As I watched the trade deadline unfold, I couldn’t help but wonder about the cause and effect in what we saw. Was the entire playoff contending Western Conference going to be massive buyers anyways, in order to keep pace with a couple dominant teams at the top? Or was it Kyrie’s request out of Brooklyn that served as the primary catalyst in the mayhem that followed? Contending teams are always buyers at the deadline, I’m no fool, but this year felt different. This year felt like a culmination of teams recognizing their title window is closing (Suns), ones that are desperate to keep their franchise cornerstone happy (Mavericks), and ones simply trying to rid themselves of perceived locker room “cancers” (Nuggets and Lakers). All of which are super charged by the new player-driven climate of the NBA. The result? The most dynamic Conference we have seen in a decade.
Oh Kyrie. You’d moved past the anti-Semitism saga, Brooklyn was finally finding a groove, KD was on his way back, Jacque Vaughn finally had ya’ll playing defense, but nothing is ever enough for you, is it? Well, I hear from Zion that Dallas (or something about Dallas) is really nice. Maybe you’ll find happiness, or whatever Zion did, there.
In my Contenders Vs. Pretenders article (that needs a makeover), I’d stated that Luka needed his “Pippen”. While Kyrie Irving is certainly not what I had in mind whatsoever, I commend the Mavericks for being ultra-aggressive in keeping Luka happy. He’d been visibly displeased with the team on numerous occasions this season, and Dallas wasted no time in alleviating that. Kyrie has played off-ball before, but it’s no secret that he is at his best when the ball is in his hands. Which is why I view this trade as a bit of a square peg, round hole, fit. But it keeps them in contention this year, even if Kyrie is a Laker by this time next. I’m rocking with a trade grade of a B for the Mavs here.
Thanks to Kyrie’s turbulent ass, Brooklyn realized it’s time to burn it down. Ain’t no way they were competing with the Bucks, Celtics, and Sixers, on the back of KD, budding Cam Thomas, broken Ben Simmons, and Clax daddy. Whether it was KD’s choice or Brooklyn’s, doesn’t matter. Both of them knew. And the Phoenix Suns were waiting with open arms, just like it was the summer of 2019 when KD chose to sign with Brooklyn over the Suns in the first place. It was no secret that attracting superstars was something D Book had harped on in the past, at one point saying “I want them to come to me”.
He got his wish in the form of arguably the most dynamic scorer the league has ever seen. Phoenix mortgaged it’s future sending four 1st round picks, a 1st round pick swap, Cam Johnson, and Mikal Bridges in return for Durant and TJ Warren (Bucks/Pacers involved as well but irrelevant for this conversation). And I understand why… Any team with Durant and Booker (albeit Book hasn’t won shit), is an instant title contender. Ayton and CP3 aren’t scrubs, but they’re second fiddle at this stage in their careers for different reasons: Ayton’s inconsistent, and CP3 is a dinosaur. This trade gives Booker a legitimate running mate whose tetradactyl wingspan is welcomed on the defensive side of the floor, as well. If TJ Warren finds his Orlando “bubble” jumper, he’s no slouch either. While I’d previously called the Suns Pretenders, they are now one of the toughest outs in the Western Conference, I fear. Considering the Suns sent less picks and players for KD/Warren, than the T Wolves did for RUDY GOBERT (LMAO), I have no choice but to give this trade a rock-solid A for the Suns.
As the buzz remained around Phoenix, the Los Angeles Clippers were quietly architecting a sneaky good bench via multiple transactions. In three separate trades, they acquired Bones Hyland for a bag of peanuts, Eric Gordon in a deal that sent away Luke Kennard and John Wall, and Plumlee for Reggie Jackson and a 2nd. Their bench unit had been a central source for failure this year, and boy did they address it. While none of these names produce the same wake that names like KD or Kyrie do, they are all pivotal role players. Bones has top end offensive ability, Eric Gordon has been forgotten about thanks to being stuck in Rockets purgatory for so long, and Plumlee is shooting the highest FG% of his career after switching shooting hands late last season (you can’t make this shit up). And it only cost them Kennard, Wall, and Reggie. GM Michael Winger put on for the city of angels. Overall deadline grade: B+.
The Clippers big brother didn’t sit out of the action, either. LeGM and Kobe’s ex-agent turned GM, Rob Pelinka, are finally freed of their Russell Westbrook era after shipping him, Juan Toscano (JTA), and Damian Jones (whom they replaced with Mo Bamba in a different deal), and a 1st to Utah in a three-team deal involving the Wolves. Out of it, they netted Malik Beasley, D’Angelo Russell, and Jarred Vanderbilt. While the Clippers concentrated on their bench, the Lakers bolstered what may be their “closing lineup” by picking up the perfect assortment of complimentary players for Lebron and AD to share the floor with. If I am a Laker fan, I am ecstatic this deal got done. If I’m Vanderbilt, I’d like to live in a city for more than a year this time around. While I think Russell Westbrook is misunderstood at times and is certainly no “vampire”, it was glaringly obvious that things were never going to work out in LA from the first time he took the floor in a Laker uniform. Contrasting styles, an inability to shoot, and conflicting personalities were all reasons for that. Malik Beasley and D’angelo both bring shooting that the Lakers have lacked since winning their mickey mouse ring, and Vanderbilt is an absolute menace on the glass. Well done Rob… glad you weren’t at Disney Land this time around. You earned yourself an A-.
Side note on the Lakers: Can we acknowledge how funny it is that Malik is now on the same team as Scotty Pippen Jr. who was once very close to becoming his stepson LOL
In the same deal that took Bamba to the Lakers, Bones to the Clippers, and Pat Bev to Orlando (until he’s bought out), the Nuggets got their backup five that they so badly needed. I’ll never forget when free agency started and the first deal we made was with… DeAndre Jordan? As If Calvin Booth had been watching the clock just waiting for the opportunity to pounce on the prototypical Center that is five years past their prime. I wanted to vomit. Nuggets experimented throughout the year using Nnaji, DJ, and even sometimes Cancar (small ball lineup) at the backup Center position, but it was so, so, rocky. And not the mascot “Rocky”. I’m talking Stepbrothers “Boats n’ hoes” type of rocky.
That clip^ is an accurate depiction of how I felt watching our second unit flow (or lack thereof) on offense without the Joker on the floor. Picking up Thomas Bryant, who is top 10 in offensive efficiency for his position, to fill that void, is a HUGE win. Yes, I am sad to see Bones go and I do think he may be a very impactful player for the Clippers in the not so distant future, but the Nuggets have no room for distraction in this absolute gauntlet of a conference. Fairly quiet deadline for the Nuggets… I’ve heard the phrase “addition by subtraction” a lot, and I agree. Overall grade: B.
As you can deduce from the grades given out, a handful of preseason contenders that had plummeted since, took a needle in the arm and got JUICED for the home stretch. There is zero room for error in the Western Conference now. Kill or be killed. And I can’t wait to sweat as it unfolds.