Winners and Losers From the NBA Trade Deadline

Mon 10th February 2020

While this year’s edition of the NBA’s most frantic of events perhaps wasn’t quite as wild and whacky as we’ve seen in previous years, there was still plenty to satisfy fans of the wildest soap opera in sports.

After taking a few days to digest the ins and outs and assess the implications on the 2020 championship picture – and beyond – we’ve found a few standout winners, and a few enormous losers from this year’s NBA trade deadline.

Winner: the New York Knicks

Success is relative, and in the case of a franchise which has barely won a game – let alone a championship, or even playoffs – in the last two decades, even a small victory is one worth celebrating.

In the case of the Knicks, firing team president Steve Mills and entrusting the franchise’s trade deadline fate to GM Scott Perry seemed initially like yet another misstep in a catalogue which is growing ever longer.

However, if – as was reported – Mills was fired because he refused to entertain trade offers for Marcus Morris, it’s hard to argue that James Dolan didn’t make the right decision in moving on from Mills. Morris is not the type of player to build a franchise around and Mills’ apparent unwillingness to entertain flipping him for future assets made no sense. 

Morris is now heading to Los Angeles and in return the Knicks are receiving the kind of package – including picks, young prospects and Moe Harkless – that should have always been the intended result for a ball-stopping 30-year-old who will be nowhere near New York at the time the Knicks are contending (in theory at least) for their next championship.

While there should have also been similar moves done for the likes of Taj Gibson and Reggie Bullock, at least this was a small win. Enjoy it while it lasts, New York fans, because it won’t last for long.

Winner: Andre Drummond

After making his displeasure in Detroit known for much of this season, the big-boarding big man finally got his wish and was sent packing from the Pistons.

This move made perfect sense for Detroit, with it becoming more evident by the day that the franchise’s only option was to tear down whatever this team currently is and rebuild from the ground up. John Henson, Brandon Knight and a 2023 second-rounder won’t help that, but paying Drummond $25M+ a year to stay and pull down meaningless regular-season boards was an even worse outcome.

Loser: Andre Drummond

If it wasn’t obvious already, this is a tough industry. After seven years of outstanding stats, occasional offensive outbursts and even a couple of frisky playoff appearances, the best player the Pistons have had in this last decade found himself traded from the frying pan and in to the fire – so to speak – apparently without even knowing that it was happening.

While it’s hard to blame the Cavs for taking a punt on the talent big man, especially given they gave up essentially nothing to get him, the fit in Cleveland is… well… interesting. How Drummond fits alongside Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson is anyone’s guess, and it’s fair to say that Darius Garland and Collin Sexton aren’t exactly cultivating a friendly back-court/front-court environment.

Perhaps the most galling part of this whole debacle from Drummond’s end is that the franchise he has given his heart and soul to for the last seven years essentially reached the point where they were willing to take two appalling contracts and a worthless draft pick rather than pay him a max salary. And at this point, if a franchise like the Pistons isn’t willing to pay the max for one of their own, rest assured that the rest of the league won’t be either.

Enjoy your time in Cleveland, Andre. It will not involve any playoff appearances in the near future.

Winner: Brandon Rosenthal

If you haven’t heard the name “Brandon Rosenthal” before, don’t worry – neither had we until approximately five minutes ago.

Rosenthal is Andre Iguodala’s agent. The same Iguodala who – at the age of 36, no less – is set to make $30M over the next two seasons whilst playing for a potential championship contender, and who just spent the last seven months playing golf, earning $17.2M for not playing basketball and promoting a book about himself.

It really, truly does not get much better than that. Iguodala’s refusal to play with the Grizzlies apparently raised some eyebrows across the league, but at the end of the day it’s hard to argue that the end result wasn’t perfect for both parties.

The wily defensive veteran spent half a season recuperating his ageing legs and readying himself for a playoff tilt in Miami, while the rebuilding (at least in theory) Grizzlies cashed in their prized asset for a potential young star and offloaded two horrendous contracts in the process.

This is a win-win-win situation, and Rosenthal deserves a lot of credit for his part in it. Plus he probably just made a sweet commission, and we respect dolla dolla bills, y’all.

Losers: the Timberwolves and the Warriors

There are a few different types of trades in the NBA.

A “mutually beneficial” trade – which happens fairly regularly (see above re. Iguodala) – makes all teams involved in the deal better than they were prior to the deal being made.

A “bad” trade – which also happens fairly regularly – usually involves one team making itself worse – intentionally or otherwise – and the other improving itself at their expense.

A “truly terrible” trade makes all the teams involved worse, with no discernible winner and a whole bunch of losers. The perfect example of this phenomena is the Andrew Wiggins / D’Angelo Russell deal between the Timberwolves and Warriors.

The last thing the Timberwolves need is another terrible defender with a high usage rate and a history of on-court (and off-court) histrionics. The last thing the Warriors need is a sub-par defender on a terrible contract who’s shown precisely nothing to suggest he can ever be a first-rate NBA star.

And yet, that’s what both of them got in Russell and Wiggins. Somehow the Warriors need to find a way to pay Wiggins the $94.7M owed to him over the next three seasons while squeezing in some usage for him beside Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, and somehow the Timberwolves need to find a way to play Russell and Karl Anthony-Towns on the floor together at the same time without having a defensive rating of 150.

Not only that, it cost the Wolves a top-three-protected first-round pick in 2021 to get off the Wiggins contract.

The funny thing about this deal is that both parties will feel they won the deal, but in fact neither of them did. No one did. Except for maybe Towns, whose renowned drama-queen antics may be reigned in for the next couple of years by his apparent best friend in Russell.

Winner: Daryl Morey

Not only did the Houston Rockets push all their chips on to the table at the deadline, they also threw their car-keys and their kid’s college fund on to the pile as well.

Trading Clint Capela for yet another three-ball shooting, wing defender in Robert Covington and opting to put all their centre eggs in the P.J. Tucker basket may just be the ballsiest front-office decision we’ve seen in NBA history. 

The Rockets’ starting lineup now features exactly zero players taller than 6-foot-6, which is kind of incredible given they play in a conference that contains the likes of Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokic, Rudy Gobert and Zion Williamson. While the logic of the move will be debated ad nauseum – and is perhaps a question that will only be decided by June – what is evident out of the last five days of wheeling and dealing is that Rockets owner Tillman Fertita has complete faith in the system Daryl Morey is building.

Houston are essentially eschewing any form of interior defense in favour of shutting down their opposition behind the arc and raining threes like a waterfall down the other. The thing is, we don’t hate it. 

If you really, truly believe in a strategy – as Morey clearly does, with good reason based on the advanced metrics – then there’s no point doing things half-heartedly. Capela’s glaring weaknesses on offense limited the ceiling for what Morey’s idea could achieve, and whilst it’s arguable Capela was worth more than what the Rockets received in return, what’s not at issue is that Covington is an infinitely better fit in the Morey system

It may end up working, or Davis might end up tearing the Rockets a new one in the second round of the playoffs, but Morey finally seems to have the gravitas as a GM to do exactly what he wants with no half measures.

Loser: the Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers drastically needed to shake themselves up at the deadline, otherwise it seems certain their destiny lies in another hard-fought second round playoff loss.

Instead, they retained all five dysfunctional starters and signed Alex Burks and Glenn Robinson III while offloading Trey Burke and James Ennis. 

It seems trite to say, but those moves aren’t the sort that propel a middling team – which is frankly what the 76ers are at the moment – in to championship contention. This is a team that has been demolished in the last fortnight by Boston, Atlanta, Miami and Milwaukee and while Burks and Robinson are both passable shooters and decent defenders, they’re not the magic elixir for a team which is really set for championship or bust.

We were desperate for Philly to pull off something bold at the deadline, at the very least just to ensure this season won’t be remembered as yet another missed opportunity. Hell, get creative. The fit of Al Horford, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid clearly isn’t working, what’s the point in continuing to push it?

We’re prepared to be proven wrong, but it really feels like this team is treading water when it needs to be trying every possible permutation to take that next step to the Finals and beyond, particularly given the time that Embiid and Simmons are going to have together already feels finite.

If Robinson and Burks are the answer, we’re struggling to find what the question was.

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