While the Bulls chose to sit out the NBA trade deadline, several contending teams made moves to improve their chances come playoff time.
The Los Angeles Clippers beat out their city rivals in the race to sign Kawhi Leonard last summer, and they did it again at the deadline, acquiring versatile forward Marcus Morris from the Knicks for Moe Harkless and a 1st round draft pick.
Morris is expected to immediately slide into the Clippers’ starting lineup, giving Doc Rivers three two-way wing players who can switch everything on the defensive end and are capable of scoring inside and out. The 30-year-old Morris is having the best season of his NBA career, averaging 19.6 points with 43.9% shooting from the 3-point line.
Morris has also had a degree of success defending LeBron James in the past, so the Clippers will try to wear LeBron down if they meet in the playoffs with Morris, Leonard, and Paul George all taking their turns defensively. It’s an A+ addition for the Clippers, who already had the best bench in the league, and now can use young shooting guard Landry Shamet as another scoring option with the 2nd unit.
Meanwhile, the Lakers were unable to get anything done at the deadline. They wanted Morris badly, but the Knicks were insisting on young forward Kyle Kuzma in any potential deal, and the Lakers ultimately decided that was too high of a price to pay.
Look for Lakers’ GM Rob Pelinka to pursue veteran help on the buyout market and with the possible addition of point guard Darren Collison, who’s looking to make a comeback after retiring unexpectedly at the end of last season.
The battle for basketball supremacy in Los Angeles figures to rage on for the next few years, and what a show it will be if the Clippers and Lakers meet up in this season’s Western Conference Finals.
Houston is in win-now mode with star guards James Harden and Russell Westbrook both on the wrong side of 30, but I’m not a big fan of their pre-deadline move to trade athletic rim runner and shot-blocker Clint Capela to Atlanta in a four-team deal that brought Chicago area native Robert Covington to the Rockets.
We know Mike D’Antoni is a fan of small ball, but how are you going to beat teams like Utah, Denver, and the Lakers without a true center? Right now, the plan is to start 6-foot-5 P.J. Tucker at center and try to outscore teams with Westbrook pushing the pace, surrounded by Harden, Covington and Eric Gordon on the wings.
Will it be fun to watch? Maybe, but ultimately I think it will result in a 1st round playoff loss and the end of D’Antoni’s coaching run in Houston.
In the Eastern Conference, most analysts are praising Pat Riley for acquiring former Finals MVP Andre Iguodala in a trade with Memphis. But outside of gaining future salary cap flexibility by unloading the contracts of Dion Waiters and former Bulls’ 1st round draft pick James Johnson, did the Heat really improve their roster all that much? Miami had to send the talented, but often injured Justice Winslow to Memphis, and took back veteran forwards Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill, who are at best slight upgrades over Johnson and Waiters. Iguodala is 36, and even though he’s said to be in great shape, he only averaged 5.7 points and 3.7 rebounds last season for the powerhouse Warriors.
Iguodala and Crowder will provide defense in potential playoff matchups against Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks), Jayson Tatum (Celtics) and Tobias Harris (76ers), but they hardly bring enough on the offensive end to help carry Jimmy Butler and the Heat to the Finals.
If Riley had been able to acquire sharp-shooting power forward Danilo Gallinari in the deal (and he tried!), I would be willing to elevate Miami to legitimate contending status. But Gallinari insisted on a two-year contract extension, and Riley wanted to preserve 2021 cap space for a possible run at Antetokounmpo if he becomes a free agent. So, the Oklahoma City portion of the trade fell through, leaving Miami as an improved team, but one lacking experienced big-game scorers.
The Sixers picked up some much-needed outside shooting by acquiring Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III from the Warriors for three 2nd round draft picks. Burks is quietly having an outstanding season, averaging 16.1 points while shooting 37.5% from 3 point range. Robinson is converting on 40% of his attempts from beyond the arc, averaging 12.9 points a game. Both players should provide floor spacing for a Philadelphia offense that’s sputtered at times this season.
Milwaukee stood pat at the deadline, not willing to disrupt the outstanding team chemistry that’s helped the Bucks to a 43-7 record. Same story with the defending NBA champion Raptors, who are riding a franchise-record 12 game winning streak, and the Celtics, who are comfortable with their current center rotation of Daniel Theis, Enes Kanter, and Robert Williams.
Two other trades of note. Golden State is already getting ready for next season, acquiring Andrew Wiggins, a protected 202 1st round pick and a 2021 2nd rounder from Minnesota for former All-Star D’Angelo Russell. The Warriors believe their championship culture can bring the best out of Wiggins, who’s been a huge disappointment for the Timberwolves after signing a max contract extension that still has three seasons remaining.
If anyone can get a buy-in from Wiggins, it’s probably Steve Kerr. The Warriors are hoping the 6-foot-7 Wiggins will thrive at the small forward position, getting all kinds of open shots when defenses pay extra attention to Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Wiggins is a better positional fit than the 6-foot-4 Russell, who is a point guard most effective with the ball in his hands. And, if the Wiggins experiment fails, the Warriors can always look to package him with a 1st round pick in another trade down the line.
Russell is a good friend of Timberwolves’ star center Karl-Anthony Towns, who hasn’t won a game he’s played in since November (that streak is now 17 games and counting). The feeling in Minnesota is adding Russell should help Towns be a little more patient with the current rebuild and lessen the possibility he’ll demand a trade. Only time will tell if that’s the case because there isn’t much talent around the two former All-Stars.
Finally, who would have predicted a rebounding machine and former All-Star like Andre Drummond would only bring a 2nd round draft pick and two expiring contracts in trade?
That’s all the Pistons were able to get from Cleveland in a deal before the deadline.
Drummond leads the league in rebounding and is a capable inside scorer, but he isn’t particularly mobile and doesn’t shoot 3 pointers, which is what most teams are looking for in their centers. The Pistons are anxious to get a rebuild underway and were concerned Drummond would exercise his 28 million dollar player option for next season.
So, they traded him to Cleveland for pennies on the dollar.
Drummond will play alongside Kevin Love, who failed to generate any trade interest this week because of the three years and $90 million dollars left on his contract. Five years ago, the idea of pairing Drummond and Love on the same frontline would be an exciting prospect for teams around the league. Now Cleveland GM Koby Altman will spend the rest of the regular season trying to figure out how he can get the most out of a roster with both of those players on it.
Yes, the times are changing in the NBA, and the trade deadline proved again how valuable 2-way perimeter players are for any team that hopes to win a championship.