Trade Deadline Big Picture Takeaways – Western Conference
By: Avi Tyagi
I’ll split this column into 4 categories. No proclamations of winners or losers, that’s pretty bold to make when half these deals are playoff oriented. The first: I get it. These are moves that either fit in with the organization’s theme for the season or that suit the designated plan that the front office either chose or had to choose. The second group: Contrasting moves. These are for teams whose choices befit their modus operandi, but also shine a spotlight on prior moves. It might occur when a front office has to solve a puzzle they created. The third section: The Kings, just all Kings. The fourth section: Hope it works, but I’m skeptical. A group of teams with a truly confusing ledger of moves (or overall inaction). These might even seemingly oppose what the team’s direction might be expected to be. That’s not to say these choices are poor. It’s simply that variance may be high and therein lies a clear possibility that these selections sub-optimally affect the team’s direction and potentially even intended vision.
I GET IT
The Clippers will spend. If you weren’t sure of that before, you are now. The Powell deal might as well be an affirmation to Kawhi and PG that they are committed to spending for a title. While other teams may have held reservations about trading for him because he’s a play finisher not a creator, a questionable defender at times, and the extension may not have been to their liking, he fits in perfectly with the Clips. An elite catch and release finisher (44%! on C&S 3s over the past 4 seasons), his game is tailored to complement the stars as potentially their 3rd best offensive weapon. A bonus, he finally gets to defend guards again, instead of taking on the most difficult wing matchups on a nightly basis with the Trailblazers. On top of that, the Ibaka deal practically wipes out the luxury tax bill addendums from the Powell swap. The 2023 title contention plans begin with these two trades.
The Spurs have accumulated picks to build around Dejounte Murray and their young core. I’m not even sure I need to explain more. The Langford flier is interesting. If they can fix his shooting, that might be a phenomenal development. It’s an important and welcome surprise for a team often reserved at the deadline. Simple, solid moves all around.
The Trailblazers are just blazing through most of their own prior moves. I understand why, but they also gave Powell and McCollum the extensions that created these particular deals. I also am a little skeptical of how they plan on using the approximately 40 million dollars in available cap space to lure free agents. The first in the CJ deal was less a surplus due to the offseason trade of Nance with a first, and more a cancellation of prior transactions, but at least they probably won’t have to convey that first this year to Chicago. Around draft time, maybe two immediate firsts can allow them to move up or trade for a player Dame wants to team up with. Opportunely, they now have increased flexibility for a rebuild, if they so choose.
The Pelicans solved the problem they had with inefficient guard play. Hooray! They also were the ones who created it by letting Lonzo go. Why? I don’t know the defense. Speaking of which, even with a healthy roster, other than Herb and the newly acquired Larry Nance, how is this team planning on being passable defensively? If you start Graham, CJ, Ingram, Zion, and Valanciunas, who’s stopping anybody? The front office has been emptying out their treasure trove of picks willy-nilly and the defense is still as suspect as it’s been since the Trailblazers sweep. The team seems set to be League Pass material, and can actually threaten to make the playoffs with the way the West is shaping up. The questions that remain: can they be more and does Zion approve?
The Rockets signed Daniel Theis to a large multi-year deal in the offseason that created a log jam at the position and beared few gains on the court. That’s now off the books and their cap space is clear once again. They kept Eric Gordon once again, despite many likely suitors. If they enjoy his presence as a ballast to create a developmental environment where their young players can actually thrive and as a mentor, a professional, and a cultural tone setter, I can understand keeping him. That being said, if they only kept him because they didn’t receive a first-round pick, I’m not sure that was to be reasonably expected. It’s not eventful, just worth a mention, as they return to their pre-offseason status quo.
The Suns bungled the Jalen Smith situation by renouncing his third-year option, completely destroying most of his trade market. That being said, reuniting with Torrey Craig might prove to be a beneficial return. Picking up Aaron Holiday to fill the role of young developmental prospect at the price of only cash considerations is a clear win that undoes some of the sting of trading for your playoff 8th man after letting him walk by using your previously selected first round pick. Their log jam at center (with Bismack becoming an integral player) is now cleared out and they have more depth at both wing and guard. Phoenix’s moves on the whole are confusing, even if the trade deadline moves are undeniably effective.
THE SACRAMENTO KINGS
The Kings are unorthodox, to say the least. I want to understand their organizational processes and how they chose these trades. Maybe the team feels confident the annually improving Sabonis can continue at a ceiling of play that none of the players they traded away approaches. Sabonis, in the correct environment, is an elite PnR finisher around the post and a timely short roll passer, quick to hit the corners or incoming cutters. Here’s my first question: Why then did the team just trade its two most prolific marksmen, one of whom is the best PnR passer to big men? This is not Brogdon finding Sabonis on drives timed perfectly with each screen. This is not Turner covering for Sabonis as a paint protector while also spacing to allow the PnR to function smoothly. This is not the spacing the Pacers enjoy in their ideal lineups. I have no idea what to make of this team and of Sabonis with them. What is an elite play finisher who cannot self-create or space to do on a team with no premium passers, a clog at the 4 and 5, and limited spacing? Can the newly acquired Justin Holiday and Jeremy Lamb alleviate some of those concerns? We haven’t even touched what the defense will look like (a Davion one man band I guess). Upward movement for the Kings necessitates moving past the Timberwolves, Lakers, and Pelicans, not to mention the Trail Blazers if they keep Dame and build a troupe around him, just to make the 8 seed.
Yet, this team also converted Bagley into Lyles, a playable forward option for depth, and most intriguingly, Donte DiVincenzo. Bagley’s large qualifying offer and the publicly sour relationship meant there was next to no chance he would stay. With Donte however, is it possible the Kings see his upside as enough to warrant trading for Sabonis now? Injuries and streaky shooting are what hold him back, but just last season, Donte was the 5th starter pre-injury on the eventual champs and has shown flashes of growing into something more. Could the plan be letting Donte play his way into form off the bench, while the rest of the roster competes for a play-in spot? It all depends on how Donte looks with more games under his belt, how he adapts to a new role with this team, and what contract he signs as a restricted free agent with the Kings in the offseason. The team is deeper and might gel more cohesively than it did previously, yet the drawbacks of trading Hali create hesitation to laud them. These moves may not sum up to a proper process, but considering what the team mandate continues to be and what the previous on-court results were, the front office may have done about as well as could be expected.
HOPE IT WORKS
When the Joe Ingles trade rumors began, I’m not sure Alexander-Walker was on anyone’s Bingo card. Yet here we are. I’m not even sure what to make of this deal. It’s hard to watch Alexander-Walker play and imagine he was traded for to create an instant impact. He seems ripe for development, in terms of both shot selection and defensive awareness. He is a classic second draft prospect mostly considered by teams without title stakes on the line. And yet, everything else about this team suggests a need for an elite perimeter defender and title contention as the primary objective. How good would Nickeil Alexander-Walker need to become in the future to validate potentially compromising a title run this season? Is Juancho part of the planned rotation? They still haven’t added a true small ball 5 either, which may offer a more versatile look in certain matchups when Gobert sits. In a competitive west, where this team’s weaknesses have perennially been illuminated, where does this move take them? If they win a championship and NAW becomes a solid starter eventually, this may look like pure sagacity. Anything less, and the momentum of questions about the Jazz’s planning might escalate exponentially. It’s an interesting gamble for the front office to take, it’s just uncertain if this is the right one.
How are the Mavericks better than before? This just feels like a step down. Maybe this move was made for chemistry reasons between Luka and Porzingis. I’m not privy to that information. They’ve created some cap space two years in the future. All I know is that KP was playing phenomenally and it’s hard to say the same for Bertans and Dinwiddie. There’s no true rim protector on the roster now either. Bertans feels similar to Kleber in some regards. Let’s not even get started on the guards. Dinwiddie, Brunson, Doncic, and Dragic feels like too many cooks in the kitchen. If Dinwiddie can find his shooting mitts again, maybe there’s a solid 4 guard rotation and a variety of contrasting perimeter styles. Maybe the KP medicals suggest increased odds of a flare up that would limit him regardless come playoff time. I appreciate their determination to mix up the group, I’m just not sure now was the time nor that this was the right approach. With Hardaway hurt as well, maybe a step backwards was the plan. This still appears to cut out any upside for an extended playoff run and seems likelier to net the Mavs the 6 seed. That feels a little disappointing considering the tear they’ve been on, ergo their placement here.
The Lakers really kept the whole band together. Their inactivity during the trade deadline feels like an admission of mistaken choices and poor processes. I started the season, likely lower than consensus on the Lakers because I could not decipher any viable, well thought out plan on both offense and defense, and still, I had the Lakers as 5th. If they played the blame game, everyone would be staring at a few indexes. Those are trifling matters. The Lakers are 9th in the West, tumbling further and further back of even the 7th seed, despite All-NBA play from Lebron. They can’t shut the season down and tank, because they don’t have their pick. They still made no upgrades. That’s all that needs to be said.