Which team should have made a trade but didn’t?
Chris Ryan: It’s hard to believe, amid all the chaos created by Koby Altman, that Sam Presti couldn’t have made a move to improve the Thunder. Maybe OKC is a player in the buyout market—a possible Joe Jesus destination—but you have to wonder whether the decision to not pick up Avery Bradley will come back to haunt Presti. Early on Thursday, Marc Stein reported that the Clippers were considering Danny Green and a first-round pick from San Antonio in exchange for Bradley, which felt steep. Maybe the price was too rich for the Thunder GM’s liking, but Bradley feels like the missing piece for OKC—replacing the injured Andre Roberson’s perimeter defense, and adding the ability to throw a ball through a hoop from varying distances (Andre can’t do that).
Haley O’Shaughnessy: Technically Memphis made a trade at the deadline, but it didn’t make the right one. Memphis sat Tyreke Evans for four games while it received calls from half the NBA, only to keep him on the roster. Here’s how to look like a genius: sign the offseason’s best buy-low, sell-high player. Here’s how to blow it: don’t get anything for his expiring contract from a hungry playoff team.
Justin Verrier: The Pacers. This season is found money, but I would’ve loved to have seen them dive head-first into the Kemba Walker derby. This team, despite its moderate success, is clearly built more for the future and has too many holes for an all in move, but Walker, Victor Oladipo, and Bojan Bogdanovic could have formed the spiritual successor to Run TMC.
Danny Chau: Memphis, which is one losing streak from slipping to the very bottom of the NBA standings, decided not to trade Evans, a coveted playmaker having the best season since his Rookie of the Year–award-winning season who is almost assuredly not re-signing with the team over the summer. The widely reported asking price was a first-rounder; the rest of the league wouldn’t bite. The Grizzlies will take their chances this offseason, hoping to use their entire midlevel exception to sign him long-term. But they won’t be the only interested parties. Bullyball shot-makers who can slide between three positions and hit 3-pointers at an above-average clip do not grow on trees. Evans may not have the reputation of a marksman, but he’s hit 38.2 percent of his 453 3-point attempts since the 2015-16 season. That’s good! And the Grizzlies, who are rebuilding, like it or not, probably should have swung for a trade that would have netted Emmanuel Mudiay and a second-round pick, or an expiring contract and multiple second-rounders—two offers reportedly on the table, according to Zach Lowe.
Paolo Uggetti: The Thunder. I’m legitimately frustrated by their inaction, especially given that they beat the Warriors by 20 two days before the deadline. The NBA needs another team at least semi-capable of giving the Warriors some trouble, and with Paul George playing like an MVP-caliber player again, I want to believe that the Thunder’s best can at least take the Warriors to six or seven games. It’s clear that Andre Roberson’s injury has left a void the size of the Panhandle in OKC’s defense, but Presti did nothing to shore up that deficiency. Just imagine Avery Bradley on this team.
John Gonzalez: The Grizzlies. Mike Conley has already been shut down for the season. They fired their coach. They’re in full free-fall/tank mode. They’ve lost five in a row and are tied with the Suns and the Magic for the second-fewest wins in the league. Meanwhile, they lucked into a coveted contract when they signed Evans to a one-year deal for $3.29 million. After all those disappointing seasons and injuries, Evans has been a monster. That should make for some pretty simple math: bad team + good asset = trade.
Except Memphis evidently had unrealistic expectations on what kind of return Evans should have yielded. According to Lowe, the Wizards would have given the Grizzlies two second-round picks for Evans, while the Nuggets gave Memphis a choice of Emmanuel Mudiay and one second or an expiring contract and two seconds. Memphis passed on both. I was also told they asked the Sixers for Dario Saric and Philly (unsurprisingly) balked. This shouldn’t have been that hard.
Who is the new Cav to keep an eye on?
Chau: Rodney Hood is auditioning for his future in the league, and you’d be hard pressed to find a player better suited to drawing the best out of the 25-year-old than LeBron James. Hood shoots better than 38 percent from behind the arc in both spot-up and pull-up situations, which gives him the flexibility to serve as both a high-functioning cog in LeBron’s machine and as a creator when James isn’t on the floor. With all due respect to J.R. Smith, Hood is almost the ideal wing of both LeBron James eras in Cleveland. After what feels like a lifetime of Jiri Welsches, Sasha Pavlovics, Anthony Parkers, and Dion Waiterses, the Cavs have a dynamic scorer worthy of being both a weapon in LeBron’s arsenal, and a potential core piece to their unknowable future. That’s not insignificant.
O’Shaughnessy: George Hill, who was having a quietly good season in Sacramento prior to the trade. (He was also reportedly extremely unhappy with his role on the team, and played limited minutes.) The 31-year-old veteran has conference finals experience, can defend the perimeter, and is a spot-up shooter making 45.3 percent of his 3-pointers this season. Buy the stock now!
Uggetti: The easy answer is Hood, or even George Hill, but give me Larry Nance Jr. He’s going to be good for a handful of dunks that will make LeBron’s jaw drop and populate highlight reels. Plus, he brings a level of athleticism that neither Tristan Thompson nor Kevin Love has exhibited in the past few months. And, he’s coming home!
Verrier: Jordan Clarkson. LeBron needs someone new to yell at, and it isn’t going to be Kendrick Perkins.
Gonzalez: Hood. He’s really good. He’s also really unreliable. Hood put 30 on the Pelicans the other night (on 12-for-14 shooting), and he’s a career 37 percent shooter from 3-point range. The Cavs can definitely use that kind of offense—provided Hood’s available. The 25-year-old missed a combined 58 games over his first three years in Utah because of injuries, and he was out for 15 of the Jazz’s 54 games this season. We’ll see if he’s the kind of player capable of helping them now and in the future, or one still prone to disappearing.
Ryan: The Homecoming Prince, Larry Nance Jr. Before the season is through, Nance will have a “I think Larry Nance Jr. killed a guy” dunk.
Which is the most heartwarming return: D-Wade to Miami, Larry Nance Jr. going home to Cleveland, or Tyreke Evans (presumably) back to playing for the Grizzlies?
Uggetti: D-Wade, and it isn’t close. Look at him in these Miami Vice unis:
Chau: Miami loves Dwyane Wade. I hope the Heat build him three statues one day.
Gonzalez: Going off-menu on this one:
O’Shaughnessy: Larry Nance Jr. was in borderline tears of joy after learning he was traded to the Cavaliers. No one has ever cried tears of joy after finding out he has to move to Cleveland.
Ryan: Whatever makes Gabrielle happy makes me happy.
305 HOME!!!! Let's goooooooo HEAT!!!! Can't. Wait.— Gabrielle Union (@itsgabrielleu) February 8, 2018
Strong expectation in Cleveland that one of the Cavaliers’ soon-to-open roster spots — barring any more trades — will be filled by Kendrick Perkins— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) February 8, 2018
What’s your favorite sneaky move of trade season?
Chau: I don’t think Elfrid Payton is particularly good, but the Suns didn’t have to give up more than a second-round pick to acquire a top-10 2014 draft selection to shore up their point guard rotation, one of the most dismal depth charts in recent NBA history. Quick refresher in case you haven’t been paying attention to the Suns: Eric Bledsoe was traded to the Bucks; Brandon Knight has been missing in action since time immemorial; Isaiah Canaan suffered a season-ending leg injury; they’re currently starting Tyler Ulis, nearly the smallest player in the NBA, and his backup is Josh Gray, a point guard who paid $150 to participate in a G-League open tryout and got a 10-day contract out of it. Elfrid may have played a big role in Orlando’s sustained failures, but he’s still probably the Suns’ best bet. He’ll be a restricted free agent this summer, so there is plenty of incentive for Payton to perform, and he is coincidentally in the middle of his best shooting season as a pro.
Gonzalez: Nikola Mirotic to the Pelicans. Mirotic has more attitude than talent, but he’s playing pretty well this season after returning from having his face busted up by Bobby Portis. In 27 games so far, he has a 21.3 PER and a 61.4 true shooting percentage, both of which are career bests. At present, the Pelicans are clinging to the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. Maybe Mirotic helps them squeak into the postseason. But even if he doesn’t, he’s a goodwill offering to Anthony Davis that the organization is trying to remain relevant and put pieces around him even after the devastating injury to Boogie Cousins.
Verrier: James Ennis. The Pistons, even after acquiring Blake Griffin, are still trying to claw their way back into the top eight in the East. Hood was a popular option to fill out their suspect wing rotation before Detroit’s Central Division rival plucked him out of Utah first. But Ennis is an approximation of Hood’s production, without the injury risk. Ennis is a solid young 3-and-D option, and that’s important for a team currently relying on a wing rotation of a rookie, a player who can’t shoot, a streaky shooter, and a dude who failed to provide the requisite gravity for Griffin with the Clippers.
Uggetti: Greg Monroe. I don’t know if you can call adding a 6-foot-11 center “sneaky,” and this wasn’t a trade, but Boston’s signing of Monroe might pay off big come playoff time. I believe Brad Stevens can turn sawdust into a wooden chair at this point. He’s the new Pop.
WTF are the Kings doing?
Chau: I need an oral history on why they used the 13th pick in the 2016 draft on Georgios Papagiannis in the first place.
Verrier: The Kings have had a lottery pick every year for an entire decade. Here’s the list (following draft-day trades, etc.):
And that doesn’t include trading out of an extra lottery pick last year to get two guys with lower ceilings. A truly historic run of futility. It’s like using a government bailout check for your business on exotic cheeses.
Gonzalez: This is the existential question of our NBA lifetime.
O’Shaughnessy: Your guess is as good as mine. Who doesn’t put all their chips in on Malachi Richardson?
Uggetti: They’re putting themselves in a position to be two years away from being two years away from being two years away. Shouts to Bruno.
Who or what are you most interested to see going forward?
Gonzalez: Isaiah Thomas. Barely a year ago, IT was one of the most beloved players in Boston and the NBA. He was the King in the Fourth, an All-Star who was also among the handful of other names we mentioned for MVP votes when we were done arguing about Russell Westbrook, James Harden, LeBron James, and Kawhi Leonard.
And now? Things went so badly for him in Cleveland that the Cavs hit the button on his ejector seat after just 15 games. That happens when you come off an injury and spend all your time questioning your teammates’ effort while simultaneously playing hilariously awful defense. I just can’t believe that he’s fallen this far, this fast. It will be fascinating to see if he can regain his form on the court in Los Angeles and/or rehabilitate his previously pristine image.
Ryan: What will Channing Frye’s impact on the L.A. podcast scene be?
O’Shaughnessy: The Isaiah Thomas–LaVar Ball showdown over playing time … should IT get any. Starting Thomas and Lonzo Ball together seems disastrous—neither can shoot, and neither is particularly explosive (anymore). Thomas’s agent texted ESPN’s Rachel Nichols that Thomas IS NOT COMING OFF THE BENCH, though that scenario (a) seems very likely, considering IT’s start to the season; and (b) makes sense for the Lakers, who are using this season to develop Lonzo and so should bring IT off the bench.
Uggetti: I’m very intrigued by how Devin Harris could help the Nuggets, as well as how Denver meshes when Paul Millsap returns in March. I think adding Harris was one of the other under-the-radar moves that will prove to be fortuitous. Denver desperately needed another point guard, and Harris, though 34, may bring the kind of savvy veteran presence that left with Jameer Nelson.
Are the Cavs the favorites in the East again?
Chau: No. As much as I think the transition for the Cavs’ entire herd of new players will be less turbulent than expected, there’s a lot to be said about the continuity of the Celtics and Raptors. It’s strange to say for a LeBron-led team, but I think the Cavs have the burden of proof this season.
Gonzalez: Yes. The Celtics and Raptors pose bigger threats to LeBron’s NBA Finals aspirations than he’s faced in a very long time, but the on-the-fly overhaul looks good on paper. They added a quality shooter in Hood, good defenders in George Hill and Larry Nance Jr., and instant offense for the second team in Jordan Clarkson. And, best of all, they got rid of Thomas and Derrick Rose, who were concrete weights around their ankles in every possible way. They got younger, faster, and better defensively. The subtractions were as significant as the additions.
O’Shaughnessy: Ask me in a month. Until then, I’m riding with Terry Rozier’s Celtics.
Ryan: No, but they get a soft reset on their season, and can now boast a GM who does post-deadline press conferences like he’s Jon Hamm in The Town. The nice thing for Cleveland is that they are now allowed to be any number of teams: the best in the Eastern Conference, a quasi-rebuild, a wait-till-next-year chemistry experiment, or the most terrifying mid-tier seed in recent postseason history.
Uggetti: They’re closer to favorites than they were before the deadline began, but I think it’s more fair to say they’re back on the same tier as Boston and Toronto. They’re still far below the “We can beat the Warriors” tier, which includes only the Rockets.
Which teams currently in the top 10 in the West will get left out of the playoffs?
Gonzalez: The Clippers and Pelicans. Both teams have interesting (if weird) rosters right now, but I think the Jazz will steal that final spot. I like the way they’re playing lately. They’ve won seven in a row, and eight of their last 10. After a protracted slump, Ricky Rubio is playing some good basketball right now. Rudy Gobert looks like he’s finding himself again following multiple injuries this season. I’m not ready to give up on Jae Crowder yet (looking at you, KOC). Moving Hood could open up some minutes for Alec Burks, who is underrated offensively. And Don Mitchell—I call him Don—makes me swoon every time I watch him.
Uggetti: The Pelicans and Jazz. I’m not sure what exactly the Clippers are doing long-term by signing Lou Williams to an extension and keeping DeAndre Jordan at the deadline. But after adding Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley in the Blake Griffin trade, I think they have enough to get in the top eight. After that, well, trust in Jerry West, I guess.
O’Shaughnessy: Nuggets and Jazz.
Verrier: Pelicans and Clippers.
Does any of this matter because the Warriors are amazing?
O’Shaughnessy: The only moves that matter regarding the Warriors are those teams clearing cap space to steal away Klay Thompson in 2019.
Verrier: I’m now on record in the Ringer offices that the Rockets are going to win the title. A public shaming via a Fathead is at stake.
Gonzalez: [Extremely bored Steve Kerr clipping his nails at a press conference face]
Ryan: The fact we can derive this much enjoyment and interest out of the league, despite the fact the Warriors are 42-13 while driving with one hand on the wheel and one middle finger flipping off all refs is a testament to the strength of the NBA right now. It’s like having a rave during the last 10 minutes of Rogue One. The Warriors will win the title. Rodney Hood doesn’t change that.