There’s a chance, a pretty good one, that the NBA trade deadline will be anticlimactic. That’s because the usual flurry of activity that occurs in the hours, sometimes minutes, before Thursday’s 3 p.m. deadline has been spread out over the last several days. Portland didn’t wait until the last minute to overhaul its roster. Indiana and Cleveland didn’t play hardball over Caris LaVert. And the Kings, who have been positively torched on social media for including prized second-year guard Tyrese Haliburton in Tuesday’s Domantas Sabonis swap, had better hope Sabonis and De’Aaron Fox are a good fit.
Let’s examine a few key questions—and unpack some of the latest chatter—as the clock ticks towards the deadline.
Did the Blazers get enough?
Joe Cronin—the interim GM who is sure operating like a permanent one—needed just a few days to shred Portland’s roster, moving Norman Powell and Robert Covington to Los Angeles and C.J. McCollum to New Orleans. On the surface, the returns were underwhelming: Keon Johnson, a ’21 first-round pick, is a kinda interesting player acquired in the Clippers deal and the first-round pick the Pelicans are shipping back for McCollum could be useful in another deal.
And that’s the question: Is there another deal? The Blazers cleared what could be as much as $60 million in cap space and created a $21 million trade exception in the process. There are no plans to trade Damian Lillard, a source familiar with the situation told SI, and teams have stopped asking. But Portland knows it needs to show Lillard something. Buzz among NBA execs is that the Blazers will turn their attention to Pistons swingman Jerami Grant. Grant’s salary ($20 million) fits into the trade exception, he’s under contract for next season and a Lillard/Grant/Anfernee Simons trio on the perimeter is a decent foundation to build on.
Bottom line: While the Blazers have been sellers the last few days, expect them to shift into buyer mode before Thursday’s deadline.
Is there any traction between the Sixers and Nets on James Harden?
The short answer: No. As ESPN reported, the Sixers and Nets briefly discussed a Harden deal, with Brooklyn GM Sean Marks quickly closing the door on it. And while Philadelphia may, and likely will, take another run at Harden before Thursday—they may already have by the time you are reading this—the Nets, publicly and privately, are steadfastly against moving Harden, believing that Durant, Harden and part-time Kyrie Irving is enough to win a championship. Internally, officials have pointed to the limited time the two spent together last season—and how close they came, without Harden and Irving, from knocking off Milwaukee in the second round.
Moreover, a Harden deal would be complicated. In addition to Simmons, Brooklyn would likely ask for Tyrese Maxey. Philadelphia, unsurprisingly, would resist, and it’s unclear if the Nets would do a Harden deal with a Seth Curry/Matisse Thybulle sweetener. As good a fit as Simmons could be alongside Durant and Irving, the Nets know it’s unlikely Simmons, who has not played since last May, will be impactful this season, certainly not as impactful as Harden. As bad as things are right now in Brooklyn—a 35-point, nationally televised shellacking by Boston on Tuesday extended the Nets losing streak to nine games—there is hope that a return to health will solve most of the problems.
Still: Holding onto Harden is a roll of the dice. Harden can be an unrestricted free agent this summer. He can leave, and the Nets could get nothing in return. Harden has not signaled to Brooklyn that he is unhappy there, and he maintains a close relationship with Durant. But the Nets better be sure that Harden wants to be there. On Tuesday, I asked Ryan McDonough, the former Suns GM, how direct Marks needs to be with Harden.
“I think you have to [be direct], one way or the other,” McDonough said. “From Sean Marks to Joe Tsai, the owner, they have to talk to him. If there is a gray area there, you have to make a call … Imagine if there is a scenario where Harden and Irving aren’t on the roster next year? Kevin Durant is great, but how do you build around KD when he is still in his prime. It’s high stakes poker. I think what they will do and what they should do is put their arms around James Harden and say you are our guy, we want you here and try to get some kind of commitment … they have to have a direct conversation with him. Based on how that goes, they may have to make a tough decision.”
Is it Harden or bust for Philadelphia?
The Sixers sure want you to believe that. Philadelphia remains willing to engage teams on Simmons—talks with Atlanta have stalled, but they are ones that can easily be revived, per league sources—but the asking price has remained high, leaving rival teams with the impression that if Daryl Morey doesn’t get exactly what he wants by Thursday, he will punt any decision on Simmons to next summer.
Is it a bluff? I’ve written about the risk involved with not maximizing an MVP-caliber season from Joel Embiid and you can make a strong case that, say, a John Collins/Bogdan Bogdanović headlined package could be enough to push the Sixers to a championship level. But with so many big names in play next summer—Harden, Bradley Beal, perhaps Damian Lillard—Morey appears determined to find that second superstar to pair with Embiid. Even if the cost is coming up short on a championship.
For what it’s worth, Embiid—who wields enormous power in Philadelphia—reiterated on Tuesday that he was not pressuring management to make a deal. And if Simmons remained a Sixer on Thursday, he would be open to his return.
"Like I've been saying since the season started, I'm happy," Embiid said. "Whoever wants to play is welcome. If someone wants to play, they're welcome. But we've got guys here that want to be here, that show up every single night … I don't know what other type of word I can use, but I get paid to bring results and win games. I don't get paid to, you know, babysit Tyrese (Maxey). I get paid to challenge him to try to help me win games. I get paid to do the same thing to Tobias and all the other guys and they respond to it, every single time. And just like the same way they challenge me, they know that it is never personal. I always go at them, and they always come back at me, because we all got the same goal: we want to win.”
"But anybody is welcome to play. And if you want to be part of us, I am sure everybody is going to be be fine with it, but you got to show up. You got to want to be there. And I'm sure everybody is going to accept whoever that is.”
Is there anything the Lakers can do?
The defeated looks on the faces of LeBron James and Anthony Davis after Tuesday’s loss to Milwaukee said everything. The Lakers need help. Badly. They are largely healthy but the Bucks beating was evidence that they are still light years away from the elite. L.A. continues to canvas the league but with limited flexibility (Talen Horton-Tucker and Kendrick Nunn are the only players outside of James, Davis and Russell Westbrook who are signed to anything more than a minimum deal) and assets (Horton-Tucker has value, but his struggles shooting has certainly impacted it) there has not been any traction yet on anything of substance. The Lakers would love to extract Grant from Detroit but the Pistons will likely field stronger offers before the deadline, and may elect to keep Grant, a Troy Weaver favorite, on the roster. Spencer Dinwiddie is available in Washington and a Horton-Tucker/draft pick package could be enough to entice a Wizards team with interest in offloading Dinwiddie’s contract. Orlando’s Terrence Ross is another option.
Still, it’s challenging. James said Tuesday’s loss “tells me we ain’t on their level,” and he’s right. But can Lakers boss Rob Pelinka find a deal that gets them closer?
So what’s left?
· Boston seems to have shifted from seller to buyer in recent days, per sources. The Celtics, winners of six straight and eight of their last nine, are still dangling Dennis Schröder in trade talks—Schröder is on a one-year deal and will be very difficult for Boston to re-sign this summer—but teams that have discussed deals with the Celtics say Boston is looking for a player and draft capital for Schröder. There is some traction on a Schröder-Donte DiVincenzo swap with Milwaukee, and Cleveland is still interested. Dallas, per sources, is, too. Boston badly needs bench help—former first-round picks Romeo Langford, Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard are out of Ime Udoka’s rotation—and it’s unlikely Boston parts with Schröder without getting at least a rotation player in return.
· Myles Turner is expected to remain in Indiana past the deadline, a source with knowledge of the Pacers' thinking told SI, though several teams have inquired about the springy center. (A Turner-Jerami Grant swap has been discussed.) Indiana figured out long ago the Sabonis-Turner frontcourt combo wasn’t working, and with Sabonis gone, the Pacers will likely go into next season with Turner anchoring the frontcourt.
· Washington had no intention of trading Bradley Beal before the decision to undergo season-ending wrist surgery. But the clock has officially started on a difficult decision in DC. Beal is eligible to sign a five-year, $241 million deal with the Wizards this summer. The question is—should Washington offer it? Beal, who will be 29 in June, has had one of the most inefficient seasons of his career. The Wizards clearly are in the early stages of a rebuild. The smart play could be to pass on offering Beal an extension—and work with him on a sign-and-trade.
· Sacramento remains open to dealing Harrison Barnes, though in the aftermath of the Haliburton trade the Kings have informed teams they are not looking for future-based packages. If teams want Barnes, sources say, the Kings are looking for a return that will help the current roster win this season—Sacramento is just a game out of the final play-in spot—and next, when the Kings the addition of Sabonis, a two-time All-Star, will push them into the playoff mix.
· Utah is shopping the expiring contract of Joe Ingles ($13 million) in the hopes of landing a defensive minded wing. There’s interest in Boston’s Josh Richardson but, as noted above, the resurgent Celtics aren’t interested in dumping players, particularly not Richardson, who has emerged as a valued member of Udoka’s rotation.
· Can Toronto get something for Goran Dragic? Dragic’s value is in his $19.4 million expiring contract, and the Raptors have shown a willingness to attach draft capital to it in the right deal. Dallas has long had an interest in Dragic while New York, in need of more playmaking, could jump in the mix. Raps GM Bobby Webster called Dragic “a unique piece” this week and Toronto, riding a six-game winning streak, badly needs reliable bench help to reinforce an overworked starting lineup.
More NBA Coverage:
• Trade Grades: CJ McCollum Deal Continues Teardown for Blazers
• Trade Grade: Cavs Gear Up For Playoffs With LeVert Trade
• Roundtable: Nets' Panic Meter and Trade Deadline
• NBA Trade Deadline: What Should the Hawks Do?
• Trade Grades: Pacers Steal Tyrese Haliburton From Kings