Last year’s trade deadline was a doozy, with a massive number of important trades happening all across the league. Even though grading trades when they happen is a flight of fancy, I did it anyway (and will again this year!), because it’s fun to discuss and dissect trades. But as I noted then, it takes years to fully understand the ripple effects of tossing a James Harden or Tyrese Haliburton into the ocean, and the waves might not take the form people expected.
So in anticipation of this year’s trade deadline, I wanted to look back at some of the significant moves from last year and judge them again. Now that some time has passed, we can more accurately determine which teams improved, and it’s interesting to compare the post-trade reality with what was expected at the time.
THE MOTHER OF ALL TRADES
Nets receive: (takes big breath) Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, two first-round picks (unprotected this year with the right to defer a year, 2027 protected)
76ers receive: James Harden, Paul Millsap
NBA fans receive: Joy, relief
Original Grades: Nets B+, 76ers B+
Re-grades: Nets C+, 76ers B
This one is difficult to judge in a vacuum. It’s hard to remember now, but the Ben Simmons drama unpleasantly dominated the NBA discourse last season. The 76ers and Simmons were locked in a game of chicken, with Simmons making it clear he wasn’t going to play for them again and Sixers brass trying to call his bluff. On the other side, Brooklyn’s Harden also wanted out, sick of Kyrie Irving and wanting to play with a team he thought was less likely to self-sabotage.
In the context of both stars demanding to leave, I was generally positive on this trade for both teams, but last year was a two-way disappointment. Simmons required back surgery and didn’t play in the playoffs, and Harden, once again, stumbled in the postseason.
Both squads have looked like championship contenders at various points this season. Unfortunately, Simmons has been a shell of himself — people focus on his mental struggles attacking the basket and shooting free throws, but it’s also clear that his back is not 100%. However, Seth Curry has played well, and those first-rounders are still tasty additions.
Meanwhile, Harden has helped turn Joel Embiid into maybe the most unstoppable scorer in the NBA, and he leads all players in assists per game by a metric mile.
Honestly, though, there isn’t much to say right now. Both teams fancied themselves championship contenders before the trade, and both still did afterward. When that’s the goal, grading can’t really be done until we’ve seen the playoffs. Year 1 was a letdown, but they each have a chance to redeem themselves this year. So despite what I wrote above, it’s best to consider these grades incomplete.
And just like I said last year, I’m praying for a Philly-Brooklyn second-round series. The drama would be finger-lickin’ good.
Sacramento Kings receive: Domantas Sabonis, Jeremy Lamb, Justin Holiday, 2027 second-round pick
Indiana Pacers receive: Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, Tristan Thompson
Original Grades: Kings C+, Pacers C+
Re-grades: Kings A, Pacers A
The ultra-rare win-win trade. At the time, my C+ grade for Sacramento was on the high end of media coverage. Most people excoriated the Kings for moving a promising, charismatic young player in Haliburton for a ground-bound big man who can’t protect the rim or shoot. But Sabonis is a beast in his own right, and his pairing with De’Aaron Fox (who looks far more comfortable without Haliburton around) has been the major driver of Sacramento’s shocking success (third in the West!). Having a playmaking center unleashes an unstoppable offense filled with smart cutters and shooters, and offseason additions like Malik Monk and Kevin Huerter have ensured the Sabonis fit is even better than anyone could have expected.
The flip side is that I was a little lower on the trade for the Pacers than most, and I was wrong about that. Haliburton has far exceeded my expectations in his 12 months with Indiana, quickly emerging as a top-five passer in the league and a much better scorer than expected. He is the rare point guard who doesn’t need to have the ball in his hands, and he makes quick decisions to keep the offense flowing rather than pounding the air out of the rock. In addition, Buddy Hield has been useful (and might be traded for more draft capital) as a knockdown shooter and, shockingly, as an on-ball defender against some power forwards (if he’s playing on-ball, he can’t be exposed off-ball).
It’s rare for a trade to simultaneously make two teams better and more exciting. Both teams have been delighted with their outcomes and receive a substantial trade grade improvement.
One additional note: this trade might have been almost too good for Indiana. The Sabonis trade was expected to start an honest-to-god rebuild for the Pacers, who are inevitably at the fringes of the playoff race each year, too solid for a high draft pick but not strong enough to compete for championships. Instead, Haliburton has been so good, so fast, that there’s a chance they’ve locked themselves into the same zone again…but at least now they’re young and exciting, with more potential than ever.
New Orleans Pelicans receive: CJ McCollum, Larry Nance Jr., Tony Snell
Portland Trail Blazers receive: Josh Hart, Tomas Satoransky, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Didi Louzada, 2022 protected first-round pick, two second-round picks
Original Grades: Pelicans B, Blazers B+
Re-grades: Pelicans B, Blazers C+
Portland made this trade to reduce their contractual burden, giving them enough cap space to re-sign Anfernee Simons and Jusuf Nurkic, among others. Josh Hart is a solid, funky player who played lights-out for Portland last year, but he’s struggled this season (and could be moved again).
Portland is downgraded because the Pelicans made a shocking playoff run last year, which meant Portland failed to receive the promised first-rounder. Instead, the Blazers will receive a 2025 first-rounder from Milwaukee, which is a significantly less valuable piece, given that any Milwaukee pick in the foreseeable future will likely be in the high-20s.
For the Pellies, the expensive CJ McCollum has looked a tad slower this season but is still shooting 39% from three (just don’t ask what he’s shooting from anywhere else). Larry Nance, however, has been excellent as a small-ball center who typically closes games next to Zion (when both are available). His strong feel for the game and ability to switch on the perimeter is a perfect alternative to hulking starting center Jonas Valanciunas, giving the Pelicans some flexibility down low.
A full-strength Pelicans squad briefly topped the Western Conference this season, so if Zion comes back and they make some playoff noise, it’ll be hard to see this as anything other than a win.
Cavaliers receive: Caris LeVert, 2022 second-round pick (from Miami)
Pacers receive: Ricky Rubio, 2022 first-round pick (lottery-protected), 2022 second-round pick (from Houston), 2027 second-round pick (from Utah)
Original Grades: Cavs D+, Pacers A+
Re-grades: Cavs C+, Pacers A-
I am not a huge Caris LeVert fan, but he’s been far better this year than last, even if the numbers don’t necessarily reflect it. To his credit, LeVert has tried to be what the Cavs need this season. He’s trying hard on defense and is less likely to hijack possessions while hunting wild shots. He’s even shooting a career-high from three-point range (37%).
But LeVert will never be a great fit next to Darius Garland and offseason acquisition Donovan Mitchell, and I still don’t like giving up a valuable first-round pick. That pick was lottery-protected last year, and the Cavs suffered a late-season crash that let them keep their choice (which turned into Ochai Agbaji, who was included in the Mitchell trade and is now playing in Utah). Indiana seems likely to receive the selection this year, barring another late-season collapse.
Silver lining: beloved locker-room presence Ricky Rubio re-signed with the Cavaliers as a free agent in the offseason and recently returned to the court. If he can round into form by the playoffs, he’ll be a valuable bench contributor for a team with few backup ballhandlers.
For Indiana, an extra first-rounder may be a valuable trade chip one day as they try to build out a Tyrese Haliburton-Myles Turner-Bennedict Mathurin young core. Clearing out LeVert also opened up the on-ball reps that Indiana needed to give to Haliburton and Mathurin, so it’s still a clear win, even if they had hoped for that pick last year.
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