A memorable trade season already
With or without a Ben Simmons blockbuster deal, fans of the NBA's Transaction Game have not been lacking for action
The Cleveland Cavaliers are unexpectedly chasing a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference and have made two win-now trades since the calendar flipped to 2022.
Who saw any of that coming?
The LA Clippers, in another surprise, squeezed in their own win-now trade between the Cavaliers’ deals for Rajon Rondo and Caris LeVert by acquiring Norman Powell and Robert Covington from Portland. Those same Clippers, remember, might not even have Kawhi Leonard and/or Paul George in uniform for a game until next season.
Then on Tuesday, before we could even publish this week's Free To All Newsletter Extravaganza, we were treated to two thunderbolts.
After we reported New York’s interest Monday, New Orleans swiftly clinched the acquisition of the Trail Blazers’ CJ McCollum, who has never been an All-Star but is certainly paid like one and undeniably ranks as a marquee name given his unquestioned status as a bucker-getter. (The deal will also bring Larry Nance Jr. and noted BlackBerry connoisseur Tony Snell to the Pelicans in exchange for a salary-cap friendly and youth-filled haul — Josh Hart, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Tomáš Satoranský, Didi Louzada and draft compensation — that theoretically allows Portland to build a completely new team around Damian Lillard and the rising Anfernee Simons. That depends, of course, on Lillard wanting to stay with the only franchise he has ever known.)
Indiana and Sacramento followed up with a certifiable blockbuster headlined by each team’s most highly regarded player: Domantas Sabonis and Tyrese Haliburton. The Pacers and Kings were more widely expected to surrender Myles Turner and De’Aaron Fox before the deadline. They instead shook the league with the trade they hooked up to make, largely because Haliburton is held in such high esteem by countless front offices and wasn’t even widely known to be available.
If you were prepared to get excited about Trade Deadline 2022 only if it delivers a Ben Simmons trade, I’m disappointed for you. What we’ve seen so far, entering the final 48 hours of NBA trade season, adds up to a highly entertaining deadline — with plenty of runway still left for (mixed sports metaphor alert) more transactional curveballs.
Monday's advice remains intact: It’s safest to believe that Philadelphia is keeping Simmons beyond the deadline only when Thursday at 3 PM ET arrives and he's still there. Yet there’s also no denying that momentum working against a Simmons trade happening this week has been building for weeks.
Let’s continue by running through a few more standout questions that will soon be answered by what's left of trade season, while also acknowledging that the 🚨 must stay lit just in case Brooklyn goes back on its word and decides to entertain a James Harden-for-Simmons swap so soon after Nets coach Steve Nash forcefully said they wouldn’t:
What’s next from the Kings?
The Kings were looming as the true disappointment of this deadline through their inaction, then rocked their long-suffering fan base by making a trade that might still lead to that unflattering grade in which they surrendered the one beloved King thought to be untouchable. In the initial aftermath, I haven’t spoken to one observing team that likes this move for the Kings, especially given how well-known Haliburton was for wanting to be the guy to try to lead this franchise out of the doldrums. Desperate to prevent a league-record 16th consecutive season out of the playoffs, Sacramento still has at least two players (Harrison Barnes and Marvin Bagley III) who should have been dealt by now and remain eager to escape. Stay tuned, Kings diehards. If you dare.
Are the Pacers done?
For weeks we’ve heard the chatter about Indiana seeking at least two first-round picks to part with Turner, but that was before the swapping of Sabonis, twice an All-Star, for Haliburton. Long considered the most likely Pacer to be dealt this winter, Turner now might end up staying after the exits of Sabonis and LeVert.
What about Jerami Grant?
The Pacers were hardly alone in affixing steep price tags to the players they’ve been shopping. As we've been writing about all month, Detroit has equally lofty aims in a potential Grant deal, which has convinced various rival teams that Grant — for so long considered one of the likely headliners of this deadline — will be staying put this week. One caution: At last season’s deadline, it looked like Orlando was determined to rebuff all interest in Nikola Vučević until deadline day arrived and Chicago offered two first-round picks and Wendell Carter Jr. for the All-Star center.
How valuable are the expiring contracts?
The Raptors, as covered Monday, are canvassing the league to see what they can bring back by attaching a future first-round pick to Goran Dragić’s $19.4 million expiring contract in hopes of bolstering an overworked roster for an unexpected playoff drive. Like Cleveland had with Ricky Rubio, Utah has an injured player available with a very movable expiring contract (Joe Ingles at $13 million) to try to address its well-chronicled need for an upgrade on the wing (Sacramento's Barnes has been mentioned frequently as a potential target). The Hawks, who dealt Cam Reddish to the Knicks on Jan. 13, have essentially tabled any John Collins trade talks until the offseason (as covered in last Friday's This Week In Basketball column) ... but Atlanta still has Danilo Gallinari's trade-friendly deal (only $5 million of next season's $21.5 million is guaranteed) to peddle. The Pacers, for that matter, could still try to flip Rubio's $17.8 million expiring contract which made the LeVert-to-Cleveland trade possible. Ditto for the Clippers with Covington.
You didn't think we'd forget the Lakers, did you?
It should be clear by now that the Lakers don't have the trade assets to acquire a definite difference-maker ... or offload Russell Westbrook to Houston without surrendering their precious 2027 first-round pick. The Lakers thus might be forced, in fact, to wait for the buyout market to manufacture a badly needed talent infusion. Yet they continue to be linked on the trade front, as time runs out, with the likes of Boston's Josh Richardson and Orlando's Terrence Ross.
The Stein Line is a reader-supported newsletter, with both free and paid subscriptions available, and those who opt for the paid edition are taking an active role in the reporting by providing vital assistance to bolster my independent coverage of the league. Feel free to forward this post to family and friends interested in the NBA and please consider becoming a paid subscriber to have full access to all of my posts.
As a reminder: Tuesday editions, on this and every Newsletter Tuesday, go out free to anyone who signs up, just as my Tuesday pieces did in their New York Times incarnation.
Bradley Beal is such a good player that, despite this season’s dip in his play, he would have attracted mounds of trade interest before Thursday’s 3 PM ET buzzer had the Wizards made the 28-year-old available.
Trade Deadline Week instead provided the backdrop for the sudden announcement that Beal’s season is over.
On Tuesday afternoon, as shown in the enclosed tweet, I reported that the Wizards were still holding out hope that surgery on Beal’s injured wrist could be avoided. A few hours later, that hope had evaporated: Beal’s agent Mark Bartelstein of Priority Sports confirmed that season-ending surgery is forthcoming.
As covered here Friday, all indications held that Washington would not consider trade offers for Beal this week unless Beal himself requested to be dealt. That did not happen. But now Beal will be headed to unrestricted free agency this summer, coming off a down season and a long-term injury but eligible for a five-year deal worth nearly $250 million — unless he picks up next season’s $36.4 million player option. Beal slid to just 23.2 points per game and 30.0% shooting from 3-point range after averaging 31.3 PPG and 30.5 PPG in his previous two seasons.
The Wizards entered the week clinging to the belief that they could win the trade race for Sabonis and dodge a dire prognosis for Beal. They lost big twice on Tuesday and now face some difficult decisions in coming months regarding Beal’s future. Is he a truly player you can build around? Do they have the requisite trade assets to strengthen the supporting cast around Beal? Has Beal played his last game as a Wizard? Would moving on via sign-and-trade be best for this team’s future? All fair questions.
Perhaps I should leave this invite here every Tuesday.
Consider this section our virtual suggestion box to discuss content ideas … NBA and otherwise.
What would you like to read more of in 2022? Or less of? What do you really think of my (largely pretend) idea to launch a complementary coffee Substack? Or a Substack about BlackBerrys?
I've got a lot of things planned already in terms of stories I hope to tackle in coming months, but I would love to hear your ideas either in the comments below or via email@example.com.
There were still only five teams in the league, entering Tuesday’s play, more than two games out of a playoff play-in spot in their respective conferences. Three reside in the East (Indiana, Detroit and Orlando) alongside Oklahoma City and Houston in the West. The Trail Blazers obviously decided to operate as sellers despite sitting just a half-game out of the No. 10 seed, shedding the veteran fivesome of McCollum, Powell, Nance, Covington and Snell in two trades over the past few days.
In the last 14 months, Eric Bledsoe has been traded four times. In November 2020, Bledsoe went from Milwaukee to New Orleans in the four-team blockbuster that landed Jrue Holiday with the Bucks. In August 2021, Bledsoe was dealt to Memphis alongside with Steven Adams and a first-round draft pick to the Grizzlies for Jonas Valančiūnas. Nine days later, Memphis traded Bledsoe to the Clippers for Patrick Beverley, Rajon Rondo and Daniel Oturu. Bledsoe’s contract, which includes only $4.5 million in guaranteed salary next season, prompted the Clippers to make him the key financial piece of the trade with Portland that curiously netted the Trail Blazers no future first-round picks. Bledsoe, 32, is in the third season of a four-year, $70 million deal he signed with Milwaukee late in the 2018-19 season.
LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook are scheduled to play their 18th game together Tuesday night when the Lakers (10-7 in those games) play host to the reigning champions from Milwaukee. Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving have played only 16 games together, including last season’s playoffs, since the Brooklyn trio was formed in January 2021, going 13-3.
The Durant-less Nets have lost eight consecutive games. Only four teams in league history have won it all after sustaining a six-game losing streak: Dallas in 2011, Detroit in 2004, Seattle in 1979 and Rochester in 1951.
The annual supermax limit for players in the WNBA is $228,904. As All-Star center Liz Cambage recently noted in frustration via Twitter, that’s essentially four times less than new Las Vegas Aces head coach Becky Hammon. I reported on Jan. 4 that Hammon would be paid in the $1 million range annually by the Aces to vacate her job as a San Antonio Spurs assistant coach on Gregg Popovich’s staff — more than the reported $350,000 that Bill Laimbeer was earning as Hammon’s predecessor. Hammon’s salary will approach the total annual per-team salary cap in the WNBA of $1,379,200, but coaches are not subject to the cap. The dissent from Cambage, who recently joined the Los Angeles Sparks via free agency after blasting the WNBA as loudly as anyone has for its commercial travel while NBA teams fly charter, coincides with a fresh $75 million investment announced last week by the league.
Hall of Fame coach Bill Fitch, who died last week at 89, finished his 25-season NBA coaching career with a sub-.500 record (944-1106) thanks to a long stint with the expansion Cleveland Cavaliers and his final two stops with the New Jersey Nets and Los Angeles Clippers. Yet Fitch also holds the second-highest winning percentage for any coach in Celtics history at .738 (242-86) during his four seasons in Boston, trailing only K.C. Jones’ .751 (308-102).