So much for an uneventful trade deadline. The concern this week was that a lack of legitimate stars and motivated sellers would limit movement across the league. But the deals came pouring in during the past few days. Almost two-thirds of the league made a move, with D’Angelo Russell, Andrew Wiggins, Andre Drummond, Andre Iguodala, and Clint Capela all changing hands.
Now the question becomes how each player will fit in their new homes. An NBA rotation is a complex web. Each piece interacts with and affects all the others. Adding or subtracting even one can cause a domino effect. It’s not just the players who were traded that will have to adjust. Their arrivals will change roles and positions for their new teammates while their departures will do the same for their old ones.
There will be a lot of experimentation in the next few weeks. Here’s a look at the most important lineup questions for each team that made a major trade before the deadline:
The Wolves didn’t just land their white whale in D’Angelo Russell. They have an entirely new team. They acquired six players (Russell, Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangómez, James Johnson, and Jarred Vanderbilt) this week and shipped off just as many (Andrew Wiggins, Robert Covington, Shabazz Napier, Noah Vonleh, Keita Bates-Diop, and Gorgui Dieng).
Russell is the obvious headliner. Minnesota was desperately searching for an All-Star-caliber point guard to pair with Karl-Anthony Towns. Now they added a player who also happens to be close friends with the franchise big man.
The two are a great foundation for the Wolves on offense. Towns is a one-of-a-kind 7-footer who can score from all over the floor, while Russell is the rare guard who can create his own shot, shoot 3s, and distribute the ball.
But basketball is played on two ends of the court. The Wolves’ young cornerstones have both been horrible on defense this season. The team has to find ways to create lineups that give the two enough space to operate on offense while still protecting them on defense.
Beasley is the most important player in their new supporting cast. He’s a reliable 3-point shooter with the athleticism and ballhandling ability to be an effective secondary scorer. He can fill it up if given the opportunity, but he will have to prove he can find a balance between hunting for his own shot and moving the ball while becoming a more consistent defender.
How the Wolves fill out the rest of their lineup is less clear. They have four options for two spots: Hernangómez, Johnson, and two holdovers in Josh Okogie and Jarrett Culver (the no. 6 overall pick in this year’s draft).
Hernangómez is the cleanest fit. He’s a glue guy who should be able to plug in holes on defense and stay out of the way on offense.
The other three are variations of the same type of player—long and athletic defenders with playmaking ability and questionable jumpers. Johnson provides the most size and experience of the bunch. But he’s coming off an uneven tenure in Miami, where he couldn’t maintain the trust of the coaching staff. Culver has struggled mightily while transitioning from an NCAA wing to an NBA point guard. Russell’s addition will allow him to move back to his more natural position, but he may not shoot well enough to keep defenses honest in an off-ball role. Okogie, whose promising defense in his first two seasons was overshadowed by his shaky shooting, has the same issue.
Minnesota finally has their centerpieces in Towns and Russell. Now the process of churning the roster around them begins.
Golden State Warriors
The Warriors have to walk a fine line with Andrew Wiggins. There’s no one else healthy who can score on their now-depleted roster. They traded away five rotation players (Russell, Alec Burks, Glenn Robinson III, Omari Spellman, and Jacob Evans) in 24 hours and got only Wiggins back in return. But from a long-term perspective, the last thing the Warriors need from Wiggins is scoring.
Wiggins made his reputation in Minnesota by taking bad shots and checking out too often on defense. The only way that trading for him makes sense is if Golden State can transform him from a failed star into a successful role player.
It could work. Wiggins is one of the best athletes in the NBA and has the physical tools to guard players at four positions. He’s also a good cutter who can knock down spot-up 3s and put pressure on the defense without holding the ball.
The problem is that it’s not as simple as sliding him into a smaller role and pressing play. If it was, he would have thrived when Jimmy Butler was added to Minnesota. Doing less on offense isn’t helpful if a player isn’t redistributing his energy on defense. Alongside Butler, Wiggins spent most of his time floating around the court and waiting for the chance to shoot.
It’s a hard adjustment to make. He’s a former no. 1 overall pick who has spent his whole life with the ball in his hands. That’s the only way he knows how to play. His brief revival this season came largely because he was playing as a point forward who could dominate the ball.
A change of scenery might help him embrace a change in role. A lot of young players need to go to a second team to gain perspective before they are ready to adjust their games for the sake of winning.
Wiggins won’t have to make the transition immediately. There will be plenty of opportunities for him to shoot while playing out the string on an injury-ravaged team, but he’ll have to adjust his game soon.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers won a bidding war with their crosstown rivals to land Marcus Morris, giving up Maurice Harkless, Jerome Robinson, and a first-round pick. It was a price worth paying: Morris is a near-perfect fit for the Clips. He can handle the same defensive assignments at power forward as Harkless, but he’s a much better 3-point shooter and scorer.
Morris is the bridge piece on a roster that is firmly separated between primary scorers (Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Lou Williams, and Montrezl Harrell) and 3-and-D players who aren’t comfortable coloring outside the lines.
If there’s a concern about his transition to the Clippers, it’s that he won’t have as much offensive freedom as he had with the Knicks, where he was averaging a career-high 19.6 points per game (and shooting 43.9 percent on 6.1 3-point attempts per game). But there will be plenty of shots for him in his new starting lineup, which features two limited scorers (Patrick Beverley and Ivica Zubac) and two stars who have been in and out of the lineup.
Morris will be just as important on defense. He provides extra size on the wing as well as a willingness to get physical, and that’s important for a frontcourt that is smaller than most of the other playoff teams out West. And while there’s no such thing as a true LeBron stopper, Morris is strong enough to prevent James from bullying him. He will be able to stand his ground, and the Clippers can use him as another big wing defender to throw at James during a series.
It’s very unusual for a player to fill one of the only holes on the roster of a championship contender at midseason without creating any new ones. But trading for Morris is the kind of smart move that has become the Clippers’ trademark recently.
The Kings moved closer to pressing the reset button on their disastrous offseason by shipping Dewayne Dedmon back to the Hawks for Jabari Parker and Alex Len. But Dedmon wasn’t the real problem in Sacramento. The team’s problem is why they needed him in the first place.
The Kings signed Dedmon to help Marvin Bagley III, the no. 2 overall pick in the 2018 draft. Bagley struggles to find a role in the NBA because he doesn’t stretch the floor like a power forward or protect the rim like a center. Dedmon, a proven rim protector with a developing 3-point shot, could do both jobs for him. Those were his two main characteristics in Atlanta next to John Collins, another hyper-athletic young big man stuck between interior positions.
However, with Bagley unable to stay healthy this season, Dedmon lost his job to fellow free-agent signee Richaun Holmes, a more traditional rim-runner who outplayed him on both ends of the floor. Holmes and Bagley don’t fit together nearly as snug. Neither can shoot 3s, which is important when you have a point guard like De’Aaron Fox who likes to get into the paint and attack the rim.
One possible solution is to turn Bagley into a center and play a smaller lineup around him. But that would mean gambling on the Duke product becoming a respectable interior defender, and he has never shown much ability to fill that role.
The only way out of the dilemma is finding someone who can do the same things as Dedmon—but more effectively. This trade may not be the last time the Kings press the reset button in the next few seasons.
The Grizzlies began the week looking to end the soap opera surrounding Andre Iguodala, whose refusal to report became an issue inside their locker room. They ended it with a dizzying number of trades that quietly reshaped their rotation.
Memphis sent Iguodala, Jae Crowder, and Solomon Hill to Miami for Justise Winslow, James Johnson, and Dion Waiters. The team then passed along Johnson to Minnesota for Gorgui Dieng and sent reserve Bruno Caboclo to Houston for Jordan Bell.
Iguodala doesn’t really count as a loss because he hadn’t played all season. Crowder does. He was a 3-and-D wing whose ability to stretch the floor was the connective tissue holding the Grizzlies’ starting lineup together. He’s shooting a career-low from 3 (29.3 percent), but he was averaging the second-most attempts (5.9 per game) on the team, forcing defenses to still respect him from outside.
Winslow is more talented than Crowder, but he has barely played this season because of a lingering back injury. He’s also a more difficult fit with the rest of their roster. Winslow is a reluctant outside shooter whose best season in Miami came as a point forward. That’s not an option next to Ja Morant. Nor is there an obvious spot in the rotation to let him run the offense with the reserves. Playing him with the second unit would mean giving fewer opportunities for Tyus Jones and De’Anthony Melton, one of the best second-unit backcourts in the NBA.
The trades have also unsettled the Grizzlies’ frontcourt rotation. Dieng is an excellent backup 5 who’s having a bounce-back season after having the freedom to shoot 3s in Minnesota. The problem is that Memphis already has a great center rotation in Jonas Valanciunas and Jaren Jackson Jr. Jackson shoots well enough to start at the 4 next to Valanciunas, but he was far more effective this season at the 5. Playing him exclusively at the 4 is subtraction by addition.
Bell could have the same problem as Dieng. While he can be an effective small-ball big, the Grizzlies already have a great one in rookie sensation Brandon Clarke. There’s no need for him on this roster barring injuries.
Grabbing assets at the deadline is normally a great move for a rebuilding team, but Memphis is so far ahead of schedule that it has created a whole different kind of problem. Some of their new assets could stunt the growth of their young players.
The Rockets have never been afraid to take an idea to its logical conclusion under GM Daryl Morey. They did it with 3-point shooting. They did it with isolations. And now they are doing it, once again, with small ball.
Houston traded its starting center (Clint Capela) and a first-round pick for a 3-and-D wing (Robert Covington), then flipped the incoming Jordan Bell for a different small-ball 5 (Bruno Caboclo). The result is the smallest team in modern NBA history. The Rockets are starting P.J. Tucker (6-foot-5) at center and backing him up with Thabo Sefolosha (6-foot-6) and Caboclo (6-foot-9). Tyson Chandler and Isaiah Hartenstein are still on the roster to provide some size, but they have barely seen the floor since Capela went down with a heel injury last week.
This isn’t a mad science experiment from Morey. This strategy fits the rest of their roster. James Harden is one of the best one-on-one scorers in NBA history. There’s not enough space for him to operate when he’s playing with Russell Westbrook, a point guard who can’t space the floor, and a traditional big man like Capela, who clogs the paint. Westbrook isn’t going anywhere. So that left only one move to make.
Westbrook, to his credit, has made an offensive adjustment during the past week. He stopped shooting 3s and focused almost exclusively on getting to the rim. A center rotation of Tucker, Sefolosha, and Caboclo creates more room for him to do that.
There are a lot of NBA teams that are most effective when they downsize at the 5 and spread the floor. But most still keep a traditional big man in their starting lineup, if for no other reason than to absorb some of the obligatory banging that comes with the position.
The Rockets have gone in the opposite direction. It’s a twist on the idea that if the safest part of the plane is the black box, why not build the whole plane out of it?
Miami added Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder at the deadline for virtually nothing. It gave up quality players in Justise Winslow, James Johnson, and Dion Waiters, but none of those players were currently in its rotation. Winslow has played in just 11 games due to a back injury, Johnson had fallen out of favor with the coaching staff, and Waiters is this close to being out of the league entirely after a series of suspensions.
Iguodala took load management to new heights by sitting out for almost four months while still cashing a check. The time off should pay dividends for the 36-year-old. He’s a streaky outside shooter, but he’s also an elite perimeter defender who can pair with Jimmy Butler. Crowder is another solid addition as a 3-point threat and a contributor on defense.
The question is: Whose minutes do they take? Miami has relied heavily on a trio of sweet-shooting youngsters (Kendrick Nunn, Duncan Robinson, and Tyler Herro) who can be exploited on defense. But the more interesting idea might be downsizing in the frontcourt and using Iguodala and Crowder in place of Meyers Leonard and Kelly Olynyk, stretch big men with their own defensive issues.
A lineup with Butler, Iguodala, and Crowder on the perimeter and Bam Adebayo at the rim will be almost impossible to score on. The Heat could then plug in any number of floor spacers in that fifth spot.
Miami was already in the running for pole position behind Milwaukee in the East despite several weak spots in its rotation. Now they shored up those weak spots for free.
Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III will help the 76ers—and it cost Philadelphia only three future second-round picks and two players (James Ennis III and Trey Burke), who were both falling out of favor. How much these two additions help will depend on how bold Philadelphia coach Brett Brown wants to be.
Burks is a multidimensional wing averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and 3-point attempts per game this season. Robinson is less flashy, but he’s a solid 3-and-D wing who can make them better on both ends of the floor.
There’s room for both to contribute. The 76ers don’t have any proven players behind their mega-bucks starting five of Joel Embiid, Al Horford, Tobias Harris, Ben Simmons, and Josh Richardson. And those five simply don’t fit together. All you have to do is watch them play for five minutes to see that.
Brown will have no trouble finding minutes for Burks to run pick-and-rolls with Embiid and Simmons or for Robinson to space the floor. The question is whether he would be willing to bench any of his stars at the end of games for them.
Burks and Robinson are journeymen. But they are journeymen who fill roles in ways that some of the more talented guys on the roster do not. Brown shouldn’t have any sacred cows. He’s coaching for his job. Why not put out lineups that have a chance to work?
The Cavs acquired a $28 million player for two expiring contracts and a second-round pick. That should have been the first clue that something was wrong.
It’s not that Andre Drummond is bad. He’s a double-double machine who leads the league in rebounding and has turned himself into a good passer and a respectable defender. The problem is that none of that stuff actually drives winning anymore.
There’s a pretty firm ceiling to how good a team can be if Drummond is its best player. The past eight years in Detroit proved that. It’s impossible for a center in the modern NBA to lead a team anywhere if their best skill is rebounding.
Drummond is essentially a souped-up version of Tristan Thompson who will want a ton of money in free agency this summer (he also has a $28.8 million player option he could exercise). He could help a lot of teams around the league if he was willing to accept a smaller role. But so could Thompson. And about 20 other centers.
If there’s a bright side for the Cavs in acquiring Drummond, it’s that they don’t have anywhere else to spend the money. No one who would move the needle would take it from them in free agency, anyway.
Not much will change in Cleveland. Drummond will set screens for Collin Sexton and Darius Garland and then yell at them for not passing him the ball. Kevin Love and him will blame each other for defensive breakdowns. And the Cavs will lose a lot of games.
Drummond is 26. He could be a valuable player in a couple of seasons if Cleveland manages to put a sensible core of players around him, but the front office hasn’t shown much of an ability to do that.
None of the players the Pistons got back for Andre Drummond (John Henson and Brandon Knight) matter for the team’s future. The exciting part about the deal is the opportunity it creates for Christian Wood, the team’s true promising young center.
There might not be a more undervalued player in the league right now than Wood. Everything about his profile screams journeyman. He’s a 24-year-old who went undrafted out of UNLV and has played for five teams in the past five seasons. But he has the skill set of a lottery pick. He’s an athletic 6-foot-10 player with the ability to shoot 3s, dribble into shots, finish at the rim, protect the paint, clean the glass, and defend on the perimeter.
Wood, like a lot of young big men, just needed time to mature on and off the court. This is his first real opportunity to show what he can do at the NBA level. Detroit is his fifth team, but he’s already played almost as many games for them (49) as his first four teams combined (51).
The big man has been dominant in a small role backing up Drummond. He’s averaging 10.5 points on 57 percent shooting in 18 minutes per game. The Pistons go from a net rating of plus-3.2 with him on the floor (the second best of any player in their rotation) to minus-6.2 without him (the worst).
This isn’t a guy who could be a decent starter. Wood has the potential to be a legitimate star. And now he’s finally getting the chance to prove himself.
Trading for Clint Capela and Dewayne Dedmon should dramatically improve a team whose only traditional centers were Alex Len, Bruno Fernando, and Damian Jones. And the Hawks didn’t have to give up much to get the two big men—one first-round pick and a slew of veterans (Len, Jabari Parker, Evan Turner, and Chandler Parsons) who weren’t part of their future.
What do these deals mean for John Collins, who had been splitting time between the 4 and 5 positions? Collins, served a 25-game suspension for using PEDs, then returned to put up huge numbers as a pick-and-roll partner with Trae Young and play the best defense of his career. But it still wasn’t good enough. The Hawks had a defensive rating of 110.6 in 404 minutes with him at the 5. That number would have ranked no. 20 in the NBA this season, but to be fair, it was still higher than the Hawks’ defensive rating (113.5) as a whole.
One of the biggest concerns about Atlanta’s plan to create their own version of the Warriors was whether Collins could fill the same small-ball 5 role as Draymond Green. Having to slot a center without shooting range like Capela next to Collins gives the franchise a completely different dynamic.
Collins will have to keep improving as a 3-point shooter to make this work. He’s averaging career highs in attempts (3.7 per game) and percentage (35.8) but it’s still not enough to open up the floor for Capela to roll to the rim.
Dedmon, who is returning to Atlanta after a brief (but highly lucrative) pit stop in Sacramento, is a more natural frontcourt partner for Collins since he can be the one stretching the floor. But his 3-point shooting fell off a cliff this season and he will have to force teams to respect his shot once again from the perimeter.
It’s a lot of moving pieces up front. The Hawks don’t have enough talent to move on from Collins, so they have to find some way to make it work.