Trade Analysis: All the smaller deals

The quiet deadline we were promised wasn’t nearly as quiet as we were promised. I’ve written about the big deals: Robert Covington to Houston and Clint Capela to Atlanta, D’Angelo Russell to Minnesota and Andrew Wiggins to Golden State, Dewayne Dedmon to Atlanta, Marcus Morris to Los Angeles, Andre Iguodala to Miami, and Glenn Robinson III and Alec Burks to Philadelphia. Fine, that last one doesn’t necessarily belong with the “big deals” list, but the Sixers buying on the margins to bolster their playoff rotation could be a big part of how this year’s postseason plays out.

The rest of the deadline day trades aren’t robust enough to belong in their own article, so here is a smattering of thoughts from the six other trades that happened in the waning hours before Thursday’s deadline.

Andre Drummond to Cleveland

It seems a bit unfair to Drummond to lump him in with the rest of these moves, but he basically got salary dumped for nothing. The Cavaliers sent out the expiring contracts of Brandon Knight and John Henson to match his money and a low-end second-rounder: the lesser of Cleveland’s and Golden State’s 2023 picks. That’s it. For all the noise around the Pistons wanting a first-rounder for Drummond, they settled for the low end of second-round swap rights and getting rid of the possibility that he’ll opt in to $28.75 million for next season. They’ll have roughly $35 million in cap space this summer, which is essentially what they got for Drummond. We’ll see what they do with it, but will it be better than having Drummond’s expiring contract on the books for a trade next year? Probably, but it depends how they plan to use it.

The Pistons seem to want to hit the reset button, though that’ll be hard with Blake Griffin’s deal still on the books. Perhaps there will be another pivot for them if they have an opportunity to sign some higher-end role players this summer – we’re less than a year removed from Griffin making Third-Team All-NBA as Detroit’s power forward who just happened to be their best ball handler and shot creator. They followed that up with a slew of shrewd acquisitions, either in trade or in the free agency market – they took in Tony Snell from Milwaukee to get the No. 30 pick in the 2019 draft, then flipped that for three second-rounders, two of which they used to trade up for draft-and-stash prospect Deividas Sirvydis. Free agent acquisitions Derrick Rose and Markieff Morris have had solid years despite the team-wide difficulties. Christian Wood, whom the Pistons claimed off waivers, has been a bit of a revelation at backup center and now figures to start in the wake of Drummond’s exit. They have a handful of interesting young guys, from Luke Kennard and Bruce Brown to Svi Mykhailiuk and 2019 draftee Sekou Doumbouya. All that’s been missing this year is the centerpiece of it all – Griffin followed up his All-NBA selection by playing through injury in the worst season of his career by a mile before he was mercifully shut down for the rest of the year.

What comes next for Detroit? With a ton of time off to get his body right, could Griffin reclaim his All-NBA form? It’s not like this is a guy who was a top-tier player five years ago; it was just last season! $35 million in space plus a healthy Griffin could make Detroit an interesting contender next season, if they choose that route this summer.

On top of what happens in July, one of the players who could make or break this decision is Kennard. They had a deal in place to send him to Phoenix that fell apart after it was publicly reported, which is rare. The Suns and Pistons couldn’t come to an agreement on first-round pick protections and the deal died, but the fact that Detroit even came that close to selling on Kennard is interesting in its own right. Whichever way they choose to go, wouldn’t it make sense that Kennard would be a part of that? He’s either a secondary creator and shooter next to Griffin on a contending Pistons team or he’s in a larger role during the rebuild, but perhaps his medical situation is worse than we know publicly.

Cleveland basically spent its 2020 cap space on Drummond five months in advance. They’re now completely out of space and are happy with whatever decision he makes on that option – either he’ll opt in and anchor their defense next season or he’ll opt out and work out a long-term deal to stay with the Cavaliers at a lower annual salary.

James Ennis to Orlando

A part of acquiring Robinson and Burks, Philadelphia had to clear two roster spots. One of those was waiving Trey Burke and the other was moving Ennis to the Magic for the Lakers’ 2020 second-rounder, which Orlando picked up from Los Angeles at the draft last year. Ennis wasn’t in the Sixers’ plans after the trade with Golden State and finding a new home for him was best for all parties involved. He had veto power in a trade, but was happy to go to a Magic team where he’ll have a larger role the rest of the season. Unlike most teams moving players to accommodate financial or roster issues, Philadelphia actually getting an asset for Ennis was a good piece of business on their part, even if it was the No. 59 pick in the upcoming draft.

Derrick Walton Jr. to Atlanta

A pure salary dump, this trade created a roster spot and a little more breathing room below the tax for the Los Angeles Clippers, which they needed to complete the Marcus Morris trade without going over the tax. Keeping Walton’s $1.45 million on the books would have pushed them just about $200,000 over the tax.

Atlanta immediately cut Walton, who showed some flashes of NBA-level play with the Clippers, but the Hawks have enough guards already with Trae Young, Jeff Teague, and two-way player Brandon Goodwin, who is in line for a full contract now that the Hawks have an open roster spot for him after their deadline activity.

Skal Labissiere to Atlanta

Portland moved Labissiere to save some luxury tax cash. He makes $2.34 million this year and moving him saves them nearly $5 million in cash, minus the $1.76 million they sent to Atlanta for participating in the move. That they chose to move Labissiere instead of Caleb Swanigan and/or Wenyen Gabriel is interesting, but perhaps Atlanta, or the other teams Portland talked to about these salary dumps, didn’t want take those guys, even with the cash the Trail Blazers were attaching and they decided to hold onto their second-rounders rather than attach one or two to dump them. Losing all three of those guys wouldn’t have gotten them out of the tax entirely anyway and they’re not in any real danger of becoming a repeater tax team, so it wasn’t immensely important to move all three and attach draft assets to do it.

Atlanta will hold onto Labissiere, who will join their center ranks alongside newly-acquired Clint Capela and Dewayne Dedmon, as well as Damian Jones, Bruno Fernando, and John Collins, though it certainly seems as through Collins will be moved semi-permanently to the 4, at least for the rest of this season. We’ll see if Labissiere gets any sort of playing time with the Hawks, but it’s a good bet they’ll turn down the opportunity to tender him a qualifying offer this summer.

Denver and Washington swap Shabazz Napier and Jordan McRae

The Nuggets had very little use for Napier, whom they picked up from Minnesota in the four-team deal earlier in the week. Jamal Murray and Monte Morris are firmly entrenched at the point guard spot, so they decided to reroute Napier to Washington, where he’ll have a larger role. McRae can play for Denver the rest of the season as a sparkplug scorer off the bench. He’s not shy about getting shots up, which might be exactly what they need in their reserve unit, particularly next to the more gun-shy Morris.

Napier should play for the Wizards, who dumped Isaiah Thomas to the Clippers. He’s better than Jerome Robinson and might even take over the starting role from Ish Smith at some point. He’s a good shooter who can play next to Bradley Beal when Beal is the team’s primary playmaker on the starting unit, then Smith could come in off the bench and run the second-unit offense.

Houston and Memphis swap Jordan Bell and Bruno Caboclo

Houston picked up Bell from Minnesota in the four-teamer that brought Robert Covington to the club, but his time with the Rockets didn’t last long. Rerouting him to Memphis for Caboclo brings the latter back to the Rockets after a short stint away – Caboclo was playing for the Rockets’ G League affiliate when the Grizzlies signed him after last year’s trade deadline. Bell would have had a role for the Rockets as a switchy, athletic center, but they prefer Caboclo enough to send out some second-round swap rights with Bell to get their guy.

Mirroring Atlanta, Memphis now has a whole bunch of centers, so it’ll be a difficult task for Bell to get on the court. Jonas Valanciunas and Gorgui Dieng will take the lion’s share of the minutes and they can go small with either Jaren Jackson Jr. or Brandon Clarke at the 5 as well. Bell is likely the odd man out in this big man rotation, but he’ll hit free agency this summer and find a new home.