Fears of an underwhelming N.B.A. trade deadline were washed away on Thursday, when at least 11 separate deals came to fruition before the league’s 3 p.m. Eastern time buzzer.
Further fears that the most significant action of the week would belong to Major League Baseball — after the Los Angeles Dodgers’ deal with the Boston Red Sox to acquire Mookie Betts and David Price — were at last somewhat alleviated by the Golden State Warriors’ willingness to trade away D’Angelo Russell on such a frenzied day.
In all, there were 12 N.B.A. trades this week involving more than 40 current players and numerous future draft picks. Here are five major takeaways from the league’s latest transactional storm:
The Biggest Trade
In strict numerical terms, it doesn’t get much bigger than the four-team, 12-player blockbuster on Wednesday that landed Clint Capela with the Atlanta Hawks and Robert Covington with the Houston Rockets.
On deadline day, however, Minnesota managed to pull off something even bigger: The Timberwolves persuaded the Warriors to part with Russell.
The Warriors, truth be told, had always intended to trade Russell for a better-fitting player after acquiring the point guard in a sign-and-trade deal last summer with the Nets as part of Kevin Durant’s free-agent move from the Bay Area. But it happened even faster than the Warriors planned; they figured Russell would spend one full season as a Warrior while Klay Thompson (knee) — and eventually Stephen Curry (hand), as well — recovered from serious injury.
The Wolves, after missing out on Russell in free agency, sped up that timetable by agreeing to send Golden State their first- and second-round draft picks in 2021 along with Andrew Wiggins, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2014.
Minnesota’s motivation: Russell and the Wolves’ center Karl-Anthony Towns are close friends who badly want to play together. Russell’s arrival will surely lift Towns’s sagging spirits in the midst of the Wolves’ 5-27 slide that, along with a knee injury, kept Towns from earning an All-Star berth.
For Golden State, there’s little doubt that Wiggins has the potential to flourish as merely its fourth-most important player alongside Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green — but Wiggins hasn’t come close to fulfilling his potential since he was drafted. Although there are also financial savings for the Warriors with this move, no shortage of skeptics will question whether the team can indeed get the best out of Wiggins.
The Biggest Flex
Less than a year ago, amid much eye-rolling, Miami’s Pat Riley proclaimed that the Heat, after missing the playoffs, were on the verge of a return to prominence — even with no salary-cap space. Riley then went out and lured the marquee free agent Jimmy Butler to South Beach in July via sign-and-trade — followed this week by a significant trade to bolster the Heat as they unexpectedly reside in the East’s top four.
A swap with Memphis to acquire Andre Iguodala, the most valuable player of the 2015 N.B.A. finals, along with a quality perimeter defender in Jae Crowder, should make the Heat even more of a concern for the East-leading Milwaukee Bucks. A two-year, $30 million extension Riley awarded to Iguodala as part of the trade, with a team option in Year 2, enables Miami to keep Iguodala away from a widely expected return to Golden State next season — without affecting the salary-cap space Riley is hoarding for the summer of 2021 and a potential free-agent pursuit of Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Riley was foiled in his attempts to bring Oklahoma City into the deal and likewise add the perimeter threat of Danilo Gallinari. But Iguodala and Crowder are meaningful additions — while Memphis, which has taken considerable criticism for letting Iguodala wait at home as it searched for a trade for him, proved its doubters wrong and acquired the former lottery pick Justise Winslow in the process.
The Biggest Surprise
Just when it seemed that the trade market had dried up completely for Andre Drummond, Detroit struck a deal to send him to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the final hour before the deadline.
The Pistons, though, netted a remarkably small return for a player averaging 17.8 points and 15.8 rebounds; Cleveland got Drummond for two out-of-favor veterans (John Henson and Brandon Knight) and a 2023 second-round pick.
In other words, the league’s diminishing appreciation for big men who aren’t adept perimeter shooters continues — even for big men as productive as Drummond.
Of course, Cleveland’s thinking here is fuzzy in its own right, no matter the discount price. The Cavaliers already have Tristan Thompson (whom they did not trade) and still have to find a trade destination for the disgruntled Kevin Love (who has three seasons and $91.5 million left on his contract after this season). Now Drummond joins them to form a trio of established frontcourt players marooned far, far away from playoff contention.
The Biggest Question Mark
Philadelphia was a contender for this dishonor after the recent admission from Al Horford that the underachieving 76ers, mired in a tie for fifth in the East entering Thursday’s play, have “some stuff going on in our locker room.”
Those issues persist for the Sixers, who appear to badly miss Butler. But they did manage to make two minor upgrades for their bench by acquiring Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III from Golden State despite their limited trade assets.
Less clear is how the Rockets fared at the deadline after they were forced to surrender Capela and his team-friendly contract to reacquire the much-coveted Covington.
The Rockets will be hard for some teams to guard, but Houston will also be relying on the 6-foot-5 P.J. Tucker as its primary center for the rest of the season. Even if Covington flourishes next to James Harden and Russell Westbrook, it’s hard to take a team that small too seriously — even in the small-ball era.
The Biggest Markets
The Los Angeles Lakers decided on Thursday afternoon to pull Kyle Kuzma off the trade market. That cleared a path for the Los Angeles Clippers to acquire the Knicks’ Marcus Morris and keep him away from their Staples Center co-tenants.
It will be easier to assess the two teams, as well as the East’s top title contenders, after the buyout market shakes out. A handful of veterans in the final year of their contracts will secure buyouts from their current teams before March 1 in time to preserve their playoff eligibility to join title-chasing teams such as the Lakers and Clippers. The Lakers also will soon audition the free-agent guard J.R. Smith, who won a title alongside LeBron James in Cleveland, and are considered the favorites to sign the point guard Darren Collison — should Collison decide to make his much-anticipated N.B.A. comeback after the All-Star break.
The reality, though, is that perhaps nothing we just saw was as league-shaking as the Knicks’ decision to hire the longtime player agent Leon Rose as their next team president, according to a person with knowledge of the plans who was not authorized to discuss them publicly.
The timing of Tuesday’s ouster of Steve Mills remains dubious because it needlessly turned the Knicks’ deadline week into a roller coaster. Yet it must be said that the Knicks, despite Rose’s lack of prior front-office experience, got the whole N.B.A.’s attention by persuading Rose to surrender one of the most lucrative agent seats in the industry and take on the challenge of hauling this franchise out of its considerable hole.
If James L. Dolan, who owns the team, and the Knicks were not prepared to go the most advisable route and undertake the protracted pursuit of a proven team-builder like Toronto’s Masai Ujiri, or one of Ujiri’s highly rated peers under contract elsewhere, they at least managed to lure a well-connected and widely respected figure to Madison Square Garden. Mark it down as a decent step for a franchise that badly needs one.
How much authority and autonomy Rose actually gets is sure to tell us much more.