Last week’s NBA trade deadline was certainly an entertaining spectacle, but one that the Boston Celtics chose to stay out of despite several rumors.
Marcus Smart was apparently on the block for a first-rounder, while Tyreke Evans’ name was linked to Boston, but a deal never came to fruition with the Memphis Grizzlies, who were rumored to be asking for a first-rounder as well.
Another NBA trade deadline passed with the Celtics not being able to acquire the talents of Anthony Davis, however this year was far quieter than some of the recent past. In the end, Danny Ainge and the Celtics chose to remain intact to finish the season, a decision that mirrored last season when Boston was No. 2 in the East at the break and was unable to acquire a transcendent player like Davis.
With this roster exceeding expectations so far this season, bringing in a rotational piece might mess up chemistry and flow of the team, which was atop the Eastern Conference. Boston did make one move earlier in the week, and that was acquiring center Greg Monroe’s services once he reached a buyout with the Phoenix Suns last week. Monroe chose Boston over several other teams, and will join on a one-year, $5 million deal. He will bring much needed size, rebounding, and inside scoring ability. He’ll also allow Al Horford to play much more power forward with Monroe, Aron Baynes and Daniel Theis rotating at center.
Monroe is easily the most offensively talented of the three, and he is able to post someone up and go 1-on-1, thriving as a traditional center with his back to the basket. He averaged 11.3 points, 8 rebounds and 2.5 assists on 63 percent shooting in 20 games for Phoenix this year, doing so in just 23.3 minutes a night. Since leaving the Detroit Pistons in 2015, Monroe has primarily been a scoring big man off the bench, starting just 67 of his 165 games with the Milwaukee Bucks, which were all in his first season in Wisconsin. His ability to contribute on the defensive end and fit into the offensive scheme will determine his minutes throughout the last quarter of the season, but his presence will be beneficial come playoff time.
Cleveland chose to go a different direction, sending out nearly half of its roster and taking back four players. By the 3 p.m. deadline, Cleveland had sent out Jae Crowder, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Channing Frye, Iman Shumpert, Isaiah Thomas, its own 2018 first-rounder and a 2020 second rounder from Miami. The Cavaliers received Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson, George Hill and Larry Nance Jr.
It seems Cleveland was not interested in re-signing Thomas, a decision that comes just 15 games into his tenure in a Cavs uniform. Thomas will now have less than 30 games with the Los Angeles Lakers to show how healthy his hip is and that he can still fill up the scoring column on a nightly basis. He becomes a free agent this offseason. It is hard to gauge the market (both in terms of money and teams) for Thomas at this time, considering his injury concerns, lack of defensive ability given his height restrictions, and his desire to be paid like a premier guard.
It also seems the Cavs were intent on getting younger with these moves, with three of the four players they acquired being 25 or younger. Whether this is a plan by Cleveland management to have young pieces in place if LeBron James decides to take his talents elsewhere (again) or simply an attempt to put the best team on the court right now, remains to be seen. For now, it seems that Cleveland acquired players that put them in the best position to win immediately, which is important considering the Cavs have slid to third in the conference (6 games back) and are 9-13 since Christmas Day.
The regular season has rarely been a concern of James-led teams, but using the last quarter of the season to gain chemistry and cohesiveness will be tantamount for this new look Cleveland team if they want to face the Golden State Warriors in a fourth consecutive Finals.
I believe that Clarkson and Hill give the Cavs a far more balanced backcourt than they have had this season, with both providing good size for the PG position, two-way capabilities, the ability to shoot from the outside, and create offense on and off the dribble. If Hood can stay healthy (that’s a big if), he could be a 20-plus PPG scorer, with the ability to create off the dribble and shoot from anywhere, and can guard both shooting guards and small forwards at 6-foot-8. In just his fourth season, Hood is averaging career highs in points (16.8), field-goal percentage (42.4 percent), and 3-point field-goal percentage (38.9 percent). I think he has the most potential out of the players Cleveland received given his offensive abilities and lanky frame, but his inconsistent shooting and injury problems are concerns.
Nance Jr. will provide some much-needed depth in the frontcourt with Kevin Love sidelined with a broken hand, and the only other two big men on the roster being Tristan Thompson and Ante Zizic. An extremely athletic power forward, Nance Jr. found success starting for the Lakers early in the season, putting up 11.1 points and 7.9 rebounds per game on 60-percent shooting in just 23.7 minutes in October, before suffering a fractured hand on Nov. 2.
At that time, Kyle Kuzma took the starting job and had an extremely impressive couple months, putting up 18.2 points and 6.7 rebounds in November and 19.5 points and 7.6 reboudns in December, while shooting nearly 40 percent from three-point range. Issues arose over Kuzma’s lack of defensive effort/ability, and paired with Brook Lopez’s injury, Julius Randle was pushed into a starting job, where he has flourished. Randle has averaged 19.4 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.5 assists over his last 10 games, while shooting a shade over 58 percent from the floor. Nance Jr. seems to have the lowest ceiling of the three (Randle, Kuzma), while Clarkson, despite being a young, talented guard, was owed $25 million over the next two seasons. He was also expendable with Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram being the two building blocks Los Angeles wishes to create their next contender around.
Wade returned to Miami to serve as a veteran presence and role player for this young Heat team, while Crowder gets another chance in Utah, where he will get plenty of minutes with Joe Johnson and Hood gone. Johnson, meanwhile, has been waived by Sacramento, and Derrick Rose was waived by Utah.
Johnson’s clutch gene and scoring ability could find a home for a playoff team, while Rose has interest from the Wizards, who are undoubtedly trying to fill the void of John Wall as he recovers from knee surgery. As for Cleveland, its new experiment worked well Sunday afternoon as the Cavs shot 53.6 percent from the floor (16-of-30 from three) against Boston, with the pick-and-roll being a prominent piece of Cleveland’s gameplan. Whether they can maintain that level of play will determine how far they go this postseason. Cleveland will face several tough opponents on the way to another potential championship bout.
NBA Trade Deadline elsewhere
A few other teams swapped players in the past couple of weeks leading up to the NBA trade deadline with Blake Griffin, Nikola Mirotic and Elfrid Payton being the most prominent of the bunch. Payton was shipped to Phoenix for just a second-rounder, giving them a young, high-impact point guard to pair with Devin Booker. This is a home run for Phoenix, which receives a 23-year-old point guard that can distribute (career 6.4 assists per game), rebound (4.2 rebounds per game), and is shooting career highs from both the field (52 percent) and three-point range (37.3 percent) with 13 points per game. Payton was tied for fifth in the league with five triple-doubles last season, and his height (6-foot-4) makes him a matchup problem for most point guards.
Mirotic was sent to New Orleans in an attempt to help replace DeMarcus Cousins, who went down with a torn Achilles’ before the deadline. New Orleans sent a first -rounder, Tony Allen, Jameer Nelson and the less-than-pleasant contract of Omer Asik to Chicago for Mirotic and a second-rounder. Mirotic is having the best season of his career, averaging 16.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, on 46.1 percent shooting (40.4 percent from three). His ability to stretch the floor is something every team desires.
Nelson has since been traded to Detroit, while Allen was waived. Chicago did this for the first-rounder, which will be another asset in their rebuild, and because Mirotic expressed interest in playing elsewhere. Whether that stems from Chicago’s lack of willingness to re-sign him long-term, his altercation with former teammate Bobby Portis prior to the season that ended with Mirotic sporting a concussion and two broken bones in his face, or Chicago’s rebuilding nature is a toss up.
The big man for the Clippers that was being linked in trade talks prior to the deadline didn’t end up being moved, but the big man they signed to a max deal this offseason was. DeAndre Jordan survived yet another NBA trade deadline without being moved, however Blake Griffin was shipped to Detroit for Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, a 2018 first-rounder and 2019 second-rounder. Detroit, wishing to acquire a star, paid a heavy price for the five-time All-Star, who is averaging 22.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game this season. However, Detroit might have been more willing to pay the (contract and trade-wise) price on Griffin considering Bradley is an unrestricted free agent this upcoming offseason and Harris will be in 2019. Marjanovic is a bit overpaid for a backup center ($7 million a year), but he is off the books after next season.
Los Angeles just re-signed Lou Williams to a three-year, $24 million extension, a reasonable price for a running sixth man of the year candidate who is having a career season at age 31, averaging career highs in points (23.3) and assists (5.3). Bradley will be reunited with former Celtic and current Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who will welcome his two-way ability and elite defensive prowess with open arms.
Harris, despite playing power forward a majority of this season for Detroit, can play small forward and will likely see minutes at both given Danilo Gallinari’s injury history and the next man up at power forward being Montrezl Harrell. However, the key part of this trade was the 2018 first-rounder, which is only protected 1-4, meaning they will likely receive that this year. With Detroit currently in No. 9 spot in the East, the pick has the potential to end up a low lottery pick. However, the Pistons are 4-2 in games with Griffin thus far and will be receiving Reggie Jackson back from injury soon, so there is potential they could sneak into the postseason, thus bumping them out of the lottery.
With the Clippers clearly looking to rebuild their roster, moving Griffin’s contract for good players with soon to be expiring contracts and a couple of draft picks was a good first step. They are still on the hook for Jordan next year as he possesses a $24.1 million player option, which he is unlikely to decline, while Gallinari is still owed $44 million over the next two seasons. They will likely look to move the two this offseason, with Jordan being the more likely to go considering he is more valuable and on a better deal.
Memphis keeps Tyreke
Perhaps the most interesting development of the day was the aforementioned Tyreke Evans not being traded. Evans was held out the entire week ahead of the deadline by Memphis, specifically for trade talks. They likely did not want him getting injured or moved on a game day. He is on just a one-year, $3.3 million deal, which means he could easily leave the Grizzlies this offseason resulting in Memphis receiving no compensation for losing him.
This is likely because the Grizzlies’ price was non-negotiable. Granted, Evans is having a spectacular season filling in for Mike Conley running the the offense, averaging 19.4 points, 5 rebounds, 4.9 assists and a steal per game while shooting the ball reasonably well (45.5 percent, 39 percent from three). However, teams know he is an unrestricted free agent after the season so their offers likely reflected that knowledge. With Memphis sitting at 18-37 and all but out of playoff contention, moving Evans to the highest bidder would have been the best move.