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NBA PM: Trade Deadline Losers

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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.

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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.

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About Joel Brigham

Joel Brigham

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.