Biggest Winners and Losers from 2018 NBA Trade Deadline

Kelly Scaletta@@KellyScalettaFeatured ColumnistFebruary 9, 2018

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 17: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers passes while under pressure from Jordan Clarkson #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena on December 17, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Jason Miller/Getty Images

The trade deadline has passed, and all the results are in. Now it's time to assess the winners and losers from it.

Before we begin, though, let's clarify one thing: The "deadline" does fall on a date (this year, that date is Feb. 8), but it's more of a "trade season" that lasts the last couple of weeks leading up to the deadline.

For these purposes, the season "opened" when the Detroit Pistons acquired Blake Griffin from the Los Angeles Clippers on Jan. 29. 

In determining winners and losers, I considered how teams did according to what their expectations were. For example, rebuilding teams that acquired assets were just as likely to be winners as contending teams that made immediate fixes. 

        

Winners

Chicago Bulls

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

The Bulls helped themselves on multiple fronts of their rebuild by trading Nikola Mirotic to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for Omer Asik, Jameer Nelson, Tony Allen and a top-five protected first-round pick, along with the rights to swap second-round picks in 2021. 

Asik's bad contract, which has $12 million guaranteed next season and a $3 million buyout in 2020, was worth it considering the other aspects of the deal. 

First, it helped their draft this summer by giving them another first-round pick. The pick (top-five protected in 2018) will be conveyed immediately unless the Pelicans draw a lottery ball (which Basketball Reference currently gives a 0.8 percent chance of happening, based on the current standings, which includes the Pelicans' chances of falling into the lottery and then getting a ball for a top-three pick).

In addition to getting receiving a pick, the Bulls got worse, which should improve their own draft status. The Bulls are 14-11 in games Mirotic plays and are 4-24 in games he doesn't. So, they increased their chances of losing.

They turned one of the contracts they took on (Jameer Nelson) into swap rights for a 2022 second-round pick. It's not a huge thing, but it's more than they would have gotten just waiving him.

Rather than just make a straight-up trade, they absorbed Asik's contract into their Jimmy Butler trade exception and then created a new trade exception with Mirotic's contract, which gives them the continued flexibility of operating as a team over or under the cap.

They also added Noah Vonleh for the rights to Milovan Rakovic (who will probably never see an NBA court). Acquiring the extra salary helps them get to the salary floor and costs nothing. Vonleh is a low-risk acquisition who was a former lottery pick and might do better in a new situation.

All told, there was some pretty clever maneuvering.

    

Los Angeles Lakers

Tony Dejak/Associated Press

When a report came out from ESPN's Ramona Shelburne and Adrian Wojnarowski that the Lakers were going to shift their star-hunting focus from the 2018 free-agency period to 2019, many expected them to. When they traded Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. for Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye (both on expiring contracts) and a 2018 first-round pick, they put that report to bed. 

That gives the Lakers at least the ability to create $69 million in cap space; though, it would involve stretching Luol Deng's contract and renouncing their rights to Julius Randle, according to Bobby Marks of ESPN.

That gives them options. They can go after two max contracts this summer if they want to, but they don't have to.

They also get a first-round pick this year, which they didn't have before.

Finally, though fans (and teammates) scapegoated Thomas in Cleveland, he was an All-Star and had one of the greatest offensive seasons ever last season. If he doesn't work out, no harm is done. 

If he does work out? They'll have received a player who scores about 30 points per game on nice efficiency for almost nothing.

    

Detroit Pistons

Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

The Pistons are the biggest winners, after making multiple trades to help their playoff push. Of course, the most important acquisition is that of Blake Griffin, Brice Johnson and Willie Reed for Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, a 2018 top-four protected first-round pick and a 2019 second-round pick. 

Since the deal, the Pistons are undefeated (5-0 overall, and 4-0 with Griffin), and they have an astonishing plus-21.0 net rating with their new prize on the court, per NBA.com. That alone makes them huge winners.

But that's not all. After Willie Reed was suspended for alleged domestic violence, they turned him into a backup point guard by trading him to the Chicago Bulls (who subsequently waived him) for Jameer Nelson and a possible second-round pick swap in 2022 (with the Bulls having the swap rights).

All told, the Pistons put themselves in position to make the playoffs and perhaps even make some noise while they are there. Beyond that, they have an All-Star frontcourt tandem that can work together for years to come.

    

Cleveland Cavaliers

Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

Koby Altman has to be feeling good about himself. In an impossible situation, he did the impossible, and he did it with time to spare. 

The Cavaliers overhauled their team in about an hour. Through a series of trades, the sum of their moves resulted in sending out Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye, Jae Crowder, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade and Iman Shumpert (and a first-round pick). Overall, that's 3,950 of the 12,772 total minutes the Cavs have played, about 31 percent of the roster's playing time.

They have George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance and Rodney Hood coming in. Hill provides the desperately needed perimeter defense (so long as he's the engaged pre-Sacramento Kings version). He's also a fantastic option to play next to LeBron James because he is an excellent catch-and-shoot point guard (47.1 percent from deep, according to NBA.com).

There are questions as to how much was resolved defensively, though. The Defensive Real Plus-Minus of the incoming players doesn't bode well, per ESPN.com. Nance is the only one in the positive.

  • Larry Nance Jr.: plus-2.07
  • Jordan Clarkson: minus-1.41
  • George Hill: minus-1.95
  • Rodney Hood: minus-3.00

Worth noting here: Hill's DRPM is barely different from Thomas' minus-1.99. Measuring defense is complicated, and this is not an empirical argument, but it does show cause for concern.

There are still valid questions here. Can they find the chemistry with only 29 games left to get through the East in the playoffs? Did they fix their defensive issues?

But one huge question they answered was whether Altman would play to win (or not to lose) at the deadline. He played to win, and the amazing job he did of reconfiguring the roster on the fly might just be enough to keep LeBron James in Cleveland. 

      

Losers

Boston Celtics

Brandon Dill/Associated Press

The Boston Celtics didn't get the offensive help they needed, and that could come back to bite them in the end, particularly considering the roster overhaul the Cavaliers manipulated. 

I hate cliches, but sometimes they say things best, and this is a classic case of "If you're not moving forward, you're moving backward."

Grabbing Tyreke Evans for any of the first-round picks Ainge has saved up would have been a huge boost, but the Celtics look like they're going to continue to put everything on Kyrie Irving's shoulders, and that's just not a winning playoff formula.

They did add Greg Monroe, and he should help, but they'd be better off acquiring a primary ball-handler. There's still a chance they can get someone (Joe Johnson perhaps) on the buyout market. It could bump them off the losers list, if so.

    

Memphis Grizzlies

Evans was one of the hot targets heading into the trade deadline. Boston wanted him. Denver wanted him. Everyone wanted him.

Yet, when push came to shove, the Grizzlies weren't able to move him. Whether that's because teams weren't willing to part with a first-round pick, I don't know.

Either way, they still have him, and per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, they may try to keep him with their mid-level exception:

Granted, Mike Conley is out for the season, but there is no window for the Grizzlies to compete. They could have turned Evans into a piece that helped them for the future. The failure to do so is puzzling.

      

Los Angeles Clippers

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

The image I get here is of a diver jumping off the high dive, then changing his mind halfway down and trying to "go back up" only to end up in a painful belly-flop.

The Clippers made big news when they traded Blake Griffin. That's the decision to jump off the high dive.

The follow-up trade of DeAndre Jordan never happened. That's the belly-flop.

Whether that was because they were asking for more than they could get, or other teams just weren't able to make the contracts work, the reality is that Jordan is finishing out the season in L.A. with no guarantee he sticks around past the summer.

In addition to that, there's the image aspect of things. After they sold Griffin on a fake jersey retirement, he didn't even make it through the end of the year. They also extended Lou Williams, which, while he's having a fantastic season, doesn't seem to make sense for a team that's rebuilding. Though, maybe that's not what the Clippers are doing, either.

But if it's not, why trade Griffin? It's all so strange.

The Clippers now seem trapped in the in-between, and that's never a good place to be.

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