This past week was one that every fan of the NBA has had marked on their calendars from the beginning of the season. The infamous trade deadline. The NBA trade deadline rarely comes and goes quietly. It is a culmination of teams forfeiting the hope they started the season with, contenders trying to find that missing piece, shocking blockbuster trades, and dramatic storylines. This year’s deadline was not any different and may be one of the more dramatic and landscape-changing one’s that we have seen in a while. Let’s recap.
It only makes sense to start with the biggest trade of the deadline, which sent Kevin Durant to the Phoenix Suns. This trade represented the proverbial final “nail in the coffin” for the super dream team the Brooklyn Nets had just two long seasons ago. The use of the word “long” there was very intentional, as it feels like this team was talked about for every reason, every week, except about basketball. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving teamed up in Brooklyn in the summer of 2019. The Nets were coming off a year where they exceeded expectations with their young core of D’Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, and Jarrett Allen. The group made the playoffs and lost in five to the Philadelphia 76ers. The 2019-2020 season was a tumultuous one for the Nets, as coach Kenny Atkinson was fired, Kyrie played under 40 games due to injury, and Durant didn’t play at all due to recovery from an achilles injury suffered in the prior year’s Finals. In the 2020-2021 season, superstar James Harden forced a trade from the Houston Rockets to join the Nets, making them one of the best offensive teams in NBA history. But injuries to Irving and Harden in the playoffs led to an early exit for the Nets. In 2021-2022, the wheels began to completely fall off, as Durant sustained an injury and Irving could not play in home games due to his refusal to get vaccinated and New York City vaccine mandates. That left Harden to play by himself and ultimately led to him asking out of Brooklyn. He was traded to Philadelphia for Ben Simmons, who did not play that season due to mental health and back issues, and the Nets were swept by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs. In the offseason, Durant actually asked for a trade to the Suns, who were a year removed from a Finals appearance and featured all-stars Devin Booker and Chris Paul. Irving also explored leaving, as he was entering the final year of his contract, and the Nets refused to give him a long-term guarantee due to several episodes of off-court antics. Both returned and alongside Simmons finally looked like a contending team. But more off-court drama with Irving, injuries, and unmet contract demands led to both stars asking out of Brooklyn, forcing the Nets to blow up their super team with no draft picks or conference finals appearances to show for it. Durant will now wait to make his first appearance with the Suns as he rehabs a high ankle sprain he sustained. The Suns had looked in danger of decline ever since their Finals appearance two seasons ago, and were sitting at fifth in a crowded Western Conference when they made the trade for Durant. The future hall-of-famer can put this team over the top. In exchange for Durant and scoring wing TJ Warren, the Nets received four future first round picks and young players Cam Johnson and Mikal Bridges. Bridges and Johnson were both high draft picks and have great potential as 3-and-D wings. While they aren’t stars, they are certainly solid pieces. Yet this is still pennies on the dollar for one of the greatest basketball players ever in his prime.
The same could be said for Irving, who was traded to the Dallas Mavericks for a first-round pick, wing Dorian Finney-Smith, and Spencer Dinwiddie. The Nets roster, despite how deep it is, lacks the star power to really compete. As for the Mavericks, the deal represents a risk. They already struggled defensively, and trading one of their best defenders in Finney-Smith certainly doesn’t help. The Mavs needed another star to pair with superstar Luka Doncic. He needed another shot creator who could take pressure off him both when he is on and off the court, and Irving represents that. Irving does represent a risk, however. His off-court drama has derailed both of his former teams and seemingly held them both back. The Mavs can part ways with him this offseason when his contract expires but would have given up a lot for just a half-year rental.
The Western Conference bulked up. The Lakers made a blockbuster deal bringing D’Angelo Russell back to the franchise that drafted him. Russell is a passive point guard who can shoot well from three. The one-time all-star was the No. 2 overall pick by the Lakers once upon a time, but was traded after recording a private conversation between himself and a teammate in the locker room. The Lakers desperately needed shooting and got it in Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt and scoring guard Malik Beasley. The deal sent former MVP Russell Westbrook to the Utah Jazz. His tenure in LA was tenuous as he struggled to space the floor and shoot efficiently alongside LeBron James. Mike Conley was sent from Utah to Minnesota to replace Russell as the PG.
The Golden State Warriors also made a massive multi-team deal that sent former top-two pick James Wiseman, who struggled to catch on with the Warriors, out. In return the Warriors received Gary Payton II, who they failed to re-sign this offseason. To replace Payton II’s defense, the Portland Trail Blazers traded for defensive ace Matisse Thybulle.
Contrary to the West, the East was relatively quiet. Top contenders in the East, the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics, only made small moves. The Miami Heat, who many thought needed big upgrades, were quiet as well. The only major shake-up in the East was the Nets. This deadline certainly sets us up for a very interesting back-half of the season.