Sports Overload, Plus an NBA Trade Deadline That Nobody Really Lost

Posted: 02/09/2018 by levcohen in Basketball

I was planning to write about the NBA trade deadline last night, which would have made sense given that the deadline was earlier yesterday. But then, on a night that was supposed to be light on sports I was going to watch, I started watching the Flyers game, figuring that I’d write the post after that was done. Then I realized Duke-North Carolina was on, and (shocker) it was a good, must-watch game. Once that was over, I switched to the final minutes and overtime of the Wizards-Celtics game, thinking that it may be a second round playoff preview (granted, without John Wall on the floor). And then I checked in on the beginning of the Olympics before finally settling down to write the post, at which point I took another peek at the college basketball scores and noticed that Arizona was losing at home to UCLA. Of course, I had to see if the Bruins could really notch a resume-building win in Arizona (they did), and that led me to the end of the night. This is not a rare occurrence. As I said before, at this time of year this was a light sports night. I guess as a Philadelphia sports fan I’m starting to realize how much of a commitment it is to watch as many Sixers and Flyers games as possible at this time of year. In past years, this wasn’t an issue, because either the Sixers or the Flyers (or, usually, both) weren’t good enough for me to feel the need to watch every game. Then there are the nightly national TV NBA and NHL games. Then there’s college basketball, which usually has a few games a night that I feel a need to watch. And for the next two weeks, there’ll be Olympic events going on around the clock. Shortly after that, the NCAA tournament starts, and we all know how much of a time commitment that can be. Football’s over, but for those of us who also care about other sports, it’ll barely be missed. What I’m trying to say is that it can be really hard to consume so much of so many sports! Nevertheless, instead of letting myself skip a [insert Big 12 game between ranked teams] game that seems super consequential in the moment but won’t actually end up meaning anything down the stretch, I’ll carry on, I guess because I’m just a courageous person. All of this leads me to the point of this post, which is the trade deadline.

My main takeaway from yesterday is: nobody got hosed. Because finding the deadline’s losers is usually the first exercise that comes after the trades, right? I tried to do it, but I couldn’t, because I think all of the moves that came on a relatively quiet deadline day made sense. The two biggest deals of the day, of course, involved the Cavaliers, who turned over half of their roster. It’s no surprise that Cleveland was active yesterday. The Cavs have been struggling mightily, something’s clearly not right in the locker room, and Cleveland must go for the title in what may be LeBron James’s final season in the Land. Their first trade came with the Lakers, who sent them Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. in return for Isaiah Thomas’s expiring contract, Channing Frye’s expiring contract, and Cleveland’s first round pick. It’s been very sad to see Thomas struggle so mightily with the Cavaliers, but the Cavs had to trade him. In return, they got Clarkson, a good scorer with a contract that’s slightly too big, and Nance, who I’d argue was worth the first round pick. He’s a nice role player averaging 8.6 points and 6.8 rebounds in 22 minutes per game while shooting 60% from the floor. In each of his three seasons, the Lakers have been significantly better with Nance on the floor than with him off it. He does all the little things (cliche but true) and could form an interesting small-ball power forward next to Kevin Love in crunch-time.

For the Lakers, the trade makes obvious sense. In trading Clarkson and getting back exclusively expiring contracts, they’ve opened up enough cap space to be able to fit two max contracts onto their roster. The speculation, of course, is that those contracts will go to LeBron James and Paul George. That’s what the Lakers hope for, obviously, but more likely is that they’ll maintain cap flexibility going into 2019 free agency. That’s good! And getting a late first round pick is a nice bonus. The Lakers hit on a late first rounder (Kyle Kuzma) last season, and also seem to have gotten a real rotation piece in the second round (Josh Hart). I’m sure they’re confident that they can add a piece to their roster with that Cleveland pick.

Cleveland’s second major trade was a three-teamer with Utah and Sacramento. The Cavs got George Hill (and his questionable contract) and Rodney Hood (restricted free agent after this year) in return for three guys who weren’t going to get them anywhere this season: Iman Shumpert, Derrick Rose, and Jae Crowder. I know Hill’s contract isn’t great (he’s set to make $19 million next season), but this is the type of risk the Cavs had to take. Hill and Hood give them two long wings who can defend, which is exactly what they needed. They are also both above-average three point shooters and solid secondary ball-handlers, making them perfect fits for LeBron. They were also able to get off of the Shumpert contract ($11 million player option next season) and to end the Rose experiment. Crowder was the most valuable piece they gave up, as he’s under contract for two more years at about $15 million, but he looked lost in Cleveland and the Cavs were ready to move on.

The Jazz were able to flip Hood, who they clearly had no interest in re-signing, and Joe Johnson’s expiring for Crowder and Rose (who they immediately released). Utah had interest in Crowder this off-season and tried to get him via sign-and-trade when it became clear that Gordon Hayward was going to sign with Boston. They’re gambling that he can find his form in a situation more similar to the one he was in with the Celtics, and they may well be right. If they are, they just got themselves a starting wing under cheap team control for two more years for an injury-prone wing who is set to become a free agent.

As for the Kings, the reason to do the trade was simple: they got out of the George Hill contract without having to give up draft picks or take much long-term money back. Sure, they had to take Shumpert and his $11 million cap hit next year, but that’s a much better deal than Hill’s and will still end after next season. Sacramento knows it still has a long rebuild ahead, and it was logical to move Hill.

The Cavs also moved Dwyane Wade to the Heat for a heavily protected second round pick, a move that probably won’t have much of an on-court impact but could help Cleveland chemistry-wise. Moving Wade/Crowder/Shumpert/Frye/Rose/Thomas away for Nance/Clarkson/Hood/Hill makes the Cavs younger and better. Will it be enough to beat the Warriors? Probably not. Will it have a major impact on LeBron James’s decision? Probably not. But they did it all without trading their coveted Nets pick, which means that Cleveland fans should have no real complaints.

There were minor moves elsewhere. The Knicks, Nuggets, and Mavericks made a three-team trade that sent Emmanuel Mudiay to New York, Doug McDermott to Dallas, and Devin Harris to Denver. It’s a move that allows Mudiay and McDermott to get fresh starts on rebuilding teams while giving the playoff-hopeful Nuggets a veteran at a position of need. Nice little trade!

Two Eastern Conference playoff hopefuls added rotation pieces to their roster. The Pistons picked up James Ennis and the Heat got Luke Babbitt in minor trades that won’t likely make a huge impact but have no risk attached to them. The Magic cut the cord on Elfrid Payton, who’ll be a free agent after this year, sending him to the Suns for a second round pick. Phoenix will get a look at a player who has some nice skills (shooting, unfortunately, is not one of them).

More striking were the players who didn’t move and the teams who stayed out of the mix. After encouraging rumors that they would continue to trade veteran players after dealing Blake Griffin, the Clippers held onto DeAndre Jordan, Avery Bradley, and Lou Williams (who they extended to a three-year deal that was great for the team and not so good for the player). The rebuilding Grizzlies bizarrely held onto Tyreke Evans even though he’s set to be an unrestricted free agent. A first round pick would have been enough to get Evans (and Bradley), but teams aren’t that eager to give up first round picks anymore. The Nuggets held onto Kenneth Faried, although that’s almost certainly because they couldn’t find any suitors for him. The Hornets didn’t trade Kemba Walker after rumors swirled about a potential trade earlier in the week, but I guess that’s not as surprising as the others. Boston, Toronto, and Washington, Cleveland’s chief competition in the Eastern Conference, stood pat as the Cavs improved. I don’t think a move was ever in store for the Raptors, but the Wizards need bench help and the Celtics were apparently trying to trade Marcus Smart, another player who’s set to be a restricted free agent, so I’m a little surprise that neither of those teams did anything at the deadline.

With the deadline in the rearview mirror, the focus immediately shifts to the buyout market. The Celtics signed Greg Monroe to a deal earlier this week, and more deals will follow. Buyout deals aren’t as exciting as trades, but players like Marco Belinelli and Joe Johnson can make a real impact. The least surprising news of the day was that Tom Thibodeau’s Wolves (Bulls North, as I call them) are planning to sign Derrick Rose if (when) he clears waivers. That should be fun.

In the end, the deadline didn’t change a whole lot, and that was always going to be the case. The Warriors, lethargic regular season and all, are the heavy favorites to repeat. The Rockets are their strongest competition, and the Cavs are the favorites in the Eastern Conference. Cleveland’s team got better and their chemistry probably did too, but I wouldn’t have picked against the Cavaliers in the East even with their old team. I’m excited to see how their new rotation looks, although we’ll really have to wait until Kevin Love gets back to have the full picture. And fingers crossed that Isaiah Thomas can get back on track in LA and set himself up for a big new contract. I’m not holding my breath, though.

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