NBA Trade Deadline Recap

Benjamin White '23

After weeks of speculation regarding potential player movement at the 2023 NBA Trade Deadline, the February 9th deadline has passed with major activity involving multiple All-Stars on the move. The NBA world witnessed an onslaught of action as championship contenders retooled or even entirely reinvented themselves. Below are the franchises who took part in the deadline’s most significant deals and how their acquisitions position these teams for the future.

Phoenix Suns

In an unexpected blockbuster deal, Phoenix acquired perennial MVP candidate Kevin Durant from the Brooklyn Nets [1]. Phoenix sent away fan favorites Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson, both providing necessary roles as 3-and-D wings in Phoenix’s previous playoff runs, in addition to four future unprotected first-round picks and a first-round pick swap in 2028. While Durant’s recent MCL sprain led to Brooklyn’s implosion that ultimately expedited his trade to Phoenix, his on-court play prior to the knee sprain was as dominant as ever. Averaging 29.7 points per game on a blistering 55.9% field goal percentage, Durant has continued to thrive as an offensive weapon, obliterating defenses with his mid-range mastery [2]. Durant’s 6’10” frame paired with his lateral quickness allow him to contribute defensively as well. Another aspect of the Durant trade, Phoenix also acquired T.J. Warren from Brooklyn, a rotational piece who can provide some microwave scoring in his own regard. After losing in the 2021 finals to the Milwaukee Bucks, Phoenix still remains all in on winning a title, as the Durant acquisition catapults them to favorites to win the Western Conference. Devin Booker, who has averaged 26.6 points per game on the season thus far, poses a deadly threat to opposing defenses as a second scoring option [2]. Alongside the Durant-Booker duo, Chris Paul may not be the elite offensive machine he once was in his prime, but he still serves as a playmaking maestro, averaging 8.7 assists per game, and will likely benefit tremendously from the defensive attention Durant and Booker require [2]. Additionally, Deandre Ayton remains an effective low-post scorer and interior defender who can attack mismatches against smaller defenders. Recent buyout signee Terrence Ross figures to add some bench scoring to the group [3]. The Suns held onto forward Torrey Craig, who will have to step up defensively in the absence of Bridges. Forward Josh Okogie has recently stepped up in the absence of key rotation contributors, providing a jolt of defensive intensity in addition to uncharacteristically efficient perimeter shooting for the fifth year wing. Cam Payne, Damion Lee, and Landry Shamet occasionally provide an offensive boost as guards off the bench. While Phoenix still has concerns about its frontcourt depth, a core four of Durant, Booker, Paul, and Ayton is perhaps as lethal of a four-man combination as any in the NBA at the moment, and makes Phoenix a tough out in the Western Conference.


Dallas Mavericks

Phoenix was not the only franchise to benefit from Brooklyn’s self-destruction this trade deadline. Prior to the Durant trade, Dallas acquired All-Star starter Kyrie Irving from the Brooklyn Nets, sending away key rotational players in Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith, in addition to a 2029 first-round pick and two future second-rounders [1]. Irving is coming off an incredibly tumultuous tenure as Brooklyn Net. His four-season run with Brooklyn involved controversies surrounding his tension with coaches, his unavailability to play home games throughout the COVID-19 pandemic due to his refusal to obtain the COVID-19 vaccine amidst the vaccine mandate in New York City, and most recently, his eight-game suspension for promoting an antisemitic film. Irving’s relationship with the Brooklyn front office had soured, with disagreements on a contract extension being the straw that broke the camel’s back following years of controversy [4]. While Irving comes with his share of off-the-court difficulties, on the court, he presents the best co-star that MVP candidate Luka Dončić has had in his career. A legitimate three-level scorer with a dynamic offensive arsenal of skills, Irving’s on-court talents project to fit seamlessly next to Dončić’s. While Dončić initiates the offense, hunting mismatches and creating open looks for teammates, Irving can attack off the shifting defenses that Dončić creates. Defensively is where the problems likely stem from for Dallas. Losing Finney-Smith weakens Dallas’s defense, as he consistently took on the hardest defensive assignment on a gamely basis. While a Dončić-Irving duo is as offensively potent as any, neither star is a great defender, and the Mavericks’ role players aren’t exactly defensive standouts. Christian Wood has unique offensive skills for a big man, but has often been benched in late game situations by coach Jason Kidd due to his defensive issues. Reggie Bullock and Josh Green will likely emerge as the team’s most utilized wings in the absence of Finney-Smith. While they are both reliable defenders, they aren’t great enough to carry a defense of mostly underwhelming defenders. Maxi Kleber, when healthy, provides switchability defensively in the frontcourt, but that when healthy is more of an “if” than a “when.” Ultimately, Dallas has as much offensive firepower as any team in the league but may be outmatched in the playoffs due to struggles to get late-game stops. Additionally, Kyrie Irving still does not have a contract extension beyond this season, making him a flight risk in the offseason. While the future may be grim depending on Irving’s offseason decision, Dallas has a real opportunity to compete for a championship now, as Dončić seeks to reach new heights as a Maverick.


Brooklyn Nets

Now, onto the Nets’ side of things. Losing three All-NBA caliber players in James Harden at last season’s trade deadline, and Durant and Irving this year, is a brutal situation and a devastating demise to what could have been a lethal superteam [5]. However, all things considered, Brooklyn is relatively well positioned for the future. While the Nets gave up almost all of their draft capital in the 2020-2021 season to acquire James Harden, they got almost all of that draft capital back in their returns for Irving and Durant. Additionally, while Brooklyn now lacks the star power and shotmaking ability to realistically compete for a championship this season, the Nets remain a competitive team for this year with upside in the future. Mikal Bridges headlined the Durant trade package and has taken a leap offensively in his fifth season, averaging a career-best 17.2 points per game in his time with Phoenix this year while remaining one of the league’s premier perimeter defenders [2]. Cam Johnson serves as a lethal three-point shooting wing in only his fourth season, shooting 45.5% from three on 5.8 three-point attempts per game this season [2]. While not a part of any trade deadline movement, starting center Nicolas Claxton remains an intriguing part of the Nets’ future, having become a Defensive Player of the Year candidate with his mix of rim protection and elite switchability as a big man while ascending as both a scorer and rebounder at only 23 years of age. The Durant and Irving trade departures created rotational opportunities for second-year guard Cam Thomas who has thrived in their absence, recently scoring more than 40 points in three consecutive games, becoming the youngest player to do so at the age of 21 [6]. Dinwiddie and Finney-Smith will provide key contributions to the Nets’ rotation with scoring and defense, respectively. While there are reasons for optimism in Brooklyn, the bitter taste of failure may persist. Ben Simmons was the centerpiece of the Harden trade at last year’s deadline, and he has had a disastrous season with the Nets, seeming to have declined significantly athletically, having been demoted to a bench role and rarely closing out games due to his offensive reluctance to look at the basket. From a front-office perspective, Nets owner Joe Tsai and General Manager Sean Marks will forever hold the titles of the management that fumbled a championship opportunity through their shortcomings throughout the Durant-Harden-Irving era, most notably in the hiring of Steve Nash as head coach. Nash’s questionable coaching resulted in Kevin Durant demanding Nash’s release this past offseason, only for Tsai and Marks to support Nash publicly, ultimately just to fire him anyway after a 2-5 start to this season, displaying the managerial dysfunction of Brooklyn [7]. Despite the historical collapse of a potential superteam and the remains of a lackluster front office, the trade returns for Durant and Irving paired with Cam Thomas and Nic Claxton’s leaps present a new chapter for the organization.


Los Angeles Clippers

After an up-and-down start to the season for the L.A. Clippers, seeking regular season success to propel a championship-hopeful franchise, the team retooled around its star duo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, attempting to assemble a more well-rounded roster around the two stars. The Clippers made three separate deadline trades, making deals that involved the L.A. Lakers, Denver Nuggets, Orlando Magic, Charlotte Hornets, Houston Rockets, and Memphis Grizzlies. Collectively, the Clippers traded away three guards in Reggie Jackson, John Wall, Luke Kennard, and a future first-round pick swap in exchange for Mason Plumlee, Eric Gordon, and Bones Hyland [1]. Moving three offensive-oriented guards signals the Clippers’ front office’s displeasure with their defensive production, as the Clippers have frequently struggled to defend the three-point line throughout the year in occasionally sluggish performances from its veteran cast. While Bones Hyland, a second-year guard acquired from Denver, has his own share of liabilities defensively, he provides more upside as a younger alternative to any of Jackson, Wall, or Kennard. Eric Gordon may have lost a step defensively at 34 years of age, but he still provides a similar level of tertiary scoring from the guard position as Jackson, Wall, or Kennard while having more experience at guarding up against bigger wings through his time in Houston. Mason Plumlee fills a much-needed void for the Clippers, who have lacked a reliable backup center to Ivica Zubac the entire season. Plumlee has had a quietly productive season with the Charlotte Hornets, averaging 12.2 points per game and 9.7 rebounds per game [2]. While Hyland, Gordon, and Plumlee likely will all come off the bench for the Clippers, they’ll still provide necessary contributions to a team seeking production as it fights to climb the Western Conference standings. Meanwhile, the departures of Wall and Jackson likely move Terance Mann to the undoubted starting point guard of the Clippers, whose point-of-attack perimeter defense is likely a necessity against the star guards of the Western Conference. Regardless of the roster changes, the most crucial element to the Clippers’ postseason desires is Kawhi Leonard’s health and production. Leonard has missed plenty of time this season as he continues to heal from a right ACL injury [8]. While his availability has been the biggest question, Leonard’s on-court production has not been as elite as it was prior to his knee injury, averaging 22 points per game this year, his lowest mark since the 2017-2018 season [2]. However, as the season has progressed, Leonard has looked more and more like himself, recently averaging 27.7 points per game on 54.6% field goal percentage in the month of January [9]. While a Kawhi Leonard and Paul George duo will always have its health concerns, their scoring and defensive capabilities solidify the Clippers as prominent Western Conference contenders who hope that their recent additions will provide necessary contributions to reach new heights as a franchise.


Los Angeles Lakers

The Clippers were not the only active L.A. team at the NBA trade deadline, as the Lakers were a part of three deadline trades as well. Ultimately, the Lakers traded away Russell Westbrook, Patrick Beverley, Thomas Bryant, a future first-round pick, future second-round picks, and salary filler in exchange for D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt, Rui Hachimura, and Mo Bamba [1]. The first of the three deals occurred in late January, involving the Lakers sending salary and future second-rounders to the Wizards for the aforementioned Hachimura, who has provided a tertiary scoring punch as an off-the-dribble mid-range scorer. The most significant deadline deal for the Lakers involved their three-team deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Utah Jazz, as the Lakers finally moved on from former All-Star Russell Westbrook by packaging his unwanted contract with a future first-round pick in order to acquire role players in Russell, Beasley, and Vanderbilt. While Westbrook may have received an unfair share of the blame for the Lakers’ poor roster construction in the 2021-2022 season, his continued weaknesses to space the floor and inefficient scoring produced underwhelming results in an awkward attempt to fit alongside stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Lakers fans had soured on Westbrook’s role on the team, with fans even booing Westbrook at some points midway through home games, with his departure from the organization being welcomed by fans and seen as long overdue [10]. D’Angelo Russell, a former All-Star in the 2018-2019 season for the Brooklyn Nets, has since struggled to find a home in the NBA, moving from Golden State to Minnesota, now back to where his career began with the Lakers. Russell projects to provide tertiary playmaking as a pick-and-roll facilitator with the ability to get hot with his perimeter shooting, although his often questionable shot selection and lackluster defense may result in frequent late-game benchings. Malik Beasley serves as a high-volume three-point shooter with a knack for making difficult shots on the move, filling a necessary role for the Lakers, who currently have the fifth-worst three-point percentage in the NBA [11]. Perhaps the real prize of the Westbrook trade is Jarred Vanderbilt, whose performances may not pop in the box score, but provides defensive versatility, athleticism, and rebounding in the front court. Although Vanderbilt’s inefficiencies as a shooter may also be an awkward fit next to LeBron James and Anthony Davis, unlike Westbrook, Vanderbilt’s 6’8” frame and activity on the defensive end provide potential upside with their pairing, in addition to Vanderbilit’s sneakily effective playmaking as a roller off of screens. Finally, Mo Bamba’s ability to space the floor as a 7 footer makes him an intriguing young prospect, but his underwhelming defense and rebounding likely make him an end-of-the-bench piece. Through their three trades, the Lakers have built a much more balanced and talented team around their two stars, but the health of their two stars remains a question mark. Despite recently becoming the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, LeBron James has reportedly dealt with a nagging ankle injury that may be a problem for the remainder of the season [12]. Additionally, Anthony Davis has an extensive injury history, most recently having an extended absence due to a stress injury in his right foot [13]. To make matters worse, the Lakers face an uphill battle just to make the playoffs, currently sitting at 13th in the Western Conference with only two months of regular season action remaining [2]. Despite persisting health and standings-related concerns, James and Davis remain transcendent talents when healthy, and the acquisitions around them project a championship-caliber roster, assuming they are able to overcome the dramatic obstacles currently in their path.


Other Significant Moves

In addition to major deadline moves, many teams quietly acquired significant rotational additions. As part of the Kevin Durant trade, Brooklyn acquired 3-and-D wing Jae Crowder, who they immediately flipped to the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for second-round picks [1]. Crowder had refused to play for Phoenix this entire season due to disagreements on his role on the team, and his level of health at the time is largely uncertain. However, Crowder’s history as a capable defender and floor spacer with a deep history of playoff runs presents a needed wing acquisition for a Milwaukee team with championship aspirations. Another Eastern Conference contender made a minor move to bolster its rotation, with the Philadelphia 76ers moving on from Matisse Thybulle in exchange for Jalen McDaniels [1]. Despite Thybulle’s often tenacious defense, his inability to shoot or provide any offensive production resulted in him being an on-court liability for Philadelphia. McDaniels maintains a similar defensive versatility at 6’9” with quickness and athleticism but has more offensive potential as a career 34.3% three-point shooter across his 4 NBA seasons [2]. Staying in the Eastern Conference, the New York Knicks traded Cam Reddish and their 2023 first-round pick to the Portland Trailblazers in exchange for Josh Hart [1]. Hart fills a necessary role as a glue guy for New York with his perimeter defensive and oddly effective rebounding, averaging an astonishing 8.2 rebounds per game this season as a 6’5” guard. In an offense of ball-dominant players in Julius Randle, Jalen Brunson, and R.J. Barrett, Hart provides a breath of fresh air with his ability to cut off the ball and willingness to contribute defensively. On the flip side, the Portland Trailblazers continued to try to acquire future draft capital and young assets, with Reddish having untapped potential as a scorer and defender, given his athleticism and shooting ability. However, his career play throughout his first four seasons has been largely inefficient. Finally, despite being rumored to be sellers, the Toronto Raptors ended up surprisingly being buyers, acquiring center Jakob Poeltl from the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for Khem Birch, a 2024 first-round pick, and future second-rounders [1]. Toronto has had an underwhelming season and seemed destined to finally move on from long-time role players, including All-NBA forward Pascal Siakam, whose name appeared in trade discussions. In the end, Toronto chose to add Poeltl to fill its vacancy at the center position in hopes of turning its season around and potentially going on a playoff run. 

With the deadline closed, the landscape of the NBA has shifted following Brooklyn’s departure from title contention, Phoenix and Dallas’s acquisition of star talent, both L.A. teams retooling around their remaining stars, and other significant rotational additions. The remainder of the regular season figures to be incredibly competitive, as the Western Conference standings remain a bloodbath, and the Eastern Conference involves tough competition for dominance between Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and the reigning Eastern Conference champions, the Boston Celtics. As the dust of trade season settles, the end of the regular season leading into the play-in tournament and playoffs project to be as wildly competitive as ever.



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