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Early forecasts called for a dry, dull 2020 NBA trade deadline.
But as often happens this time of year, the deadline’s ticking clock had everyone’s attention, and suddenly deals showered down on us.
More than three dozen players found new homes, including D’Angelo Russell, Andrew Wiggins, Clint Capela, Andre Drummond and Andre Iguodala. It was dramatic, unpredictable, mostly fun and, at times, tough to get our heads around.
But it could have been much more.
Maybe we’re just greedy, but we didn’t see all the deals we wanted. In our ideal deadline, the following five swaps would’ve been added to the transaction log.
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Miami Heat Receive: Danilo Gallinari
Oklahoma City Thunder Receive: Jae Crowder, Solomon Hill, 2025 first-round pick
Post-deadline readings on the Miami Heat would be best processed with one of those memory-erasing sticks from Men in Black. Using only a hobbled Justise Winslow to dump two bloated deals, increase flexibility and pick up two or three rotation members (including Andre Iguodala) is the latest masterpiece from Pat Riley, Andy Elisburg and this front office.
But our memories haven’t been erased. We know that Danilo Gallinari—the finishing piece of their puzzle—was within their grasp. They were far enough along in discussions to talk contract extensions with the 6’10” scoring forward, but those conversations fell apart when Miami was unwilling to guarantee substantial money for the 2021-22 season, per Anthony Chiang and Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.
In order to send a 2025 first-rounder to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Heat would have needed to remove the lottery protection from the 2023 first they already owe the Thunder. They deemed that too much for a rental but didn’t want any extra money on the books for 2021 (i.e. the Summer of Giannis). So, no Gallinari, which is a huge bummer because he potentially pushed this team over the top.
“Gallinari was the perfect player to round out Miami’s closing group—the stretch power forward they don’t have,” ESPN’s Zach Lowe wrote. “A finishing five of Goran Dragic, [Jimmy] Butler, Iguodala, Gallinari and [Bam] Adebayo has a fighting chance against Milwaukee and the Los Angeles teams. … That team—the one with Gallinari—was worth mortgaging a big chunk of the future.”
The Heat are good, but this deal would’ve moved them closer to great. Considering Butler is already 30 years old and has both injuries and high-mileage minutes in his past, there aren’t guaranteed to be chances of getting nearer to greatness again.
The Thunder, meanwhile, could’ve nabbed an asset for a 31-year-old, non-star rental, and by bringing back both Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill, they wouldn’t have abandoned the postseason race. It maybe makes the current group a little worse, but it wasn’t knocking off a Goliath anyway.
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Los Angeles Lakers Receive: Derrick Rose
Detroit Pistons Receive: Kyle Kuzma, Quinn Cook
The Los Angeles Lakers missed an opportunity to add at the deadline, and that seems doubly troubling when the Los Angeles Clippers snagged a critical puzzle piece in Marcus Morris Sr. As it stands, the Lakers’ third-best player, Kyle Kuzma, is neither a starter nor an ideal fit for the LeBron James-Anthony Davis duo.
While the 24-year-old Kuzma hasn’t exhausted his growth potential, it’s pretty obvious he won’t be a major shot-creator or stopper. He’s only a 31.1 percent shooter since the start of last season, too, so he’s not much of a spacer, either. His streaky scoring both hints at upside (which doesn’t move the needle for this year’s team) and highlights his inefficiency (which might be tough for this team to stomach in the playoffs).
Selling Kuzma made sense if the Lakers could find a needle-mover. Considering what Derrick Rose would have provided as a third scorer and secondary ball-handler, the former MVP qualified as such. L.A. was eyeing him, too, per Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes.
Rose has been electric this season. His 49.8 field-goal percentage is on pace to be a new career high, and he has never provided this many points per 36 minutes (25.2).
Drop him in L.A., and he can run pick-and-rolls with James or Davis, and Rose could keep the offense humming without James. Right now, the Lakers are a whopping 14.6 points better per 100 possessions with James than without. Rose could have prevented those deep declines.
As for the Pistons, their decision to keep Rose is a head-scratcher. They took a two-year, $15 million, let’s-see-what-happens flier this summer, and they could have turned him into a real asset. Instead, he’ll be spending his age-32 season on an Andre Drummond-less rebuilder.
For all of Kuzma’s flaws, the Michigan native has obvious ability. He was good for nearly 19 points per night just last season. The Pistons are painfully light on long-term keepers, and none has that type of scoring upside.
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Milwaukee Bucks Receive: Bogdan Bogdanovic
Sacramento Kings Receive: Donte DiVincenzo, D.J. Wilson, 2020 first-round pick (lottery protected, from IND)
If the Milwaukee Bucks deemed a deal unnecessary, we get where they’re coming from. They’re sprinting along at a 71-win pace, which would shatter their franchise record—set by a team with both Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson. They are also on course to post the highest-ever margin of victory, so yeah, this is sort of a special group.
But are they positive it’s good enough to win a title? Are they sure Eric Bledsoe won’t turn back into a playoff pumpkin again? Or that teams won’t scheme Brook Lopez off the floor? Do they definitely have enough support for when opponents inevitably throw the kitchen sink at Giannis Antetokounmpo?
That’s a lot of questions; too many, frankly, with Antetokounmpo’s proximity to his upcoming decision on a supermax extension offer. If Milwaukee made a bold move for Bogdan Bogdanovic—a do-it-all wing who could’ve supplanted Wes Matthews in the starting five—it would have sent a message to Giannis (and the entire NBA) that this franchise is fully committed to chasing the crown.
“With a championship so close last year and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs growing closer by the day, the Bucks need to push all of their chips in,” B/R’s Greg Swartz wrote ahead of the deadline. “Adding Bogdanovic would be a crushing blow to other championship-hopeful squads and put a nail in the coffin of every other Eastern Conference playoff team.”
The Sacramento Kings are clearly big fans of Bogdanovic. They parted with two picks in a cap-clearing deadline deal so they’d have the funds to re-sign him. But this offer could’ve given them plenty to think about.
Donte DiVincenzo is a 23-year-old energizer who also does a little of everything. Depending on the Indiana Pacers’ finish, the pick could land in the high teens. D.J. Wilson is a 23-year-old with length, athleticism and versatility, and he might blossom if he landed in a regular role.
Since Sacramento has already paid Harrison Barnes and Buddy Hield, and it will need to lock up De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley III in the near future, the Kings might need younger, cheaper talent than a 27-year-old restricted-free-agent-to-be.
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Denver Nuggets Receive: Jrue Holiday
New Orleans Pelicans Receive: Gary Harris, Michael Porter Jr.
Denver Nuggets fans hate this idea. They hate anything that involves a mention of Michael Porter Jr. doing anything other than getting buckets at mile-high altitude. The front office isn’t fond of it either, since it long ago tabbed the youngster as untouchable.
But the New Orleans Pelicans weren’t routing Jrue Holiday to the Rockies without Porter’s involvement. As ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski put it, only an “overwhelming offer” could pry Holiday out of the Crescent City, and Porter is the only movable player on Denver’s roster who can help make an offer overwhelming.
With none of these players needing change of address forms, Denver presumably decided the deal wasn’t worth it. In time, history may not agree.
Porter has a ton of mystery-box appeal. He’s a 6’10”, three-level scorer. Those players don’t come around often. There’s a reason he once ranked atop his draft class.
But let’s say this is the best chance the Nuggets will have at the title. As a five-year veteran, Nikola Jokic is likely at or nearing the peak of his powers. Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee are ticketed for free agency, and Jerami Grant could join them there by declining a $9.3 million player option. Torrey Craig and Jordan McRae need new deals if Denver wants to keep them.
Oh, and anyone whose championship window is open is always at risk of seeing it slammed shut by the league’s next superteam.
Porter’s future is fascinating, but he’s not helping the Nuggets right now like Holiday could. Holiday works on or off the ball on offense, and he’s been an All-Defensive team selection the last two seasons. Porter, meanwhile, has a terrifying injury history, isn’t even averaging 22 minutes since the New Year and may never add much as a distributor or defender.
If you’re the Pelicans, you play the long game and see what Porter could become alongside all your other youngsters. If you’re the Nuggets, you’re past the point of being patient and you make the all-in push while the championship race is as open as it’s been in years.
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Philadelphia 76ers Receive: Chris Paul
Oklahoma City Thunder Receive: Harrison Barnes, Nemanja Bjelica, 2020 second-round pick (from NYK or BRK via PHI)
Sacramento Kings Receive: Al Horford, Mike Scott, Zhaire Smith, 2020 first-round pick (top-20 protected, from OKC via PHI)
The Philadelphia 76ers didn’t sit out the deadline, but the major shakeup it seems they need never happened. No disrespect, but when “internal” problems reach the public and players-only meetings are needed, your problems aren’t the kind Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III can solve.
The Sixers—the Cleveland Browns of the NBA, as Charles Barkley sees it—need a much bigger spark, so they should have spent large on fire-starting floor general Chris Paul. Maybe his grating leadership style puts the wrong kind of fuel on the fire and the locker room goes up in flames, but if the situation is combustible anyway, why not try to solve the tricky on-court puzzle at least?
“There’s an open window for the Sixers to make a Finals run if they take a calculated risk this season,” The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor wrote in January. “Paul could be the answer to opening the floor for both [Ben] Simmons and [Joel] Embiid.”
Paul could run pick-and-rolls with either one (94th percentile finisher as a ball-handler), set the table (third-highest assist average in NBA history), space the floor (career 36.9 percent from three) and handle crunch-time possessions. Even at 34, he has the savvy and hand speed you’d expect from a seven-time All-Defensive honoree.
The hang-up is the contract ($41.4 million next season, $44.2 million player option for 2021-22), but Philly has made clear it will spend big for a contender.
The Thunder clear the runway for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to take flight, and they gift him a 27-year-old offensive costar in Harrison Barnes. He isn’t cheap, but the contract declines annually if OKC wants to shed it later. The team also has another path to frontcourt spacing with Nemanja Bjelica if Danilo Gallinari bolts. A second-rounder from the Knicks functions like a late first and adds to OKC’s absurd asset collection.
The Kings thin the wing rotation to accommodate Bogdan Bogdanovic, and they take another try at finding the right veteran to accelerate their rebuild. Al Horford’s ability to play inside and out makes him a frontcourt fit with any partner, and he has the wisdom to help grease the gears on Marvin Bagley III’s development.
Sacramento, which still needs more to compete at a high level, opens doors to a pair of potential assets in the pick (which is the Thunder’s but belongs to the Sixers) and bouncy sophomore Zhaire Smith.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.