1. Man, that trade deadline…
… might go down as the greatest ever. It was not the busiest—per NBA.com, last year’s deadline involved 23 teams and 48 players over 16 deals compared to Thursday’s 16/35/10—but 2022’s mix of quality and quantity pushes it over the top.
The headliner involved teams with immediate championship aspirations swapping a pair of All-Stars. The last time we saw a star-for-star trade on deadline day? Almost two decades ago in 2003, when the Supersonics traded franchise legend Gary Payton to the Bucks for Ray Allen. But the 2003 deadline only saw three deals done involving five teams and 10 players, so it simply doesn’t have the quantity to compete with 2022.
Then you’ve got former All-Star Kristaps Porzingis, former Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell, and former No. 2 pick Marvin Bagley III switching teams. They might not be top-40 guys right now, but they’re not washed up either. Last year’s finalists also made moves, albeit minor, with the Bucks acquiring Serge Ibaka and the Suns adding Torrey Craig and Aaron Holiday Jr.—the first time since 2013 that reigning conference champs were active on the deadline. Throw in the Woj-Shams slobberknocker and I rest my case.
Whether any of the deals individually—and Harden-Simmons particularly—ends up as the greatest ever is a whole different question. It’s premature to judge this early whether it will rank up there with the Rasheed Wallace-to-Detroit (2004) or Dikembe Mutombo-to-Philly (2001) trades in terms of postseason implications. We’ll find out.
(What about 2008 when the Lakers acquired Pau Gasol? That deal actually happened 20 days before the deadline, so it doesn’t count. Ditto for the Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony deal in 2011, which was done two days prior.)
2. A sentence for each notable trade
• Harden-Simmons: Daryl Morey finally gets to relive his wet dream.
• Porzingis-to-Washington: When your team wanted to get rid of you so badly that they traded you for a guy shooting 37.6% from the field and another who’s averaging 5.7 points this season.
• Bucks-Clippers-Kings-Pistons four-way: A trade that involves players who played a combined zero minutes in the 2021 playoffs.
• Harrell-to-Hornets: How do Wizards fans feel after the team traded away their MVP?
• CJ McCollum-to-Pelicans: Portland went with Option B.
3. Sometimes the best move is the one you don’t make
… unless you’re the Lakers and Knicks.
Both teams have stunk this season, though to be fair, they were under vastly different circumstances heading into the deadline.
The Lakers simply had no moves to make because no NBA team—not even the Kings—finds the Westbrook albatross and a bunch of minimum salary guys particularly enticing. They have already mortgaged their future when they acquired Anthony Davis, so they couldn’t sweeten the pot with draft considerations. Perhaps the only deal available was with Houston for John Wall, a 31-year-old point guard who hasn’t played this season and never really looked the same after his Achilles injury in 2019, but the Lakers reportedly balked at throwing their 2027 first rounder to the package.
On the other hand, the Knicks had more flexibility but willingly chose to stand pat. Anyone who watches basketball knows that Julius Randle can’t be the best player on a contender. There are a lot of ways the Knicks could’ve gone, but I guess Leon Rose & Co. have accepted their fate this season and are preparing to make a bid for Damian Lillard in the summer following Portland’s recent fire sale. That’s one other key difference between the Knicks and Lakers—NY is not under any type of championship-or-bust pressure.
4. Time for the Murphy’s Law Lakers to hit primetime
With the Harden-Simmons deal done and dusted, it’s time to refocus every NBA fan’s attention to the greatest sports dramedy on TV: the Lakers car wreck.
Let’s start with the GM. Which one? Good (or trick?) question. Rob Pelinka is taking a lot of heat for failing to make a deadline move, but as covered above, their options were extremely limited.
That man is caught between a rock and a hard place. He planned to trade for then-Kings guard Buddy Hield in the offseason but LeBron James and AD encouraged the Lakers front office to go all-in for Westbrook. And so he did.
Now that the “Big 3” can’t get their act together on the floor, there was reportedly pressure from the same guys who pressured him to go after Westbrook to rid themselves of Westbrook. Sounds like some Inception-level shit right there.
Obviously nothing happened on trade deadline, and it appears that James and Davis are now at odds with Pelinka over the inactivity, per ESPN’s Dave McMenamin.
Then there’s the product on the court. I mean, you know it’s bad when even I end up overestimating the Lakers.
I put a lot of thought into this meme and they’re even worse than expected! They’ve played 57 games so far, and at 26-31, they’re guaranteed to be below 0.500 by their 59th game.
Then you’ve got retired Lakers great Shaquille O’Neal claiming on TNT earlier this week that there is belief within the Lakers organization that “they’re right where they want to be” and that “they would rather play Phoenix in the first round than Golden State.”
Charles Barkley lobbed a funny question at Kevin Durant whether the Nets had a team psychiatrist during TNT’s All-Star Draft broadcast, which got James laughing his pants off. Apparently, the Lakers need one too, because thinking they have a shot at beating the league-best Suns is downright delusional.
5. LeBron sets all-time scoring record, sort of
Notwithstanding the Lakers’ struggles, at least LeBron hit one of his milestones in their loss against the Warriors today. He has surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s record for most points in NBA history.
But the NBA—and each of the major American sports leagues for that matter—has this weird rule of segregating regular season and postseason numbers, so the record isn’t quite official. So officially, James is the all-time leader in playoff points but still trails Jabbar and Karl Malone in the regular season.
I remember Bill Simmons saying something in the early 2010s that you can hear Kobe Bryant counting the points he needed to surpass Kareem’s scoring record in his head every time he touched the ball. That’s LeBron now. He understands that the all-time regular season record that once seemed as mythical as Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game is within reach, and he has identified this as his path to GOAThood among casuals and zoomers who never got to watch Michael Jordan play.
He’s having the best scoring season of any 37-year-old in NBA history and his personal best since 2010. That it’s not translating to wins hardly matters. It’s by design. As I’ve said before: he’s a ‘good stats, bad team’ guy now—and it reflects on how far he is behind Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Joel Embiid in win shares per 48 despite these guys playing with similarly, if not more, decimated rosters throughout the season.
Peak and two-ring LeBron would have sacrificed his scoring and adapted his game to get Westbrook more acclimated to the Lakers’ system. The current version of LeBron is not doing that because he knows that it will take too much energy and there remains a big question mark whether such sacrifice would even be enough to close the gap to the West’s elite like the Suns and Warriors.
Four rings and the all-time scoring record look pretty good on paper. Combined with the seemingly never-ending stream of advanced Morey-metrics, and you’ve got LeBron’s GOAT playbook in a nutshell.
6. Too much recency bias in NBA’s top 15 coaches list
Speaking of GOATs, the NBA recently released its official list of the 15 greatest coaches of all-time as part of its 75th anniversary celebration:
I’ll keep it real: Eric Spoelstra and Doc Rivers have no business being there.
Any decent NBA coach could’ve won multiple titles with the Big Three-era Heat. Ask yourself, is winning two titles with peak LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh that much more impressive than Ty Lue’s run with the Cavs? I’m absolutely not saying that Lue should be in, but that’s the tier Spo belongs to. (Don’t get me started on the bubble “Finals” appearance.)
Doc? He has more blown 3-1 series leads than rings! How is he an objectively better pick than Rudy Tomjanovich or even Rick Carlisle?
Here are my choices to replace the two:
• John Kundla. The only other NBA coach apart from Jackson, Red Auerbach, Pat Riley, and Gregg Popovich to have won at least five titles. Yes, he coached during the league’s first decade when the Lakers was still in Minneapolis, but so what? That’s why it’s an all-time list! Kundla’s Lakers won five NBA titles in six years, with 1951 being the only gap in the team’s run, when superstar George Mikan fractured his leg before the WCF.
• Alex Hannum. The Celtics won 11 titles in 13 years from 1957 to 1969, and the man responsible for denying them a clean sweep was Hannum. He guided Bob Pettit—who you might recall from last Finals’ broadcast as the last player prior to Giannis to have a 50-point Finals closeout game—and the St. Louis Hawks to a win over the Celtics in 1958, and was at the helm when Wilt Chamberlain’s Sixers finally won a series against Bill Russell en route to the 1967 championship (including a then-NBA record 68-13 regular season mark).
• Billy Cunningham. The ‘Kangaroo Kid,’ who’s also part of the 75th anniversary team, coached the Sixers to a title and two Finals appearances in eight years with the franchise (1977-85), and owns the second-best winning percentage (0.698) among champion coaches behind Phil Jackson (0.704).
• Mike D’Antoni. This may be a controversial choice for some because of D’Antoni’s lack of championship success, but Don Nelson and Jerry Sloan made the list without rings. D’Antoni’s up-tempo, spread-out offense—with a healthy dose of pick-and-rolls and three-pointers—is basically the blueprint for the modern NBA. As Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, “There aren’t many innovators in coaching. There’s usually a few key figures who change the way everybody else thinks … I think what makes Mike unique is he is one of those innovators.”
• Rudy T had a spotty post-Houston career, but at least he gave us this memorable quote (and this week’s throwback video):