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Here are five takeaways from the comings, goings, maneuverings and sundry activity heading up to Thursday’s trade deadline:
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1. Timberwolves accomplish Minnesota: Impossible.
Consider it a variation on Michael Corleone’s dark wisdom in The Godfather, Part II: If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it is that you can trade anyone. For years, the thinking around the NBA used to be, “No contract is bad if it can be traded.” With Andrew Wiggins being shipped to Golden State Thursday, version 2.0 now is, “Any contract can be traded.”
Wiggins was packed off to the Warriors with a pair of 2021 Draft picks in exchange for D’Angelo Russell. In one fell swoop, then, Timberwolves basketball czar Gersson Rosas cleaned up two bits of unsuccessful business from last summer. The Wolves had their eye on Russell when he hit free agency out of Brooklyn but lost out to the Warriors’ Kevin Durant sign-and-trade with the Nets. They also wanted if at all possible to shed Wiggins for (in no particular order) his exorbitant contract, his lackadaisical play and his empty promises that he would, some day, do better.
𝙇𝙖𝙙𝙞𝙚𝙨 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙂𝙚𝙣𝙩𝙡𝙚𝙢𝙚𝙣, 𝙬𝙚 𝙜𝙤𝙩 𝙝𝙞𝙢. pic.twitter.com/8vqpq10Jxq
— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) February 7, 2020
Now Wiggins joins a championship-proven franchise, with adult stars and a experienced coach who will hold him accountable. He has three years and $93 million left on his $148 million deal, but now faces little pressure to play up to that salary. If he can be a reasonable facsimile of Harrison Barnes from the Warriors’ Finals editions in 2015 and ’16, Wiggins will make his new bosses happy. He needed a reset and gets it — assuming, that is, he gets it.
The Timberwolves needed this deal badly. The fan base in the Twin Cities has hit bottom, its patience sapped with just one playoff appearance – through multiple regime changes — since ’04. Star big man Karl-Anthony Towns has grown increasingly frustrated, while incapable of leading the necessary changes in play and attitude himself. Now he has his good buddy Russell on board – the scoring guard’s fourth team in five years, by the way.
Golden State swaps out a guy who largely was a placeholder in the backcourt for another who can play alongside them and cleans up its payroll too.
2. Room for the big man keeps shrinking
Andre Drummond took to Twitter soon after he had been dealt to Cleveland. But instead of dealing in hashtags, he should be more concerned with toe tags. The deal had an unmistakable whiff of the continued death spiral of traditional NBA centers.
No one does what Drummond does quite as well, pounding the offensive glass for multiple chances and routinely posting 15/15 nights. Defensively, he takes up space and has had a plus net rating every season. But guys of his size and skill have been out of fashion for several seasons, and with most of the teams mimicking the Golden State/Houston style of spread offense small ball, the market has largely dried up.
Look at Houston, which might not win an NBA championship in shipping out center Clint Capela, but would dominate all the Napoleon basketball leagues (6-foot-5-and-under division). Giving up Capela’s rim running now to open the middle for James Harden and especially Russell Westbrook is a grand, risky experiment. Sixty or more 3-point attempts might become the Rockets’ nightly target.
Y’know, maybe in a backwards way, this could spark a mini-resurgence of the big man — at least when teams play Houston, when they post up all their guys taller than P.J. Tucker.
When Drummond first was made available in this trade market, the word was Detroit was concerned he would opt out of his contract this summer and leave as a free agent. But closer we got to the deadline, murmurs suggested a worse outcome might be Drummond opting in to the $28.7 million remaining on the contract.
Next thing we know, he’ll be heading over to Germany to play alongside his former Pistons teammate Greg Monroe, another big squeezed out by the 3-ball.
3. Expect more ‘no play, all pay’ larks like Iggy’s
Andre Iguodala got what he wanted — a trade to a legit contender, now that he’s joining coach Erik Spoelstra, Jimmy Buter and the rest in Miami. Memphis got what it wanted — some players and, at the very front end of Iguodala’s arrival, a Warriors first-round pick.
But how both parties got there sent a mixed message to other Grizzlies players and might have established a dangerous precedent. Iguodala didn’t want to join Memphis. Memphis, having traded for him, was okay with that. And yet the Grizzlies paid Iguodala anyway, sending checks as part of his $17 million salary while the veteran forward played golf, explored investment opportunities, promoted a book and on and on.
The mess was born in presumptions that Memphis would struggle this season. Except the Grizzlies seem to have turned a corner toward playoff contention, and young cornerstones such as rookie guard Ja Morant and second-year big man Jaren Jackson Jr. could have benefited from a seasoned veteran’s voice, as could the Memphis coaches. It got late early, though, to the point neither side was backing down.
So when Iguodala finally got traded to Miami, where he’ll actually be expected to play, and the move earned some notice around the NBA:
Bruh you’re a legend @andre . My guy sat half the season. Spent time with his family. Promoted his book. Sharpened up his post retirement plans and cashed out 😂✊🏾 respect bruh.
— CJ McCollum (@CJMcCollum) February 6, 2020
They call this a copy-cat league. So it wasn’t just business between Iguodala and the Grizzlies; 29 other teams are going to have to deal with the ripple effects.
4. And the winners of the Lakers-Clippers showdown was…
THE CLIPPERS. They were better set up in money, in roster build and in assets on hand to wade into this trade market and it paid off handsomely: they acquired Marcus Morris Sr. from the Knicks, a player they’d had their eyes on before the season. Morris is a nuts‘n bolts, gritty player with deep playoff experience and in most ways — other than being able to cover multiple positions — a step up from Moe Harkless, who went to New York.
The Lakers didn’t have the pieces to attract a serious dance partner heading into the deadline. That means they’ll have to live a while longer with two significant needs — a point guard to take some load off LeBron James and lessen reliance on Rajon Rondo, as well as a D-and-3 wing. Their likeliest paths to outside help are the buyout market (who wouldn’t want to jump aboard a James contender in sunny California?) and reports that former NBA guard Darren Collison might revoke his June retirement to join them.
Bottom line, though, is that the Clippers believe what many around the league suspect: they are nearly or completely the Lakers’ equals. The Larry O’Brien Trophy will be up for grabs this spring and while owner Steve Ballmer, coach Doc Rivers and the rest have been OK drafting NASCAR-style behind their Staples Center housemates to this point, the trade deadline means it’s time to get a heavy right foot, right now.
5. Stand pat or do something: What’s the winning play?
More players wondered whether they might get traded than actually did. Happens every year on this day. Similarly, more teams decided to play the cards they’d been dealt rather than go toss in for a draw, seeking some season-altering deal. That happens most years too.
When things are going well, as they have been in Milwaukee, Toronto, Boston, Denver, Oklahoma City and at the Lakers’ end of the hall, why tinker? So often, the best improvement comes from within and the goal is to be playing better as a unit in April than in October. The teams cited all are reaching or exceeding their offseason expectations. Fiddling with chemistry or pecking orders can go sideways quickly, which is why many GMs eschew the deadline deal.
In a recent interview with HoopsHype.com, for instance, Indiana basketball boss Kevin Pritchard talked of a lesson he learned from his predecessor, Larry Bird. “Larry was always like, ‘I don’t want to make trades in the middle of the season. I don’t want to really hurt people’s lives. I don’t want to uproot families,’” Pritchard said. “You just can’t do a trade to look like you’re doing things. … The truth is, behind the scenes, there’s just as much work when there’s no activity on the front lines.”
Philadelphia added wing depth and shooting Thursday because it was sputtering from that obvious need, among several. Miami felt a need for a veteran defender in Iguodala and tried mightily to add Danilo Galinari’s shooting. Houston frankly seemed as driven by money issues as stylistic ones. The Clippers pounced to close the gap, or open one, on the Lakers. And certainly, many transactions offer a longer horizon, as far as clearing cap space for future free agency or sidestepping the luxury tax.
Then there’s Indiana, which hopes it has the best of both worlds. The Pacers got former All-Star Victor Oladipo back after a year’s layoff from a ruptured quadricep. They added talent to a team in the middle of the East playoff chase, without giving up a thing. And even they need to adapt, improvise and overcome, as evidenced by their three consecutive losses through Wednesday.
Doing something can break in many directions. Doing anything? Not good, time and again. Public pressure or trying to justify a fat executive paycheck is the worst reason to do a deal.
None of what we saw Thursday qualified as one of those recreational or for-appearances-only kind of moves. But since we started this with a classic movie quote, we’ll end it the same. As Paul Newman’s character says at a pivotal point in “Cool Hand Luke,” Sometimes nothin’ can be a real cool hand.”
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