It has been a full day since the NBA trade deadline has come and gone, giving us plenty of time to take a look at which teams walked away from the flurry of trades (and trade rumors) with the least to show for their efforts. More often than not, one team ends up on the losing end of a trade, but in a lot of ways this year’s deadline “losers” were defined by the trades that didn’t happen on Thursday:
Boston Celtics – All that smoke and no fire. After spending years acquiring assets to make a run at adding a bona fide superstar, the Celtics walk away from this year’s trading season without any major roster moves at all. Danny Ainge was reportedly incredibly active in making runs at Chicago Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler and Indiana Pacers swingman Paul George, but both All-Stars remained with their current teams when the dust from the trade deadline had all settled.
Reports did surface during Thursday’s hullaballoo that Ainge was amenable to making available their 2017 draft pick owed from Brooklyn, which looks like it will be, at worst, a top-five pick. But Indiana’s asking price for George was a king’s ransom and Chicago ownership didn’t seem to have any interest in trading away their best player, regardless of the package. It’s easy to imagine a scenario where the Boston brain trust dangled that pick but little else of circumstance to land either player, but without a godfather offer, there just wasn’t going be a trade for either guy.
The Celtics will probably be fine without them, at least in the short term. Isaiah Thomas could win the scoring title, and the team was firing on all cylinders before the All-Star break. Maybe not making the trade was the best thing for them, but it’s hard to say striking out on both Jimmy Butler and Paul George is a good thing for the team’s long-term title aspirations. That is why Boston almost certainly will reopen conversations with Chicago and Indiana closer to the draft, once the value of that Brooklyn pick is more tangible.
Sacramento Kings – The DeMarcus Cousins trade probably will go down as being every bit as bad as the James Harden trade. The fact that NBA 2K17 wouldn’t even allow the real-life trade to occur speaks volumes as to how lopsided it was. There’s not much to say here beyond what’s already been said, but in terms of deadline losers, the Kings may be the biggest one.
Chicago Bulls – It made sense to trade Taj Gibson, whose expiring contract status meant he could have just walked away for nothing this offseason, just like Pau Gasol did last summer when the Bulls failed to trade him at the 2016 deadline. Still, Chicago had to add Doug McDermott and a second-round draft pick just for the honor of bringing back Cameron Payne, Anthony Morrow and Joffrey Lauvergne. For now, it certainly looks as though the Bulls got the short end of that stick.
Payne was the guy Chicago really wanted (Morrow’s deal is expiring and Lauvergne could become a free agent), but they massively overpaid to get him. Not that McDermott was setting the world on fire, but certainly there had to have been the possibility of a deal that swapped McDermott for Payne straight up. Both are former late lottery picks that haven’t quite lived up to their respective potential, and the salaries would have been close. Tossing in Gibson wouldn’t even have been a big deal, considering his likelihood of leaving anyway.
Throwing in a draft pick for all that seemed especially silly. Chicago already has two backup point guards on the roster in Michael Carter-Williams and Jerian Grant. Now they’ve got a third one in Payne, and it cost quite a bit to get him.
Jahlil Okafor – There wasn’t any player in the league who looked more destined for a trade than Okafor, who was pegged to land anywhere from Chicago to Portland to Indiana. Instead, it was teammate Nerlens Noel who found himself shipped off, leaving Okafor and the Philadelphia 76ers in an incredibly awkward position for at least the rest of this season.
Moving Noel may lead to more minutes for Okafor, but it’s still hard to see a long-term future for him in Philadelphia and more playing time doesn’t make Okafor work any better alongside franchise cornerstone Joel Embiid. Okafor knows that and the organization knows that, but it will be at least a few months before either can do anything about it.
Indiana Pacers – The Pacers were expected to either make a move that would bolster the lineup this season or cash out for a rebuild around Myles Turner. The Pacers ended up doing neither, meaning they will remain a .500 team that’s not good enough to win a playoff series but plenty good enough to avoid getting any ping pong balls in May’s draft lottery.
More disconcerting, though, was all the deadline chatter about Paul George wanting to bolt for the Los Angeles Lakers as soon as humanly possible, which for him would be following the 2017-2018 season (assuming he declined his player option).
No teams want to be stuck in a purgatory of mediocre play and uncertainty about a star player’s future. For his entire career, George has looked solidified as someone who would play out his career with one team and maybe even become the best Pacer ever. At this year’s deadline, that future changed. Now, the team may not have any choice but to shop him this offseason.
L.A. Lakers – On the one hand, the new front office in Los Angeles absolutely bodes well for the future of that organization, and the deal that returned a first-round pick for Lou Williams was a smart one for where this team is in its development right now.
Despite all that, the Lakers lost out on pretty major potential deals for both Cousins and George, further highlighting their inability the last few seasons to bring in a top-tier star to supplement the rest of the team’s youngsters. Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka can make another run at a big name in the summer but, for now, the Lakers have come up short once again.
Of course, while these teams may look like losers, it’s impossible to judge the true impact of trades until some time has passed. The Pau Gasol-to-L.A. trade looked like one of the worst of all time when it was agreed to, but Memphis ended up snagging Marc Gasol in that deal, which has worked out quite nicely for them. No one had any clue the younger Gasol would be any good back then, but over time the true value of that trade has become clear.
Maybe Cam Payne will be the starter Chicago hopes he can be. Maybe Buddy Hield really is the next Stephen Curry. Maybe Jahlil Okafor will play out his days as a Sixer. It’s impossible to know immediately, but based on the information we have right now, these are this year’s deadline losers. We certainly hope we’re wrong about them.
NBA Daily: James Harden on the new All-Star Format and Chris Paul Being Snubbed
James Harden shared his thoughts on the new All-Star game format and teammate Chris Paul not being selected as an All-Star
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made a bold decision to alter the All-Star game format. By allowing the two highest voted players in each conference to be team captains, Silver did away with tradition and the usual West versus East format. While there were a few complaints about the switch, fans were seemingly more vocal about the decision to not televise the selection of players by the team captains.
Well, the results are in and praise for new format has been nearly universal. With players more invested in the new format, and perhaps the $100k per player bonus for the winners, the effort level was up, plays were being drawn up and executed and defense made a surprise appearance in an exciting game that came down to the final possession.
2018 NBA All-Star and Houston Rockets guard James Harden spoke about the All-Star game and the new format.
“I think it is exciting. You get an opportunity, you know, for a mixture of guys to play on the same team together. We’re trying to win though, it’s competitive,” Harden stated. “Obviously, the All-Star game has a lot of highlights but we’re trying to win, we’re going to go out there and prove we’re trying to win.”
Harden, who played for Team Stephen, did not get the win. However, Harden also made it clear that playing in the this year’s All-Star game meant even more having grown up in Los Angeles.
“To be able to play in the big boy game means a lot. I grew up, especially being from LA, you grew up watching Kobe, watching Shaq every single year. You see how fun, you see how exciting it was,” Harden said. “Now to be here, to be in the city is more special.”
While Harden made it a point to talk about what it means to play in Los Angeles, another factor he seemed excited and appreciative about was being the first player picked for Team Stephen.
“Man, that’s a great feeling. Just because in middle school I was the last pick. So, to be the number one pick in the All-Star game, that’s what the swag champ is for,” Harden said.
Harden wasn’t universally positive about All-Star Weekend. Specifically, he was not happy about being the only Rockets All-Star – especially considering Houston’s standing in the Western Conference playoff race.
“I have a lot to say about that. What are we talking about? Everyone knows Chris Paul is with the Rockets and the Rockets have the number one [record]. How does that not happen?” Harden asked rhetorically. “It’s frustrating. I know he’s frustrated. He never brings it up. That’s why I did say what I said. He’s never going to bring it up. But, I’ll defend for him. He should be here with me in LA as an All-Star.”
Harden had some success as he led his team in minutes and logged 12 points, eight assists and five rebounds. He spoke after the game and confirmed the reconfiguration of the All-Star game produced a competitive game and a fun product for the fans.
“Felt great. I hope all the fans enjoyed [the All-Star game] as well. It was very competitive. Guys got after it from the beginning of the game. Usually All-Star [games] there are a lot of dunks, a lot of freedom. Tonight was intense,” Harden said.
Harden was not wrong with his conclusion that there was less freedom. With less freedom and better defense played, Harden went 5-19 from the field and 2-13 from three-point range while finishing the game without a single free throw attempted. The lack of free throws may have irked Harden, who is renowned for his ability to get to the line (9.9 free throw attempts per game this season). Adding to that frustration, Harden had the opportunity to put his team ahead with a three-pointer late in the game but failed to connect on the shot. Unsurprisingly, Harden expressed his disappointment with the result.
“I was pissed we lost. I’m still mad,” Harden stated.
On the final play of the game, while ignoring Harden, Curry kept the ball with the chance to tie the game. Curry dribbled into a LeBron James/Kevin Durant double team. Curry wasn’t able to get a shot off and Harden was left with his hands up waiting for a pass and a chance to win the game that never came.
Looking toward next year, Harden was asked if as a possible captain he would prefer to have the player selection two weeks before or right before the game. He thought about it and then smiled.
“Probably right before the game,” Harden answered.
Commissioner Silver has spoken on the subject and is sending strong signals that next year’s selection will be televised. That will potentially add another layer of excitement to the new All-Star game format, which is already paying off for the NBA.
Mitchell Taking Things Day-By-Day, But Loving ‘Whirlwind’ Experience
It’s been a special year for the Utah Jazz rookie sensation.
Four-and-a-half months into the first season of his NBA career, Donovan Mitchell has accomplished some incredible things.
He won back-to-back Rookie of the Month honors between this past December and January. He leads his class with 19.6 points per game and nearly 17 field goal attempts per contest. Due much in part to his contributions, the Utah Jazz are the hottest team in the league, riding an 11-game winning streak after falling far below the .500 mark.
To top all that off, he won the slam-dunk competition just a few days ago in an event for the whole world to see. All of this has been nothing short of amazing for the 21-year-old, and even he didn’t see this coming.
“This whole thing’s just been a whirlwind for me,” Mitchell said at All-Star weekend of his first-year experience. “Just enjoying the process. There are games where I’m just like, ‘Wow this happened’ or ‘Wow that happened’ and it’s a credit to my teammates and the coaching staff and the organization for believing in me.
“Without them, none of this would be possible, so I really thank them for giving me this opportunity.”
Believe it or not, Mitchell wasn’t always so sure about where his life would go. He played for a couple of seasons at Louisville and ended up declaring for the 2017 NBA draft, a night where the Jazz stole him away from every other team by executing a deal with the Denver Nuggets to land the 13th overall pick in Salt Lake City.
“I tell people all the time this wasn’t my plan,” Mitchell said at All-Star weekend. “After two years of college, being here for All-Star and even being in the NBA wasn’t entirely my plan, so I’m just taking it one step at a time, one day at a time, praising God for this opportunity he’s given me.”
So far, Mitchell is picking things up on the go. As he keeps improving and solidifying his game on the court, he’s also bettering himself mentally.
“If I just continue to be humble and continue to learn, that’s the biggest thing is learning and understanding the game,” Mitchell said. “I make the joke that it’s easy to study film and watch all the games when you don’t have five classes to study for throughout the day. So it’s been fun and I’m just taking it day by day.”
It’s pretty awesome that he’s doing what he’s doing with friends by his side. Most of us think of this class of rookies as a special group because of their talents as players, but it’s a tight-knit inner circle of friends who are enjoying every second of life in the NBA together.
Kyle Kuzma, John Collins, De’Aaron Fox, and Dennis Smith Jr. are friends Mitchell mentioned that he’s been close with for a while, and to see all of their hard work culminate so quickly at the Rising Stars game in Los Angeles is something special.
“I’ve known a lot of these guys, pretty much everybody on this team since high school for the most part,” Mitchell said. “Kinda hanging the same way we did in high school just a lot more cameras, a lot more downtime, bigger city.
“It’s fun. Just gotta treat it like it’s fun, go out there and just be kids. Live a dream of ours since we were younger.”
After the weekend he had, Mitchell accomplished that goal.
Whether the next chapter in his career has a Rookie of the Year award written into it or not, we’re seeing spectacular things from the one they call “Spida.”
And it’s about time people are taking notice.
NBA Daily: Tobias Harris Thrives at Every Stop
Tobias Harris was traded yet again, but thankfully for the Clippers, he’s gotten better every stop he’s made.
When Tobias Harris was a 19-year-old rookie for the Milwaukee Bucks, he faced a lot of the same issues that other 19-year-old rookies before him had faced, most notably the ones dealing with a lack of playing time.
He only saw the floor in 42 games, playing on 11 minutes per contest when he did get out there.
Despite that, it was somewhat of a surprise that the Bucks gave up on his talent so early in his career, trading him to the Orlando Magic just 28 games into his sophomore season as part of a trade for J.J. Redick.
The Magic immediately tripled his minutes, and he’s never been a 30 minutes-per-game guy ever since. He also has never said a negative thing about any team he’s ever played for. As far as he’s concerned, every opportunity is a blessing and a learning experience.
“I didn’t look at Milwaukee as a team giving up on me. I looked at it as Orlando valuing me and seeing me as a piece of the puzzle,” Harris told Basketball Insiders during All-Star Weekend, where he participated in the three-point contest.
“The NBA is about opportunity, so when you get the opportunity you have to make the most of it. Going from a rookie not playing to where I’m at now, it takes a lot of hard work, focus and determination,” he said. “You have to have the confidence in your own self, to understand you can break through in this league.”
And break through he did, in large part because those first 18 months as a professional were so challenging.
“Adversity helped me to work hard,” he said. “I always envisioned myself as a primetime player in this league. I have a ways to go to get there, but that’s the best part about me. My best basketball is ahead of me, and adversity has helped me get there. It’s motivated me, and I want to be the best player I can be. I’m trying every single day to fight for that.”
This season, most of which came as a member of the Detroit Pistons, was a career-best for Harris.
Between the Pistons and L.A. Clippers, Harris has averaged a career-high 18 points per game, and while he wasn’t voted to the All-Star Team this year, his name popped up in the conversation. He’s never been closer.
It was bittersweet for him, though, leaving a Detroit team he liked so much.
“My favorite part was being around those guys [in Detroit],” he said. “It was a great group of guys and a great coaching staff. Coach Van Gundy is a great coach. At the same time, when I first got there, we had a chance to make the playoffs and we got in the playoffs. That was nice for me, to put that pressure on myself and get it done.”
Now, he’s ready to accept his next challenge in Los Angeles with the Clippers.
“I look at every new opportunity as a new chance,” he said. “My first trade from Milwaukee to Orlando was a situation where I just wanted to prove myself to the league. When I was traded from Orlando to Detroit, it was a situation where I wanted to help the team get to the playoffs, and that’s similar to this one here, too… I really like the group of guys that are on this team. I like our demeanor and our approach, so after the break I look forward to building that chemistry and moving forward.”
Of course, moving forward is all he’s ever done.
After everything he’s proven to date, it seems like a given that he’ll continue to make strides with his new team.