The 2023 NBA trade deadline has borne more fruit than expected.
In the build-up to the deadline, Kyrie Irving’s move from the Brooklyn Nets to the Dallas Mavericks generated the most headlines, but more action didn’t emerge until the final day.
Then, Wednesday night going into early Thursday morning in Eastern Standard Time roared onto the platform after Kevin Durant’s blockbuster trade to the Phoenix Suns, which blew open the doors in the Western Conference, along with other deals that trickled in throughout.
So, which teams won the deadline and which ones failed to optimize the opportunity? Let’s take a look:
Winner: Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers sorely needed help from elsewhere to right yet another sinking-ship season. Enter the Utah Jazz. With Los Angeles seeking to unload Russell Westbrook’s $47 million expiring contract, Utah helped by taking a lightly protected 2027 first-rounder. But the Jazz also sent back Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt, with the third-team Minnesota Timberwolves adding D’Angelo Russell as a piece that went to the Lakers. Mike Conley went to Minnesota from Utah.
Los Angeles also moved Thomas Bryant, a non-defensive center, to Denver for Davon Reed and three second-round picks before adding Mo Bamba for Patrick Beverley and a second-round pick.
All in all, in a game of margins, the Lakers definitely moved the needle in the final few years of the LeBron James-Anthony Davis window. Are these moves significant enough to contend? Never say never, but, on paper, they upgraded, and they should grab a playoff spot. If not, well, things would get interesting.
Loser: Brooklyn Nets
Obviously a team can never plan to lose their two biggest stars in a one-week span, but the Nets suffered that unfortunate fate. New head coach Jacque Vaughn displayed serious promise as Brooklyn spearheaded the Eastern Conference ladder despite a sluggish start, but all that hard work has spiraled down the drain.
Durant and Irving led to a player-horde arrival comprising Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson, with Jae Crowder being rerouted to Milwaukee. Though they did collect a treasure trove of draft picks.
Sophomore flamethrower Cam Thomas is now the main man in Brooklyn, and this team could still make the postseason via the play-in tournament, but there’s no doubt that the Nets’ project of Durant-Irving-James Harden/Ben Simmons failed miserably. Expect more movement in the offseason as they retool for the future.
Winner: Phoenix Suns
When you’re a small-market franchise like the Suns and a chance to contend for the NBA title is viable, you push all the chips to the middle of the table.
Depth concerns aside – which are legitimate issues – having Durant alongside Devin Booker, Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton is a unique amalgamation of weapons that could decimate teams by the bunches.
If healthy, those four will play heavy minutes in the postseason to mitigate the depth concerns, though players like Cameron Payne, Landry Shamet and Co. will need to step it up when necessary. On paper, they surely seem like a clear-cut title favorite, but let’s see how it plays out in the months ahead before jumping to any conclusions. Regardless if the Suns scorch their way to the title, this is still a move other small markets would’ve loved to make.
Loser: Toronto Raptors, Chicago Bulls
Let’s lump these two teams together because they’re in the same boat. Both have underperformed all season and don’t seem destined for a deep postseason run for the second year in a row, barring Toronto landing some favorable matchups should it qualify.
Each team needed to make a decision – trade off their best assets and rebuild or keep pushing through hoping for things to improve. Both chose the latter, with only the Raptors trading for Jakob Poeltl to beef up their frontcourt depth.
Hindsight is 20/20, but it currently doesn’t seem like the wisest plan for either side.
Loser: Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers’ marquee trade involved sending Matisse Thybulle to Portland and landing Jalen McDaniels from Charlotte in a three-team trade, but that hardly moves the needle for them out East.
Sure, the roster under Joel Embiid, James Harden and Tyrese Maxey is adequate enough to collect wins in the regular season, but it’s been a familiar story for them to crumble come the postseason.
With a huge lack of quality and depth outside of that triumvirate, it appears that Philly may not have something special brewing. McDaniels is a solid acquisition if a team has more quality pieces, but he doesn’t position the Sixers any higher than they currently are.
Winner: Atlanta Hawks – The Hawks forked over five second-round picks to Golden State in a three-team deal that landed them Saddiq Bey from Detroit. Atlanta is also underperforming this year, but getting Bey, who can play either forward spot and decently stretch the floor, is an underrated pickup.
Loser: Sacramento Kings – The Kings have lit their way to the No. 3 seed out West, but they stood pat at the deadline bar the acquisition of Kessler Edwards before the league-wide chaos ensued.
Now the question is: Can they hold onto a top-six seed? Every other team in the Pacific Division upgraded, Dallas added Irving, Minnesota will get back a healthy Karl-Anthony Towns and New Orleans with Zion Williamson.
Continuity and chemistry is the main factor helping Sacramento, but, albeit early, it feels like a missed opportunity not to capitalize on the situation amid a 16-year playoff drought.