So the NBA trade deadline was a big dud, again. It featured one blockbuster deal—the New Orleans Pelicans just straight-up robbing the Sacramento Kings for DeMarcus Cousins—and then a handful of minor deals, none of which seem likely to shake up the standings all that much. That’s butt.
Only the Pelicans can be said to have won the trade deadline, and we’ve already covered how and why in depth. Now, at the other end of things, let’s look at some of the loser-ass teams that royally motherfucked the trade deadline.
New York Knicks
Here, in no particular order, are some players on New York’s pre-deadline roster whom team president Phil Jackson probably should have traded, or might as well have traded since they’re not doing any good on the hopeless 12th-place Knicks:
Here is a list of players the Knicks traded:
Nah, we’re good. That is what the Knicks said at the trade deadline. There are understandable reasons—his no-trade clause not least among them—why they may not have been able to find a trade partner for Melo; he’s both good enough to demand a big haul in return but old (and, uh, idiosyncratic) enough that some of the buying teams might have wanted to hedge their bets. But, really, none of the playoff teams had a pick and/or a cheap stiff to offer for O’Quinn, an energetic and useful junkyard-dog type who makes zero sense on a lottery team? A handful of contending teams are in dire need of shotmaking oomph off the bench; none of them would fork over cash or a second-rounder to rent Brandon Jennings for the stretch run? Or a 20-percent-off-one-medium-pizza coupon for Rose?
On a nightly basis the Knicks aren’t just crappy, but crappy and grotesquely misshapen—just the worst, dreariest mix of checked-out old mercenaries, pent-up young dudes getting more depressed by the minute, and, worst of all, Derrick Rose. They don’t even put on a good show for their long-suffering fans; they’re miserable to watch. Phil Jackson had one job coming into this trade deadline: Clear at least some of the sad, expensive bozos out of the way so that Kristaps Porzingis and Willy Hernangómez can play lots of minutes, crank up lots of shots, and become the players they’ll be when they don’t have a bunch of refugees from 2010 clogging the roster and pounding the texture off the ball. He accomplished none of it. Put him in the trash.
Remember this tweet, from a few days ago?
The reality turns out to be uglier and a lot more cynical. Celtics GM Danny Ainge wasn’t focused on getting Chicago’s Jimmy Butler; he was willing to get Jimmy Butler, probably, if Butler could be had for a song, but he wasn’t willing to part with any significant portion of the hoard of draft picks and cheap young players—none of whom are safe bets to turn out as good as Butler—he’s amassed over the past few years in order to do it. He very possibly could have scored both Cousins and Butler, given how cheaply the Kings were willing to give Cousins away, but instead he got neither, and nobody else. The kindest spin you can put on this—that Ainge figured none of the available moves gave his team a credible shot to get past the Cavaliers and Warriors this season, and decided the time wasn’t right to cash in—still brings him and the organization in for plenty of scorn.
Consider: Last season’s championship swung on the lingering effects of a leg injury Steph Curry suffered in the first round, Draymond Green getting suspended for one too many strikes to the nuts of opposing players, and the Cavaliers making some incredibly unlikely heroic plays in the final moments of Game 7 on the road in the most visitor-unfriendly NBA arena possibly ever. That’s not to imply the Cavaliers deserve an asterisk next to their achievement, not at all: Having gotten a couple lucky breaks and beaten the odds at a couple key junctures are circumstances that describe virtually every Finals winner ever.
In 2015, the Warriors had the good fortune to face a Cavs team without Kevin Love and (a couple quarters notwithstanding) Kyrie Irving, and still went down 2-1 before rallying to win in six when LeBron James ran out of gas. In 2014, the Spurs scored an easier trip through the Western Conference Finals thanks to a season-ending injury to Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka one game before that series started. That’s how championships go. The winner, in every case, is an extremely good team that was able to take advantage of some favorable circumstances. Maximizing the former’s ability to strike when the latter presents itself is the job of a contender’s GM.
The Celtics weren’t just some bozo team in the hunt for the eighth seed, trying to decide whether to mortgage their future on a million-to-one shot at knocking off the Cavs in the first round. They’re the second seed, for chrissakes! By the time they and the Cavs would even have a chance to meet each other in the playoffs, Kyrie Irving could have pooped his brain out! Kevin Love could have fallen down a manhole! LeBron could be too gassed to handle a team with not one but two legit stars on it! The Cavs being greatly diminished by the time the Eastern Conference Finals roll around isn’t just possible; it’s probably the odds-on likelihood.
These Celtics, plus DeMarcus Cousins or Jimmy Butler or Carmelo Anthony or Paul George—or, hell, maybe even Paul Millsap or friggin’ Brook Lopez—and in possession of the East’s second seed, wouldn’t need world-historic good luck to find themselves playing for rings. They’d just need a couple of lucky breaks, of the type every championship team in NBA history has needed. Making moves based on the assumption that those breaks can’t happen isn’t just cowardly; it isn’t just selling out the players on the team; it’s also ahistorical and stupid.
So the Celtics, probably the most unrealized-asset-loaded franchise in the NBA, stood pat while both the teams behind them (the Wizards and Raptors) made inexpensive moves to improve themselves right away. That’s fucking disgraceful.
(And all of this was only the kindest possible spin on Ainge’s deadline inactivity. The darker but no less plausible explanation is that he has shifted into Sam Hinkie Fraud Mode, perpetually postponing the realization of all those assets so that he can continue getting paid off the easier work of acquiring them, rather than being judged by the infinitely harder work of delivering on their promise.)
The Wolves have Ricky Rubio, who’s gone as far as he ever will with this franchise and is clogging up court-time better used by Kris Dunn, who seems to suck a whole lot but is perhaps still the likely guard of the future in Minnesota. They should have traded Rubio away and probably had ample opportunity to do so, and didn’t. That’s dumb.
That’s not really why I’m here to bash them, though! Get a load of the single most depressing tweet I’ve seen in the past 48 hours, concerning the reasons why the Wolves walked away from a proposed Rubio-for-Derrick Rose trade with the Knicks:
This tweet is as grim a prognosis as the Tom Thibodeau Era possibly could get. Like, okay, they wanted to swap a couple of washed-up point guards. Fine. It’s probably not the sexiest haul Wolves fans might have hoped for in exchange for Rubio, but it wouldn’t be completely embarrassing, either. They’d pay Rose to hang out and not shoot free throws for 25 games, and then they’d get to clear his huge salary off the ledger after the season and they’d have a fresh start, out from under him and Rubio. That would make sense.
But no, Thibodeau wanted to re-sign him. He nixed the Rubio trade—the ostensible purpose of which would be to clear room for Dunn or a replacement in free agency—because he was worried he wouldn’t be able to reach good terms on a free-agent contract with Derrick freaking Rose.
The Timberwolves are doomed. Rescue Karl-Anthony Towns before they ruin him.
No point belaboring this one. They couldn’t find a trade destination for Jahlil Okafor, who has no future in Philadelphia and whom they pulled out of games less than two weeks ago because a trade supposedly was imminent. And the moves they did make—moving Nerlens Noel to Dallas for a protected first and the right to waive Andrew Bogut; moving Ersan Ilyasova to Atlanta for Tiago Splitter and some second-round action—hilariously, added even more centers to their existing insane glut of centers. They have like 42 centers now. I almost kind of admire their commitment to hoarding centers.
Unfortunately, despite searching, they scored no guards, and therefore still have no guards, and have officially re-entered full-on Tank Mode, making this the fourth straight season they have just straight-up tossed in the trash.
Also pointless: Elaborating on the blatantly obvious point that this is a consequence of—and not a deviation from—Sam Hinkie’s disastrous multi-year forfeiting project. ESPN math doer Kyle Wagner ably made that point in a tweet, here:
And in a blog(!), here.
This sucks. I hope the Sixers eventually will attempt to be good, at some point before Joel Embiid gets old.