NBA trade deadline 2018: What can we learn from 2017's blockbuster deals?
The Butler, Cousins, George and Irving trades show that immediate reactions often miss the mark
Everybody loves blockbuster deals. With any luck,will be the first of a few major trades that shake up the league before the Feb. 8 deadline. Part of the fun is that, when those moves are made, they will be analyzed, criticized and graded. Inevitably, some of those immediate reactions will seem smart and others will seem silly.
With that in mind, let's take a look back at the four biggest trades of 2017, which gave Kyrie Irving, Paul George, Jimmy Butler and DeMarcus Cousins new homes. The takeaway, even just a little while later, is that most of our initial reactions were way off.
The Boogie breakup
: There was a whole wave of Kings criticism, especially when president Vlade Divac that he had a better deal on the table two days earlier. It seemed amazing that the Pelicans were able to pull this off.
Since then: New Orleans waived Casspi when he broke his thumb, costing his Bird rights in an ill-fated push for the postseason. Evans signed a one-year, $3.3 million deal with the Memphis Grizzlies last summer and has been one of the best bargains in the league this season. Galloway signed a three-year, $21 million deal with the Detroit Pistons last summer. Hield has shot pretty well, and Jackson has not. Mason has sometimes looked like the Kings' best rookie. Eight days after Cousins and Anthony Davis were both named All-Star starters, Cousins tore his Achilles tendon.
Variables: The big one here is Cousins' free agency. It is possible that he has played his last game for New Orleans, which would mean that the front office essentially gave up two first-round picks, two expiring contracts and a high second-round pick for 65 games of Cousins and one game of Casspi. At the same time, the verdict is still out on all of Sacramento's young players, including De'Aaron Fox, who wasn't in the trade but almost certainly wouldn't be on the roster if it had kept Cousins and tried to win as many games as possible last season.
Reassessing: This is the toughest of the four blockbusters to evaluate. Before the injury, the Pelicans were playing the best basketball of the Cousins-Davis era. If they remain the future of the franchise and the front office can strengthen the supporting cast, then this trade will still look like a win for New Orleans. The downside is scary, though.
While you cannot say Sacramento made out like bandits here, it's worth wondering what you'd think about this deal if it had selected Donovan Mitchell instead of trading the No. 10 pick (or even selected Mitchell over Fox). The Kings got themselves some nice flexibility by moving Cousins, but it's fair to question their roster decisions and player development. Skal Labissiere, for example, got more minutes after the deal last season, but has already been made available in trade talks, according to the Sacramento Bee.
: Everybody laughed at the Bulls. They traded a star in his prime for a guy (LaVine) they'd probably have to overpay, an older rookie that struggled in his first season and a pick with questionable upside. Oh, and they gave up a first-round pick in the deal, too? Rough.
Since then: Markkanen has flourished beyond anybody's wildest expectations and Dunn has looked like a totally different, freer player than he was under Tom Thibodeau. LaVine recently returned from a torn ACL and shouldn't be judged on his early play. Butler has played like an MVP candidate and is leading the Timberwolves to their most successful season since Kevin Garnett, Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell led them to the Western Conference finals 14 years ago. Patton broke his foot shortly after the draft and has yet to make his NBA debut, but he has been doing fine in the G League.
Variables: Five big questions: What will LaVine command in restricted free agency this summer? Can LaVine round out his game? Will Dunn ever be an efficient offensive player? Is Markkanen destined for stardom? Will the Wolves be able to surround their stars with enough talent to compete for championships when Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns sign their next contracts (assuming that Butler wants to stay)?
Reassessing: It still feels like the Bulls should have been able to keep the pick used on Patton, but this no longer looks like robbery. Chicago needed a new direction, and it has been genuinely fun to watch its young guys in coach Fred Hoiberg's system this season. Markkanen has a chance to be special.
The way Butler is producing, though, you can also make a credible case that the Bulls should have kept him, put shooters around him and let him cook. This dude is dominant, and there is no way that Minnesota has any regrets here. It's fun thinking about what the Wolves would look like if they had drafted O.G. Anunoby or Kyle Kuzma.
Oklahoma City Thunder received: Paul George
: Thunder general manager Sam Presti looked like a genius, seemingly swooping in out of nowhere to steal a superstar that had put the Pacers in a terrible position.
Since then: Oladipowith a higher true shooting percentage than George has ever had and a higher usage rate than George had in his final year in Indiana. Sabonis has , establishing himself as a core part of the Pacers' future. George has been his usual self on a team that was inconsistent for much of the season but has won eight games in a row.
Variables: George implied last week that he's leaning toward staying with the Thunder, but how much will his current feelings matter if they have a disappointing showing in the playoffs? His future in Oklahoma City is still an unknown.
Reassessing: The critics were way, way too harsh on the Pacers. Oladipo was seen as overpaid, but now his $21 million price tag looks team-friendly. Sabonis has fit into Roy Hibbert was an All-Star and Lance Stephenson was blowing in LeBron James' ear.perfectly. Nobody is making fun of general manager Kevin Pritchard anymore, and the only potential problem for Indiana is that the team's success means that its first-round pick won't be great in June. This is the most interesting Indiana has been since
None of this, however, means that Presti's front office did anything foolish. Renting George was always risky, but it helped them sign Russell Westbrook to a five-year contract extension. The way Oklahoma City is playing lately, it is easy to argue that George's best option in the summer will be staying put.
Flat Earth-shattering news
Boston Celtics received: Kyrie Irving
: Newly named Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman was seen as a hero for salvaging a bad situation, at least until the trade was held up because of Thomas' health. The thought was that Thomas could at least approximate Irving's production, Crowder would make them more versatile and the Brooklyn pick would give them hope for a post-LeBron future (or a nice trade chip).
Celtics president Danny Ainge was praised for being bold, but it also looked like they were giving up a heck of a lot here, not to mention the fact that it seemed cold-blooded to trade Thomas after he played hurt, played through tears after his sister's death and became a cult hero in Boston.
Since then: Irving has thrived under coach Brad Stevens, with Boston occupying the top spot in the Eastern Conference for the vast majority of the season despite star swingman Gordon Hayward suffering a brutal leg injury on opening night. Crowder has mysteriously fallen off, Thomas has (predictably) struggled since coming back from his hip injury and Zizic has played a total of 41 minutes all season. Cleveland is in desperation mode, searching for trades that will fix its defense in the next nine days.
Variables: No one knows where the Nets -- currently the league's sixth-worst team -- will finish in the standings or how the lottery will play out. No one knows what the Cavs roster will look like at the end of next week. James' free agency hangs over everything, and Thomas' free agency will be fascinating.
Reassessing: Ainge knew what he was doing, as cold-blooded as it was to trade Thomas. Irving's numbers aren't much different than they were in Cleveland, but he is obviously happier. Crowder hasn't been missed because Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have been so good so soon. The Nets pick could still turn into a star, but it's not like Boston is short on young talent.
The Cavs' point guard play without Irving has been a huge issue. There's no telling if Thomas is going to recapture his All-Star form before the playoffs start, and everyone knows Derrick Rose isn't the answer. This roster needed more depth and more two-way players, and it's not clear if Altman's front office will be able to plug these holes in time. If this season isn't salvaged, well, at least they'll have the Brooklyn pick, I guess?
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