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The Winners and Losers of the 2019 NBA Trade Deadline

Most of the West’s power players failed to take a big swing, but the Sixers, Bucks, and Raptors all made promising moves

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

After weeks of blind-item intrigue, leverage-seeking leaks, and a cavalcade of rumors—plus, you know, some actual transactions—the 2019 NBA trade deadline is finally at hand. As teams make their moves, we will sit here, like Frank “T.J.” Mackey, quietly judging them.

What follows are as-they-happened, first-draft-of-history impressions of who came out on top in this year’s swap meet and who got left behind. Check back throughout the day—up to the noon PT deadline buzzer and beyond—for updated takes on the latest happenings from around the league.

Winner (?): Toronto Raptors

Well, it wasn’t the big swing some of us were hoping Masai Ujiri would take. But in a world where the Sixers and Bucks just added even more firepower, the Raptors trading Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, C.J. Miles, and their 2024 second-round pick for Marc Gasol is still a Dave Kingman–ass cut. Now, we need to wait and see if that swing results in a moonshot or a strikeout.

First, the pros. Gasol isn’t quite the same player he was in his prime; 10-plus seasons of NBA mileage and a surgically repaired right foot can do that to a 7-foot-1, 255-pound 34-year-old. But after struggling mightily with a sprained left ankle on which he then played 47 minutes for the scuffling Grizzlies, Gasol has looked healthier of late, averaging 19 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 4.8 assists in 33.5 minutes per game over his final eight appearances in Memphis.

Gasol is a viable 3-point shooter, knocking down 34.4 percent of his deep tries on 4.2 attempts per game; he can both stretch and punish defenses. He’s also one of the best playmaking big men ever. Only four centers in league history to log at least 5,000 minutes have a higher assist rate than Gasol, who can act as an offensive hub at the elbows, hit cutters with high-low feeds from the high post, and free up guards to get going downhill off of dribble handoffs.

Gasol lacks lateral quickness, but he remains one of the league’s most cerebral interior defenders; he looked like a Defensive Player of the Year candidate through the first 20 games. While his defensive impact cratered as he hobbled around through December, it has seemed to rebound of late. Over his final 10 games as a Grizzly, Memphis allowed 5.8 fewer points per 100 possessions with Gasol on the floor than when he was on the bench.

That said, he’s not nearly the rim-protecting force you might expect given his size and defensive reputation. Opponents are shooting 61.7 percent at the basket when Gasol’s defending on the play, the fifth-worst mark of any big who sees at least five such shot attempts per game. They were shooting just 48.9 percent against Valanciunas, who is finally healthy again after dislocating his left thumb in mid-December.

The step Gasol has lost could matter a lot in the kinds of games Toronto aims to be playing this spring. Teams like Milwaukee and Boston—and, if the Raps get that far, Golden State—will run out the likes of Brook Lopez, Nikola Mirotic, Al Horford, and Draymond Green as stretch 5s, daring Gasol to chase them into the deep end of the pool … or daring head coach Nick Nurse to park the proud Spaniard on the bench.

On that note: It ought to be very interesting to see how Nurse, Serge Ibaka, and the Raptors in general handle the arrival of Gasol. Ibaka and Valanciunas had both come to agree with Nurse’s preferred platoon system in the middle, alternating which one started depending on matchups and form. Will Gasol, who hasn’t come off the bench in more than a decade, be similarly cool with that arrangement? Will the trade move Ibaka more frequently back to power forward, even though he’s played his best ball in years this season as a center running pick-and-pop two-man games with Kyle Lowry? (One thing that could help matters: Ibaka and Gasol have a relationship, and experience playing together, from their years on the Spanish national team.) Will Gasol be OK with what could be a dramatically reduced share of minutes and touches on a team where the playmaking power resides with Lowry, Kawhi Leonard, and, to a lesser extent, Pascal Siakam?

Maybe he will be. A product of the Barcelona club system, Gasol has always been a player who has prioritized collective execution and a “play the right way” approach. Maybe the chance to get back to competing at the highest levels in that sort of dynamic overrides any concerns over receding individual opportunities, and maybe that will help Gasol become precisely the sort of talent jolt the Raptors need to keep pace with the other beasts of the East. It’s not the cleanest fit, though. The reward could be huge. But the risk—losing Valanciunas, who has always been better than people realized; losing Wright, who could’ve been an asset worth keeping in restricted free agency this summer; watching Gasol opt out of his $25.6 million contract for next season and leave for nothing; stumbling down the stretch, and losing Leonard, too—could be even bigger.

Loser: Anthony Davis

This was it—the power play Davis had set into motion when he hired Rich Paul to represent him back in September. Here was Davis’s chance to establish himself as one of the NBA’s true megawatt-marquee superstars, to push himself to a glamour market where his public profile and marketability would rise to a level befitting his all-time talents.

“I gave the city [of New Orleans], [the Pelicans] organization, fans everything I feel like I could,” Davis told reporters last week. “I don’t know how long I’m gonna play this game. People’s careers are short. And I feel like it’s my time to move on.”

It wasn’t, though, because the Pelicans didn’t want it to be. They didn’t like what the Lakers had to offer, and they didn’t feel pressured enough by L.A. or Klutch to rush into a deal that didn’t bowl them over.

So Thursday came and went, and Davis is still in New Orleans. He’s reportedly healthy after missing time with an injured left index finger; the Pelicans were reportedly unwilling to reintroduce him to the lineup before the trade deadline, but he evidently intends to play “every game” down the stretch for New Orleans. Might as well find a way to pass the time if your flight out of town has been delayed, I suppose.

If the Pelicans relent and do let Davis return to the floor—which, as I have written, seems like an extremely bad idea for all parties involved—you’d have to imagine that things are about to get uncomfortable. I don’t doubt that Davis has given the people of New Orleans everything he’s got since his arrival in 2012, but I also wouldn’t expect them to welcome him back with open arms after he, through his emissary, essentially tried to force his way out of town.

Maybe the Pelicans wind up sending him to one of his preferred destinations this summer after all. Before he gets there, though, Anthony Davis will have to spend the next few as persona non grata in a place he was done with but that wasn’t done with him.

Cleveland Cavaliers v New Orleans Pelicans
Nikola Mirotic
Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Winner: Milwaukee Bucks

As a great philosopher once said, “Real Gs move in silence, like lasagna.” Guess which letter you need to spell “Giannis Antetokounmpo,” “general manager Jon Horst,” and “The Bucks are a massive goddamn problem.”

Milwaukee sat back as Philadelphia moved its future for Tobias Harris and Boston strained against its golden handcuffs in a Rose Rule–mandated timeout awaiting the chance to bid for Anthony Davis. Then, the Bucks pounced like a damned mountain lion on Nikola Mirotic. ESPN reports that the Bucks will turn Wednesday’s direct deal with the Pistons into a three-team trade that loops in the Pelicans, trading Stanley Johnson (whom they received in exchange for Thon Maker), Jason Smith (acquired in December in a three-teamer with the Wizards and Cavaliers), and FOUR second-round picks (one of the Bucks’ own, plus one from Denver and two from the Wizards) for Mirotic.

The 6-foot-10 stretch power forward has battled injuries this season, including a right calf strain that kept him on the shelf for New Orleans’s past seven games. But when he’s upright, he’s a perfect fit for Mike Budenholzer’s system in Milwaukee. Mirotic is a dangerous 3-point shooter (37.4 percent from deep on nearly seven attempts per game over the past two seasons), an agile enough offensive player to beat off-balance closeouts and put the ball on the deck to get to the paint, a solid defensive rebounder, and a relatively versatile frontcourt defender. He looks like the answer to Milwaukee’s matchup problems in the postseason—a partner for Antetokounmpo in small-ball lineups against teams with pick-and-pop big men, as well as a legit power forward who can line up alongside Brook Lopez in jumbo looks with Giannis, Khris Middleton, and Malcolm Brogdon.

Mirotic’s contract expires after the season, giving the Bucks yet another roster-management question they’ll have to answer this summer. But before July’s free agency comes June’s NBA Finals. The Bucks have been the best team in the East just about all season long. With this deal, they’re taking their shot at winning the whole friggin’ thing.

Losers: Los Angeles Lakers

I mean … Reggie Bullock’s pretty good. Hits about 39 percent of his 3-pointers, tries hard on defense, and can make something happen running off screens and curling around dribble handoffs. Not a bad pickup for Svi Mykhailiuk and a 2021 second-rounder, right?

And hey, Mike Muscala’s not half-bad, either. Sure, I think the 76ers upgraded when they swapped him for Mike Scott in the Tobias Harris deal, but that doesn’t mean Muscala can’t play; 6-foot-11 dudes who flirt with league-average accuracy from beyond the arc have value in a league that prizes floor spacing. (Evidently, that value is “Ivica Zubac, a 7-foot-1 21-year-old who’s been really productive over the past month.”)

You know who else is valuable, though? Anthony Davis. And despite an all-out siege that included Rich Paul, the agent that Davis and LeBron James share, making it crystal clear that AD wanted to be in L.A., the Pelicans declined to send him there, or anywhere else, Thursday.

Neither Paul’s Klutch Sports Group, nor a Lakers front office led by president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka, could force the Pelicans to move Davis before the deadline. No matter what sort of pressure the Lakers and Klutch tried to put on New Orleans, the Pelicans stood pat, believing it would be in the best interest of the franchise to wait to entertain the idea of trading Davis—who, lest we forget, can’t opt out to enter unrestricted free agency until the end of next season—until this summer.

Patience opened the door for the Boston Celtics, who were restricted from getting involved in the Davis sweepstakes before July 1 by the Rose Rule, and who could be willing to part with ascendant forward Jayson Tatum as the crown jewel of an offer filled with draft capital and young talent. It opened the door for whichever team winds up landing the no. 1 pick in the 2019 draft lottery, which could result in New Orleans fielding bids that include mega-prospect Zion Williamson. Waiting gave the Pelicans options. (Including the all-in, best-offer deal the Lakers were willing to put on the table this week, because it’s not like the Lakers are just going to stop wanting Anthony friggin’ Davis.)

Waiting also made life more difficult for the Lakers. They must now try to walk back a week and a half full of leaked offers, all the rumblings about how people close to LeBron James might prefer someone who isn’t Luke Walton to coach the team, and dispel the seemingly immeasurable amount of bad vibes that all of the “everybody is available for AD” visited upon L.A.’s young players. They have to try to get everybody pointed back in the same direction in pursuit of a playoff berth that, with the 27-27 Lakers 2.5 games back of the Clippers and a game behind the Kings, is no sure thing; missing the postseason for the sixth straight spring, and in Year 1 of the LeBron Era, would be unfathomably devastating for a franchise that believed it had exited the dark ages. And no matter what happens for the rest of this season, the Lakers will have to get reoriented toward landing another true blue-chip difference-maker, ideally two, to pair with James this summer … and as Kevin O’Connor and I have both written, that’s not looking like a sure thing, either.

At the start of last week, it looked like the Lakers might be on the verge of returning to life among the NBA’s elite, with two of the five best basketball players on the planet wearing purple and gold for the foreseeable future. After Thursday, though, the Lakers look weakened, wobbly, and searching for answers, just like the rest of the .500-or-so plebs. They might still land a future Hall of Famer. It just won’t be the one they were expecting.

Winner: Philadelphia 76ers

I have my reservations about the Tobias Harris trade, but, so far, the Sixers have gotten the best (currently active) player at the deadline. Early Wednesday morning, they agreed to a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers that shipped Harris, center Boban Marjanovic, and reserve forward Mike Scott to Philadelphia, in exchange for forward Wilson Chandler, rookie shooting guard Landry Shamet, reserve big Mike Muscala, two first-round draft picks (Philly’s lottery-protected 2020 selection, and Miami Heat’s unprotected 2021 pick) and two second-round picks (2021 and 2023 selections that previously belonged to the Detroit Pistons).

Harris is really good—an elite shooter and versatile, hyper-efficient scorer at 6-foot-9, and a comparatively lower-wattage worker who might not bristle at occupying a complementary role as much as some other 20-point scorers. He provides an instant and notable upgrade to what was already one of the NBA’s most murderous starting lineups.

Mike Scott, who has knocked down 39.9 percent of his 3-pointers over the past two seasons, provides a more athletic and versatile option at backup power forward than Mike Muscala. Boban Marjanovic might have only limited utility in specific postseason matchups, but when those matchups arise, Philly now has a leviathan to wage war with the Aron Bayneses of the world while Joel Embiid gets a breather. The Sixers raised their ceiling—a necessity in their effort to run down Milwaukee, Toronto, and Boston—but they still needed more depth, especially in the backcourt and on the wing. And that’s where things got a little dicey.

The Sixers played their biggest remaining chip just before Thursday’s deadline, trading former no. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz to the Orlando Magic. They got two future assets of arguable value—the Oklahoma City Thunder’s top-20-protected 2020 first-round pick and a 2019 Cavaliers second-rounder—and Jonathon Simmons, whom you might remember as a hard-charging swingman for the San Antonio Spurs, but who you might not realize has shot 36.4 percent from the floor and 22.9 percent from 3-point range in Orlando this season, and had essentially played his way out of the rotation of a 22-32 team. So: not the ideal return for a player that you traded, essentially, Jayson Tatum and a future top-1-protected Sacramento pick to take first overall in June 2017.

On the sunnier side, Simmons remains a big body (6-foot-6 and 195 pounds) who’s capable of cranking it up defensively when engaged (not that we saw too much of that in Orlando). He and James Ennis III, imported Thursday from cost-conscious Houston for the princely sum of swap rights on a 2021 second-round pick, offer at least some depth for a Sixers team that looked awfully shallow after the deals for Harris and Butler. Philly still feels a bit light at the point, though, especially in terms of finding a defensive stopper. Perhaps they’ll once again get lucky in what promises to be a frothy buyout market.

The Process Respecter who lives deep inside me—his name is Chu Chu—sees a flashing red warning sign hovering over the decision to trade virtually every asset the Sixers had to import two very good players who don’t make them title favorites now, who might walk in free agency in five months, and who will cost a king’s ransom to keep if they don’t. But the chance that this is a Finals team now, and that Harris is less an addendum to Butler than a potential replacement for him, makes it an awfully interesting and bold move.

Winner: Markelle Fultz

OK, yes, true victory for Fultz would obviously require a successful comeback to the court, proving that he’d made a full recovery from thoracic outlet syndrome and silencing all of us who have wondered whether the issue lies above Fultz’s neck rather than below his shoulders. In this case, though, I’m cool with grading on a curve.

After a harrowing 16 months following the mysterious disintegration of his shot and all the drama that accompanied it, Fultz has been traded to the Orlando Magic. It’s a far cry from where Fultz sat on the eve of the 2017 draft, when he was considered by many the top prospect in the class. The Sixers paid a premium to move up and draft Fultz. Now, the price to take a flyer on him is Simmons, the Thunder’s top-20-protected 2020 first-round pick (which the Thunder had originally sent to Philly for Jerami Grant, only for the Sixers to flip it to the Magic for 2017 draft-and-stash big man Anzejs Pasecniks), and a 2019 second-round pick from the Cleveland Cavaliers (that has some complicated protections attached to it, which you can read about here).

But what’s done is done. What matters now is reconstruction, and after more than a year of intense scrutiny in a rabid media market, Fultz will get to go through that process exercise on a team in the midst of its own rebuild. He will operate with virtually zero expectations or exposure in Orlando, under a head coach (Steve Clifford) who helped turn Kemba Walker into an All-Star in Charlotte. He’ll get to take his time; the Magic have D.J. Augustin for now, and they’ll probably be cool with letting him and Jerian Grant handle the rock while Nikola Vucevic tries to carry them to the playoffs, and with letting Fultz take the rest of the year off. Next season, he’ll get the chance to serve as the backcourt balance to the Jonathan Isaac–Mo Bamba frontcourt of the future, potentially giving those two reedy young bigs the spoon-feeding they so desperately need.

Fultz will, basically, just hit the reset button. That might not seem like much in the grand scheme of the league. But after what he’s experienced in the past year, I bet that seems like a pretty solid W.

Winner: Sacramento Kings

The last team in the NBA with significant cap space available, the Kings, used it—and a couple of sizable expiring contracts—to bolster their perimeter rotation and maybe boost their chances of ending the league’s longest-running playoff drought. First, the Kings joined the Cavaliers and Rockets in a three-team deal in which they added spark-plug guard Alec Burks and a 2020 second-round pick, and sent Iman Shumpert to Houston. Then they linked up with the Mavericks for a trade that sent Harrison Barnes to Sacramento in exchange for second-year wing Justin Jackson and veteran power forward Zach Randolph.

Barnes was miscast as a no. 1 option in Dallas before the arrival of Luka Doncic, but if he can slot in as a complementary wing who eats after De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield—and with a usage rate closer to Shumpert’s 15.2 percent mark than the 23.5 percent rate he sported with the Mavs this season—he’ll give Sacramento a jolt of size and scoring punch at the 3 and perhaps another prime-age building block to add to an increasingly exciting young core. Burks has always been longer on promise than production, but he acquitted himself well during Utah’s run to the second round last postseason and is the kind of trick-or-treat reserve scorer and playmaker who can fuel a short burst that tilts a big game.

It’s not necessarily a massive upgrade; Shumpert and Jackson both fit snugly into their narrowly defined roles and offered a high floor as comparatively low-mistake players, and Shumpert seemed to play a part in restoring a level of swagger to a long-moribund franchise. But the Kings added talent while retaining the flexibility to remain active as Thursday progresses. (With the recent emergence of Marvin Bagley III and Harry Giles, I’d keep an eye on restricted-free-agent-to-be Willie Cauley-Stein, plus the expiring contracts of Kosta Koufos and Ben McLemore.) Add in the fact that the team they’re chasing for the no. 8 seed just traded away maybe its best player in pursuit of summertime gains, and that the one right behind them in that race has spent its entire deadline decimating its roster’s collective spirit, and things seem to be looking pretty good right now for the Kings. (Everybody knock on every piece of wood you can reach.)

Loser: Washington Wizards

In a pure bookkeeping sense—what the esteemed Danny Chau termed “accountant porn” Wednesday night—the Wiz did a tidy bit of business Wednesday, shedding the contracts of Otto Porter Jr. and Markieff Morris to duck the luxury tax. But you don’t win medals for that.

Paying Porter $26.6 million a season never made sense, strictly speaking. But it was a price the Wizards had to pay because they had no other way to meaningfully replace the very valuable things he did for what was at the time a good team, thanks in large part to years upon years of missed opportunities in the roster-construction process. The Wizards are no longer good, so finding a way to stop overpaying Porter—and power forward Markieff Morris, who has alternated between injured and ineffective for most of this season—makes some sense. So does trading for Jabari Parker, thus opening the door to declining his mammoth team option for 2019-20 and carving out an additional $20 million in flexibility with which to perhaps re-sign glue guy Tomas Satoransky and rare bright spot Thomas Bryant. And if you want to talk your way into Bobby Portis’s per-36-minute stats, by all means, don’t let me stop you.

It’s just that none of this goes anywhere. Whether the Wizards should have been selling in the first place, they were trapped into that course of action by the crushing news of John Wall’s Achilles rupture and the subsequent year he’s likely to need on the shelf. And if you had any hope that Wednesday’s trades might have indicated an interest in embarking on a full-fledged rebuild, follow-up reports that the Wizards will not pursue trading lone remaining All-Star Bradley Beal (reasonable!) or expiring-contract veterans Trevor Ariza and Jeff Green (huh?) and that both Ariza and Green “remain in Washington’s plans this season and beyond” (wait, what?) should probably be enough to disabuse you of that notion.

Two seasons ago, the Wizards were a 49-win conference semifinalist, fresh off their best run in more than a decade, with three exciting young building blocks at the heart of one of the NBA’s best starting lineups. Now, all that’s left of that squad is Beal, a shattered Wall, Satoransky entering restricted free agency, the ghost of Ian Mahinmi, and what appears to be another bite at the rebuilding apple for the evidently immortal Ernie Grunfeld. Given that, it’s tough to think the state of the Wizards is anything but dark, no matter how much luxury-tax savings Ted Leonsis gets to realize.

Winner: Golden State Warriors

While we’ve been breathlessly following the ups and downs of various sweepstakes, the Warriors have won 15 of their past 17 games. They have outscored opponents by a league-best 14.2 points per 100 possessions since Christmas. They are scoring an obscene 123.9 points-per-100 in 2019. They’re plus-43 in 175 minutes with DeMarcus Cousins on the court; their five-All-Star lineup is plus-23.9 points-per-100 since his return; and the Death Lineup is plus-20.2 points-per-100 over the past two months.

A bunch of other teams have spent the past few weeks moving around deck chairs, and more power to them. The Warriors, though, remain the iceberg. And they’re dead ahead.

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