NBA Power Rankings: After the NBA trade deadline, who got better and who got worse?
The NBA trade deadline is behind us, and it brought massive shifts in the landscape of the NBA. James Harden moved to team up with Joel Embiid. Ben Simmons moved to Brooklyn where he can finally get back on the court. CJ McCollum was taken away from his partnership with Damian Lillard. The disappointing work dynamic between Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis was broken up.
The NBA can often undergo significant changes at the deadline. This time around, it felt like a dramatic change to everything we thought we knew about this league a year ago. So now what? How did the deadline treat all 30 teams? Where do they go from here? What if I tried to answer those questions and then put all 30 teams in order? In some kind of ranking of power within the league? Let’s try that.
Just a reminder, the Power Rankings this season don’t just rank the 30 teams. We’ve divided these teams up into tiers, which any of the teams can move in and out of all season long. Here are the six tiers that teams can fall into:
As always, I am sure we will all agree on the placement of all 30 teams, especially your favorite team.
Here’s how the Power Rankings work:
The Athletic’s NBA Power Rankings for the 2021-22 season, Week 18! Let’s check in post trade deadline and figure out what’s next.
Weekly slate: Win at Bulls, Win at Sixers, Win over Bucks, Win over Magic
Did they do well at the trade deadline? Two subtle moves at the trade deadline for the Phoenix Suns, but they were two more victories for James Jones and this franchise. Bringing back Torrey Craig as a versatile defensive option adds a lot more than what they were going to get short-term from Jalen Smith. Maybe even long-term too. We saw Craig have an impact last season after a trade to the desert. Grabbing Aaron Holiday for cash considerations was also a perfect thing to build out some depth. He’s a nice “in case of emergency” option, and he gets a chance to learn from Chris Paul.
So now what? The rest of this season is just about being healthy. Get into the postseason as healthy as possible, get Deandre Ayton completely up to speed after the time he missed earlier and then make sure Paul and Devin Booker are as rested as possible. There’s no question this is the best team in basketball right now. But questions about whether or not that holds in the postseason against a healthy Golden State team will definitely pop up. The more consistently they continue to operate this machine in Phoenix, the better things will be in April, May and June.
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Weekly slate: Win at Wizards, Win at Pelicans, Win over Nets
Did they do well at the trade deadline? The Miami Heat didn’t really do anything other than send out KZ Okpala to OKC prior to the deadline. It opened up a roster spot for them right before we saw Goran Dragic moved from Toronto. He’s expected to be bought out, and the Heat have open roster spots. While the reporting has seemed to heavily lean toward other locations, it’s worth noting that Dragic has been close to Miami for a while. It wouldn’t shock me if their big trade deadline move was to swoop in and get Dragic on the buyout market.
So now what? Health has been the biggest concern for the Heat the last two seasons. The rest of the way, they need to try to grab home-court advantage through the East playoffs with the No. 1 seed while also making sure everybody is available for them in mid-April. They’re still trying to work Victor Oladipo back into the mix. They still need to find a way to get Markieff Morris back on the floor. And they can’t let Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Kyle Lowry suffer an injury that keeps this team from maximizing its potential.
Weekly slate: Win at Lakers, Loss at Suns
Did they do well at the trade deadline? The Milwaukee Bucks couldn’t have been happy about needing to trade away Donte DiVincenzo at the deadline, but getting the big man depth they need with Serge Ibaka was a big pickup. DiVincenzo was going to be an expensive option for them moving forward after his restricted free agency this summer. It would have plunged them even deeper into the luxury tax. Instead, the Bucks now have an insurance policy for Brook Lopez isn’t able to come back. It may not help them defend someone like Joel Embiid straight-up, but they can still throw a bunch of looks, limbs and length at him to muck things up. They just need Ibaka’s surgically repaired back to stay strong.
So now what? Keep everybody as healthy as possible, and keep trying to get this defense to be on point. The Bucks have sacrificed some of their defensive standing over the last one and a half seasons to keep working on things to utilize later. The absence of Lopez has hurt some of their defensive rating stuff, as has having guys in and out of the lineup as much as they have. But this team needs to build out that defensive depth to help complement Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday. Just want to see them keep building on that end.
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Weekly slate: Win over Clippers, Win at Pistons, Win at Hornets
Did they do well at the trade deadline? The Memphis Grizzlies did nothing at the trade deadline, and I love them for that. They didn’t overreact to any of their regular-season success so far. They didn’t worry about anything when it came to wondering whether or not they have everything they need for the postseason. The Grizzlies are rolling with this team that has taken a couple of leaps this season. They’ll show up to the playoffs, see what happens and then reassess. No chance of them panicking under the weight of new expectations based on how good they’ve been through 58 games.
So now what? Two things for the Grizzlies. 1) They’ve got to get healthy. Hopefully, Dillon Brooks won’t be out too much longer with that ankle injury, and he’ll be able to safely work his way back to 100 percent. That’s such a big component for what they can end up doing in the playoffs. 2) They need to get Jaren Jackson Jr. up to speed offensively. He’s really struggled to make shots consistently this season, although he is making 44.4 percent of his shots over his last 17 games. The 3-point shot still isn’t there (33.8percent over those last 17 games, 32.2 percent on the season). If they can find JJJ’s rhythm, they’ll be even more dangerous.
Weekly slate: Win at Thunder, Loss at Jazz, Loss to Knicks, Win over Lakers
Did they do well at the trade deadline? The Golden State Warriors were not active enough at the trade deadline to do anything. They made zero moves and still have some health stuff to take care of to prepare themselves for the playoff run. They’re still waiting on a couple of big men to get healthy, and while they could have potentially made moves to upgrade spots in their rotation, doing so likely would have sacrificed some depth.
So now what? Get Draymond Green healthy, keep Steph Curry healthy and keep building up the conditioning of Klay Thompson. The reason they dropped down here this week is because of the growing concerns over Green’s back. He’s going to end up missing a huge chunk of time, and because it’s a back issue, it’s fair to wonder if he’ll return to 100 percent by the time the playoffs arrive. The Warriors aren’t contending for a title without him healthy. As long as they can stay in that No. 2-3 range in the West, they’ll be fine.
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Weekly slate: Loss to Suns, Win over Thunder, Win over Cavs
Did they do well at the trade deadline? They did, but it’s funny how many people seemed to all of a sudden take a dramatic shift on the idea of James Harden going to team up with Joel Embiid on the Philadelphia 76ers. It felt like as soon as the deal was announced, a lot of people around the NBA (inside it and covering it) had soured on the idea. Yes, that next contract could be crippling. But the Sixers went from zero title window because of the Ben Simmons drama to opening up that window with Harden. Maybe it’s not open as big or as long as you’d like it, but they have put themselves back in the mix. Giving up Seth Curry and some picks was a lot to relinquish in addition to Simmons, but Morey got his man to put next to Embiid. They just need to get to work and make it happen now.
So now what? It would be nice for the Sixers to play the buyout market well and grab a little depth following that trade, but the biggest thing is getting as many reps as possible on the court for Embiid and Harden together. They have to fast-track that chemistry needed for two stars to coexist and build toward a title. Harden also needs to make sure this hamstring issue gets solved, and that might be tricky before the offseason when he can truly rest. It’ll be interesting to see how much Embiid sacrifices to make Harden feel comfortable on the court. It’ll be interesting to see how much Harden defers to Embiid and if it resembles how he adapted to playing next to Kevin Durant last season when he was first acquired.
Weekly slate: Win over Spurs, Win at Pacers, Loss at Sixers
Did they do well at the trade deadline? The Cleveland Cavaliers did great with their trade deadline. It came a little early with the acquisition of Caris LeVert, but you saw that potential presence for them when he led a comeback victory over his former Indiana teammates. LeVert is one of the only guys on that Cavs team who can just go get his shot whenever he wants. Darius Garland can do it regularly too, but LeVert adds another creator presence on the floor. It would have been fun to see this team at full strength all year with Collin Sexton and Ricky Rubio, but pivoting to acquire LeVert when those two went down with injuries was another fantastic move by Koby Altman.
So now what? The Cavs are in the mix for the top seed in the East, and not by default. They’re basically as successful as anybody we’ve seen in the East this season. They refuse to go away, and they keep finding ways to compete against good teams and mop up the bad teams. The Cavs should absolutely go for the No. 1 seed. They shouldn’t just be happy to be there. Cleveland has a chance to put some odd pressure on the contenders in the East because nobody is going to fault the Cavs if they lose early in the postseason. But if one of the presumed powerhouses end up losing to Cleveland? It’ll establish them as nothing to take for granted, and all of the pressure will continue to be on their opponents.
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Weekly slate: Win over Knicks, Win over Warriors, Win over Magic
Did they do well at the trade deadline? I think the Utah Jazz did a good job, considering the Joe Ingles injury hit them right before it. They flipped his expiring deal for Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Juancho Hernangomez. They’ll get a chance to develop Alexander-Walker, and they’ve got an incredible coaching staff to do just that. Hernangomez can contribute right away, but he’s a little limited compared to the perimeter defensive presence they need. It wasn’t exactly what they needed, but they upgraded their situation.
So now what? The Jazz have two ways to go here: Somehow find a guy who becomes available on the buyout market who will want to play with the Jazz the rest of the season. Or they make sure everybody is healthy and the offense is clicking so much that their poor perimeter defense can’t consistently hurt them in the postseason. One way to avoid a lot of these problems is by punishing teams when they go small against Rudy Gobert. He has to learn how to just rim run, plant in front of the rim, catch it high, keep it high and try to dunk on everybody. If he manages to get this going, teams will stop going small as often against the Jazz. If he doesn’t, better hope we get bubble Donovan Mitchell again.
Weekly slate: Loss to Suns, Win at Hornets, Win over Wolves, Win over Thunder
Did they do well at the trade deadline? The Chicago Bulls sat out the trade deadline. I am a little curious what they might have done if they were still in the same battle for the top seed in the East but didn’t have the big injuries they have to Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso. Not necessarily that they would have moved either player or even consider it, but does a full squad make them feel like tinkering with the roster to keep pace with anybody else? Or would they just ride this out with a full squad, see where they end up in the postseason and then reassess if appropriate in the offseason?
So now what? The Bulls, like a lot of teams, need to get healthy. Bringing back Ball and Caruso will be key and, hopefully, they can do it with plenty of time to tune up for the postseason. The defense has slipped without them. Even if the Bulls are getting them back relatively soon, they still need to be able to compete better on defense without them on the court. The Bulls don’t need to be elite there, but being in the upper half of the NBA and approaching the top 10 would go a long way. The offense is killer, so they just need to work on catching the defense up.
GIF ON THE BEAT: Why does this come up when I search “defense” on GIPHY?
Weekly slate: Win at Nets, Win over Nuggets, Win over Hawks
Did they do well at the trade deadline? The Boston Celtics might have had my favorite deadline push. They grabbed interior depth with Daniel Theis coming back to the team. All they had to give up with Enes Freedom, Dennis Schröder and Bruno Fernando. That’s a no-brainer for the Celtics, and now they don’t have any truly weak options for big man depth, unless they have to play Grant Williams at the five because of injuries. More importantly, they grabbed Derrick White from San Antonio and now get to have him join one of the top defensive teams in the NBA. It will be hell going against him, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown on the court all at the same time. I have offensive questions about this team, but I love they fortified their defensive identity.
So now what? White isn’t just a defensive presence. He can also create on offense quite well, so working him into the mix and finding his comfort zone with what Ime Udoka, and more importantly Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown want to do, will be the key for the rest of this season. The Celtics have to figure out how to knock down 3-pointers with Smart and White on the floor. They’re both historically average at best outside shooters, and they need to keep the defense honest in tight games when Tatum and/or Brown are operating. That needs to be the focus moving forward.
Weekly slate: Win at Hornets, Win at Thunder, Win at Rockets, Loss to Nuggets
Did they do well at the trade deadline? The Toronto Raptors flipping Goran Dragic for Thaddeus Young was a great play by Masai Ujiri. I love that move for them. Sure, they gave up a first-round draft pick in the process. But bringing in Young just adds to their versatility and their defensive potential. I’m still a little shocked, even with all of the injuries and absences the Raptors have had this season, that they’re still only ranked 13th in defensive rating. Young is so smart off the ball and knowing when to rotate that he shouldn’t have a problem doing his part in Toronto. It won’t be nearly the intensive lifting he had to do in San Antonio at times.
So now what? Keep this momentum going. The Raptors recently won eight straight games, and they’ve won 10 of their last 13. They catapulted up the standings during this stretch because they’re battling with some pretty impressive opponents, and they’re winning. Only OKC and Houston were cupcakes on their recent schedule. This Raptors team has turned a corner in the ultra-competitive East. They’re only three games out of having home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. We could have a scenario in which Toronto and Cleveland both have home-court advantage in the first round. How many people saw that happening at the beginning of the year?
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Weekly slate: Win over Pistons, Win over Clippers, Loss to Clippers
Did they do well at the trade deadline? Admittedly, I’m confused by what the Dallas Mavericks did at the deadline. Getting rid of Kristaps Porzingis? I totally understand that. Getting rid of him for Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans? That’s where I’m scratching my head. Jalen Brunson has been brilliant for them, and even though he’s a free agent this summer, I still wouldn’t want to eat up any minutes he could potentially play by having Dinwiddie in there instead. I wouldn’t rock that boat while it’s sailing. Their hope is Bertans catching passes from Luka Doncic will bring back his shooting stroke. I’m not saying Dallas didn’t get better. I just need to see how on the court first.
So now what? Work in those new guys, and see what you can draw out of Dinwiddie. He struggled this season, but we know he has more game than his production has shown. The Mavericks have too many guys on offense to be as mediocre as they are on that end of the floor. They’re basically league average in offense, and it should be so much higher. The good news is Doncic looks like he’s in much better shape now, and his play is starting to reflect that. The highlights are starting to reflect that. We will probably see an insane stretch run from him.
Weekly slate: Win over Knicks, Loss at Celtics, Win at Raptors
Did they do well at the trade deadline? The Denver Nuggets didn’t do anything at the trade deadline, and of course they didn’t. What are they supposed to do? Their second- and third-best players are injured. Denver’s only action during this past week was signing DeMarcus Cousins to another 10-day deal. Maybe the Nuggets could have explored some deals, but that would’ve meant dealing Will Barton most likely, and that just wouldn’t make any sense. The Nuggets are stuck, but they’ll be fine when they get healthy at some point.
So now what? I’d still put my money on the Nuggets to finish in the top six and avoid the Play-In Tournament, but Minnesota is on their heels a bit. Denver needs to start winning more games against non-losing teams. They’re dominating the teams under .500, and they’re only winning about one-third of their games against non-losing squads. It feels unfair to demand more consistency out of Denver considering the team’s injuries, but the Nuggets have got to find a way to even things out a bit.
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Weekly slate: Loss to Celtics, Loss at Wizards, Loss at Heat
Did they do well at the trade deadline? The Brooklyn Nets absolutely did well for themselves. Considering the dramatic drop in James Harden wanting to remain in Brooklyn and how bad things got, managing to get Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two first-round picks for him is about as good of a haul as Sean Marks could have expected. Assuming Kevin Durant can come back at full strength at some point this season, they still keep chances of being a problem for opponents in the postseason. Maybe they can even still win it all, although that seems like a lot of stuff has to fall into place in a short amount of time. For now, the Nets can feel confident that things will be well-rounded and deadly going into next season.
So now what? Everything the Nets do for the rest of this season should probably center around getting Simmons integrated into the team culture, finding the comfort he needs to be on the court, getting him the right conditioning and then getting him out there for some much-needed time with his teammates. This is a really tough piece to add on the fly in the middle of a season. They probably approach it much differently in the offseason than these remaining 26 games. Simmons needs to play next to Kyrie Irving. He needs to play next to KD. He just needs to play again.
Weekly slate: Win at Kings, Loss at Kings, Loss at Bulls, Win at Pacers
Did they do well at the trade deadline? The Minnesota Timberwolves did nothing at the trade deadline. They decided to stick with their rotation and see if it can keep things together to grab the No. 7 slot in the Play-In Tournament. That’s probably the correct move because they’ve believed in keeping this core together since their brief flash of success last season, and it’s mostly paying off. To get true depth added, the Wolves probably would’ve needed to disrupt that core. No need to overreact and make a panic trade like that. The Wolves definitely need to add outside shooting at some point, but their offense has picked up lately without that being consistent.
So now what? The Wolves have a legitimate chance to catch Denver for the No. 6 seed in the West and avoid the Play-In Tournament altogether. That’s going to take some much-needed consistency. Perfect example? That loss to Sacramento this week. Maybe it was a classic trap game after just beating them and then having Chicago on the horizon. Either way, the Wolves need to keep building their profile by taking down those lower-tier teams. They need to find consistency in at least crushing bad teams; otherwise, they’ll never avoid the Play-In.
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Weekly slate: Win over Pacers, Loss to Spurs, Loss at Celtics
Did they do well at the trade deadline? The Atlanta Hawks didn’t do anything at the trade deadline. I don’t know how much they truly geared up for a Ben Simmons deal at any point. Once the Harden stuff broke, I can’t imagine the Hawks thought they had a shot, if they were even still interested at that point. It looked like the Hawks had turned things around anyway, so their only contribution to the trade season was weeks ago when they moved Cam Reddish to New York in exchange for a draft pick and Kevin Knox.
So now what? That turnaround may have already done a 180 here. After winning seven straight games, the Hawks have now lost five of their last seven. Granted, one of those wins was over Phoenix, which is a major victory no matter what. But we’re still not certain this Hawks team will even make the Play-In Tournament, let alone approach any of the success they had last postseason. The Hawks need to get John Collins healthy again, and they can’t have any more lapses like what we’ve seen the last two weeks.
Weekly slate: Loss at Grizzlies, Loss at Mavs, Win at Mavs
Did they do well at the trade deadline? Yes and no. The LA Clippers picked up Rodney Hood and Semi Ojeleye in the deal that sent Serge Ibaka to Milwaukee. That trade didn’t really do anything for them. It felt a little odd after the Norman Powell-Robert Covington deal from the prior week, but apparently, they just wanted to do right by Ibaka and send him to a contender to finish out this contract. It’s noble, but we’re not really here for noble acts when it comes to getting ready for the playoffs.
So now what? Get Paul George back to health. That’s priority No. 1. We still shouldn’t hold our breath for a Kawhi Leonard return. That way if it happens, we can have those warm, fuzzy feelings of surprise and happiness with his return. If the Clippers can keep everybody else healthy and get George to return relatively soon, this team might even have an outside chance of surging its way into the top six in the West. It would be some heavy lifting to accomplish, but that’s a pretty good goal to set for them.
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Weekly slate: Loss to Raptors, Loss to Bulls, Win at Pistons, Loss to Grizzlies
Did they do well at the trade deadline? I like the Montrezl Harrell pickup for the Charlotte Hornets, but they’re going to need the guy we saw with Washington. That’s the most engaged we’ve ever seen Harrell on the defensive end of the floor, and the Hornets’ biggest problem right now is having an interior presence defensively. Mason Plumlee does a good job, but he can’t play 48 minutes. The scoring of Harrell will be nice, but that’s air conditioning in a Bugatti for that offense.
So now what? The Hornets need to get better defensively and start putting together some wins. They got to a tough part of their schedule recently and completely fell apart. They played seven good/tough teams in eight games. The other game was against Detroit. They only won the game against Detroit in this stretch. The Hornets need to mature a little bit here in this final stretch run. They’ve feasted on bad teams all season long and struggled against the good ones. They’ve got to start stringing together some better performances when they face the upper half of the NBA. Otherwise, the Play-In Tournament won’t be a lock for them.
Weekly slate: Loss to Bucks, Loss at Blazers, Loss at Warriors
Did they do well at the trade deadline? The Los Angeles Lakers didn’t do anything at the trade deadline. They didn’t really have opportunities to move Russell Westbrook and his tricky back tightness in a way that improves the team. Also, whenever they bench him during a fourth quarter, it doesn’t lead to them winning. The Lakers also weren’t able to find a deal with Talen Horton-Tucker and a future pick for a difference-maker, although it’s a wonder if that was ever a serious play for them. So the Lakers are just left with whatever they had before.
So now what? Who knows? This Lakers team is hoping something clicks and comes together. Some of the comments from the team lately, especially from LeBron James, make me believe they may have realized this thing is not going to happen for them this season. They still need to approach it as if they are contenders, but only in the sense that they need to aspire to play title-contending basketball — especially on defense. The Lakers are their own worse enemy right now, so they just need to work on getting out of their own way the rest of the season. Anthony Davis being a difference-maker would be a good start.
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Weekly slate: Loss at Cavs, Win at Hawks, Win at Pelicans
Did they do well at the trade deadline? For the future of this team, I think so. They moved Thaddeus Young and Derrick White in separate deals that should end up giving them two more picks in the top 20 in the 2022 draft. That will give them three picks in the top 20 if that happens. The San Antonio Spurs dealing with the absence of White will be tough. He’s so good defensively, especially next to someone like Dejounte Murray. And he’s a good playmaker. Someone is going to have to step up for them in all of this. Maybe they can make something out of Romeo Langford, and the addition of Josh Richardson is helpful, but this team needs a boost from within to make the Play-In.
So now what? The Spurs have been pretty steadfast on living and dying with the young talent on this roster. They haven’t made any panic moves, and we’ve seen Gregg Popovich just ride it out with the young players going with trial-and-error. It’s a big reason why you see such a disparity between their record against losing teams (15-11) and non-losing teams (7-24). The rest of the season is about them being more competitive against non-losing teams as they pursue the No. 10 slot. Even if they can’t make it, they need to build some confidence when stepping outside of the cellar of the league to battle opponents.
Weekly slate: Win over Rockets, Loss to Heat, Loss to Spurs
Did they do well at the trade deadline? I love what the New Orleans Pelicans did at the deadline. We too often get caught up in a young core having like seven or eight young players and trying to grow them all together. That’s rarely realistic, if ever, so they consolidated some of that talent by sending out Josh Hart and Nickeil Alexander-Walker in exchange for CJ McCollum. They’ll have lineups out there hopefully at some point that include McCollum, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson and Jonas Valanciunas. That’s so much firepower to defend against. I understand at some point they’ll need to be better defensively, but let’s get them to that point before we belabor the point. Love the Larry Nance Jr. pickup as well, but he needs to get healthy.
So now what? Even without Zion, this Pelicans team should be able to secure the No. 10 spot in the Play-In Tournament. That’s the goal for the rest of the season. Have Ingram and McCollum build a duo that can overwhelm opposing defenses. Their competition for breaking through means they have to outlast what’s left of Portland, Sacramento after getting a new best player and San Antonio after dealing veterans for picks. If they can’t beat them out (assuming no more major injuries), then this team just isn’t very promising.
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Weekly slate: Loss at Jazz, Loss at Nuggets, Win at Warriors, Loss at Blazers
Did they do well at the trade deadline? The New York Knicks did nothing at the trade deadline, and now we’ve got to see how this potential battle between the front office and Tom Thibodeau goes. The front office wants him to play Cam Reddish more. Thibodeau hasn’t been interested in doing that. He hasn’t been thrilled about a lot of the moves the Knicks have made since their foray back into the postseason. There has to be a middle ground between what the front office wants and how Thibodeau wants to coach, but at least right now they’re struggling to find common ground on all facets of the rotation.
So now what? Get Julius Randle and RJ Barrett back on track. They need Barrett healthy again, but these two are the priorities for getting this Knicks team to look a lot better on the floor. Having Derrick Rose back to full health would be a nice step toward settling everything down as well. Randle needs to play like a star again. When Barrett is good to go from this ankle injury, Randle’s success should help him consistently raise his game back up. And from there, everything else can fall into place, but it has to start with Randle.
Weekly slate: Loss at Hawks, Loss to Cavs, Loss to Wolves
Did they do well at the trade deadline? The Indiana Pacers made some of the right moves in trying to shake things up. They sent away their best player in Domantas Sabonis, and they sent a pretty talented perimeter player in Caris LeVert out of there as well. But looking at what the Pacers have left with Malcolm Brogdon, Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield and Myles Turner as a core, it feels a lot more modern than what they were trotting out there. This Haliburton acquisition isn’t the outright thievery the internet made it sound like, but it’s a great pickup by this front office as they sacrificed their best player to the trade gods.
So now what? We’ll see what this all looks like when Brogdon and Turner are back on the court and 100 percent. How much havoc can Rick Carlisle game plan for on the perimeter? How many bumps in the learning process is he willing to allow someone like Haliburton when he’s been notoriously hard on playmaking guards? The Pacers are all but out of the Play-In pursuit, but they’re better off trying to create a winning culture the rest of the season by laying some foundation.
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Weekly slate: Loss to Heat, Win over Nets, Loss to Kings
Did they do well at the trade deadline? I don’t really know what to feel about the moves the Washington Wizards made at the trade deadline. It all happens with news hanging over the rest of the season that Bradley Beal is out with wrist surgery. So the Wizards ended up doing this for the current roster:
Players they got rid of:
Players they brought in:
Is that better? It could be, but we’re once again going to go through the dance of trying to see if Beal wants to remain with this franchise past this season. He can become a free agent this summer, and he’s spent 10 years in the league. That means he’s up for some major pay bumps, and we’ll see if he wants the maximum by staying with the Wizards or seek less money but still max money elsewhere. If he stays, these moves make me feel better. If he leaves, I’m just left here shrugging.
So now what? The Wizards find themselves in a better cap situation moving forward and without their superstar the rest of the season. They’re currently on the outside looking in of the Play-In Tournament in the East, and reinforcements aren’t on their way. Maybe Porzingis as the top guy gives them a boost without Beal the rest of the season, but he’s also missed 20 games and counting. They can still compete for the last spot in the Play-In, but they’ll need the rest of their guys to click. Good experience for them to chase it.
Weekly slate: Loss to Wolves, Win over Wolves, Win at Wizards
Did they do well at the trade deadline? Ultimately, I do think the Sacramento Kings did well at the deadline. I know everybody on the internet freaked out over them giving up Tyrese Haliburton. He’s really good, but he can’t be a dealbreaker in a trade where you got the best player by a mile. Now if you don’t believe in Domantas Sabonis as a top guy, that’s completely fair and a different conversation. But they did well for themselves in trying to grab a true direction that isn’t just pretending De’Aaron Fox can be the top guy on a good team. The Kings still have a ton of work to do, and they do need to find a way to replace someone like Haliburton.
So now what? At worst, they need to make the Play-In Tournament. I don’t know if that’s actually any progress. This is still a really bad team and a very incomplete roster. It’s just put together in a different way now. But look at who they’re competing against for the No. 10 slot: New Orleans, which made a big trade but is still without its most important player; Portland, which dismantled its roster outside of Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic; and San Antonio, which sent out two key veterans for first-round picks. Make the Play-In Tournament, and don’t use the Bulls’ model after the Nikola Vucevic trade as an excuse if you fail. You don’t have Zach LaVine already, and Sabonis isn’t boys with DeMar DeRozan from college. That only makes sense if you’re trying to court Kyle Wiltjer this summer.
GIF ON THE BEAT:
Weekly slate: Loss to Magic, Win over Lakers, Win over Knicks
Did they do well at the trade deadline? Yes and no. I did not like how the Portland Trail Blazers gave away a chance to develop Nickeil Alexander-Walker so they could hold Joe Ingles’ expiring contract, get Elijah Hughes and bring in a second-round pick that is unlikely to have as much potential as NAW. We’re going to have to wait and see what the true fallout is of this mass exodus in Portland. Did they get enough in return for Norman Powell, Robert Covington and CJ McCollum? Is that enough to reset the roster to build around Damian Lillard? Or is this the kind of thing that ultimately helps him decide he wants a new team? The Blazers made some of the right moves, but it’s fair to question if they received enough in return.
So now what? The Blazers are our new addition to the Tanks A Lot tier because Dame is still out and we don’t know when he’s coming back. The Blazers embraced the tank at least for now, and it was the right move, even if you don’t think they got a lot back in the process. Or maybe enough back. The rest of the season is about building their young players up. Get the most out of Anfernee Simons. Unfortunately, Keon Johnson is out for a while, and Nassir Little is out for the rest of the season. But every young player needs a lot of chances to compete here.
Weekly slate: Loss to Warriors, Loss to Raptors, Loss at Sixers, Loss at Bulls
Did they do well at the trade deadline? The Oklahoma City Thunder were surprisingly uninvolved with the action leading up to the deadline on Thursday. They sat there with oodles of cap space and managed to just make the one move — KZ Okpala for a future second-round pick. Other than that, they didn’t attach themselves to deals as an extra team plucking draft picks. Maybe that’s because they’ve already acquired all of the draft picks they’re allowed to possess. I do like the Okpala pickup, though.
So now what? The Thunder have been relatively competitive for longer this season than most assumed they would be. They randomly won three in a row recently and have gone winless since. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has an ankle issue that will keep him out for some time. Last year after the trade deadline, he had a foot injury that kept him out the rest of the season, and the Thunder tanked historically in that time. It might not be that bad this year, and SGA might play again. But I’d expect the Thunder to develop the young guys and try to ensure they end up with top-four odds in the lottery.
GIF ON THE BEAT:
Weekly slate: Win at Blazers, Loss at Jazz, Loss at Suns
Did they do well at the trade deadline? The Orlando Magic ended up sending a future second-round pick for the rights to have Bol Bol’s restricted free agency this coming summer. I’d actually rather they have kept PJ Dozier to rehab his injury and keep him long-term compared to Bol. They couldn’t find homes for Gary Harris Jr. (if they even shopped him that hard) or Terrence Ross (not a ton of interest around the league). Harris’ deal will expire this summer. Ross has one more season under contract.
So now what? We’ve seen so much good out of their young core, despite the bad record and the abysmal net rating. The rest of the season is just trying to put them in as many competitive situations as possible. Build with strong finishes to the rookie campaigns of Jalen Suggs and Franz Wagner. Would love to see Jonathan Isaac and R.J. Hampton return to the court with some success during the conclusion of this season.
Weekly slate: Loss at Pelicans, Loss to Raptors
Did they do well at the trade deadline? They didn’t really do much for themselves here. The Houston Rockets could have found a home for Eric Gordon, but instead they opted to keep him in tow until what they feel is a better deal presents itself. He has at least one more year under contract, so they don’t have urgency yet. They acquired Dennis Schröder and Bruno Fernando (and waived Enes Freedom), but it didn’t really do anything for them, unless you’re a big believer in Fernando.
So now what? Daniel Theis was sent out to Boston, so I guess the big change is possibly more minutes cleared for Alperen Sengun. Their focus the rest of the season is like a lot of these bad, rebuilding teams. Get as many competitive opportunities for the young guys. It’s not just about getting minutes, although finding reps for them absolutely matters. Those reps are far more meaningful when it’s triggering the part of the players’ brain that has to deal with real consequences (losses). The Rockets have had these waves of competitiveness. Getting Jalen Green, Josh Christopher, Kevin Porter Jr. and Sengun and company as many clutch situations to navigate as possible is going to be key for them.
GIF ON THE BEAT:
Weekly slate Loss at Mavs, Loss to Grizzlies, Loss to Hornets
Did they do well at the trade deadline? I love what the Detroit Pistons did at the deadline. I think the reclamation of Josh Jackson has been really good, so I didn’t love that they let him go in a trade, but getting a chance to be the one to resurrect Marvin Bagley III’s career is a great play by Troy Weaver. The Pistons need a big man to put next to Cade Cunningham. I don’t know if we should count Jerami Grant in for the future of this team’s vision, but we know guys like Cunningham, Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart will be here. Stewart is a good lunchpail guy, but they needed someone with a glimmer of star potential. Hopefully, that’s still there in Bagley.
So now what? Everything remains about development. They were playing some pretty good basketball at the turn of the calendar year, going 7-9 in their first 16 games of 2022. It was even winning six out of 11 at one point. Since then, we’ve seen them just get obliterated. They’ve dropped seven straight and 11 of their last 12. Six of these seven straight losses have been by double digits. The one that wasn’t? Nine points. It’s fine for them to lose, but hopefully, they can generate more competitive losses so they can maximize the teaching moments for this young core. They’re on pace to be just the sixth team of the last decade to have a negative double-digit net rating.
(Top photo of Ben Simmons and James Harden: Getty Images; illustration by Wes McCabe / The Athletic)
By John Hollinger
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NBA Power Rankings: After the NBA trade deadline, who got better and who got worse?