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Good, Bad, and Ugly: NBA Trade Deadline 2018

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The 2018 NBA Trade Deadline wasn’t the most active, and didn’t see any stars being moved, but was intriguing nonetheless. Here are my thoughts on a few of the teams that made moves yesterday.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Orlando Magic Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

Good:

Cavs remake roster:

The only real excitement yesterday before the deadline came from the Cavs shipping out half their roster in the span of an hour. People expected and wanted the Cavs to make big roster changes, but I’m not sure anyone expected the bloodbath that arrived so suddenly. The Cavs shipped out Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Derrick Rose, Iman Shumpert, Channing Frye, Dwyane Wade, a protected 2018 1st round pick, and a 2020 2nd round pick. In return, they received George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance, and a heavily protected 2nd round pick (that will never reach them). Cavs GM Koby Altman truly went for it, and that is absolutely to be respected.

The Cavs have surely upgraded their roster, but the question is by how much. Dumping Thomas and Rose, both of whom have been atrocious this season, is addition by subtraction (including in the locker room). George Hill has been mediocre this season, but he’s a better fit with LeBron, and he was a solid starting point guard as recently as last season (though injuries could have permanently affected his game). Clarkson gives them more size at guard as well as scoring punch off the bench, while Nance is an effective big man who can actually do big man things. Rodney Hood might be the wild card. I think he’s one of the most overrated players in the NBA—a “3 and D” wing who can’t play defense, and whose offensive game not involving three-point shooting has completely stagnated. But he has all the tools to play defense, and his size and length alone makes him at least a better option to switch against teams like the Warriors than Rose, Wade, or Shumpert.

These trades, do, however, lower the Cavs’ upside. The one way they might have threatened the Warriors this season was if Thomas and Crowder returned to players close to their 2015-2017 selves. Thomas in particular is doubtful to regain those heights this season, yet there was still a chance. That level of player just does not exist on the Cavs’ newcomers. Clarkson and Nance are who they are. Hood and Hill could improve somewhat on their performances this season, but neither are close to what Thomas and Crowder can do at their best. So, while the Cavs should be a much safer and more consistent team this season, and are more likely to actually make the Finals, they aren’t really that much more threatening against the Warriors.

Pistons gear up for playoff run:

The Detroit Pistons are determined to make the playoffs this season, and their moves yesterday perfectly reflect that attitude. First, they traded Willie Reed and a 2nd round pick for Jameer Nelson. While Nelson is well past his prime, he’s a steady hand at point guard, and one of the most respected locker room presences in the league. He will help stabilize the Pistons on and off the court. The Pistons then flipped Brice Johnson and yet another 2nd round pick to the Grizzlies for James Ennis. Ennis has quietly been a very nice rotation wing player for a couple seasons now, and adds athleticism to the Pistons’ bench unit. Neither Ennis nor Nelson revolutionizes the Pistons or takes them to a whole new level. But adding two rotation players while giving up none in return should provide a boost to the Pistons’ playoff chances down the stretch.

Bad:

Eastern Conference powers sit still:

While the Cavs changed virtually their entire roster, their rivals in the Eastern Conference did nothing. Toronto and Boston made no moves whatsoever at the deadline (though Boston did acquire Greg Monroe in free agency), while Washington merely made a small dump to lower their luxury tax costs. The Bucks had traded for reserve center Tyler Zeller a couple days prior to the deadline, but were content after that. After three years of Cavs-Warriors Finals, there was some confidence that maybe another Eastern Conference team could break the Cavs’ deadlock on the conference. Sadly, that hope diminished yesterday. While all the above teams could still threaten the Cavs, LeBron James’ team looks formidable once more, and none of its competitors made any move to truly go after the King. Maybe the other teams believe in their rosters as is, or maybe they just don’t think they could beat the Warriors even if they make the Finals. Regardless, the lack of an “arms race” yesterday was a bit disappointing.

Ugly:

Orlando Magic dump Elfrid Payton:

Elfrid Payton was the Magic’s 10th pick in the 2014 draft, and has been their “point guard of the future” ever since. Until yesterday, that is, when they traded him to Phoenix for a mere 2nd round draft pick. Payton will hit restricted free agency this summer, and it’s clear that the Magic didn’t want to pay him, but it’s a shock to see such a once-regarded prospect traded for so little. That’s especially the case with Payton, since he is still young, and has had perhaps his strongest season thus far this year. While he’s probably not going to be a franchise point guard, getting so little in return for a player that so much time was put into seems like a big letdown. Hopefully Payton is able to turn his career around in Phoenix, playing alongside Devin Booker.

Sacramento Kings:

The Kings shocked everyone this summer by signing relatively big-name free agent George Hill to a 3 year, $60 million deal. Just 8 months later, Hill is gone, and in his place are Iman Shumpert (on a horrible deal), some cash, and a future 2nd round pick. While the pick is good, taking on Shumpert’s salary is burdensome, and shows just how far Hill’s stock had fallen in his brief stint with the Kings. Signing him was puzzling in the first place, and dumping him for so little reward just makes the original venture look all the worse.

Worse was to follow. In order to create room for Shumpert (and Joe Johnson, who also came over, but will subsequently be waived), the Kings had to let go of Georgios Papagiannis, the 13th pick in the 2016 draft. That was a pick that was roundly criticized at the time, and the Kings are acknowledging it now by cutting him for nothing. Papagiannis hasn’t even played 500 minutes in the NBA, and when he has, he’s been really bad. This was therefore the correct decision by the Kings, but makes his selection one of the more baffling in recent memory. Incredibly, the Kings had picked up his 2018-2019 option before the season started, so they will have to eat that salary as well. Nor is Papagiannis the only casualty from the 2016 draft, as the Kings also swapped Malachi Richardson for the Raptors’ Bruno Caboclo. Richardson also hasn’t impressed in the NBA, yet exchanging him for Caboclo, who is famous in Toronto for almost never playing through three and a half years, seems like an odd gamble. Overall, the Kings followed the sunk cost fallacy, and I think they have made the best of a bad situation. But still, that situation was entirely of their own making.