- There was more talk than action at the NBA trade deadline, but all of it was still fascinating. We hand out grades to all of the teams that did—and didn't—make trades.
The trade deadline combines rampant gossip, irrational dreams, subjective player evaluations, stupid team-building arguments, and dozens of agents and GMs fanning the flames by leaking various information across the media. Any non-basketball fan who complains that all of this is nonsense, you are 100% correct. But it's the most entertaining nonsense.
To run through what happened this year, and what didn't happen, let's hand out some trade grades to everyone.
Boston Celtics | Grade: C
The odyssey continues. Whether you believe the Celtics offered either of the Nets' picks for Jimmy Butler or Paul George, and whatever you think the Pacers and Bulls demanded, what's most important is that the Celtics had an opportunity to make a play for a star, and they couldn't get it done. In Butler's case, it's likely because the Bulls were demanding too much of the existing rotation (in addition to the Nets pick). The Celtics didn't value Butler enough to gut their already potent roster. In George's case, the problem was that the Pacers were never all that committed to trading George this week.
So, Boston keeps the Nets' picks. The most optimistic way to look at this from the Celtics' standpoint is to say that they will have another shot at this in June, and it's a good sign that they weren't pressured into giving up too much to get a deal done this week. George isn't going to get any happier in Indiana as his free agency looms, and Bulls management appears determined to dangle Butler in trade talks at least once every three months. There will be plenty of opportunities.
A grimmer take: Boston's willing to include draft picks, but unwilling to include role players like Jae Crowder, and it doesn't make very much sense. Sure, losing someone like Crowder weakens this year's roster, but the point of trading for George or Butler wouldn't be to win this year's title. It's to add another superstar to the core, and then build around that core for the next few years. At that point, they're one piece away. They can challenge Cleveland in the meantime, but adding the star is all that matters. What the Celtics know for sure is that players like Crowder, Avery Bradley, and Marcus Smart aren't going to win a title on their own. So why doesn't that make them expendable?
For now, I think the lesson from the Celtics is that any team in the NBA has to get lucky on the way from good to great. Danny Ainge was definitely willing to make a deal Thursday—and include the Nets pick—but he couldn't find the right match, and Ainge wasn't willing to overpay to force the issue. That's fine, and maybe smart. Boston is waiting to get lucky. But the rest of the roster is getting closer to new contracts and invaluable Nets picks are due to turn into imperfect rookies. The clock is ticking.
Chicago Bulls | Grade: D
They grade out slightly better than an F better because a Butler deal will still be available in June, at which point they will be able to field bids from several teams around the league. Still, it's amazing that the Bulls couldn't negotiate a Butler deal with a team that holds a dozen different first–round picks, and instead of embracing a rebuild through the draft, the deal gets hung up on Celtics' rotation players. In other words, it may be crazy that Boston is allegedly reluctant to part with players like Jae Crowder or Marcus Smart, but it's much, much crazier that these are the assets Chicago demands as they eye a post-Jimmy Butler rebuild.
It all speaks to a general lack of coherence that's characterized just about everything Chicago's done for the past two years. It's nice to know that Taj Gibson won't have to deal with this anymore. Meanwhile, Cam Payne will head to Chicago to join a backcourt rotation of Jerian Grant, Michael Carter-Williams, and Rajon Rondo. (What's happening at the Bulls point guard position is not OK.)
Paul George Life Decisions | Grade: B+
Over the course of Thursday afternoon, there was no Paul George trade, but we did learn more about what he's thinking. First of all, he wants to be on a title contender, and he's worried about playing in the shadow of the Warriors:
Paul George respects what GM Tim Connelly is building in Denver, but with San Antonio, Golden State in the West, there's no path to Finals.— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) February 23, 2017
Also, he's "hell-bent" on getting to the Lakers?
I repeat: Paul George - barring a title chance in Indy - is hell-bent on heading for Laker Land. This message has been sent throughout NBA.— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) February 23, 2017
Let's allow it. What's most important is that George is frustrated, and if he's not quite ready for a change, he's getting there. We should all be rooting for it. George is one of the best players in the league, and he's been a little miscast in Indiana. With a better coach to hone his shot selection and a perimeter co-star to help initiate the offense, he could be much, much scarier than he already is.
And while it may seem like his logic contradicts itself in the tweets above, it actually makes sense. Paul George either wants to play for a legitimate title contender, or he wants to go home to L.A. and live like a king playing for the Lakers. It's a good ultimatum. We'll see how long it takes for the Pacers to respond.
Toronto Raptors | Grade: B+
Plenty has been written about the Raptors' Ibaka deal—Ben Golliver analyzed it here—and it only looks better as more trades have emerged since. Ibaka is the second-best player to actually move at the deadline, and Toronto gave up a single rotation player, and a pick in the 20s. Couple that with Thursday's move to add P.J. Tucker—exactly the sort of player who becomes twice as valuable on a playoff team—and Toronto is in really solid shape after the deadline.
There will be plenty of people who look at the Raptors' moves and say this isn't enough to beat Cleveland. It's probably true! The only thing they could have done to meaningfully change the equation against a healthy Cavs team would have been a Boogie trade. Unfortunately, they didn't have the right picks, and the magic player (Buddy Hield) to make it happen. Given the limitations, though, Toronto couldn't have done much better. If Cleveland's hurt come May, the Raptors have the most talented rotation to throw at them. Compared to the version of the Raptors that was spiraling into the All-Star break, it's a serious upgrade.
Oklahoma City Thunder | Grade: A
The Thunder are a similar story to the Raptors. Nothing they did this week will transform them into Finals contenders, but it's hard to see how Sam Presti could have done much better. Taj Gibson will fit right into the bullyball they play with Steven Adams, Victor Oladipo, and Russell Westbrook, and all they've really sacrificed is Cameron Payne, a point guard who never really found his footing in OKC (beyond tremendous pregame handshakes).
McDermott could be fun, too. He was inconsistent with the Bulls the past few years, but he's also had his role change every other month since he's been in the NBA. For the next two months, OKC has rotation players who can help hide his weaknesses on defense, and his strength—shooting—could fill the biggest void the Thunder have had all year. Bulls fans probably feel differently, but I'm not ready to give up on McBuckets. This can work. He can't give them anything less than what Anthony Morrow's been giving them all year.
The Dell Demps Survival Plan | Grade: A+
I still can't believe this happened:
Yes, they lost to the Rockets Thursday night, but the Pelicans are obviously far and away the biggest winners at the trade deadline. Especially Dell Demps. This is a team that had run out of ideas until 72 hours ago, and Demps was very much on the way out unless he could pull off a miracle. Then he answered the call from Vlade Divac... In fact, when Divac alluded to a better offer that he'd left on the table from a few days earlier—allegedly scuttled by DeMarcus Cousins's agent—it appears he was talking about the Pelicans themselves.
Source: better deal for Cousins 2 days' earlier Vlade Divac referenced was from NO. Boogie's reps scared NO, NO switched '19 1st to '17 2nd.— Ric Bucher (@RicBucher) February 23, 2017
Not only did Dell Demps get a miracle in New Orleans, but DeMarcus Cousins's agent helped him haggle his way into an even better miracle. None of this will ever make sense.
Atlanta Hawks | Grade: B+
Trade: Two second–round picks for Ersan Ilyasova; didn't trade Paul Millsap, tried to trade for Paul George
The Hawks deserve extra credit for ambition.
The Atlanta Hawks made aggressive draft pick-centric trade offers for Paul George and Jimmy Butler today, league sources tell ESPN.— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) February 23, 2017
The Hawks' pitches for PG-13 and Butler excluded core players. Asked if three first-rounder picks were offered , one source said: "More."— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) February 24, 2017
Washington Wizards | Grade: B–
The Wizards missed on Lou Williams, but they were able to a) get rid of a bad Andrew Nicholson contract, and b) add Bogdanovic, who's probably a better fit with the Wizards best playoff lineups than Williams would have been. Yes, the Nicholson deal is only eight months old, and it's not a great precedent to start using first–round picks to dump contracts that were signed in the same calendar year. But divorced from the summer and in light of the playoff hopes here, it's a solid move.
The Wizards are already good. Nothing they did this week would make or break their chances against the best teams in the East. More than anything else, they just needed an extra rotation-caliber player to make sure their starters can survive through the playoffs. The Wizards still need a backup point guard in the free agent market—Mario Chalmers?—but this is a start. And most importantly, they are winners at the deadline because Boston struck out on George and Butler.
Emojis | Grade: C+
👀— Isaiah Thomas (@isaiahthomas) February 21, 2017
👽— Andre Drummond (@AndreDrummond) February 23, 2017
☕️— CJ McCollum (@CJMcCollum) February 23, 2017
🤔— Derrick Favors (@dfavors14) February 22, 2017
On the one hand, it's heartening to know that every major NBA news event will hereafter be memorialized via emoji. On the other hand, any system collapses without order, and this only works if players are actually breaking real news. I don't want to spend 10 minutes decoding a Derrick Favors chin-scratch emoji just for the Jazz to run it back with him over the final three months. And I don't want Isaiah Thomas lying straight to my face:
Isaiah on his suggestive emojis: "I was watching a tv show man."— Adam Himmelsbach (@AdamHimmelsbach) February 23, 2017
Most importantly, while decoding emojis is a new NBA pastime, there's gotta be a line somewhere. That line is stalking players' girlfriends' Instagram follows.
Derrick Rose's girlfriend just started following the Timberwolves on Instagram— New Era Knicks (@NewEraKnicks) February 23, 2017
Minnesota Timberwolves | Grade: C+
At the finish line, league sources say, New York was prepared to trade Derrick Rose for Ricky Rubio straight up. But the Wolves balked.— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) February 23, 2017
If you're a Wolves fan, it's definitely encouraging that Tom Thibodeau didn't actually pull the trigger on this deal. It's also a little terrifying that the talks were serious enough to process across multiple days this week. Trading Rubio is understandable, and it's seemed inevitable since Thibodeau took over. But did Thibs really want to sign Rose this summer? Was that the plan? Is that still the plan? Wolves fans can breathe easier today, but not that much easier.
Houston Rockets | Grade: B+
On Tuesday you may have found yourself asking, "Lou Williams in Houston? Don't they have enough shooting from the guards? Aren't they already weak on D?" The answer is that defense doesn't matter if all you do is score, and there can never be enough shooting on the D'Antoni Rockets.
Lou Williams went out and balled in his first game with the Rockets:— NBA SKITS (@NBA_Skits) February 24, 2017
7 3-pointers made!
Dallas Mavericks | Grade: A–
Nerlens Noel is a smart gamble. He'll have to stay healthy, but if he's on the court playing starter's minutes, the ceiling is pretty high. I'm still mad at the Blazers for not making this happen, but he's a perfect fit for what the Mavs want to do with the center position. They gave up Justin Anderson, a flawed wing that had been in Rick Carlisle's doghouse for the past two years, the last two months of the Andrew Bogut experience, and a "first–round pick" that's protected from 1-18. The Mavs are not finishing outside the bottom 18, and that pick becomes two second–round picks if it doesn't convey this year.
Note: Noel would've been a smart gamble if it had cost an actual first–round pick. Since they give up basically nothing useful... This is quite a win. Nerlens is not at all a sure thing, but there's a chance this trade looks even more lopsided in two years. It'll be fun to see how this unfolds, unless you're from Philadelphia.
Philadelphia Sixers | Grade: D
Trade: Ersan Ilyasova to Atlanta for two second–round picks; didn't trade Jahlil Okafor; Nerlens Noel to Dallas for Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut, and a "first–round pick"
There a few different reasons the Nerlens trade has made everyone so upset. First, he really is solid, and as a starting-caliber center, he was perfect as an insurance policy against Embiid injuries. Just as important, he could have filled in as a starter for any game that Embiid rests.
It was also just bad business to make this trade now. The Sixers could have signed Noel to a deal this summer, and with the added years on his deal, he'd have at least the same trade value next February or the following summer. If he played well as an Embiid replacement, he could have fetched even more. Meanwhile, if the size of his extension was the motivation here: the Sixers have less than half of next year's salary cap committed on the books.
There just wasn't much downside to keeping him. Instead, the Sixers will keep Jahlil Okafor, continuing the longest running trade saga in the league. Okafor is not an insurance policy for Embiid (his defense is awful), and while there's still talent there, it's pretty clear that if it ever works for Okafor, it won't be in Philly. And yet, it's not clear if he'll ever be allowed to leave.
As of Thursday, Bryan Colangelo has never been less popular in Philadelphia, Ben Simmons is likely out for the season, Jahlil Okafor is still a Sixer, Nerlens Noel has become two second–round picks, and Embiid's still recovering from his meniscus injury. Rough 24 hours. They do still have the Kings' unprotected 2019 pick, so that's a positive. Although, speaking of Sacramento...
Sacramento Kings | Grade: KINGS!