While my colleague’s Chicago Bulls chose to sit out the NBA trade deadline, a whole lot of other teams chose to make moves. Given how completely up for grabs this year’s league seems to be, especially in the Western Conference where 13 of the 15 teams are still within three games of a playoff or play-in berth as we approach the two-thirds pole, it’s understandable.
The biggest news of this week was undoubtedly the dismantling of what was a Brooklyn Nets superteam that began when James Harden forced his way to Philadelphia roughly a year ago, and was completed this week when Kyrie Irving’s “feelings of disrespect” and Kevin Durant’s blind loyalty to his friend resulted in their joining the Western Conference logjam in Dallas and Phoenix, respectively. In the world of “Let’s Make A Deal”, these were, without question, the Big Deals of the Day.
But for those as familiar with the daily series as I am (and, yes, I confess it’s white noise most mornings while I work), the flurry of activity before the deadline yesterday afternoon more closely resembled the “quickie deals” that are often conducted just before the show’s sign-off. In the last 24 hours before the deadline, no less than 16 deals were consumated, with 38 second round draft picks (the equivalent of penny stocks) added to the mix of dozens of players switching locations, many of whom returned to their former teams. Anyone who still had an Eric Gordon Clippers jersey or a George Hill Pacers t-shirt *both of them) is washing out the mothballs from those clothing articles today.
There are probably a few more Gary Payton II fans among Dub Nation that are happy, but the steep price Golden State paid to reacquire a valuable role player they foolishly let go to free agency while they pursued a path with younger players that proved not to be as ready for prime time as management had hoped seems, in hindsight, to be reactive. But for a team that is on the cusp of potentially not even getting a chance to defend its NBA championship, and with Steph Curry no closer to full health than at any point during this frustratingly truncated season, it was a bit more necessary than many of the quickie deals that went down yesterday afternoon,
Most of the moves yesterday involved making disgruntled relocated players happier, such as D’Angelo Russell coming back to the Lakers, John Wall going back to Houston and Jakob Poeltl returning to Toronto. It also involved doormats like the Rockets, Pistons and Michael Jordan’s Charlotte Hornets trading current assets for future potential, on the surface eye-rolling but at least giving them some hope for something better down the road.
Which, amazingly, could be how it all comes full circle for the Nets. As Colin Ward-Henninger of CBSSports.com points out, depending upon how one interprets success, Brooklyn is both the home of failure and renaissance:
Loser: Brooklyn Nets (past)
The KD-Kyrie era in Brooklyn is over, and there’s no way to characterize it as anything but an abject failure. One playoff series victory, just 74 games played with Irving and Durant on the floor together, and plenty of coach firings, trade requests and off-court drama along the way. In the last few days the Nets have gone from a legitimate title contender with Durant and Irving to a rebuilding franchise looking for the clearest path back to the top of the mountain. That’s a rough hit to take.
Winner: Brooklyn Nets (future)
Despite the depression of the aforementioned fall from grace, Brooklyn squeezed about every asset it could out of Durant and Irving. Five unprotected first-round picks (replenishing their cabinet after dealing most of their draft assets to Houston in the James Harden deal), a 2028 pick swap, a young, borderline All-Star in Mikal Bridges, proven role players in Cam Johnson, Dorian Finney-Smith and Spencer Dinwiddie, and a couple of second-round picks is a solid haul. Now the Nets have decisions to make regarding their future, but they at least have options moving forward — not something every team can say after dealing one superstar, let alone two.
And so far, the Nets aren’t doing all that bad. Since Irving’s departure, they were competitive in close losses to the Suns and Clippers, and they beat Eastern foes, including a win on national TV last night in the wake of the Durant move. Led by a suddenly prolific Cam Thomas, and another homecoming honeymooner in Spencer Dinwiddie, part of the considerable haul obtained from Dallas for Kyrie, they are still very much in the mix for a playoff berth, and there are more games remaining against the likes of Detroit and Charlotte down the road.
Not to mention the team they beat last night. Those confident, deal-avoiding Chicago Bulls.
Well, at least they didn’t get zonked.