Winners, losers from wild, blockbuster-filled NBA trade deadline


A couple of weeks before the NBA trade deadline, the conventional wisdom was it would be a quiet one. So when a rapid chain of events led to a blockbuster — Kyrie Irving demanding a trade then getting his wish and being sent to Dallas — the sense was that was it. Just small deals the rest of the way.

Then came the Russell Westbrook trade, and again everyone thought that would be it. Then the Kevin Durant trade to Phoenix blew the roof off everything.

It was an insane trade deadline. Let’s break down the winners and losers from a wild few days.

WINNER: Chris Paul

Everyone in Phoenix is a winner — Suns fans, Mat Ishbia, Jae Crowder‘s realtor — but let’s start with Chris Paul. Father Time has been gaining ground quickly on the 37-year-old 12-time All-Star this season. It is evident to the naked eye just watching him play, let alone the dip in his statistics (I asked a scout about it about a month ago and he just shook his head in resignation).

Bringing in Durant breathes a second life into CP3 this season — and could get him over the hump to the ring he so badly wants to cap off his career. Pressure comes off because the offense can run through Durant at points, and there will be less of a need for Paul to score, allowing him to focus on the playmaker role where he thrives. This kind of acquisition can take advantage of Paul’s skill sets.

Suns fans are winners because after decades of the penny-pinching (and much worse) Robert Sarver, Mat Ishbia takes over as owner and in 24 hours starts spending to turn the team into a contender — the Durant trade added more about $45 million in tax and payroll to the team’s bill. Ishbia is a winner for taking advantage of the opportunity to do all that.

There are questions about these Suns — defense, how much depth they have after moving Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and others, and can they stay healthy — but since their trip to the Finals, the Suns have looked good not great. Now, they can be great.

LOSER: Brooklyn Nets championship era

Sixteen games.

That’s how many games Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden played together. The team that on paper looked like it should waltz to the title crashed and burned under the weight of its own expectations, some unlucky injuries, and their own egos and foibles. It was a car wreck we all saw coming and couldn’t turn away from watching.

The Nets moved on from their superstars, and while they got some talent back and replenished some picks, the biggest thing is they have to re-establish the franchise culture (they turned that over to the superstars and they blew it up). There is a lot of work to do.

GM Sean Marks needs to get back to what he did when he took over what was seen as the worst job in the NBA in 2016 – a 21-win team that traded away most of its draft capital — and build a team-first culture of hard work and smart play. The team that drew Durant and Irving to town. Except next time don’t turn the keys of the franchise over to the superstars.

WINNER: Houston Rockets

This isn’t about a trade sending Eric Gordon and getting Danny Green and John Wall back (they will waive Wall anyway and make him a free agent). This is about the future.

One year ago at the trade deadline, Houston traded James Harden to the Nets and thanks to that deal now control — either outright have or have swap rights — for every Nets’ first-round pick between now and 2027. Those picks look much more valuable after this trade deadline.

WINNER: Los Angeles Lakers

There absolutely is a little addition by subtraction in sending Russell Westbrook away. Multiple reports have talked about rising tensions between him and the coaching staff in recent weeks, which was bleeding over and impacting the team.

But more importantly, the Lakers got three quality rotation players back for the price of Westbrook and a first-round pick — D'Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt and Malik Beasley.

“All of those guys bring unique skill sets, skill sets that we need, shooting, playmaking, energy, defense, rebounding, a lot of needs they’ll be able to address,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham Thursday before his team took on the Bucks.

The Lakers got deeper and better. Let’s not confuse this with them suddenly being a threat to win it all – they are six games below .500 and have work to do just to make the play-in — but if LeBron James and Anthony Davis are healthy, these roster additions help move the Lakers into the “nobody wants to see them” category.

LOSER: Nuggets, Grizzlies

Just before Christmas, Ja Morant said “Nah. I’m fine in the West” about the Grizzlies’ chances to make the Finals.

Karma can be brutal. While the Nuggets and Grizzlies made tweaks around the edges — Denver traded Bones Hyland and added Thomas Bryant, while the Grizzlies bought in Luke Kennard — the West was hit with an influx of elite talents such as Durant and Irving.

It was a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy: Other teams didn’t fear the Nuggets or Grizzlies, so they went out and added players to put them over the top, which in turn makes it more likely the Nuggets and Grizzlies are not teams to be feared.

The Grizzlies have lost 8-of-10 and have looked sloppy doing it. Morant and company need to take care of that first, then worry about the rest of the West.

STAYS THE SAME: John Collins

For about the 47th consecutive summer or trade deadline, John Collins was a constant in trade rumors and then remained an Atlanta Hawk. New front office in Atlanta, but the more things change the more they stay the same.

Just wait for the Draft, when Collins undoubtedly will be available again.

Report: Lakers, Austin Reaves have mutual interest in new contract


Austin Reaves is the latest in the impressive Lakers finds of role players. Undrafted out of Oklahoma, Reaves got a two-way contract from the Lakers, which was eventually turned into a regular minimum deal — he is making $1.6 million this season.

He had far outplayed that deal, averaging 12 points a game, becoming a key part of the Lakers’ rotation, and he dropped a career-high 35 on Sunday night. Reaves is up for a massive pay raise this summer, the Lakers want to give it to him and there is mutual interest, reports Jovan Buha at The Athletic.

He will be a restricted free agent this summer, and will undoubtedly have multiple suitors looking to pry him from the Lakers — especially after stat lines like Sunday’s. Both the Lakers and Reaves’ camp have interest in Reaves re-signing in Los Angeles, according to multiple league sources who were granted anonymity so that they coud speak freely. The max the Lakers can offer Reaves is a four-year, $50.8 million contract if they chose to use his Early Bird Rights, but they also have the power to match any contract he signs with another team.

While the Lakers can match any offer, it’s a little more complex than that because Reaves is an Arenas Rule free agent (named after The Hibachi himself). I’ll let our friend Keith Smith of Sportrac explain it.

When a player is an Arenas free agent, opposing teams can still offer whatever salary they are able to give, but the incumbent team is given an avenue to match the offer. What happens in these offers is that the first-year salary for an Arenas free agent is limited to either the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception (NTMLE) or what a team can match using their Early Bird exception…. That results in what is often referred to as a “poison pill” structure for a contract.

In the case of Reaves, let’s say a team looking for a well-rounded guard — the Orlando Magic — offer something like four years, $60 million. On the Orlando books, that would look like $15 million a season. However, under the Arenas provision, on the Lakers’ books the first year of that deal can only be for the $11.4 million the Lakers can offer right now, and Reaves would make less than $12 million in the second year (still far more than he makes this season). However, in the final two years of this hypothetical offer Reaves would make $17.9 million and $18.8 million on the Lakers’ books, a considerable jump. (If this were an $80 million offer from the Magic, the first two years would be the same but the last two would hit the Lakers’ books hard for more than $27 million a season, hence the poison pill name.)

The Lakers might well match that offer anyway, they still feel the sting of losing another of their young finds, Alex Caruso, and don’t want to let Reaves leave and then thrive somewhere else. Reaves isn’t looking to leave, he has said he loves Los Angeles and playing for the Lakers. However, this is a business and Reaves is not in a position to leave money on the table.

While everyone’s intentions are good, the Lakers have a lot of free-agent decisions to make this summer: D'Angelo Russell, Rui Hachimura, Lonnie Walker IV, Dennis Schroder, Troy Brown Jr. and more (plus Jarred Vanderbilt is extension eligible). There are going to be roster changes, and the Lakers can’t spend like the Warriors or Clippers who don’t appear to care about the tax — the Lakers are a family business and there is a budget.

Two things are for sure: It will be a wild offseason in Los Angeles, and Austin Reaves will get paid. By whom is the question.

Lillard sounds like a guy considering shutting it down for season

Boston Celtics v Portland Trail Blazers
Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers have lost six in a row, are 31-40 and sit 3.5 games out of the 10 seed and final play-in spot in the West (a few teams sit between them and that goal, too). It’s not impossible, but with just 11 games remaining there’s a reason gives them just a 0.4% chance of making the playoffs. It’s hard to be optimistic.

Even for the perpetually optimistic Damian Lillard.

Check out his quotes postgame, with the first being via Sean Highkin of the Rose Garden Report (Blazers fans should subscribe).

“I think everybody in here is not crazy,” Lillard said… “You look at what other teams are doing, they’re creating separation, and we’re on a losing streak. We’ve pretty much fallen out of the race for the 10th spot unless we win every game, if you really look at it truthfully.”

Lillard has played at an All-NBA level this season, averaging 32.2 points and 7.2 assists a game, shooting 37.3% from 3, an insane-for-a-guard 64.5 true shooting percentage, all while having the fifth highest usage rate in the league. Put simply, he has carried the Blazers.

Maybe it’s getting close to time to take that burden off his shoulders.

If/when Lillard decides to sit out the rest of the season, it will start another round of “should Lillard leave” speculation in the media and around the league (other teams are certainly watching). Just don’t bet on it happening. As Lillard said recently about staying to win in Portland, “I’m also willing to die on that hill.” Lillard has four years, $216.2 million remaining on his contract after this season, the deal he signed just last summer. However, more than the money, Lillard sees himself in the Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas or Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee mold — he wants to stay and win in his city.

Rather than selling, look for the Trail Blazers to try and be buyers around the Draft or into the summer, offering good young players such as Shaedon Sharpe and Anfernee Simons, plus plenty of draft picks. Portland wants to win around Lillard and is willing to be aggressive.

But that’s next season, this season has reached the point it may be time to pack it in for Lillard.

Morant reportedly could return to Grizzlies Wednesday vs. Rockets


Despite his eight-game suspension being up, Ja Morant will not be on the court Monday night when the Grizzlies host the Mavericks (Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving are questionable for the Mavericks as of this writing, although Dončić has been hopeful he could play).

In good news for Grizzlies fans, Morant could return as soon as Wednesday against the Rockets, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Rockets and their porous defense are an excellent soft landing spot for Morant to return, put up some numbers, but not have to play heavy minutes. The Grizzlies play the Rockets both Wednesday and Friday and need wins as they are in a fight for the two seed with the red-hot Sacramento Kings.

Morant was suspended for flashing a gun in a club and broadcasting it on social media, something NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called “irresponsible” and “reckless.”The suspension was retroactive, including games he was “away from the team” following the incident. The suspension cost Morant $668,659 in pay, but it hit his bank account harder than that after one of his major sponsors — Powerade — pulled an ad campaign featuring him that would have run heavily during March Madness. Morant is also in the mix for an All-NBA spot — which, via the Rose rule could increase his contract extension that kicks in next season — and this incident and missed games will not help his cause.

Hopefully, Morant got a chance to step back and consider his path forward during the suspension. If the Grizzlies are going to make the postseason run this season — and be a contender for years to come — as they expect, they need peak Morant on the court.

Watch Antetokounmpo shoot 9-of-9, get triple-double in win against Raptors


MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 22 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists, Brook Lopez scored 17 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter, and the Milwaukee Bucks rallied for a 118-111 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Sunday night.

Khris Middleton added 20 points and Bobby Portis had 14 as the Bucks improved to an NBA-best 51-20. Antetokounmpo had his 33rd career triple-double, making all nine of his field goal attempts.

Lopez scored the first eight points of the fourth quarter on a pair of 3-point plays and a dunk to put Milwaukee in front 97-95. Middleton’s free throw capped the 15-2 run that put the Bucks up 104-97.

“We settled down, we got back in control,” said Lopez, who outscored Toronto 17-16 in the fourth quarter. “We talked about the third quarter-fourth quarter break. They just shot more times than us. We were shooting just as well, or better than them from two and three. We just had to take care of the ball and keep them off the offensive glass.”

A dunk by Jakob Poeltl brought Toronto within 110-107, but Lopez scored underneath and Jrue Holiday hit two free throws to make it 114-107 with 1:29 remaining.

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said Lopez’s outburst to start the fourth quarter was key.

“It changed the game,” Budenholzer said. “I think what he did offensively was important, and then the defense always stands out. It was a little bit muddy, not a pretty game there, and he stepped up and kind of just changed our feel and changed the momentum for us, particularly offensively, which we needed tonight.”

Fred VanVleet had 23 points and O.G. Anunoby added 22 for the Raptors, who had won their three previous games. Toronto missed a chance to move into eighth in the East Conference ahead of Atlanta, which lost to San Antonio 126-118.

“All these games are important to us, that’s for sure,” said Toronto coach Nick Nurse, whose team plays their next four at home. “I like, kind of, how we’re playing. I think we’re very well for long stretches of games. Hopefully, we can just keep building on that.”

Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr. hit back-to-back 3-pointers to put the Raptors up 83-76 with just under 4 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter. Toronto led 95-89 entering the final period.

“There was just two little probably bad stretches,” Nurse said. “In those stretches, they kind of got a couple of at the rim … a couple of and-ones. We just kind of lost our rim protection, and then kicked out and made a couple 3s after we kind of got that fixed. Give them credit, they made a couple big ones down the stretch when they needed them.”

The Bucks hit seven of their 16 3-pointers in the first period en route to a 33-29 lead.

Antetokounmpo, in his 10th season with the Bucks, played in his franchise-record 712th game, surpassing Junior Bridgeman. Antetokounmpo already was the franchise leader in points, assists, triple-doubles, free throws and minutes played. “It’s a great feeling. I wasn’t aware of it coming into the game,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s been a long, long journey. There’s more to be accomplished yet, I believe.”