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).