Winners, Losers from busy NBA trade deadline day

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After a relatively quiet run-up to the trade deadline, the dam broke on Thursday.

There were 16 trades. In one day.

Trades were flying around the league from Toronto (via Tampa Bay) to Los Angeles, yet two players most expected to be on the move — Kyle Lowry of Toronto and Lonzo Ball of New Orleans — stayed put.

Who were the winners and losers at the trade deadline? Let’s break it down.

WINNER: Denver Nuggets

Denver went all-in — and that makes them the biggest winners of the day.

The Nuggets traded for Aaron Gordon, helping fill a hole left by the departure of Jerami Grant (although the Nuggets have a slightly better net rating at this point in the season without him, they have just been unlucky at the end of games). Part of that is Gordon can be a shot creator, the third (maybe fourth if Michael Porter Junior is hot) in the offense, but also a guy who can cut, set picks, roll to the rim, draw the attention of defenders. Plus, he’s shooting 37.5% from three this season; those defenders also have to respect him at the arc.

However, the bigger help is on defense — Gordon is a big body, athletic, and a quality defender. Not lockdown, but he makes the Nuggets defense better. In a West loaded with big wings — LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and so on — Gordon can be a defender the Nuggets can use on him.

Denver also picked up JaVale McGee, a big backup with championship experience (with Stephen Curry and LeBron James) who can be a big body matched up against Rudy Gobert, maybe Andre Drummond, and other matchups in the playoffs.

Is that enough to make them one of the West’s elite teams? They’ll need to prove it. But you have to like the attitude and aggressiveness. Denver made it to the Western Conference Finals last season, these are moves that say they want to get back there and beyond.

WINNER: Orlando Magic

It may seem counterintuitive to say the team that traded away Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic, and Evan Fournier for picks is a winner, but they are.

It’s about time they made these moves and tore it down.

The Magic have been stuck on the carousel of mediocrity for years. They had a core of talented players — Vucevic is an All-Star, Gordon could have been — and high draft picks like Mo Bamba, but it has never come together. This team’s core was average at best and was getting older; there wasn’t much of a future for it. It was time to tear it down, get young players and draft picks, and rebuild with Jonathan Isaac as the first key piece. Orlando got three first-round picks, a couple of second-rounders, and interesting young players such as Wendell Carter and R.J. Hampton out of those trades. It’s a start.

Orlando chose its direction. Magic fans may be skeptical that will amount to much — they have been down this road before. But this was the move they needed to make.

LOSER: Boston Celtics fans

Boston fans came into the trade deadline thinking they were the frontrunners for Aaron Gordon, they had the largest trade exception in NBA history to make things happen, and they had possibilities.

They ended the day with Evan Fournier, without Daniel Theis, and with an owner who got below the luxury tax.

None of that is terrible. Fournier and his shooting will be a good fit in Boston, he makes the team better. They will be fine without Theis, they have enough bigs, and it just means more Time Lord. Boston didn’t do anything wrong.

It just didn’t live up to expectations, which makes it a long day for their fans.

WINNER: Brooklyn Nets

Philadelphia didn’t trade for Kyle Lowry. Neither did Miami. Boston didn’t get Aaron Gordon. Milwaukee added P.J. Tucker last week but didn’t make a massive move.

The Brooklyn Nets have looked like the best team in the East with just two-thirds of their stars are on the court, and they are rightfully the favorites to come out of the conference because we can only imagine what happens when Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving are start working together. Brooklyn was a winner on Thursday because all their main competition didn’t make a bold move and get dramatically better — not for lack of trying, but it didn’t happen for them.

Which keeps Brooklyn looking like the top dog in the East. Whether the Nets stars can coalesce, and whether their spotty defense will be enough in the playoffs, remains to be seen. But the Nets were winners on Thursday without doing a thing.

Winner: Chicago Bulls

Chicago is a winner for the same reason Denver is on this list, we like teams that are aggressive and go for it.

Chicago went for it and added an All-Star center in Nikola Vucevic to partner with Zach LaVine. They also added Daniel Theis and Troy Brown, Jr. for depth — all without sacrificing a key rotation player (Wendell Carter Jr. was not that anymore). The Bulls did give up two first-round picks, which hurts, but this was about adding talent and trying to make a leap out of the 10-seed and just making the play-in to being a playoff team in the East. The Bulls now have two All-Stars that should boost their pedestrian offense, they are going to win more games and be a tougher playoff out.

There’s a lot of work still to do for the Bulls to be a threat to Brooklyn/Philadelphia/Milwaukee, but this is an aggressive step. It’s a sign of what the new front office is thinking in Chicago, and Bulls fans have to like it.

Are struggling Mavericks on the clock with Luka Doncic?

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Luka Doncic is in the first year of a five-year, $215.2 million contract. More than that, when asked recently if Mavericks fans should be worried about him wanting out as the team has stumbled at points to start this season, Doncic didn’t sound like a guy looking to bolt:

“I don’t think they’re worried about it right now. I got what, five years left here, so I don’t think they should be worried about it.”

The Mavericks’ front office should be worried about it — teams are always on the clock with a superstar.

The Mavericks let Jalen Brunson get away in the offseason, then brought in Christian Wood (whose defense is an issue and he is coming off the bench). This remains a team a player or two away from contending despite having a potential MVP in Doncic carrying a historic offensive load.

That doesn’t mean Doncic will ask out at the deadline or this summer (he won’t), but if his frustration grows over the next couple of years… who knows. Tim MacMahon of ESPN put it well on the Hoop Collective podcast (hat tip Real GM):

“I think they have a two-year window. This season and next season going into that summer [2024]. I think they have a two-year window where, you know, like Milwaukee did with Giannis [Antetokounmpo], I think in that window they really need to convince Luka that he has a chance to contend year in and year out right here in Dallas. If they can’t get it done in that two-year window, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that he’s going to force a trade or ask for a trade. I’m just saying at that point if he’s not happy, he has all the leverage in the world if he would be looking to leave..

“I don’t think Luka will look for reasons to leave. I think he’d be perfectly happy spending his entire career in Dallas. But if he doesn’t have to look for reasons and they’re slamming him in the face, then that’s a problem. He’s also a guy who is a ruthless competitor, which means he loves winning. He’s used to winning. He won championships with Real Madrid. He won a EuroBasket championship with the Slovenian national team. He also detests losing. Like can’t handle it.”

The Mavericks made the Western Conference Finals last season, knocking off the 64-win Suns in the process — this team is not that far away. Not with Doncic handling the ball. But it feels like a team that has taken a step back from those lofty levels this season. There are many more questions than answers, and it’s impossible to guess how Doncic will feel after this season’s playoffs, let alone the ones ending in the summer of 2024.

But the Mavericks stumbles this season have to put the Dallas front office on notice — this team is not good enough. And if we know it, you can be sure Doncic knows it.

Curry thinking retirement? ‘I don’t see myself slowing down any time soon’

2022 Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year Awards Presented by Chase
Kimberly White/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated
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Stephen Curry is playing at an MVP level this season: 30 points a game, hitting 43.2% from 3 with a 66.4 true shooting percentage, plus pitching in seven assists and 6.6 rebounds a game. He remains one of the best-conditioned athletes in the sport.

In the face of that, even though he is 34, asking him a retirement question seemed an odd choice, yet a reporter at the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year award ceremony — Curry won the award, if you didn’t know — asked Curry about it seems he’s not interested.

Curry should not be thinking of retirement, but there is a sense around these Warriors that this era, this run is coming to an end in the next few years. Curry may be defying father time, but Draymond Green and Klay Thompson (especially post injuries) are not. There is a decline in their games (and this season, the role players have not stepped up around them the same way). With that comes a certain pressure to take advantage of the opportunities, there aren’t going to be as many.

Which is why the Warriors are a team to watch at the trade deadline (and will they sell low on James Wiseman to a team that still sees the potential in him?).

As for Curry, he will still be around and producing for a few more years. Nobody is ready to think about his retirement. Including Curry himself.

Block or charge: Alperen Sengun dunks on Zach Collins

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To borrow the catchphrase of the great Rex Chapman:

Block or charge?

The Rockets’ Alperen Sengun caught a body and threw one down on the Spurs’ Zach Collins but was called for the offensive foul.

NBA Twitter went nuts.

Rockets coach Stephen Silas challenged the call, but it was upheld (from my perspective, the replay officials are always looking to back the in-game officials if they at all can).

By the time Collins slid over and jumped, Sengun was already in the air — if anything that was a block. What the officials called was Sengun using his off-arm to create space.

I hate the call — that’s a dunk and an and-one. Not because it’s a great dunk — although it is that, too — but because Collins literally jumped into the path of an already airborne Sengun, Collins created all the contact. It’s on him. Under the spirit of the rules, Sengun’s off-arm is moot at that point — Collins illegally jumped in Sengun’s way and caused the collision.

Terrible call by the officials.

It was a good night for the Spurs, overall. San Antonio played its best defense in a while and Keldon Johnson — one of the few bright spots in a dark Spurs season — hit his first nine shots on his way to a 32-point night that sparked a 118-109 San Antonio win over Houston, snapping the Spurs 11-game losing streak.

Three things to know: Watch Jamal Murray drain game-winning 3 to beat Blazers

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Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Watch Jamal Murray drain game-winning 3 to beat Blazers

This game felt like a 2019 playoff time capsule, with Damian Lillard and Jamal Murray trading blows in a dramatic game.

Lillard landed more of them, he finished with 40 points — and his final three were vintage Dame Time.

But Murray had the final word.

The final minutes of this game were insane.

It was a needed win for a Denver team that some nights look like they can compete with the best in the league, then turn around 48 hours later and mail in a loss to a tanking team. Nikola Jokic scored 33 against Portland (with 10 boards and nine assists) — he is again putting up numbers that will have him in the MVP conversation (even if it’s a longshot he wins it). However, the Nuggets’ bottom-five defense makes them inconsistent night to night.

Portland revamped their roster to get younger and more athletic around Lillard this past offseason, but one of the results of that is the inconsistency of youth. The Blazers don’t bring the same level of execution every night. If they don’t learn that lesson, they may be different in makeup but the results will be the same as many Portland teams of the last decade — an early playoff exit.

2) Brittney Griner is home on U.S.soil

After spending 10 months in Russian jails — including being convicted and sent to a penal colony — on trumped-up drug charges that made her a political pawn in a massive geo-political battle, Brittney Griner is finally home on U.S. soil, her plane landed in Texas overnight.

The Biden administration worked out a prisoner exchange with Russia that brings Griner home to be with her wife, family and friends — that is something to be celebrated.

Of course, there was some pushback online/in the media from people who care only about trying to score political points for their selfish ends. Fortunately, we had the family of Paul Whelan — a Michigan corporate security executive who has been behind bars in Russia since December 2018 on trumped-up espionage charges — who praised the president for bringing Griner home and making “the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn’t going to happen.”

An American citizen is home. She happens to be a WNBA star and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, but those things are not what matters most, and are secondary to her family who are just happy to hug her and tell her they love her again. We all hope that day comes soon for American political prisoners held around the globe (including Whelan), but we should celebrate the big victory of Griner being back on U.S. soil.

3) Spurs snap 11-game losing streak behind 32 from Johnson

Keldon Johnson — one of the few bright spots in a dark Spurs season — hit his first nine shots on his way to a 32-point night that sparked a 118-109 San Antonio win over Houston, snapping the Spurs’ 11-game losing streak.

“This has been the first game in a while where we were clicking defensively,” Johnson told the Associated Press after the game. “You can tell when we get stops, get out and run and be able to get out front. If we can keep that mindset of defense first, get stops and we let the offense take care of itself, we’ll be in great shape.”

All of that is interesting, but the real debate of the night: Was this an offensive foul by Alperen Sengun, or a block by Zach Collins?

Sengun was in the air when Collins came over, but he also used his off hand to create space for the dunk. This is a bang-bang call and the challenge of the block/charge call — I think that’s a block by Collins, but that’s not how the referee or many others have seen it. How would you have called it?