The NBA trade deadline featured plenty of fireworks, including the end to Andre Iguodala’s extended vacation and Karl-Anthony Towns no longer being forced to Instagram through it. Was abstinence the right strategy for contenders like the Lakers and Bucks? Which teams earned the highest marks? Here are our trade deadline grades for all 30 teams:
In: Clint Capela, Dewayne Dedmon, Skal Labissière, Derrick Walton Jr., 2020 second-round pick (via Houston), 2021 second-round pick (via Miami), cash considerations (via Portland)
Out: 2020 first-round pick (via Brooklyn), 2024 second-round pick (via Golden State), Evan Turner, Chandler Parsons (waived), Jabari Parker, Alex Len, cash considerations (to Los Angeles Clippers)
It’s almost never advisable for a 13-38 team to trade any first-round draft pick—especially if the return is $30 million worth of combined center salary. Acquiring Capela and reuniting with Dedmon will make the Hawks better defensively and on the glass, and moving expiring contracts and a lottery-protected pick may seem like a pittance to acquire a legitimate center rotation. But don’t miss the forest for the trees: Atlanta willfully cutting its rebuild short by sacrificing valuable assets screams owner impatience and adds an unnecessarily high degree of difficulty to build the rest of the roster. Yes, the Hawks needed rim protection (tied for 27th in defensive efficiency, 30th in fouls per game), but when guys like Nerlens Noel are signed to minimum contracts and the supply and demand for rim-running centers has gone the way of the NFL running back, why not wait for a cheaper avenue to explore?
The forfeited opportunity cost (just look at what Memphis got for acquiring and flipping Andre Iguodala) matters more than the cap space itself. Capela is capable of lifting the Hawks closer to mediocrity, so long as John Collins can blend, but adding a hyperspecialized piece to the puzzle at this stage seems short-sighted, which is one thing a rebuild of this magnitude can’t be. Just because you can spend doesn’t mean you should.
It’s odd to see a contender fail to address such a glaring need, but Boston lacked the tradable midrange salaries needed to acquire an established veteran center and did the right thing by hanging on to a heart-and-soul-type player in Marcus Smart. Scouring the buyout market for a plug-and-play option instead of altering the chemistry of a 35-15 team makes plenty of sense, but a potential showdown with Philadelphia and Joel Embiid in the postseason could provide some immediate regret. Celtics GM Danny Ainge usually doesn’t dabble in deals that don’t seem like surefire wins, and those can be hard to find at the deadline. There’s work to be done here, though.
If the rumored trade market for Detroit Pistons guard Luke Kennard provided any indication, the Nets likely could have received a sweet return for one of the league’s best shooters in Joe Harris. The onus will now fall on Brooklyn’s front office to retain the unrestricted free agent this offseason, which may be a challenge given the leaguewide demand for shooting and the lack of impact free agents on the market. It can be hard to trade a homegrown talent like Harris, who should be a perfect fit next to Kevin Durant, especially considering the Nets are on pace to make the postseason this season. But any moves that solidified Brooklyn as a title contender next season would have been welcome.
No team was giving up any real assets for Charlotte’s overpaid veterans on expiring contracts (Bismack Biyombo, Marvin Williams, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist), which means the Hornets may have to work out a few buyouts. The youth movement is in full swing, and with Nicolas Batum and Cody Zeller also coming off the books for the summer of 2021, the Hornets will finally be free from the self-imposed salary cap hell they’ve been stuck in for years.
The Bulls should have been the perfect trade partner for contenders, with low-usage veterans like Otto Porter Jr., Tomas Satoransky, and Thaddeus Young, and intriguing cost-effective role players like Denzel Valentine. You can understand why Chicago would be hesitant to deal their “star” in Zach LaVine, or sell way too low on Lauri Markkanen or Wendell Carter Jr., but doing nothing at the deadline leaves Chicago rudderless once again.
In: Andre Drummond
Out: Brandon Knight, John Henson, 2023 second-round pick (lesser of Golden State’s or Cleveland’s)
Getting nothing at the deadline for a valuable player like Tristan Thompson and his expiring contract is one thing; trading for another expensive center in Andre Drummond, who can decline his player option and hit unrestricted free agency this summer, makes it even more bizarre. Hanging on to Kevin Love, with his injury history, age (32 next season), and $91 million left on the books is inviting a lot of risk, even if there weren’t any enticing offers out there. How a team that should clearly be in “sell mode” ends up losing draft assets at the deadline is hard to fathom. Taking a chance on Drummond accepting his player option and sticking around for a season would be fine for a team close to playoff contention. That’s not Cleveland.
In: Willie Cauley-Stein
Out: 2020 second-round pick (via Utah)
The Mavericks responded to Dwight Powell’s season-ending injury by acquiring Cauley-Stein weeks before the deadline, and opted to stand pat as the rest of the West scrambled to add pieces. There’s no need to rush anything with Luka Doncic on a rookie-scale deal, Kristaps Porzingis locked up long term, and the Mavericks having the league’s best offense. Rick Carlisle is a coach who values continuity, and the Mavericks can keep that while being active on the buyout market.
In: 2020 first-round pick (via Houston), Jordan McRae, Keita Bates-Diop, Gerald Green, Noah Vonleh
Out: Malik Beasley, Juan Hernangómez, Jarred Vanderbilt
Letting go of a talented scorer like Beasley stings a bit, but the emergence of Michael Porter Jr., a suddenly crowded rotation, and Denver’s likely unwillingness to match any significant offer in restricted free agency on the fourth-year guard made him expendable. That lack of leverage at the trade deadline usually won’t yield a future first-round pick, but to a major trade facilitator go the spoils. Houston’s first could come in handy, whether Denver’s draft-savvy front office decides to keep it or finally consolidates some of its young assets to deal for a star to pair with Nikola Jokic. Keep an eye on Keita Bates-Diop should he somehow find minutes: His 7-foot-3 wingspan and 46 percent shooting on corner 3s this season warrants a longer look.
In: Brandon Knight, John Henson, 2023 second-round pick (lesser of Golden State’s or Cleveland’s)
Out: Andre Drummond, Tim Frazier (waived)
One second-round pick is obviously a disappointing haul for your franchise player, but it’s also a pretty good indication that your franchise needs a drastic rebuild. Good on Detroit’s management for finally biting the bullet to escape the late lottery and avoid a scenario where Drummond accepts his player option for the 2020-21 season. But there’s still no excuse for letting the center’s trade value get to this point. Detroit at least appears ready to commit to a youth movement and will eventually need to find a new home for Blake Griffin if possible. Ultimately, salvaging any value for Drummond is better than nothing.
Golden State Warriors
In: Andrew Wiggins, 2021 top-three-protected first-round pick (via Minnesota), 2020 second-round pick (via Dallas), 2020 second-round pick (via Utah), 2021 second-round pick (via Denver), 2022 second-round pick (via Toronto),
Out: D’Angelo Russell, Jacob Evans, Omari Spellman, Willie Cauley-Stein, Glenn Robinson III, and Alec Burks
There are Tobias Fünke levels of delusion necessary to think a change of scenery will fix all the flaws of Andrew Wiggins, but the downgrade in production from Russell to Wiggins is more than made up for by the inclusion of Minnesota’s first-round pick with minimal protections (top-three protected in 2021, unprotected in 2022) and Golden State getting under the luxury tax and avoiding the repeater tax next season. The Warriors are betting on Russell not moving the needle too much for the Timberwolves next season, and with the strength of the Western Conference and the obvious defensive flaws and youth of Minnesota’s roster, it’s a smart bet to make. Wiggins is an easier fit alongside the Splash Brothers in a reprisal of the Harrison Barnes role than Russell would have been taking possessions away from Stephen Curry. Giving more possessions to Curry is the best possible strategy—and something that Russell would have inhibited.
The Warriors could be looking at back-to-back seasons with a top-10 pick, or they could use the picks as ammo to trade for another established star. It was a windy road to get there, but this was great asset management to eventually turn Kevin Durant’s departure into Russell and then a highly desirable first-round pick.
In: Robert Covington, Bruno Caboclo, 2024 second-round pick (via Golden State)
Out: 2020 first-round pick, Clint Capela, Gerald Green
The Rockets went “all in,” in the sense that Daryl Morey is fully leaning into the identity that best suits his superstars and head coach. The Rockets have been significantly more dangerous offensively this season with Capela off the court, and replicating his production via the buyout market (Tristan Thompson?) might not be as tall of a task as it seems. The Rockets may have some buyer’s remorse if they cross paths with Anthony Davis and the Lakers in the postseason, but adding Covington, the lengthy 3-and-D forward the team has missed since Trevor Ariza’s departure, was simply a bigger area of need. The driving lanes will be bigger, the shooting will be better, and the idea that teams will relentlessly post up and score on human refrigerator P.J. Tucker is the exact kind of trap you want to set. The Rockets needed a change without changing their core philosophy; this checks both boxes.
There isn’t a better addition at the deadline than Victor Oladipo returning to Indiana’s lineup. Adding more pieces at the deadline could have complicated things unnecessarily, as the Pacers already have impressive depth and shouldn’t feel the need to split up Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner, who have meshed better together this season and share the court in Indiana’s most commonly used lineup, according to Cleaning the Glass (648 non-garbage-time possessions, plus-9.6 differential). If Oladipo returns to his old form, the Pacers absolutely have enough firepower to make a deep postseason run.
Los Angeles Clippers
In: Marcus Morris, Isaiah Thomas, cash considerations, 2022 second-round pick (top-55 protected via Atlanta)
Out: Moe Harkless, 2020 first-round pick, 2021 first-round pick swap option with New York, 2021 second-round pick (via Detroit), Jerome Robinson, Derrick Walton Jr.
Two birds, one stone: The Clippers grabbed one of the best players available but, maybe more importantly, kept a dangerously tough 3-and-D option away from the Lakers. Morris is a proven playoff performer and should feast off the open 3s (43.9 percent from 3 this season) created by Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, while allowing both superstars to play their natural, preferred positions on the wing. Doc Rivers’s being forced to rely more on Ivica Zubac could help now and later, especially given Montrezl Harrell’s pending free agency. With centers like Tristan Thompson and Ian Mahinmi potentially available as buyout options, prioritizing talent over need was the right decision. The Clippers were already one of the title favorites; it’s hard to argue with the logic behind adding another option to throw at Anthony Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo who also requires attention on the other end.
Los Angeles Lakers
The odds of a LeBron James team not making a trade at the deadline had to be slim. But with the Lakers sitting at 38-11, and with glowing reports on the hour about the team’s chemistry, perhaps missing out on Bogdan Bogdanovic, Marcus Morris, Andre Iguodala, and Robert Covington at the price of Kyle Kuzma will prove to be the right decision. Kuzma might be the latest case study in being “so overrated that he became underrated,” a rite of passage for most high-scoring bench options. The reluctance to deal ancillary pieces like Kuzma, and to a lesser extent Alex Caruso, isn’t necessarily typical from a title contender. Still, the Lakers can upgrade from players like Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo once buyout season starts, and the returns on that will likely be greater than a deadline upgrade from Kuzma. The sky isn’t falling, but this was an unexpected deadline result.
In: Justise Winslow, Gorgui Dieng, Dion Waiters, Jordan Bell, 2023 second-round pick (via Houston), 2023 second-round pick
Out: Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder, Solomon Hill, Bruno Caboclo
You could have Bobby Portis … or you could have a future first-round pick and a 23-year-old playmaking forward with defensive chops. Memphis chose the latter, putting on a master class in how a team can use cap space to bolster a rebuilding process by acquiring and flipping Iguodala. (Take notes, New York.) It helps that Winslow fits with Memphis’s up-and-down style perfectly and will have a big chip on his shoulder—a requirement to earn the love of Grizzlies fans. It’s hard to see any real downside here for Memphis; Winslow has struggled to stay healthy, but there isn’t much risk in taking a chance on a talented player’s health at this stage in the rebuilding process. The Grizzlies won the deadline, and it wasn’t particularly close.
In: Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder, Solomon Hill
Out: Justise Winslow, James Johnson, Dion Waiters
Trading for a 36-year-old wing who hasn’t played a minute this season requires some real courage, but there are few better “16-game players” out there than Iguodala, who will crank up Miami’s wing defense in the postseason and keep things flowing on the other end with his court vision. That being said, it’s very possible that Winslow is already better than this version of Iguodala and that paying for past performance may have been a mistake. Some of those concerns are alleviated by the two-year, $30 million extension Iguodala received that has a team option on the second year, meaning Miami can still chase the big free agents of 2021. The Heat also managed to upgrade without sending out Kendrick Nunn, Tyler Herro, or draft picks, but it’s debatable if they actually got better in the swap. This deal was made much more palatable by dumping the contracts of Waiters and Johnson for two expiring deals, which will help Miami add more talent in free agency as soon as this offseason.
The Bucks have a plus-12.4 point differential this season, which would be the best in NBA history. Milwaukee is two deep at every position, has the top defense in the league, and has no observable weaknesses. A quarter of the roster is related to another player on the team. The hallway wrestling factions are established. You don’t mess with a team like this.
In: D’Angelo Russell, 2020 lottery-protected first-round pick (via Brooklyn), Malik Beasley, James Johnson, Juan Hernangómez, Evan Turner, Jarred Vanderbilt
Out: Andrew Wiggins, 2021 first-round pick (top-three protected in 2021, unprotected in 2022) Robert Covington, Jordan Bell, Gorgui Dieng, Shabazz Napier, Keita Bates-Diop, Noah Vonleh
Team president Gersson Rosas checked off the three most pressing items on the franchise’s dossier: Get draft compensation for a highly coveted but aging role player in Covington, find a star to pair with Karl-Anthony Towns to keep him happy and in Minnesota, and get out from underneath Wiggins’s massive contract. That everything was done in a 24-hour span, with a sense of urgency that has seemed to escape previous decision-makers in Minnesota, makes it all the more impressive.
It’s difficult to evaluate this deal without acknowledging the writing on the wall with regard to Towns, or how painful the Wiggins era has been for everyone involved, but Minnesota still appears to be a long way from contending and might be only temporarily delaying the inevitable. Still, you have to at least try to make it work with a big man as talented as Towns, and Russell is a pick-and-roll partner who can make basketball fun for him again, even if the first-round pick the Wolves sacrificed to Golden State ends up being the better asset down the line.
New Orleans Pelicans
The Zion Williamson experience is going too well to mess with. The Pelicans are only six games out of the 8-seed, which still qualifies as striking distance in the West. Worst case, they can just roll things over to next season, which seemed like the plan once Zion’s injury lingered into the new year. It’s still a good strategy—if Zion is already this good (and not even at full speed yet!), the Pelicans feel like a playoff lock for years to come. New Orleans needs to look at what does and doesn’t work next to Zion, and high-level role players like JJ Redick and Derrick Favors are big parts of that equation.
New York Knicks
In: 2020 first-round pick (via Los Angeles Clippers), 2021 first-round pick swap option with the Clippers, Moe Harkless, the rights to Issuf Sanon, 2020 second-round pick (via Detroit)
Out: Marcus Morris
The Knicks … made a good trade? Moving Morris without taking on future salary and landing a first-round pick in the process was probably the best possible outcome here, even if the pick will land toward the bottom of the first round. The pick swap is more for posterity than anything, as nary a universe exists where the Knicks will draft lower than the Clippers next season. Still, now is not the time to take shots at the Knicks, who have established the lowest possible bar at past deadlines. This is a good return, this is a fair return, and this is the right direction to take.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Well, well, well. How the turntables. Going into this season, Oklahoma City looked like the most obvious seller, but an unexpected 31-20 record changed that outlook pretty quickly. Shipping out veterans like Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari, or Steven Adams would have been a little heartless given their efforts to this point, and there are enough draft picks in the cupboard to keep Sam Presti warm until the summer. It would have been interesting to see OKC flip in the other direction and become a buyer, but letting this group play out the stretch likely won’t change the trade values of its veterans too much in either direction. The Thunder can wait to do their dealing until the offseason, at which point they can hold their own black market free agency by trading with teams with cap space to burn but no one to spend it on.
In: James Ennis
Out: 2020 second-round pick (via Los Angeles Lakers)
The Magic are hard to root for. They’ve done a wonderful job resuscitating Markelle Fultz’s career, and losing Jonathan Isaac was a major blow to early-game League Pass viewers. But Orlando misusing and refusing to trade Aaron Gordon is one of the league’s most frustrating subplots. The Magic’s willingness to run back last season’s mediocre team when presented with the chance to do something different in the offseason does not help matters. If the ceiling is stealing a playoff win or two in the first round, it’s time to tear down the house. But, ya know, enjoy James Ennis.
In: Alec Burks, Glenn Robinson Jr.
Out: 2020 second-round pick (via Dallas), 2021 second-round pick (via Denver), 2022 second-round pick (via Toronto)
The 76ers were a few bounces on the rim away from an Eastern Conference finals appearance. Doing something drastic and trading Ben Simmons or Joel Embiid before they get another crack at it, especially with Al Horford in tow, would have been overly hasty. Adding Burks (37.5 percent from 3) and Robinson (40 percent from 3) can provide some of the spacing and scoring that often goes missing when Brett Brown reaches deep into his bench. There was bigger game on the market, but this addresses the team’s most glaring needs without sacrificing any core pieces, which is standard operating procedure for contenders.
Phoenix did the right thing keeping its picks, but perhaps it missed out on an opportunity to maximize the trade value of Aron Baynes, who turns 34 (I know, crazy, right?) next season. Baynes could have helped a number of contenders with his size and shooting, and it would have eliminated the option for Monty Williams to do anything but start Deandre Ayton. Phoenix should be feeling pressure to give Devin Booker another star to play with—Minnesota pulling off a deal that combines Booker’s close friends D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns doesn’t help. The goodwill built by Phoenix’s hot start has faded, and a big deal, one way or the other, is probably looming this offseason.
Portland Trail Blazers
In: Cap space
Out: Skal Labissière, cash considerations
Help is already on the way for the Blazers, who are still in the playoff hunt thanks to Damian Lillard’s Herculean efforts. Zach Collins, a popular preseason breakout candidate, should be back in March. Jusuf Nurkic could return from a leg fracture around the same time. While other teams will be active in the buyout market for big men, Portland can focus on guard depth with so much help coming to the frontcourt. This has always felt like a “wait until next year” season for the Blazers, and their inactivity at the deadline reinforces that.
In: Jabari Parker, Alex Len
Out: Dewayne Dedmon, 2020 second-round pick (via Houston), 2021 second-round pick (via Miami)
Though teams like the Wizards are suddenly competent at the trade deadline, you can always count on the Kings to Kangz when you need it most. After another offseason in which Sacramento pushed the chips in too early and spent big on a bunch of replacement-level veteran free agents, the corrections have already begun—and they’re costing draft picks. The Kings front office might be able to justify the decision to trade Dedmon by clearing more space to retain Bogdan Bogdanovic, which is great, but Harrison Barnes and Cory Joseph remain on the books, while the opportunity to trade a hot commodity like Richaun Holmes for future assets was punted away.
San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio’s decision-making over the last calendar year has been questionable. The free agency fiasco with Marcus Morris led to trading Davis Bertans for DeMarre Carroll, who has barely played this year. Dejounte Murray and Derrick White should comprise the backcourt of the future, but they have played only 58 minutes together. The roster is aging quickly, the 8-seed may not be attainable, and it’s unclear what the long-term plan is. This team is stuck in neutral.
Does keeping Masai Ujiri away from the Knicks count? Running it back has its merits, as Toronto didn’t sacrifice any future cap space for major 2021 free agents, and multiple injuries earlier in the season produced battle-tested depth. Nick Nurse’s constant experimentation defensively will work better with a veteran roster that has practiced and played together. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
An early-season move for Jordan Clarkson resulted in the Jazz immediately winning 14 of their next 15 games, but Utah opted against further tinkering. With a locked-up core and no obvious addressable deficiencies on either side of the ball, the Jazz have to hope that Mike Conley can eventually pull out of his tailspin and handle the gauntlet of Western Conference point guards that await him in any deep postseason run.
In: Shabazz Napier, Jerome Robinson
Out: Jordan McRae, Isaiah Thomas, rights to Issuf Sanon
Jerome Robinson never looked like a quality rotation player with the Clippers, but gambling on former lottery picks in only their second season is exactly the type of thing Washington should be doing. Hanging on to Davis Bertans, who has suddenly become one of the most prolific 3-point shooters in league history, wasn’t all that surprising given Washington’s reported sky-high asking price of two first-round picks. After years of being the sucker at the trade-deadline table under the old regime, it’s refreshing to see the Wizards stick to a plan.
All records updated through Wednesday’s games.