Contrary to what seemingly most NBA fans would prefer to believe, the NBA trade deadline is not actually a 24/7 Twitter saga played out by Woj and Shams over the end of January and the beginning of February. The deadline, in basketball reality (for whatever worth that still has anymore), is a time when a ton of players and hopefully some great ones are moved around the league, redistributing the balance of talent and helping teams adjust midseason to optimize their pursuits before the closing stretch.
The deadline, to a certain extent, is primarily about teams on long-term plans giving up short-term assets to teams on short-term plans in exchange for those teams with short-term plans’ long-term assets. Got it? The Tobias Harris trade is pretty much the quintessential “deadline move” in the modern NBA. The Sixers brought in Tobias Harris, a great player now but on an expiring deal and thus will have to be paid or let go this offseason, and in exchange sent the Clippers young players and draft compensation. What NBA fans (including myself, at times) tend to forget that this move didn’t just happen on Twitter, it happened it real life. As such, it has consequences: the Sixers are now a better team, and the Clippers, down their best player, are now a worse team. Yes, the Clippers arguably “won the deal” from a holistic perspective, but still have to be downgraded in the short-term when handicapping their games.
Let’s look at the teams who got better require the biggest adjustments from handicappers for the rest of the season.
Milwaukee Bucks (acquired Nikola Mirotic)
Yes, the rich get richer. I absolutely love this move for Milwaukee as Mirotic is one of the best shooters in the league and was easily the best shooter on the market. Not only do I grade this trade well for the Bucks as they did not have to give up a 1st-round pick or a key young player, bringing in Mirotic instantly makes them even more of a juggernaut the rest of the way. Mirotic had been shooting 38% from beyond the arc this season with New Orleans, and I’d argue this figure is even more impressive considering he had to suffer through the Pelicans’ lack of floor-spacing.
In the Bucks new system, however, Mirotic will be playing in a ton of space and is pretty much the perfect big to play with a dynamic slash-and-kick guy like Giannis. Adding Mirotic into the fold will keep shooting from the 4/5 positions on the floor at all times, with Mirotic likely slotting in the rotation right behind another big man benefitting from playing in Milwaukee’s system, Brook Lopez.
Adding Mirotic also gives Milwaukee more lineup flexibility down the stretch, as they can go big defensively with a Lopez-Mirotic-Giannis front-court while still keeping enough skill and shooting on the floor to maintain the style of play that has them as the #1 seed in the East.
Toronto (acquired Marc Gasol)
Similarly to their rivals in Milwaukee, Toronto got better by becoming more versatile and adding more offensive pop. Gasol has only played 1 game but already is adding a new element to Toronto’s offense… a gifted passing big. Shout-out to NBA writer James Herbert for this clip:
Given that they haven’t really been able to incorporate Kawhi Leonard’s mid-post iso game into the true flow of their offense, Gasol’s creativity and ability to reward cutters who cut hard will add a new flavor to Toronto’s half-court offense that can get a bit stagnant, especially when it seemingly alternates between Leonard isolation possessions and ball-movement-focused possessions that end up with non-Leonard buckets (I’m making it sound worse than it’s actually been; they’ve been pretty nasty).
Chemistry issues have been projected by people without sources close to the franchise, but I’m not buying it; I’m sure Gasol wants to play as much as possible, just like everyone, but remember that he waived his trade-kicker to go there and clearly wants to compete for a ring. He also is teammates with Serge Ibaka on the Spanish national team.
Gasol will give Toronto arguably the most lineup-flexible rotation in the league. This will a 10-man rotation with 3 good guards in Lowry, VanVleet, and newly acquired Jeremy Lin, 4 good wings in Leonard, Green, Annunoby, and Powell, and 3 vastly different bigs in Siakam, Ibaka, and Gasol. They can go all the way downsized with Siakam at the 5 and Leonard at the 4 against a small-ball lineup from, say, the Bucks or Warriors, and can go all the way upsized with Gasol at the 5 and Ibaka against the size of the Sixers. They do not sacrifice talent in either scenario.
Philly (acquired Tobias Harris, James Ennis, Boban Marjanovic, Jonathon Simmons, and Mike Scott)
I didn’t love Philly’s trade deadline because I thought they gave up too much long-term capital in exchange for short-term firepower, there’s no denying that they unequivocally checked their three boxes to become a truly scary team in the East. First, in adding Tobias Harris, they added another shooter to round out their starting lineup and a guy who can do a lot more for you. Harris is a skilled ball-handler who was averaging 20 points per game with the Clippers prior to this move. Philly has a legit “Big 4” and the talent to match up with anyone in the league.
Secondly, this team added depth in the frontcourt and should be pretty set in that rotation going forward into the playoffs. They will still need to add guard depth in the buyout market in order to feel good about the totality of that specific rotation behind Ben Simmons and JJ Redick.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, they ripped off the Markelle Fultz band-aid and can finally move forward as a franchise without him. The foundation of this team no longer has a Markelle Fultz-sized question mark all over its future… and they can now compete this year knowing, essentially, that this is their team. It’s Embiid, Simmons, Butler, and Harris, and taking Fultz out of the equation means that the long-term is mostly out of the question. This team’s window is officially opened and they chose to go all-in now instead of potentially keeping it open for longer by keeping the dream of Fultz completing the Big 3 alive. It’s go time in the City of Brotherly Love.
Also Receiving Votes:
Sacramento — The acquisition of Harrison Barnes provides reliable shot-making and a true 6’8 strong dude who can be a reasonable option against the Durant’s, LeBron’s, and Paul George’s of the world.
LA Lakers — Yes, they struck out on Anthony Davis, but Reggie Bullock and Mike Muscala are both pretty compelling fits alongside Lebron. Both can shoot the rock and Bullock is a nice defensive option who can step up and guard someone to contribute to the Let Lebron Rest on Defense foundation.
NY Knicks — Even though they’re tanking, they didn’t have Porzingis anyways, and, in the battle of Junior, I like the Dennis Smith Knicks a lot more than I liked the Tim Hardaway Knicks.
GSW — A small thing, but Anthony Davis remaining in New Orleans (and far away from Lebron) pretty much locks up the title for the Warriors at this point. The Warriors can take a deep breath knowing they don’t have any new challengers in the West and should have as easy a road to the NBA Finals as they’ve had in the Steve Kerr area. I expect this reality will keep them loose and take some pressure off a team focused on getting Boogie a ring.