With the tornado that was the 2023 NBA trade deadline having expired, teams are left to clear up the debris, get the dealt players to their new addresses and prepare for the buyout market.
Most involved didn’t expect this kind of storm.
“Everybody every year is trying to get under the tax or save money here and there. I mean, that’s the majority of most midseason activity,” a general manager told Heavy Sports. “But there was a combination of those and, wow, Kyrie and KD … that stuff was crazy huge. Things just started happening all over the place.”
The first foundation to be uprooted sent Kyrie Irving via the Wizard of Oz highway to Dallas. The Texas lottery may now include a contest to bet on the date he becomes disillusioned and feels disrespected, but one league executive endorsed the trade and has some optimism for the union.
“I just think it’s like, ‘Why not?’ Dallas wasn’t going anywhere with what they had,” he said. “They were hovering a couple of games over .500, and Kyrie is a dynamic player. I think he’ll be on his best behavior. I think he’s excited to be out of Brooklyn, and Jason (Kidd, the coach) will have an impact on him, too.
“I think it’s gonna work out. I mean, in the short term, I’d be surprised if it didn’t.”
Western Conference Finals Spot Wide Open
The question then becomes whether that will be good enough in a Western Conference that was shook up, too, by Kevin Durant going from the Nets to the Suns. After dealing Irving, Brooklyn management was looking for moves to build around Durant and make him amenable to staying. But when Phoenix and its new ownership kept calling and offering more, the Nets altered their outlook. So will the Kyrie/Luka Doncic Mavericks have enough to get through the maze?
“How do you know?” said another league source. “Denver’s really good. Phoenix is going to be good. The Lakers got a little better. Golden State, when they get healthy, they’re going to be good. So I don’t know the answer to that. The Clippers have a good team, too. When their team’s all right, they’re dangerous — and Memphis is pretty good, too. They can be tough to beat in a series.
“We all know that superstars win championships,” he added. “Nobody ever wins a championship without star power. So even though there are long-term challenges with Kyrie that we all know about — and even KD, with his age and injury history, and he hasn’t always been the easiest guy to be around through his career — for the short term, I think Dallas and Phoenix helped themselves and have given themselves a chance. They maybe have some roster spots they need to fill out with buyouts.
“But I think Golden State helped themselves a little bit, too (dealing James Wiseman to reunite with Gary Payton II). They got a player who played a major role for them last year in their championship run, a guy their team has been missing. Wiseman was a future piece that wasn’t a factor, but for the here and now, Golden State helped themselves. They were just so far over the luxury tax. They saved some money, but more than that, they just feel like that’s what they need. They’ve got enough scoring. They just need some help on the defensive end, and Payton should be able to help them, just like he did last year in the Finals. He helped them a lot.”
Trade Demands Still Dominate NBA
What seems clear with a lot of the late movement in the market is that teams are not placing as much stock in the long-term outlook as maybe they had in the past. All it takes is for a major star to demand a trade to detonate the most well-executed plans. Brooklyn saw three such players ask out in the last year.
“All you can do is draft the best you can, trade the best you can, develop the best you can. And when you can get cap space and maybe trade for some picks, what that means is you have opportunities,” a ranking team official from the East told Heavy. “Phoenix had this opportunity, but they never would have had the chance to get KD if (Mikal) Bridges hadn’t developed into the player he is. It’s not just the picks. Bridges was a huge part of that deal.
“That deal would have been done last summer if Bridges would have been included in it. So they’re losing a lot in Bridges, a really good, reliable, healthy, plays every game, tough defensive and good offensive player. He’s not a superstar, but he’s very good.
“Phoenix had to make a decision there. Are they going for Window 1, which is right now with Chris Paul for probably this year and next year at the most and KD? Window 2 was developing around (Devin) Booker, who’s younger, and Bridges, who’s younger, and DeAndre Ayton, who’s younger, and Cameron Johnson. Like, use your draft assets and maybe go get another player like (OG) Anunoby with the money you’re paying KD, and maybe go for a five-year window or more.
“But nothing’s guaranteed. They chose Window 1, and if they don’t win it, it’s probably not a good deal, because it’s going to be tough to recover.”
In an NBA that has come to place greater emphasis on longer shots, it’s perhaps understandable that team planning would go in a similar direction.