Who won the NBA trade deadline?
Almost every other sports website has published its own trade grades in what has been one of the busiest deadline week in recent memory. But bottom line is we wouldn’t really know who won these trades until the end of the season at the earliest—and sometimes not even after a couple of seasons. We don’t know if either James Harden or Ben Simmons delivers a championship to Philadelphia or Brooklyn. We don’t know for sure if Tyrese Haliburton will become an All-Star at Indiana.
In other words, it’s premature to make definitive proclamations that any NBA team is the trade deadline winner. But this doesn’t mean that nobody won. Behind the scenes, a prizefight of epic proportions was happening, which saw the protagonists throw one haymaker after another—in the form of tweets. And in Highlander fashion, there can be only one.
Here’s the story of how the reigning, defending and undisputed NBA Insider champion, ESPN’s Adrian “Woj” Wojnarowski, defended his crown on trade deadline week against The Athletic’s Shams Charania.
Tale of the Tape
Let’s introduce the challenger first. Shams was a one-time Woj apprentice over at Yahoo’s The Vertical and has been gunning for his master’s crown for the past couple of years. He has 1.5 million Twitter followers and represents the new breed of NBA reporters in the pro-player empowerment era. He has close ties with agents, most notably Rich Paul and Klutch Sports. Shams is represented by United Talent Agency, whose sports division is headed by—you guessed it—Paul.
And now it’s time for the champ. If Shams is the anti-establishment, Woj is The Establishment. He is the NBA’s Lord Varys, with connections that run deep within the 30 franchises. During his time at Yahoo, he firmly established himself as the GOAT of NBA breaking news. He always seemed to be the first to break major trades and signings, beating out legacy media outlets like ESPN for the biggest scoops—that’s why ESPN paid top-dollar to get his services. His 5.2 million followers keenly await the next “Woj bomb,” as his near-legendary tweets have come to be known.
The rivalry has a master-versus-student vibe to it, and this is not the first time they’ve squared off. Last year, Shams reported that Phoenix Suns point guard Chris Paul made a commitment to Team USA for the Tokyo Olympics, which Woj shut down, prompting Shams to delete his original tweet and cook up some lame excuse that the situation was “fluid.”
More recently, Woj correctly forecasted Klay Thompson’s return on Jan. 9, while Shams initially stuck to an overly optimistic Dec. 28 date. Woj doubled down on the return date on Jan. 3, which Shams belatedly confirmed on Jan. 7.
But the challenger is relentless, and this time he has an in with the most talked about player of the past eight months, Ben Simmons, who is represented by Paul. Let’s get into it then…
The early rounds
The champ came out swinging, ushering the trade deadline week with the first big scoop: the 5-player swap between the Blazers and Clippers. Shams was caught off-guard and literally had no answer.
Woj set the tone and swept the early rounds. He was so far ahead of the Caris LeVert-to-the-Cavs scoop that he had time to reply to his own tweet with additional details; the reply was still two minutes ahead of Shams’ tweet.
Woj was first to break the CJ McCollum discussions between the Blazers and Pelicans, the Tyrese Haliburton-Domantas Sabonis trade, Bradley Beal’s season-ending surgery, and the three-team Joe Ingles expiring contract dump. The challenger appears to have been flummoxed by the champ’s early barrage, unable to respond to the Sabonis and Ingles scoops.
It’s not all about timestamps, however, and I’m inclined to score the McCollum scoop for Shams. Woj may have been the first to tweet, but Shams was the first one to identify who New Orleans is sending out (Josh Hart and draft considerations). But it ends up evening out, because the next news story was the MIL-LAC-SAC-DET four-way and while Shams was the first to report that Marvin Bagley III is headed to Detroit, Woj beat him to the fact that it was a four-team deal by some three minutes.
After the first half, the score stands at 7-2, including three shutouts in favor of the champ.
The biggest round of the night was of course Simmons-for-Harden and the challenger came alive with his lightning quick fingers, tweeting some 20-30 seconds ahead of Woj.
The two had identical timestamps, but Twitter users have confirmed that Shams tweeted first.
Still, it’s a close call because even though Shams may have been first, Woj was more accurate—by throwing Andre Drummond’s name to the tweet. Is Drummond worth whatever number of seconds Woj lost typing his name? The champ seemed to think so.
The Harden-for-Simmons rumors have dominated the news cycle over the last two weeks, with Shams staking his claim that the Sixers and Nets are open to a deal, while Woj remained steadfast that the Nets were not interested. Woj’s ESPN colleague and LeBron James biographer Brian Windhorst even interfered to aid Shams by saying on ESPN’s Get Up that the Hardens-Simmons trade talks are “absolutely happening.” It was like Paul Bearer showing up with Kane during The Undertaker-Shawn Michaels Hell in a Cell match in 1997’s Badd Blood PPV.
Woj was visibly irked by Windhorst’s statement that he had to stop himself from calling the big guy a dumbass on national TV.
But as the trade deadline loomed closer, Woj broke the news that Harden wants out of Brooklyn—confirming an earlier report by Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer about Harden’s unhappiness with the Nets—but has resisted making a formal request out of fear of the public backlash that would come with asking out of a second franchise in consecutive seasons.
On paper, it seems simple: it’s a ‘W’ for Shams because he reported about the possibility of the Harden-Simmons deal as early as last week—with the assist from Windhorst. But life is never simple, and all signs suggest that the trade package was cobbled up at the last minute—contradicting Shams’ and Windhorst’s assertions that the two teams have been in active discussion in the leadup to the deadline.
Woj’s version—that the Nets had not been in constant discussions with the Sixers until the last day—is more believable all things considered. Shams and Windhorst keep talking about “sources from around the league” but Woj has always been consistent that his source is from within the Nets organization (and he’s always backed up by his frequent ESPN collaborator Bobby Marks, who is an ex-AGM of Brooklyn). It’s also hard to believe that the Nets wouldn’t have lobbied hard for Tyrese Maxey if they had the luxury of time; or alternatively explored including a third team to acquire someone better than Seth Curry alongside Simmons. Harden’s unhappiness in Brooklyn appears to have been the impetus for the deal and his reluctance to formally request a trade had the Nets fidgeting at the trade deadline.
I’m gonna call this round a draw because while Shams was first-in-time, Woj had better accuracy and full details. It’s 7-2-1 after nine.
The Harden-Simmons news appears to have injected new life into the challenger. The champ’s age is showing, and Shams is looking to dictate the closing rounds with his youth and stamina.
They split the next two minor rounds (Derrick White-Josh Richardson and Torrey Craig-Jalen Smith), before Shams goes on a three-round streak involving some of the bigger names: Montrezl Harrell-to-Hornets, Aaron Holiday-to-Phoenix (also Shams’ first shutout), and Kristaps Porzingis-for-Spencer Dinwiddie. The Harrell-Porzingis 1-2 combo sent the champ to the canvas—reminiscent of the 12th round of the first Tyson Fury-Deontay Wilder fight.
The champ is down! But was it enough to wrest the title from the champ and send the GOAT to retirement?
We go to the scorecard:
• Nine rounds for Woj, including four shutouts;
• Seven rounds for Shams, two shutouts; and
• A draw on the Harden-Simmons money round.
… And still the undisputed NBA Insider champion of the world, the Wojmeister.
PS. Don’t believe this tweet by StatMuse; they double-counted Shams’ separate tweets on the four-team deal involving the Bucks, Clippers, Kings, and Pistons