Five big takeaways from NBA trade deadline

So much for a quiet trade deadline — from when New York surprised Knicks’ fans by trading their favorite player, through the end of the trade deadline at 3 p.m. Eastern on Thursday, there were more than 20 NBA trades.

A few that shifted the landscape, a lot that were more about the salary cap or setting things up for the future. And the biggest trade of all did not happen.

Here are the five big takeaways from the NBA trade deadline.

1) Anthony Davis is still a Pelican, now Boston gets into the mix and this saga will drag out into the offseason. Rich Paul’s gambit failed. He told the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis would not re-sign with the team — which wasn’t surprising news to the New Orleans front office — and then demanded a trade. Then leaked that trade news to the press (and got Davis fined for it). Everything was orchestrated to get Davis to the Lakers to team up with LeBron James (another Paul client). The Lakers were all-in on the idea and put everything they could into an offer – Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, first-round picks and more were all on the table — to the point it has led to team chemistry issues.

And the Pelicans didn’t want to play. They listened to the Lakers, but never seriously engaged. Part of the reason for that, according to sources, is that people high up the food chain in the New Orleans organization didn’t want to be pressured into making a trade on someone else’s terms, to just blindly trade Davis where he wanted to go. They wanted some control over the process.

The other main reason for the delay is the Pelicans wanted Boston to get involved. While trades in the last few days weakened a couple of Boston’s potential first-round picks — the Clippers now will likely fall out of the playoffs and keep their pick; Sacramento got better so that pick gets a little worse — the future Memphis pick looks even better as the Grizzlies start their rebuild. Plus, if Jayson Tatum is in the mix, the Pelicans want him — almost every team/scout I have spoken to has him rated much higher than any of the young Lakers.

Add to all that Pelicans want to see how the draft lottery shakes out — if the Knicks get the No. 1 pick things get interesting. They want to see if a surprise team — maybe the Clippers now? — get in on the bidding. They want to wait.

This will get resolved by early July at the latest. But for now, Anthony Davis is a Pelican and the Lakers are worse for it.

2) There was an arms race at the top of the Eastern Conference and the East playoffs are going to be insane. Starting with the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, it could be a bloodbath. As happened in the West for many years (but not this one, at least not at the top), there was an arms race among the top teams.

It started when the Sixers traded for Tobias Harris from the Clippers — Philly now has the second-best starting five in the NBA. At least on paper. Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Jimmy Butler, Harris, and Joel Embiid can match up with anyone. The team needs to add depth, and the Sixers stars need to show they are willing to sacrifice points/touches for the betterment of the team, but the Sixers just got demonstrably better.

That woke up the other teams in the East.

Milwaukee responded by trading for Nikola Mirotic, the sharpshooting big man who will be a great fit with Giannis Antetokounmpo. Mirotic will thrive the same way Brook Lopez has in coach Mike Budenholzer’s system. Remember how much Mirotic looked good playing next to Anthony Davis in the Pelicans’ playoff run last season? Now the Bucks add that to the team with the best record in the NBA already.

The Raptors topped that with the addition of Marc Gasol in a trade from the Memphis Grizzlies. He provides floor spacing shooting, strong rebounding, fantastic passing, and just a high IQ game that Nick Nurse can use to great effect. Gasol is versatile and gives Toronto more ways to matchup in the postseason.

All of those teams got better, and the team we haven’t mentioned Boson — they have won 9-of-10 and have looked like the East favorite we expected of late. (And they got what they wanted at the deadline with Davis not getting traded.) Boston could still come out of the East.

Story continues

The playoffs cannot get here fast enough.

3) The Clippers, Knicks, and Mavericks set themselves up to be big-time players this July. While a few teams went all in on right now, a few teams made some shrewd moves thinking about July.

The Clippers are at the top of that list. Los Angeles made the calculation that they could fight for the eight seed in the West, win it, lose their first-round pick this year (to Boston, lottery protected) and get smacked around by the Warriors in the first round. Or, they could trade Tobias Harris, takes some steps back out of the playoffs, keep their pick, get a haul of draft picks from Philadelphia in the deal — including a much coveted Miami 2021 unprotected first rounder — and clear out one max cap slot, plus set themselves up to have two (if they can trade Danilo Gallinari after the season). The Clippers have been all but stalking Kawhi Leonard and are in the mix for him this summer, Los Angeles has the assets to tempt teams with a big trade (Davis?), and they can chase a second free agent. This is a team poised to make a move.

The Knicks are right there with the Clippers in bold free agent planning — and what they did created a lot of buzz around the NBA. By trading Kristaps Porzingins and the nearly dead money contracts of Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee, the Knicks now have two max cap slots open next July (plus the Knicks picked up picks in the trade). Do they know something about Kevin Durant? KD hates that speculation, but it is all over the NBA (not the media, I mean front office types), as is the idea Kyrie Irving will follow him. The playoffs can change a lot of plans, but the Knicks seem confident.

Dallas did more than just add Kristaps Porzingis to Luka Doncic this deadline — although that in-and-of-itself was a bold move that could give the franchise two cornerstone pieces for a decade (if Porzingis can come back from his ACL injury to full unicorn status). However, moving Harrison Barnes to Sacramento also freed up cap space, and the Mavericks could have nearly $30 million of it next summer. Want to come play with Porzingis and Doncic? Dallas is setting itself up to be very good soon, if things break their way.

4) The race for the eight seed in the West is going to be fun. As of the trade deadline, the Los Angeles Clippers are the eighth seed in the West and with that own the final playoff spot. (The Spurs and Jazz hold down the six and seven seeds, but neither of them looks like they are going to fade away.)

As noted above, the Clippers traded their best player and have made a conscious effort not to chase the eight seed hard (not that they will admit that). It opens the door.

The Sacramento Kings are trying to barge through it. The team with the longest playoff drought in the NBA (12 years) is a surprising 28-26, just 1.5 games back of the Clippers. They traded for Harrison Barnes to give them the big wing/four they have needed in the rotation, a guy who can be a shot creator (mostly for himself) and get buckets in addition to De’Aaron Fox. While it’s fair to question the long-term ramifications of this move for the Kings, but in the short term Sacramento got better and they want that spot.

Just behind them, the Los Angeles Lakers. They were a playoff team in the East before LeBron James injured his groin, the conventional wisdom has been they would return to that form and own the spot. But Lonzo Ball is injured, and the Anthony Davis drama took its toll on the Lakers’ psyche, and it showed when they got blown out by 42 in Indiana. The Lakers are on the road (the Grammys forced them out of Staples Center) and are in the toughest stretch of their season. If the Lakers stumble a little, can they still catch the Kings?

This race got fun.

5) Markelle Fultz is getting a fresh start. Could Carmelo Anthony get one, too? The trade deadline saw a few players who wanted or needed a change of scenery getting one. Thon Maker wanted out of Milwaukee, now he gets a chance to come off the bench in Detroit. Stanley Johnson is out of Detroit and is now in New Orleans getting a chance, and Marquese Chriss will get some run and opportunity in Cleveland.

Nobody needed a fresh start more than Markelle Fultz, however. And he got it, the former No. 1 pick is now a member of the Orlando Magic.

Fultz was drafted with a lot of fanfare and a lot of pressure to be the third part of a “big three” in Philly with Embiid and Simmons, but after a short but decent Summer League, Fultz showed up at training camp with a new shooting form that was a disaster. Whether it was due to injury or trainers or alien abduction, it was a mess. Fultz missed most of the season getting injury treatment, spent the off-season working with a shot doctor, and by the end his confidence was clearly shot. He was in his own head. Then Fultz was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome and spent most of this season in rehab.

Orlando traded Fultz for Jonathan Simmons, a top-20 protected first-round pick (via Oklahoma City) and a second-round pick (via Cleveland). The trade raised a lot of eyebrows around the league because it was more than most thought they would get.

Orlando is a perfect spot for Fultz — not a big market, not as bright a spotlight, less pressure, and some other young stars he can grow with. Orlando has a lot of player development to do, but they have potential on that roster. We’ll find out what Fultz really has.

One other guy to watch: Carmelo Anthony.

The Lakers made a two-for-one trade sending Michael Beasley and Ivica Zubac down the hall at Staples Center to the Clippers for Mike Muscala — who can help the Lakers as a pick-and-pop big who will stretch the floor. But that’s not why everyone is talking.

That move opened up a roster spot on the Lakers, LeBron has said he wants Anthony on his team, and the Lakers have said the thing holding them back was a lack of a roster spot. Now they have one. Word is the Lakers are going to check out the full buyout market and see if they can land someone who can help them get to the playoffs, but don’t be shocked if that slot ends up going to Anthony. Which would send Lakers’ nation into a frenzy.

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