Here are six takeaways from the many deals that closed ahead of Thursday’s deal deadline:
The buyout trade
What are NBA fans going to do now that the league’s two biggest drama kings – James Harden and Ben Simmons – have their wishes granted? All that “will or won’t” speculation is over, times two.
Minus the distractions, the focus will be on hoops and the challenge for both All-Star guards is to prove they can be assets rather than liabilities on what remains of this season.
Simmons hung a dark cloud over Philadelphia’s campaign early on, bristling with criticism from coach Doc Rivers and teammate Joel Embiid after they were eliminated by Atlanta last June. Rather than push back in words and/or deeds, he retreated and quickly retreated. Harden became disgruntled on the fly, struggling to get off a team for the second time in 13 months.
The blockbuster trade of the day essentially kicked off a race that Harden and Simmons will now run to see which polishes his image faster and better.
A possible win-win-win-win movement
Despite any hard feelings over their old markets, Harden and Simmons have the opportunity to make this trade a success for all parties involved.
Harden, going from Kevin Durant to Kia Embiid’s top MVP contender, isn’t giving up one bit in terms of a marquee teammate. His scoring ability and knack for reaching the foul line can complement Philadelphia’s hugely gifted big man, who is at the peak of his powers.
With the Sixers remaining, from Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey to Matisse Thybulle and the rest, they have an urgency to strike now in a wide-open Eastern Conference. Philly didn’t get Simmons anyway, so for this team right now it’s about trading Seth Curry and Andre Drummond for a freshly-motivated former MVP.
For Simmons, this is his Andrew Wiggins moment, a good start to see with fresh eyes. Trying to improve his game and restore his reputation in Philadelphia was going to be difficult; he would forever be the No. 1 draft pick of 2016 that ultimately let the Sixers down. Now he can rise again, bringing his unique skill set and tenacious 25-year-old defense to his former side’s rival.
Brooklyn must feel good about that, because Harden, Durant and Kyrie Irving’s plan was a reality for all 16 games. If New York’s vaccination mandate is lifted, Irving may return to full-time status for a new trio that may fit in better than the previous one. Additionally, sniper Curry also comes aboard.
The fifth W in this deal should go to Sixers POBO Daryl Morey, who probably got the best possible return for Simmons he could get, creating this reunion for the former Rockets executive and Harden. He got the best player in the deal, he moved Simmons before the deadline and he delivered a star and a peer helping Embiid right now.
The East is getting more bestial
From the major move detailed above to roster tweaks and improvements, several Eastern Conference contenders appear to have improved their depth and odds.
The Nets and Sixers know a lot more about what they’ll have in the aftermath (Irving’s unstable status aside) and should do anything to make this trade work for them. But Milwaukee, the 2021 defending champions, added a key element by taking Serge Ibaka from the Clippers. The veteran big man, used on short stints, is still producing at a pro-rated 15 points and 10 rebounds and could ease concerns over the return of center Brook Lopez.
Cleveland added a professional scorer in Caris LeVert without giving up an active player. Thaddeus Young’s Toronto pickup brings some veteran know-how to his fast-footed young squad. Charlotte got help in the paint at Montrezl Harrell thanks to closing and selling fire after Bradley Beal to Washington.
Boston reconfigured their bench, ending up with Spurs’ Derrick White and former Celtic Daniel Theis. Miami, Chicago and Atlanta have retained their players but will likely scour the buyout market for needs.
Trade action in the West hasn’t been as frantic near the top of the standings, although league-leading Phoenix have acquired a pair of defensive end assists Torrey Craig and point guard Aaron Holiday. But Golden State, Memphis, Denver, Minnesota and the Lakers — five of the top nine — did little or nothing.
The Mavericks distributed dollars
In sending big man Kristaps Porzingis for Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans of Washington, Dallas admitted that Porzingis never had and probably never will become that perfect tandem partner with star Luka Doncic. But the deal was also about money, with the Mavericks losing the remaining two years and $70 million on Porzingis’ deal.
Dinwiddie and Bertans also have big contracts, but the final year of each former wizard’s contract isn’t fully guaranteed. The Mavericks put some of their wiggle room to work immediately, signing Dorian Finney-Smith to a four-year, $55 million extension on Thursday.
Dallas was also mentioned as possibly the first destination for potential buyout guy Goran Dragic after Dragic was dealt by Toronto in San Antonio.
Play-In positioning by Kings?
It’s hard to see the maneuvers in Washington, Indiana, Orlando, Detroit, San Antonio and Portland as anything other than moves for the summer and beyond. But for Sacramento, the addition of Domantas Sabonis, Trey Lyles, Josh Jackson and Donte DiVincenzo could give the Kings A) some respectability and B) a real shot at making the playoffs.
Look, sending guard Tyrese Haliburton — the steady two-way guard who looked like a veteran as a rookie last season — had to sting. But Sabonis is already what Haliburton hopes to become: a multiple All-Star. He paid instant dividends in Sacramento’s win over Minnesota on Wednesday, and the others bring a transfusion of talent as the moves cleared some traffic jams (Buddy Hield) and flotsam (Marvin Bagley III, who gets a reset in Detroit ).
The Kings started Thursday’s action in 12and place in the West but only 2.5 games behind 10and New Orleans square. For a franchise that’s burned nine coaches since it last sniffed the playoffs in 2006, even a rung of play would boost the mood and reward that loyal fan base.
The buyout market is waiting
In no particular order, here are a few names that will – or could be – available on the buyout market once the smoke clears from Deadline Day:
Dragic, Dennis Schroder, Gary Harris, Derrick Favors, Robin Lopez, Tristan Thompson, DJ Augustine, DeAndre Bembry, Deandre Jordan, Kent Bazemore, Jeremy Lamb, Eric Bledsoe, Kent Bazemore, Kemba Walker, Mike Muscala and Enes Kanter Freedom.
* * *
Steve Aschburner has been writing about the NBA since 1980. You can email him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs, or Turner Broadcasting.