An eventful NBA Trade Deadline concluded on Thursday, with a few big deals getting done. Most prominently, the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets swapped disgruntled superstars, with James Harden going to Philadelphia and Ben Simmons going to Brooklyn. The Dallas Mavericks moved on from their supposed second star, Kristaps Porzingis, while a number of playoff teams upgraded.
Others stayed put, either by choice or because they had nothing of value to trade (looking at you, Los Angeles Lakers). Let’s take a look at some winners and losers of deadline day.
Winners: Harden and Simmons
We’ll start with the stars who got their wishes to be moved. Simmons hasn’t played all season as he pushed for a trade from the Sixers, and now, thanks to Harden’s sudden discontent in Brooklyn, he will get to go to Brooklyn.
The Sixers, along with Simmons, sent sharpshooter Seth Curry, backup center Andre Drummond, and two first-round picks in exchange for Harden and Paul Millsap. There’s a case to be made that either team won this trade. But we have to remember that in a lot of ways, these teams’ hands were forced. They want and need to win immediately, and they had stars who were unhappy. To make anything of this season, they had to make a move.
I’d argue that both teams did about as well as they could. They did what was necessary: bring in a new star and send out a dissatisfied one. The Sixers bet that Harden’s hamstring is okay, and that his effort will pick up on a team that he wants to play for. Harden’s demise has been greatly exaggerated; while he’s certainly looked lethargic at times this season, he’s also shown significant flashes of superstardom. He’s a fantastic passer and still generates advantages on pick-and-rolls. Even if his scoring has declined, his presence will be a great positive for Joel Embiid.
Philly was getting a zero from Simmons’s spot in the rotation anyway. Embiid is having a monster season, and the Sixers have a deep, talented supporting cast. It’s worth it to take a shot at a championship. The Harden-Embiid partnership has unlimited potential. The Sixers have the depth (Tyrese Maxey, Danny Green, Furkan Korkmaz) to cover for Curry’s departure. Potential drama notwithstanding, they have a very real chance at a championship.
Things are less clear for the Nets. Their biggest problem remains Kyrie Irving’s unwillingness to get vaccinated. Replacing Harden with Simmons is simply a downgrade, and puts a heavy onus on Kevin Durant when Irving is not playing. We know Durant can handle it, and his supporting cast is better now with Curry’s arrival. But Harden is a big loss.
Simmons is something of a question mark. Last time we saw him, he was melting into a puddle in the Eastern Conference semifinals. His fit is better in Brooklyn; the idea will be that he can play as a facilitator in a spaced-out offense, sometimes as a small-ball five, and defend the opposing team’s best player. It’s the role that Simmons needs to play.
The Nets will see if it’s possible to win a championship with Simmons as their third (and often second) best player. Before anything else, they will have to avoid the play-in tournament, which will be a difficult task.
Loser: Dallas Mavericks
The Mavs traded Kristaps Porzingis and a second-round pick to the Wizards for Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans. This is a very weird trade, and I have no idea what the Mavericks are doing. This trade, as Kevin Pelton wrote for ESPN, does not create cap space for Dallas. It gives them insurance if Jalen Brunson leaves this offseason, but it doesn’t do much else.
Dinwiddie has struggled mightily this season in his return from a torn ACL. He’s scoring inefficiently and shooting poorly. Bertans has one skill, shooting, and he’s shot 32 percent from three this season, falling out of the Wizards’ rotation in the process. Both players are signed for multiple more years. It’s a downgrade for Dallas, decreasing their ceiling as a team and making things even harder on Luka Doncic.
Winner: Charlotte Hornets
Charlotte made one move and it was a good one: they grabbed Montrezl Harrell from the Wizards for Vernon Carey Jr. and Ish Smith. Carey is a young player who doesn’t play often, and Smith is a veteran backup point guard who doesn’t play unless there are injuries. The Hornets managed to grab a recent Sixth Man of the Year-winning center without giving up any draft picks or rotation players.
Harrell is a feisty, efficient scorer who can run pick-and-rolls and finish at the hoop all day. He plays with more energy than the other team and boosts any bench lineup. The Hornets’ many playmakers will surely love getting to play with a finisher like Harrell, who also has touch around the rim. Charlotte wanted an upgrade at center and they got one. Defensively, Harrell is not great, but the Hornets aren’t stopping anybody anyway. They can out-score everyone.
We don’t have time to dive all the way into the trainwreck that is the 2021-22 Lakers. They made such horrendous offseason moves that they gave themselves zero flexibility when their team inevitably fell apart. They were reportedly hesitant to deal future draft picks and thus made no moves at the trade deadline.
They had the opportunity to package a draft pick to get off of Russell Westbrook, but decided not to. They also demurred when given the opportunity to part with Talen Horton-Tucker and a draft pick to acquire a player like Cam Reddish or Alec Burks from the New York Knicks. The Lakers have one of the best duos in the history of the sport and have managed to completely waste this season. It’s a front office travesty.
Winner: Boston Celtics
We’ll finish with the Celtics, who got better at the deadline. They first grabbed San Antonio Spurs guard Derrick White, a dogged defender and quality playmaker. White is exactly the sort of pass-first point guard that the Celtics have needed. He will be able to initiate the offense and prevent it from getting bogged down. He’s also a quality perimeter defender and capable scorer, averaging 14 points this season. His three-point shooting isn’t great, but he shoots well from the corner and could improve with better looks. Plus, his willingness to shoot provides spacing in itself.
Boston traded Josh Richardson, Romeo Langford, and a top-four protected 2022 first-round pick (plus a 2028 pick swap) to the Spurs for White. It’s good value for a player like him. They also cleared cap space by sending Bol Bol and PJ Dozier to Orlando, then added one more piece in familiar backup center Daniel Theis from Houston. They sent Dennis Schroder, Enes Freedom, and Bruno Fernando for Theis. Good business for the Celtics.