rushed in — the result was a wild, trade filled couple of days that changed both this season and the trajectory of a number of teams.

Here is who won and who lost.

Winner: Los Angeles Clippers

In a West where the margins between the top teams — especially the two that call Staples Center home — are so thin, the Clippers’ moves around the trade deadline made this team better. Maybe a lot better. If they were not the favorites to come out of the West before the deadline, I have them there now. At least on paper.

The big move: The Clippers traded for Marcus Morris.

Morris brings grit, some interior toughness, a few technicals, and some floor-spacing shooting to Los Angeles. Morris averaged 18.5 points per game for the Knicks, and shot 45.4 percent from three — and that was without players such as Kawhi Leonard or Paul George drawing defenders to get him wide-open looks. Also, Morris is a physical defender — exactly the kind of player teams want on their side in the playoffs. Doc Rivers now has even more options on how to attack teams with this versatile roster.

The Clippers still bring Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell off the bench behind that starting five.

Loser: Los Angeles Lakers

This is all relative. The Lakers may still win the West — they do have LeBron James, after all — but the trade deadline made their path more difficult.

The Clippers got a boost picking up Marcus Morris. Denver got a little better and added some scoring (and will get healthy at some point). Utah’s one move was more than a month earlier, but they added scoring off the bench in the form of Jordan Clarkson.

The Lakers are still the Lakers. They also should get better because they will thrive in the buyout market, and they are still the favorites to land Darren Collison if he returns.

But even with that, the opponents the Lakers need to beat got better in the last few days, and that is not ideal for the Lakers.

Winner: Atlanta Hawks

To maximize what Trae Young can do, the Hawks needed to find him the right pick-and-roll partner, a guy who sets a strong pick then dive hard to the rim, drawing defenders with him (or getting open for the alley-oop). Some defense and shot blocking would be nice, too.

Enter Clint Capela, picked up from the Rockets in a massive four-team, 12-player trade — and the Hawks got him without giving up a first-round pick, nor rising star John Collins.

Capela was half of a very effective pick-and-roll tandem with James Harden (they scored more than a point per possession, in the Damian Lillard/Jusuf Nurkic range). The Hawks looked at a lot of big men and settled on the one that likely fits best with Young. Whether Capela fits next to Collins is another story and something to watch over the next couple of years.

Winner: Miami Heat

The Miami Heat are in the mix with the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors, vying to be the second-best team in the East. (Philadelphia would like to be in that conversation, too, but right now they are not.) At the trade deadline, the Heat got deeper — adding Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder — and while that’s not likely making them a threat to any team with a Greek Freak on the roster, it may be enough to make Miami the second-best team in the East. Toronto and Boston stood still, Miami got better and added playoff-proven veterans.

At the same time, Miami got out from under the oversized contracts of James Johnson and Dion Waiters. It’s a masterstroke. Miami maintained its financial flexibility for the summer of 2021, in case any famous players who grew up in Greece want to test the free-agent market.

Loser: 2020 free agents

The teams that had cap space this summer to chase max-level free agents were not exactly inspiring: Atlanta, Cleveland, Memphis, Charlotte, New York, and Phoenix.

Now Atlanta, Cleveland, and Memphis are off that list. Their deadline moves said they were not inspired by the free agent class and decided to spend that money now.

To be fair, Detroit now will have the cap space — Detroit valued that cap space more than they valued Andre Drummond, the Cavaliers valued Drummond more than the cap space. Still, for potential free agents such as Gordon Hayward, DeMar DeRozan, Drummond (although he likely opts into that $28.8 million next season), Joe Harris, Montrezl Harrell, and others, it’s some slim pickings out there.

Winner: Robert Covington

Robert Covington got traded from a team that had lost a dozen games in a row (now 13) in the NBA’s coldest city to warm-weather Houston on a team poised to be a playoff threat — that’s a win.

Covington had 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting and was a team-high +16 in his first game with the Rockets, Thursday nights win against the Lakers. That’s what Covington does, he puts up solid stats, but the team just plays better defense and runs a little smoother when he is on the court. Use whatever coach’s cliche you want — “he does the little things that don’t show up in the box score” or “he just plays winning basketball” — but he makes teams better.

Loser: Moe Harkless

If Covington wins because of the change in his situation, then you have to feel for Harkless. He did nothing wrong, he played well for the Clippers — he started most of the time, played smart, and took on the toughest wing defensive assignments so that Kawhi Leonard and Paul George didn’t have to all game. But, his $11.5 million contract made him a perfect person to round out a trade deal.

Harkless got traded from a title contender in sunny Los Angeles to the New York Knicks. That’s going to be a shock to the system.

Winner: Minnesota Timberwolves

Gersson Rosas is reshaping this team and he made some bold moves to do just that at the trade deadline.

He traded for D'Angelo Russell, which will make Karl-Anthony Towns happy and gives the Timberwolves a solid point guard of the future. Amazingly, he got Andrew Wiggins off the books at the same time. He added solid bench depth by trading for Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez. He got good value for Covington. He managed the salary cap well.

That’s a good start. I have serious questions about how well a team with Russell and Towns is going to defend, how good they can ultimately be, but considering where Minnesota was this is still a big step forward.

Loser Traditional NBA centers

Andre Drummond — who scores more than 17 points a game and is the NBA’s best rebounder — had almost no trade market and was salary dumped to Cleveland. Houston sent Clint Capela out the door to start a 6’5″ center in P.J. Tucker. Cleveland could not get a good enough offer for Tristan Thompson to pull the trigger on a deal. Boston and other teams were not willing to put real assets on the table to trade for a traditional center, deciding instead to wait for the buyout market.

In case you had any doubt about how the game is moving away from traditional centers, there’s your evidence. The league is moving on. Teams will still need an old-school big on the roster (although Houston is trying to prove that wrong), but teams are not going to pay big for one unless he is high-level elite (Joel Embiid, Rudy Gobert, Nikola Jokic level).

Mark Cuban’s plan for a restart, “I don’t think we can go the old tried and true way”

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Wild, fanciful ideas for restarting the NBA that would never fly in a typical year — 1-16 seeding, or maybe a soccer World Cup-style group stage — are getting an airing this season because everything is on the table. As the NBA moves closer to a restart plan, countless ideas are being floated.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has his own plan.

Shocking, I know. But it’s interesting.

“What I proposed is that we extend the playoff format to 10 teams from each conference, and play at least five games prior to going into playoffs,” Cuban said laying out is plan to NBC’s Mike Tirico on “Lunch Talk Live.” And if we do that, every team in the Eastern Conference would have a chance to make the playoffs, and all but two in the Western Conference would do it [Ed. note: Golden State and Minnesota].

“Then, what I would do, once we got 10 and 10, I would reseed them, and 17 would play 20, and 18 would play 19, in a one-game series. The winner then would take on the eighth-place seed in a five-game series, while the No. 1 seed in each conference would get a bye. Then you go ahead normally from there.

“That gives us a chance to have more meaningful games, it gives almost every team a chance when we come back for whatever is left of our regular season. I think we’ve got to change it up some, I don’t think we can go the old tried and true way.”

Cuban later added, speaking to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, that he wants to see all 30 teams come to Orlando for regular season games, building excitement for the NBA’s return in every market. This dream, however, seems a long shot, and Damian Lillard spoke for a lot of players when he said he’s not playing if there is not a path to the playoffs for Portland.

Cuban’s point that this is the year to try something different, not to play it safe, has real validity. This season is already upside down due to the corona

Cuban’s plan is a long shot, but is it any longer a shot than any of the other ones out there?

 

Wizards’ Bradley Beal: Thunder considered trading James Harden for me on draft day 2012

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The first three picks of the 2012 NBA Draft, which was held in June:

1. New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans): Anthony Davis

2. Charlotte Bobcats (now Hornets): Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

3. Washington Wizards: Bradley Beal

That August, the Thunder reportedly offered to trade James Harden to Washington for Beal. Washington reportedly rejected the offer due to Harden’s desire for a max contract extension (which Wizards owner Ted Leonsis denied). The Rockets were more than willing to pay Harden, and Oklahoma City dealt him to Houston that October.

Apparently, Washington had a chance to land Harden earlier that offseason.

Beal on “All The Smoke:”

We’re sitting in the draft room. Sure enough, my agent is tapping me. He’s like, “It’s possible you might go to OKC.” I said, “Damn, how am I going to go there? I ain’t even worked out for OKC.” I only worked out for three teams – Washington, Cleveland and Charlotte.

So, the deal was to trade James to Washington, right? OKC gets the third pick. It was either the second or third pick. They were going to trade up to 2 or 3, get me, trade James to Washington.

I would have been in OKC with KD and Russ.

That was a last-minute decision. It was almost done.

I can’t tell whether Beal is also revealing a Harden-to-Charlotte offer or just got mixed up on which teams held the Nos. 2 and 3 picks. Obviously, if Beal was the main prize to the Thunder, they would’ve cared only minimally whether they got him with the No. 2 or No. 3 pick. So, there might have been trade talks with Charlotte, too.

But I’m not convinced Oklahoma City valued Beal that way.

The Thunder were a championship contender. They had just lost in the 2012 NBA Finals to the Heat. Oklahoma City couldn’t have depended on a rookie Beal to contribute on that level.

That’s why – in addition to picks/young player acquired from the Rockets for Harden – the Thunder also got Kevin Martin. The veteran Martin was much better than Beal in 2012-13. (Ironically, the open title window was also a strong argument for just keeping Harden, whatever his contract status).

But the 2012-13 season didn’t go as planned for Oklahoma City. Russell Westbrook got hurt early in the playoffs, and the Thunder lost to the Grizzlies in the second round. Martin left for a lucrative contract with the Timberwolves the following summer.

Even with the long runway Kevin Durant and Westbrook provided, Oklahoma City never got back to the Finals. Beal could have grown into a third star whose shooting complemented the duo. The Thunder might have won a championship with this trade (or, again, just keeping Harden).

The Wizards almost certainly would have won more. Harden has perennially gotten the Rockets to the playoff. (They’ve gone further in years he has had more help.) Beal hasn’t singlehandedly carried Washington like that.

So, this is an interesting “what if?” – if you take it at face value.

Beal’s agent warning him of a trade possibility means something. But we don’t know which other pieces were involved.

The Thunder didn’t trade Harden until just before the rookie-scale-extension deadline, suggesting they wanted to give themselves time to extend him themselves before taking the drastic step of trading him. Would Beal have been enough of a return to give up in June (or even August) on keeping Harden? Maybe. Harden didn’t fully blossom until reaching Houston. But I’m skeptical. At minimum, Harden had already established himself as young and good. Beal was young, promising and under greater team control. There’s significant value in the certainty of a player being at least a near-star, and Harden – not Beal – had that.

Even in hindsight, we’re still revisiting the situation with only limited information.

Report: NBA games could resume in August, not July

Bucks center Brook Lopez and Raptors center Marc Gasol
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images
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A week ago, the NBA was looking to resume games in July at Disney World.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

In fact, there’s a possibility the first games played in Orlando could be in August, not July, sources said.

It’s good the NBA is being flexible on a start date. The coronavirus presents so much uncertainty.

The league is approaching its most lucrative time – the playoffs. The NBA should make every effort to play the postseason, whenever that can be done safely.

Everyone can figure out next season later, especially because there’s a willingness to delay the start.

Report: Pistons searching for new general manager

Pistons executive Ed Stefanski
Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images
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The Pistons hired Ed Stefanski as a senior advisor to owner Tom Gores in 2018. Among Stefanski’s duties: Assist in the ongoing search for a new head of basketball operations. But it quickly became clear Stefanski would just run the front office himself.

Now, two years later, Detroit is finally getting around to that general-manager search.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Detroit Pistons are opening a search to hire a general manager to work with senior advisor Ed Stefanski, sources tell ESPN.

Stefanski will be working with Pistons and Palace Sports Vice Chairman Arn Tellem on the process to hire a GM, sources said.

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

If Stefanski is still running the front office, a new general manager would be the No. 2 – equivalent to assistant general manager on many teams.

After taking over an inflexible roster left by Stan Van Gundy, Stefanski couldn’t do much. Stefanski’s big move was trading Andre Drummond to the Cavaliers just before the trade deadline. That positioned Detroit to have major cap space next offseason, but it’s unclear how much will actually materialize. The salary cap could drop due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Pistons must determine whether they’re still building around Blake Griffin, the 31-year-old due $36,810,996 and $38,957,028 the next two years. Last season, he returned to stardom and carried Detroit into the playoffs. This season, he missed most of the year due to injury.

If they’re trying to win now with Griffin, the Pistons are short on quality complementary players. If Detroit is ready to rebuild, its pool of young talent – Luke Kennard, Sekou Doumbouya, Bruce Brown, impending free agent Christian Wood, its own first-round pick – is hardly assured of success.

After years of being stuck on a path charted under the Van Gundy regime, the Pistons can soon pick a new course. This is the time get the front office up to full staffing.