After a slow, boring rumble, deadline day exploded with deals Thursday afternoon, as numerous teams made a flurry of moves that saw intriguing names switch squads. The Cavs were the most active, rebuilding their roster by acquiring Rodney Hood, George Hill, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr., while sending away Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade, Jae Crowder, Iman Shumpert, Channing Frye and (deep breath) ISAIAH THOMAS. Outside of Cleveland, we saw some surprising moves—Elfrid Payton is worth only a second-round pick???—and some surprising non-moves—why is Tyreke Evans still in Memphis?
If your head is still spinning from all the action, well, we’re in the same boat. You can catch up on all the madness with The Crossover’s trade deadline live blog. If you want to know what’s most important moving forward, here are five takeaways from Thursday’s trade deadline.
1. No one wants to lose a first-round pick
With the salary cap flatlining, cheap labor is as important as ever in the NBA. As a result, teams seemed reluctant to part ways with first-round picks at the deadline. The Cavs were the only team to trade one, and it will be their own pick (not the coveted Nets one), covered with some protections. A first-round pick could’ve likely been used to acquire guys like Evans, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart, each of whom would have had value for specific teams.
But teams didn’t seem willing to make the gamble. Even some young players worth a flier, like Hood or Payton, didn’t fetch their now-former teams any valuable picks. Teams hoarding picks is certainly something to keep an eye on, and the reluctance to splurge on even modestly priced help will likely have a trickle-down effect in free agency.
2. Do centers still matter?
There was some chatter about DeAndre Jordan trades Thursday, and to a lesser extent the past month, Hassan Whiteside. Both are on big contracts, and both are staying put after the trade deadline. Jordan’s lack of movement makes a little more sense—the Clips can let him walk this season and use the cap space for their rebuild. The Heat probably wouldn’t have been too upset to get Whiteside off their books with a complicated cap situation soon approaching, but it appears they couldn’t find any takers.
The lack of trades involving these guys could certainly be connected to the first-round pick business, but it could also speak to a larger issue with centers. Who wants big guys that can’t shoot? Jordan and Whiteside are useful players, but their value decreases at the end of games, and they can be tricky to deploy in the playoffs. A chill on contracts is expected this summer no matter what, but I’m curious how close we are to centers being frozen out of big deals. Will a contender really want to max DeAndre?
3. The Cavs believe they have a chance, right?
It’s hard to imagine Dan Gilbert was in charge of the Cavs’ dealings Thursday. General manager Koby Altman completely re-made the roster, and he did so with the intent of building a contender for LeBron James’s potential last stand. But maybe Altman also believes there’s a chance James sticks it out this summer? Granted, the Cavs didn’t part with any important long-term assets (especially the Nets pick), but they also didn’t make moves focused solely focused on the future. George Hill and Rodney Hood are likely short-term plays, while Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance add money beyond this season.
If you squint hard enough, you can see Altman building a semblance of a case to bring James back. Hood can be re-signed, Hill is under contract for another year, and the trades added some much-needed youth to Cleveland’s roster. The Cavs still aren’t in the same stratosphere as the Warriors, but the moves they made bring them marginally closer. Is that enough to keep a narrative-minded LeBron in town? It’s way too early to tell, but it appears Altman and the Cavs aren’t ready to give up on the idea.
4. Isaiah Thomas’s career is in a tough spot
Damn, Isaiah Thomas deserves better. Not even a year ago, he was dropping 50 points in a playoff game in the wake of his sister’s death. Now he’s on his third team in the span of eight months, and he’ll spend the rest of his season playing for a Lakers team headed straight to the lottery. Thomas hasn’t had an opportunity to re-prove himself after his hip injury, and while he was part of the problem in Cleveland, in retrospect, that environment may not have been the most conducive for his reintegration into the league.
With Thomas’s contract expiring, he’ll have only a couple months (and no playoff run) to rebuild his reputation with the hopes of securing a big deal. With the cap tightening and the Lakers in the midst of a losing season, Thomas could be looking at having to prove himself again next year before receiving some substantial financial security. It’s a sad downfall for one of the league’s best stories. If there’s one thing we know about Thomas, however, it’s that he’s never been one to back down from adversity.
5. The buyout market is the hottest club in the NBA
A bunch of contenders stood still Thursday. The Warriors, Rockets, Celtics, Spurs and Thunder all declined to make moves at the deadline, and most could still use a piece or two for the home stretch. The Rockets are loaded, but one more player could signal they are truly all-in on taking down the Warriors this season. The Celtics need scoring, the Spurs need Kawhi Leonard insurance and the Thunder need an Andre Roberson replacement.
Fortunately for these clubs, the buyout market will present another opportunity to improve their rosters. Joe Johnson (may have a little left) and Derrick Rose (stay away!) are those already expected to become free agents after getting traded, with perhaps a Wilson Chandler shaking free as well. We’ll see which names do actually enter the market, but I would assume some of the top teams aren’t done tinkering on the margins. It’s not a bad position to be in for potential free agents, who could end up with their choice of contender to hang onto for the playoffs.
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