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Sunday, February 25, 2018

Ten biggest NBA trade deadline takeaways

Isaiah Thomas

As of 3 PM Eastern Standard Time on Thursday, Feb. 8 in the year of our Lord 2018, the NBA trade deadline became history. As we emerge on the other side with the Cavs trading away everyone including the kitchen sink, Lob City giving way to Motor City, and point guards ping-ponging every which way, here is a quick recap of the ten biggest takeaways from all of the hysteria.

1. The Cavs went full 2K GM mode

Enter: Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr, Rodney Hood, George Hill

Exeunt: Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye, Jae Crowder, Derrick Rose, Iman Shumpert, Dwyane Wade

I’m not screaming, you’re screaming. The Cavs had gone 7-13 in their last 20 games (even after LeBron James ruined the entire state of Minnesota on Wednesday) and were seemingly at each other’s throats every other night. Well, the possibility of James jumping ship in T-minus five months served as their wake-up call and then some at the trade deadline. Cleveland now runs it back with literally half of their roster gone, but by flipping out many of their curmudgeonly 30-somethings for adaptable 20-somethings, the hope is they will get back to competing with the Golden States or even just the Bostons of the world. Sure, they still weren’t able to get anyone to bite on the contracts of Earl Joseph Smith III or Tristan Kardashian. You can’t deny though that this team looks a lot healthier now, both in talent and in temperament alike.

2. The Lakers come out as big winners

By clearing out roughly $13 million a year owed to Jordan Clarkson and another several million on Larry Nance Jr’s deal, the Lakers have opened up space for two max-salary slots in free agency this summer. Of course, it’s an open question as to whether or not that is still their main focus. But new acquisitions Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye will both be free agents after the season, and by keeping their young core mostly intact, the purple-and-gold now have a viable path to success for several offseasons to come. Somebody just be sure to tell Magic Johnson not to tweet about it.

3. Miami gets their storybook ending

Miami-Wade County rides again. The return of Heat icon Dwyane Wade dropped our jaws and warmed out hearts at the same time, and all seems right in the universe again now that the three-time NBA champion is touching down in South Beach once more. This isn’t just purely fairy-tale material either — Miami is thinner at the two-guard spot with Dion Waiters out for the season, and their roster populated with youth and inexperience has dropped their last five straight games to fall to the fringe of the East playoff picture. Wade’s homecoming will reinvigorate the 305 both directly and indirectly, while also proving to all of us skeptics that happily ever afters still do exist.

4. The March 1 buyout deadline may just be the more important one

Other than Cleveland cherry-bombing themselves, few contenders took action at the trade deadline. Many overvalued their own pieces, and potential partners were unwilling to meet their asking prices. The net result was a market that, until the final hours, came across as more uninspiring than a Desiigner song. But maybe the lack of urgency was to blame as well. It is now also the time of year where teams can negotiate buyouts with sullen veterans. And with another three full weeks to go before the March 1 playoff eligibility deadline, a number of squads apparently did not feel they had to make a move just yet. So for all the Houstons, Bostons, Torontos, and other championship hopefuls who sat on their hands to this point, fear not — for America is the land of second chances and so is the National Basketball Association.

5. Embattled young floor generals get new beginnings

Elfrid Payton is headed to Phoenix, and Emmanuel Mudiay is headed to New York — two fundamentally-flawed ex-lottery point guards who seemed doomed to grow mold in their current stomping grounds. Now the former is off to a Suns team that needs a dynamic 1 to play off Devin Booker, and the latter is en route to a Knicks team looking for production anywhere they can get it now that our dear Latvian duke Kristaps Porzingis is finished for the year. Keep in mind: Payton is only 23 years old, Mudiay is still just 21, and the air probably smells a lot fresher for both of them right about now.

6. Watch out for Tom Thibodeau

The Timberwolves are an astonishing 34-23 on the season (fourth in the West), and their greatest coup may still be to come. Former MVP Derrick Rose was one of the many victims of the Cavs’ eleventh-hour firing squad, and the Utah Jazz, the team they sent him to, look unlikely to keep him. In light of that, Minnesota will reportedly try to sign Rose, who has interest in a reunion with his ex-coach Thibodeau. Beyond just Thibs and all of his raspy glory, the Wolves also boast Rose’s former Bulls teammates Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, and Aaron Brooks. With the team standing to benefit from more backcourt depth behind Jeff Teague, I can already hear the chants from here. [deep inhale through nose] “THE GANG IS GETTING BACK TOGETHER!”

7. “Don’t call it a rebuild” -the Los Angeles Clippers

LAC’s jarring trade of franchise player Blake Griffin last month (which I’m pretty sure registered as a 6.7 on the Richter scale) seemed to many to be a signal that Jerry West was taking a sledgehammer to this roster from top to bottom. But au contraire, the Clippers instead followed it up by extending scorer-king Lou Williams, stiff-arming suitors for DeAndre Jordan, and holding onto all the assets they accumulated in exchange for Griffin. Speaking of those assets … well they aren’t just a platter of assorted appetizers. Avery Bradley is still criminally slept on as a marquee two-guard, Tobias Harris can put up borderline-All-Star numbers as a versatile combo forward, and Boban Marjanovic is as much per-minute stud as he is cult hero. Indeed, the Clippers are not tearing it down and intend to find the balance between competitive and future-minded. First-round matchup against Golden State, anyone?

8. Keep an eye on the race for the No. 8 seed in both conferences

In the East, the Pistons are undefeated ever since acquiring their new Kia spokesperson, and the Hornets held onto all their major pieces while also nabbing a high-ceiling 23-year-old big in Willy Hernangomez. Meanwhile in the West, the Clippers’ depth is still robust (see above), the Jazz are coming in hot (which may have factored into their decision to keep their starting five intact through the deadline), and the Pelicans, though they lost Boogie Cousins for the season, swung a trade for Nikola “The Mad Montenegrin” Mirotic to help fend off both of them. With a fairly clear hierarchy already in place atop each conference, the battle for the lower seeds will undoubtedly be the one to watch for these next two months thanks to Trading SZN.

9. Big man depth will never go out of style

The NBA’s power dynamic has irrefutably shifted towards the perimeter, and that has made the classicist’s big man all but an endangered species. However, that phenomenon has also had the effect of increasing the value of those bigs who are still left standing in a little man’s game. Mobile big men like Tyler Zeller, sweet-shooting big men like Nikola Mirotic, and upside big men like Willy Hernangomez all found themselves in demand at this year’s deadline. Sure, those players have to fill a more specific niche these days. But with many of their peers depreciating or just becoming flat-out unplayable, there will always be a place for the seven-footer who can do a little bit more for his team.

10. There’s a lot of pressure on this year’s draft class

Mo Bamba better be able to cut through diamonds, and Trae Young better have the ability to shoot lightning bolts out of his eyeballs, because very few teams willing to part with any meaningful 2018 draft picks at this year’s deadline. The exceptions were Detroit giving up a protected pick that will likely fall outside of the lottery to facilitate their Blake Griffin blockbuster, New Orleans trading a pick to Chicago that might not even convey until 2022 just to essentially dump Omer Asik’s contract, and Cleveland sending their own first-rounder (which will probably end up in the low-20s) to the Lakers as part of the Isaiah Thomas trade. Otherwise, no selections of consequence really changed hands. That collective mentality makes sense. Why cede a cost-controlled young talent who may just develop into your next franchise cornerstone when the league is top-heavy and the seven-year plan probably matters a whole lot more than the one-year plan? We definitely saw that in action here at the trade deadline.

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