NBA trade deadline winners and losers: Cavs fans shouldn't pop champagne yet
The Cavaliers' moves can't be judged properly until LeBron James makes his next big decision
The trade deadline has come and gone, and the NBA looks considerably different. The Cleveland Cavaliers overhauled their roster, the Los Angeles Lakers reached cap-space nirvana, the Miami Heat reunited with Dwyane Wade and the Utah Jazz punted on Rodney Hood. Let's take a look at the winners and losers (and the TBDs):
Los Angeles Lakers: As much as I love Larry Nance Jr., their trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers was exactly what the front office wanted. Clearing Jordan Clarkson's contract puts Los Angeles in position to offer two maximum contracts this summer, when everybody on Earth thinks Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka will try to sign LeBron James and Paul George. It is kind of incredible that the Cavaliers felt comfortable helping the Lakers in this way.
The move also gives Johnson and Pelinka a first-round pick in this year's draft. First-rounders are hard to acquire in this market, and the Lakers' own pick is going to either Boston or Philly depending on what happens in the lottery. Even if they bought out Thomas and Frye -- which will not happen, according to ESPN's Ramona Shelburne -- I would consider this a massive win.
Jae Crowder: If the Boston version of Crowder is still inside of him, he should bounce back in Utah. Coach Quin Snyder's system is a perfect fit for the forward, who looked out of place the entire time he was in Cleveland. With the Jazz he'll do much less standing around and more cutting, screening and ball-moving. Maybe his 3-point percentage will rise, too -- if that happens, he can once again be referred to as one of the best bargains and most effective 3-and-D players in the league.
Dwyane Wade: It was a nice idea to play with his best friend again, but the on-court fit just didn't make sense. If Cleveland didn't move Wade, its other moves would have reduced his role. This was a classy gesture from the Cavs, sending him back to the place where he probably planned to finish his career anyway. Wade never really wanted to leave the Miami Heat, and now he'll get to have his storybook ending.
Jameer Nelson: This dude just keeps bouncing around, but it's lovely that he gets to reunite with former Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. The Detroit Pistons need Nelson to run their offense and space the floor, and I'll bet he remains in the rotation even when Reggie Jackson returns from injury.
Joe Johnson: The Sacramento Kings are going to buy him out, and Yahoo Sports' Chris Mannix reported that the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics will be in the running for his services. It is always nice to be wanted by contenders and be able to control your own destiny. (Johnson already knows this: The same thing happened two years ago and he chose to join the Heat.)
Isaiah Thomas: Does he even start? He would definitely not be thrilled about returning to a sixth-man role after ascending to the league's elite, but Johnson called Lonzo Ball "the new face of the Lakers" right after drafting him and reaffirmed that Ball is the starter on Thursday. Would they both start? I doubt Kentavious Caldwell-Pope would love that, but coach Luke Walton told reporters he envisions the two point guards playing together. After all the bad press Thomas has dealt with in Cleveland, the last thing he needs is more drama in Los Angeles in a contract year.
Derrick Rose: This is just sad. Yahoo Sports' Shams Charania reported that he will likely be bought out, which prompts the question: Does any team want him? Early indications are that Tom Thibodeau's Timberwolves are ready to take a chance on Rose despite already employing Jeff Teague and Tyus Jones, via the New York Times' Marc Stein. I don't see another natural landing spot for him, and we should remember that guys like Ty Lawson and Brandon Jennings went to China after a lack of interest in free agency and Monta Ellis is no longer playing professional basketball. Rose has not been a net-positive NBA player for years now, and ESPN reported he was contemplating retirement in November. Rose denied this, but there is at least a chance that his career is near the end.
Sacramento Kings: In a vacuum, getting the Heat's second-round pick and $3 million cash isn't a bad day. It's just a bummer that the Kings had to take Johnson and Iman Shumpert -- the latter of whom will make $11 million next season -- in order to rid themselves of Hill's contract. Hill was supposed to be their marquee free-agent signing, helping Sacramento become more competitive while showing its young guards the ropes. This did not work at all, and the front office had to pay a price to undo that decision. Giving up on Malachi Richardson, the No. 22 pick in the 2016 draft, looks pretty bad, too.
Denver Nuggets: They dumped point guard Emmanuel Mudiay to the Knicks in order to … add Devin Harris and swap second-round picks with the Knicks? I guess their goal this season was to find out what they had in Mudiay and Jamal Murray, and they came to the conclusion that Mudiay was expendable. Still, this trade is underwhelming, especially because "veteran point guard" shouldn't have been a need for them: they waived Nelson at the beginning of the season.
Atlanta Hawks: Almost everyone on their roster was available, but the Hawks failed to do anything aside from trading Luke Babbitt for Okaro White. It seems crazy that they didn't at least get some second-round picks out of Dewayne Dedmon, Ersan Ilyasova, Marco Belinelli and Mike Muscala.
Memphis Grizzlies: Tyreke Evans is having a career season, and they got nothing for him? Can't wrap my head around this one.
Cleveland Cavaliers: On one hand, the Cavs made an amazing, three-team deal where they somehow turned Derrick Rose, Iman Shumpert and Jae Crowder into Rodney Hood and George Hill. They are way younger and more versatile than they were this morning, and they have the potential to be a much better defensive team. If the front office's job was to convince LeBron they are serious about winning this season, then it accomplished that -- without trading the Brooklyn pick. That's a clear win.
On the other hand, the additions of Clarkson and Nance come with a cost: enabling the Lakers' grand free agency plan. If James goes to Los Angeles, this trade will look quite different than it does today. That is why it is difficult to evaluate it from a big-picture perspective: we don't know if this ultimately helps or hurts Cleveland's chances of keeping him.
Utah Jazz: Trading Hood and Johnson felt like a half-measure. The Jazz are not necessarily worse with Crowder, and it's nice that they got something for Hood rather than letting him walk, but they might wind up getting nothing for Derrick Favors. Let's see what happens with their playoff push and the big man's free agency before judging this one either way.
New York Knicks: They got a former No. 7 overall pick, Mudiay, for Doug McDermott. The 26-year-old McDermott played well for New York, but the front office is clearly betting on the 21-year-old Mudiay's upside. There is risk here, in that the Knicks drafted Frank Ntilikina with the No. 8 pick last June. They both have size, so it's possible that they can share the backcourt, but it's also possible that Mudiay's presence ends up blocking Ntilikina's development.
Los Angeles Clippers: They got a discount when they re-signed Lou Williams on Wednesday, and then they decided not to trade DeAndre Jordan or Avery Bradley before the deadline. All of this keeps the Clippers exciting for this season, but they'll look back and regret this if Jordan and Bradley aren't around long-term.
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