Between a relatively unpredictable draft conducted remotely and free agency opening a mere 48 hours later — in November, no less — this was already sure to go down as one of the stranger weeks in the NBA’s 74-year history.
Now that we’ve finally made it here, we might as well fully embrace the weirdness that’s to come. (What choice do we really have, anyway?)
But before we skip ahead to Friday and figure out where players like Fred VanVleet, Danilo Gallinari, Jerami Grant and Montrezl Harrell will ultimately end up, let’s take a look at how a handful of key trades have changed the outlook for certain clubs.
Milwaukee getting Holiday (but somehow not getting Bogdanović)
Upside: If you’re trying to set up as stable an environment as possible around two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo ahead of his massive supermax decision, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more solid contributor than Jrue Holiday, who’s long been one of the best two-way players in the league.
We’ve all had time to reexamine the Chris Paul for Russell Westbrook trade from a season ago. And while that’s not totally analogous — because of both the players’ ages and the massive contract numbers involved — the idea of swapping Eric Bledsoe out to bring in Holiday feels a bit like getting Paul to replace Westbrook.
Much like the contrast between Paul and Westbrook, Holiday’s game is far steadier than Bledsoe’s. Both Holiday and Bledsoe are very good on defense (Holiday enjoys a 2-inch height advantage), yet the gap on offense seems to widen into something Grand Canyon-sized when the games take on more importance. Bledsoe shot just 13-for-59 — 22 percent — on jumpers in the two playoff series Milwaukee lost the past two seasons; that made opponents feel comfortable leaving him open, much the same way they do with Westbrook, who has also shot poorly on the big stage. By contrast, Holiday — normally a decent-but-not-great jump shooter — was arguably the best player in a series with Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum the last time he made the playoffs.
Downside: Bledsoe has been an elite finisher at the rim, shooting 70 percent or better from close range each of the past three seasons. (Of course, he’s been too timid to drive all the way to the basket in the postseason because of how he’s been defended.) Beyond that, the Bucks also lose the sure-handed George Hill, who backed up and played alongside Bledsoe. They’ll also lose three first-round picks in the deal — ones that won’t feel all that consequential if Giannis stays but could feel like the end of the world for a rebuilding Milwaukee if he leaves.
We can’t ignore the bizarre, What just happened? nature of the Bogdan Bogdanović deal getting leaked like it was done and then falling through. He would have theoretically been a perfect fit for the Bucks as either a third or fourth option on offense. He can set up teammates, and he’s quite skilled at creating shots for himself. (Just 37 percent of Bogdanović’s career 2-pointers have been assisted, a night-and-day contrast from Donte DiVincenzo, who was aided on 69 percent of his 2-pointers.)
DiVincenzo is clearly a far superior defender. But based on the cold spells we’ve seen Milwaukee endure in recent postseasons, getting someone like Bogdanović, whom the Bucks could likely cover for on D, seemed like a step forward. It all seems for naught now, though, after the acquisition flub, which may send them back to the drawing board to find another scorer of that caliber this offseason.
The Lakers getting Schröder
Upside: Coming off an NBA title, Los Angeles can rest assured that it’s getting a more complete offensive player in Dennis Schröder than the one it’s almost certainly losing in free agent Rajon Rondo.
Schröder finished with 20 points or more in 33 games — just over half his outings — in the 2019-20 regular season, something that Rondo, a facilitator by nature, did just twice for the Lakers. And where Rondo sometimes looks as if he’s trying to avoid being fouled because of his poor free-throw shooting, Schröder gets to the charity stripe far more often. All of that could lessen the burden on LeBron James and Anthony Davis, who had to take turns playing Superman during their title run.
Downside: While Schröder shined last season as part of Oklahoma City’s Three-Headed Hydra, there’s an argument to be made that his biggest statistical jump — he hit almost 39 percent from three last year after going just 32.5 percent previously in his career — may have been an aberration.
Also of note: Rondo is a bit more protective of the ball, with a nearly 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in the past four seasons, while Schröder is closer to 2-to-1 over the same period.
Portland getting Covington
Upside: If you know anything — anything at all — about Portland, you know the Blazers have plenty of offensive firepower. What they don’t have is much defense. But fortunately for Portland, the Rockets were once again in sell mode, and they played “Let’s Make a Deal” with one of the NBA’s most versatile defenders, a player they dealt Clint Capela for just nine months earlier.
Along with P.J. Tucker, Robert Covington helped Houston play a completely different style of frenetic defense that was based heavily on his ability to rotate over and defend the rim, despite being a 6-foot-7 wing. So having Covington should, in theory, allow the Blazers to go smaller defensively more often if they so choose. (Whenever Jusuf Nurkić — and perhaps Zach Collins — is off the floor.)
Also important: The Blazers are looking to improve right now, while Lillard is in his prime. So giving up first-round picks, rather than players of value (sorry, Trevor Ariza), to get Covington is totally fine.
Downside: While Covington is beyond solid on that end, it would likely be asking too much of him to try to transform the Blazers into a top-10 defense on his own.
As The Athletic’s John Hollinger noted, Covington isn’t necessarily a phenom in one-on-one stopping ability. But he’s fantastic as a helper, and he can be a part of a switching ideology or a key cog in the sorts of short-ball lineups Houston used last season.
But for those things to work without spreading Covington too thin, the Blazers may need to orchestrate another move to bring another solid wing defender on board.
Philly getting Seth Curry and Danny Green for Richardson and Horford
Upside: Depending on who you ask — and how die-hard a Sixers fan they are — some would say jettisoning Al Horford alone was worth whatever it ended up costing. By all accounts, he’s a good teammate and as professional as they come, but the center turned out to be a horrendous fit alongside Joel Embiid in his one year with him. Philly was minus 0.5 points per 100 possessions when Embiid and Horford shared the court. But their margin jumped to a plus 8.7 per 100 possessions when Embiid played without Horford.
So to be able to dump Horford on the Thunder, while also getting the three-time champion Danny Green, while also swinging a separate deal to land a Splash Brother’s literal brother? For a team that desperately needs shooting? It’s hard to imagine how the Sixers could have done any better.
With a 45 percent shooter from deep like Seth Curry on the Sixers’ roster, opponents will be far less able to double- and triple-team Embiid in the paint or crowd the lane to seal off Ben Simmons. And while Green was merely average from deep this past season, at 37 percent or so, he’s a 40 percent shooter for his career, plays solid perimeter defense and sports a high on-court IQ to boot.
We should note here, too, that the Mavericks — who got Josh Richardson in exchange for Curry — also seemed to get a great deal. After setting an NBA record for offensive efficiency with Luka Dončić running the show, Dallas badly needed some defensive grit. And Richardson, who’s also an underrated shooter from the perimeter, fits that bill perfectly.
Downside: Likely no one is unhappy with this scenario. Oklahoma City, which also got a future first-round pick and a second-rounder, will likely seek to unload Horford and the remaining three years and $81 million on his contract if and when it can.
Bonus: Speaking of moves with upside and no downside: The Nets made a deal to land 23-year-old Landry Shamet, a sharpshooter who should cause the same sorts of problems playing alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving that Curry will with Embiid and Simmons. If Brooklyn also brings back Joe Harris, some of the Nets’ lineups will be flat-out scary offensively.
Paul headed to the Suns
Upside: This is obviously a data site, but the first thing I think of when assessing Chris Paul’s move to Phoenix is his leadership.
The Suns, who haven’t reached the postseason in a decade, showed vast improvement after adding respected veterans to the club last season. One of them was point guard Ricky Rubio, a player whose injection of ball movement helped the team immensely (Phoenix swiftly jumped from 17th in assist rate in 2018-19 to second last season), despite his shortcomings as a jump shooter.
But Paul is a superior shooter to Rubio. He passes and defends as well as Rubio, if not better. And he was the league’s No. 1 clutch scorer last season — not a bad thing when defenses tend to throw everything they have at Devin Booker in those moments, and he needs a reliable teammate to pass the ball to. There’s also no telling how much Paul will help a player like Deandre Ayton, who could be in line for improved numbers as one of Pauls’ pick-and-roll partners.
Phoenix’s 8-0 finish in the Orlando bubble gave them reason for optimism this year. Now, with Paul in the fold, the Suns should be expecting to reach the playoffs, instead of just hoping to.
Downside: While it was an enormous win to not have to surrender Mikal Bridges in the deal for Paul, losing Kelly Oubre stings in a handful of ways. Aside from the fact that he could become a 20-points-per-game scorer very soon, he was one of the team’s best and most frequent cutters, often ensuring the offense would continue to move — even late into the shot clock.
Phoenix may have been considering what it would take to re-sign him after next year, when he’ll hit free agency and stand to make considerable money. Or they may have remembered their perfect mark in the bubble without him. Either way, the Suns will be a popular pick to reach the playoffs in the strong Western Conference.