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NBA

Did Your Team Master The Deal Zone, Or Quake In Fear At The Very Whisper Of A Deal?

Michelle Farsi/Getty Images

How about that NBA trade deadline! Whew! It came down to the wire, but after Brooklyn and Philadelphia completed the blockbuster Harden-for-Simmons swap with a little under two hours left, suddenly there were trades flying all over the place! One minute I was seated at my desk, frustrated, embittered, shriveling up and souring like yesterday’s apple core, and the next I was zooming around the Deal Zone, cackling and screaming and having the time of my life! By my count, 22 of the NBA’s 30 teams were wheeling and dealing Thursday afternoon. You simply cannot ask for a hotter trade deadline than that. You can’t! Don’t even try it!

So much happened ahead of Thursday’s 3:00 p.m. deadline that no mere fan can possibly keep track of it all. We’ve got you covered! Here is how every NBA team did in the Deal Zone.

Atlanta Hawks

Despite sitting 10th in the Eastern Conference standings and two games below .500, the Hawks feared to enter the Deal Zone Thursday and will stand pat with their roster, plus or minus a buyout or two, for the stretch run of the regular season and playoffs. This seems very sensible, to me: If you have the NBA’s fourth-worst defense after 54 games, clearly the thing to do is to change absolutely nothing.

Boston Celtics

The Celtics, winners of six straight and eight of 10, were down in the Deal Zone, making big bold moves and strengthening their team for a push up the standings. They traded a couple rotation guys and a couple picks for Derrick White, which will make their perimeter defense genuinely terrifying for opposing ball-handlers; they brought back Daniel Theis in exchange for Dennis Schröder and Enes Freedom; and they cast off some other flotsam and scored a future second round pick. Boston’s defense has shot up to third in the league by points per possession, and now they’re adding a ball-hawking menace in White and a versatile, switchable big in Theis, and all it cost them is some guys who would fall out of the rotation in the playoffs or who everyone hates. This is big-time Deal Zone maneuvering by newbie office fella Brad Stevens!

Brooklyn Nets

The Nets are to the Deal Zone what Neo is to the Matrix. They improved their chemistry and their depth and their ceiling, and they scored two future draft picks in the bargain. They moved an unhappy James Harden and a washed-up Paul Millsap and in return they got Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, and a couple of future draft picks. They also broke the dam that was holding up all the action and triggered a huge surge of Big Deals, and for that I am endlessly grateful.

As a hoops watcher, it’s very cool to know that at some point over the next couple weeks a perfectly healthy and endlessly fascinating superstar-level player is just going to be dropped into the action, for one of the league’s best teams, and instantly become the most hated active player for one of the world’s most psychotic fan bases. The happy resolution of the Ben Simmons situation instantly makes the remainder of this season one jillion times more interesting.

Charlotte Hornets

The Hornets are ninth in the East and have lost six straight. The problem, beyond that no one player on the team is quite good enough to qualify for the role they’ve claimed, is that their defense stinks. They did not solve this problem AT ALL on Thursday, but what they did is even cooler: They said the hell with it and traded a couple inessential players and a second-round pick for Montrezl Harrell, who is an all-offense player at the most important defensive position in the sport. Harrell is great to watch and will be incredibly cool in tandem with Lonzo Ball. It is absolutely bone-chilling to think of what screaming Hornets play-by-play man Eric Collins will make of this, but it’s not clear at all that adding Harrell makes the Hornets any more viable as a playoff team. Still, for charging down into the Deal Zone and emerging in even funkier shape, the Hornets deserve our love and admiration.

Chicago Bulls

The Bulls stood cowering on the threshold of the Deal Zone, like wimpy little babies, and did no deals. This makes at least a little bit of sense: When the Bulls are healthy they’re one of the East’s best teams, and for now they have reason to believe that they will become healthy again in time for the playoffs. But if fortune truly favors the bold, fortune will have no choice but to smite the Bulls again before all is said and done. That’s just how nature works!

Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavs have behaved boldly and heroically all season, and the trade deadline was no exception. General manager Koby Altman marched into the Deal Zone, dealt some future picks and an injured floor general, and emerged with the extremely good-vibed Caris LeVert, an instant upgrade to his team’s depth and rotation, and a much needed fortification for a team improbably holding a top-four seed in the East.

Dallas Mavericks

Whoa! The Mavericks appear to have lost their mind Thursday, dealing Kristaps Porzingis and a draft pick to the Washington Wizards in exchange for the extremely bad Spencer Dinwiddie and the extremely even worse Davis Bertans. Porzingis is no great shakes, but Dinwiddie and Bertans have had absolutely horrendous years so far, it’s impossible to believe that their additions could possibly improve any non-Orlando Magic NBA team. On the other hand, that they are at least upright makes them at least useful in an emergency.

Besides, anything that makes Luka Doncic a little bit less miserable must be seen as a positive. Doncic, playing with a smile on his face for the first time in what feels like ages, dropped a career-high 51 points Thursday night in a win over the Clippers. Perhaps shipping off Porzingis is addition by subtraction! Bold thinking of this sort is to the Deal Zone what big honkin’ magnets are to a tokamak. It’s what stirs the action!

Denver Nuggets

The battered Nug Men declined to enter the Deal Zone, despite urgent injury-related needs up and down their rotation. They are presently clinging to a spot just above the play-in fray, but it’s hard to imagine how they can possibly mount a serious push to the Finals without some additional men. However high your opinion of Bones Hyland, surely you must agree that he can only do so much! To not even enter the Deal Zone is like throwing up the white flag. Sickening.

Detroit Pistons

The Pistons, moseying along unassumingly in their natural habitat, near the bottom of the standings, made just one deal in the Deal Zone. It was a bold one: They sent out Trey Lyles, Josh Jackson, and two future second-round picks, and brought back recent catastrophic draft bust Marvin Bagley III. They’re taking a buy-low flier on an intriguing young player at or near the nadir of his value, and they’re becoming immediately worse in the bargain, which is considered good business for teams hunting draft lottery gold. It’s reasonable to hope that Bagley could still turn things around once washed clean of the stink of the Kings franchise. Unfortunately for him, he will now be bathed in the stink of the Pistons franchise.

Golden State Warriors

The Warriors did not enter the Deal Zone. They’re currently second in the West, and have the league’s best defense, and figure to improve steadily as Klay Thompson gets more and more comfortable in the flow of action. Nothing excuses abandoning the Deal Zone, but winning a title might at least take off some of the sting.

Houston Rockets

Go on.

Yes.

Oh yes. Yes.

Yes!

No! No!!

Indiana Pacers

The Pacers made one of the Deal Zone’s big deals, shipping off Domantas Sabonis, Jeremy Lamb, Justin Holiday, and a future draft pick in exchange for Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, and Tristan Thompson. The real meat of the trade is Sabonis for Haliburton; Haliburton is a real prize, and the cost was Sabonis. Now they’ve got another cool young player to pair with Chris Duarte and to dream big about. The Pacers also scored some draft picks in the deal that sent Caris LeVert to the Cavaliers.

This is as close as the Pacers may ever come to a full teardown. Sabonis and LeVert were two of their three or four best players; employing both of them at the same time has earned the Pacers the NBA’s eighth worst net rating this season and the fifth-worst record. It appears they’ve made the sensible decision to try something else, and to be realistic about whether they ought to bother orienting that something else around what’s left of this season. Even without immediate improvement, though, the Pacers will be much more interesting to watch with Haliburton out there doing cool stuff with the ball. That’s what the Deal Zone is all about.

Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers executed a minor roster overhaul, picking up Norman Powell, Bob Covington, Rodney Hood, and Semi Ojeleye in trades with the Blazers and Bucks, and shipping out four players in return. These moves would not be especially notable, except that by shipping out Eric Bledsoe and Serge Ibaka, the Clippers have moved tantalizingly within range of absolute roster homogeneity: By my count, Reggie Jackson, Ivica Zubac, and Isaiah Hartenstein are the only players left on the team who are not wings. Someday soon the Clippers will add Kawhi Leonard and Paul George back into the mix, and head coach Tyronn Lue will never again have to rely on puny Small Men or vulgar Large Men in his regular lineups. That’s the dream.

Los Angeles Lakers

Good luck on the buyout market to these fellows!

Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies are rocketing up the Western Conference standings with tremendous style, which might perhaps explain why they felt it acceptable to avoid the Deal Zone altogether. May they never win another game.

Miami Heat

The Heat shipped KZ Okpala to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for a bunch of insane words having to do with future draft picks. Here, let the NBA itself try to explain it:

There are some caveats to the pick.

Per the Heat, the 2026 second-round pick will be the lessor from either Oklahoma City, Dallas or Philadelphia, which are owed to the Thunder. Additionally, the Heat and Thunder have agreed to amend the protections of the first-round pick already owed to Oklahoma City via the Clippers originally from Miami to a 2025 first-round protected pick, and if not conveyed, to a 2026 unprotected pick.

NBA.com

Congratulations or condolences to whoever, for whatever this is.

Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks needed someone who could do Brook Lopez-ish things at center until such time as Lopez is able to take the court once again. They went shopping in the Deal Zone, spent a few expendable rotation guys, and came back with Serge Ibaka. Ibaka has played just 35 games this year, his minutes and efficiency and usage are down, and he’s not the defender he used to be, but he can set screens, shoot jumpers, and deter shots around the basket, and in orbit around Giannis Antetokounmpo that ought to be sufficient. Wing depth might now be an issue, and Ibaka could find himself out of the rotation if and when Lopez returns, but all of that is frankly not my problem.

Minnesota Timberwolves

The Wolves did nothing in the Deal Zone, but their resident pest reignited an old rivalry, which is the best thing Patrick Beverley has done in years:

This tweet has since been deleted.

New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans got their work done early, scoring C.J. McCollum and Larry Nance Jr. from the Blazers in exchange for some young guys who weren’t really moving the needle for a team desperate to stay relevant during Zion Williamson’s indefinite absence. The ‘cans are a half-game up at the bottom of the play-in zone, with only the Kings mounting any sort of committed charge. You can decide for yourself whether a team that goes all-in for the West’s 10th seed is truly “relevant” or is in fact a sucker. More importantly, Zion will be making the same calculations!

New York Knicks

In one of the bigger shocks of the deadline, the volatile and underperforming New York Knickerbockers declined to enter the Deal Zone.

How? Why? It has always struck me as baloney when people insist the NBA is better when the Knicks are good—for one thing, how would any living person have firsthand knowledge of this—but the NBA is for sure more interesting when the Knicks are active. To stand outside the Deal Zone and let all the sweet deals pass them by, with the glories of a play-in berth well within reach, to me is unconscionable.

Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder acquired KZ Okpala from the Miami Heat. As the Thunder are doing everything they can to avoid relevance for as long as possible, I shall say no more about this.

Orlando Magic

The Magic tiptoed into the Deal Zone Thursday and used their available salary-cap space to help the Celtics out of the luxury tax, taking P.J. Dozier and Bol Bol off Boston’s hands at the extremely low price of cash considerations and a swap of second-round draft picks. Apart from the delights of the Magic now employing both Mo Bamba and Bol Bol, this kind of deal is always a large bummer, and so I would like to change the subject.

Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers got James Harden! On paper at least this makes them one of the East’s real contenders, but to me the best thing about it is Harden can now take some of the offensive burden off the shoulders of Joel Embiid. Embiid is having his best season as a pro, but also he looks alarmingly exhausted on an almost nightly basis. Harden has been one of the all-time best one-man generators of efficient offense for most of the past decade; even at something less than peak performance, he’s still whole worlds better at running the show than anyone else Embiid has ever played with. It cost the 76ers some important floor-spacing to snag him, but that’s a small price to pay to turn a neurotic non-scorer who would not take the floor for the Sixers into a one of the best scorers of all time. But don’t take my word for it!

Also this move definitively returns the 76ers to their throne of unlikeability, and that’s just a much more comfortable condition for everyone. Go to hell, 76ers!

Phoenix Suns

The Suns were active at the deadline, beefing up their backcourt depth with Aaron Holiday, and bringing back Torrey Craig, who was helpful in last season’s Finals run. All it cost them was cash considerations, a second-round pick, and a former lottery pick who hasn’t yet earned non-garbage-time minutes. Even the best team in the league can move and shake in the Deal Zone and improve around the margins.

Portland Trail Blazers

The Blazers entered the Deal Zone early and did some big-time transacting. They jettisoned C.J. McCollum, Larry Nance Jr., Norman Powell, Robert Covington, and Tony Snell, then dipped back in and rerouted Tomas Satoransky and Nickeil Alexander-Walker in another deal, and wound up taking in seven players and five future draft picks, basically none of whom are intended to bring the Blazers any closer to this year’s play-in tournament than they are today. Seems like the idea is to have lots of draft picks and eventually enough salary cap space to score some primo players and execute a quick retooling around whatever is left of Damian Lillard’s productive years. Mostly what I will remember is every time I started to get fidgety about the lack of deals, the Blazers did a deal. That is good Deal Zone citizenship.

Sacramento Kings

The Kings also did lots of dealing ahead of the deadline. They scored Sabonis, who is very good but possibly not in the ways necessary to make the Kings good. He certainly kicked some ass in his first appearance in a Kings jersey, in an encouraging win Wednesday night over the cowardly Timberwolves.

The Kings also scored Donte DiVincenzo, Trey Lyles, and Josh Jackson in a second deal, although possibly DiVincenzo is the only rotation-grade player from that group. Losing Haliburton will hurt, but Sabonis immediately moves the Kings closer to respectability, which may sound backhanded, and in fact is backhanded, but is certainly something that matters to the stewards of that organization. It is entirely within the realm of possibility that before the end of the regular season the Kings will soar as high as the West’s eighth or ninth seed, depending upon how bad things get for the Lakers and Clippers. Wow!

San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs are typically not a Deal Zone sort of operation, but they’ve now been sliding toward irrelevance for a period of years, and sooner or later something would have to give. Thursday they opted for deals, and we are all the richer for it. They picked up a draft pick in a swap with the Blazers; they picked up another couple draft picks for shipping Derrick White to the Celtics; and they picked up yet another draft pick for sending Thaddeus Young to the Raptors. It’s not a drastic roster overhaul, but for an organization with a proven aptitude for pulling good and useful players out of every part of the draft, cobbling together a bunch of draft picks is good business.

Toronto Raptors

The Raptors scored Thaddeus Young, who has always been a useful guy to have around for teams in the playoff picture. The Raptors are real damn good, and now they’re a little bit better equipped to deal with injuries and so forth. Good job.

Utah Jazz

The Jazz landed Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Juancho Hernangómez, in exchange for a future second-round draft pick and the out-of-service Joe Ingles. For a team that has disappointed in the playoffs in each of the past five seasons, simply tinkering around the margins with a project like Alexander-Walker seems like a risk! Nevertheless the Jazz are to be commended for charging boldly into the Deal Zone.

Washington Wizards

Whoa! Things started slowly for the lowly Wizards, with a surrender-y trade of Montrezl Harrell to the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for a couple replacement-grade bozos and a ho-hum future pick, and then a trade with Phoenix for the dreaded cash considerations. And then, whammo!

Unless your team has just made a deadline trade for Kristaps Porzingis, you may never fully appreciate how the phrase “package centered” can be the most terrifying combination of words in the English language. What completely foolhardy thing could the Wizards have done to convince another team that Spencer Dinwiddie, who has been one of the most miserable and most disappointing guys in the entire league this season, should be worth giving up a starting-caliber NBA player? Ship out poor sweet Deni Avdija? Trade away every future draft pick forever? Include the Washington Mystics in the deal?

Davis Bertans?! Dinwiddie and Bertans were two of the worst contracts on Washington’s books, and two of the least reliable, least productive players on the entire roster. It’s a mark of just how loathed Porzingis was in Dallas that the Mavericks included a future draft pick in this deal. The rejiggered and rejuvenated Wizards, freshly freed from the hell of finding room on the bench for these two sad, terrible basketball men, went out Thursday night and handed Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets their 10th consecutive loss. Great day! May all future adventures in the Deal Zone be as fruitful.

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