The last few days have been a whirlwind. We have seen Indiana deal Domantas Sabonis to the Kings for one of the more surprising packages that I have seen in quite some time. Tyrese Haliburton was traded to Indiana as the principal return in the Sabonis trade.
Haliburton is an excellent young player, a floor general who is a lights out shooter from downtown. His value in today’s NBA is sky high and I did not expect the Kings to deal him for Domas. De’Aaron Fox going to Indy just felt more tangible.
Instead the Kings went full KANGZZZ and dealt a promising player for what will be two years of Domantas Sabonis. Sabonis is one of the best passing bigs in the league and is lethal as the finisher in a pick and roll. He is the best player in the deal but the cost is just too great when there are no guarantees around Sabonis’ future.
Sabonis can hit free agency in 2024 and choose his own fate. I struggle to understand why he would choose to stay with a perennial loser when he could earn the same maximum deal in a better situation.
The tank race loses a contender with this transaction. Sacramento have made a win-now move in their push for the playoffs. They will no longer be racing to the bottom alongside the Thunder.
The New Orleans Pelicans have also extricated themselves from the tank race. On Tuesday morning, the Pelicans agreed a deal to acquire CJ McCollum, Larry Nance Jr and Tony Snell from the Blazers. They have sent back a package including Josh Hart, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Didi Louzada and draft compensation.
Since Lonzo Ball was traded away in free agency last summer, New Orleans have lacked shot creation in the back-court. McCollum’s scoring and secondary playmaking will address that weakness and add balance to a Pelicans’ team that is dependent on Brandon Ingram’s production.
The acquisition of Larry Nance Jr has flown under the radar but it is a shrewd move by David Griffin. Nance is a versatile big who disrupts the opposing’s team rhythm and can guard three different positions. Nance Jr has guarded everybody from Kyrie Irving to Nikola Jokic with a surprising rate of success.
The Blazers’ recent moves also make clear that they are planning on tanking this season. Portland have traded away two core players in Norman Powell and CJ McCollum with the aim of rebuilding the roster around Lillard in the long-term. This season will effectively be a gap year for Portland; a year to develop Anfernee Simons and add talent who can feasibly support Lillard.
There are also questions hanging over James Harden. From what has been reported, Daryl Morey is hell-bent on getting Harden to Philly. To do this, Philly will need to find some way of shedding a maximum contract.
The Sixers may be able to agree a package around Ben Simmons, Matisse Thybulle and draft compensation but there is no guarantee that the Nets bite on that offering. The alternative will be moving Tobias Harris’ deal to a team who can readily absorb bad contracts. The Thunder satisfy that criteria.
There have been a fair few trades bandied around in the last few hours which involve the Thunder getting Harris, picks and a quality prospect like Nic Claxton. For that price, taking on the burden of Harris’ contract makes sense.
An easy out on the Harris front has also begun to materialise. Russell Westbrook has struggled in Los Angeles and it has been reported that internal discussions have been held about his future on the Lakers.
His fit with the current Lakers’ roster is dysfunctional to say the least and Westbrook’s stylistic flaws exacerbate the issues with Rob Pelinka’s roster construction. Westbrook is best with the ball in his hands, pushing the pace and going downhill. That does not happen with a team of geriatric journeymen.
The ball is taken out of his hands a lot due to Russell’s propensity to turn over the ball with alarming frequency. Westbrook without the ball, in a limited role is not natural and his play in recent weeks has reflected that. He is not taking any risks with his passing and spends possessions drifting around the perimeter aimlessly.
Westbrook badly needs a change of scenery and the Lakers could do with a complementary scorer who can relieve pressure off James’ shoulders. Tobias Harris is not an All-Star but he is a versatile, three-level scorer who could support the James-Davis partnership.
His contract is terrible for what he provides for a contending team but the Lakers are committed to winning with LeBron James. Harris would help on that front while also saving Jeanie Buss some money.
In theory, the Thunder could swing a Westbrook for Harris trade and then buy Russell out of his current contract. I love Westbrook for what he has done for the Thunder but he does not make sense with this roster. Adding Westbrook only takes the ball out of Shai’s hands. The Thunder would obviously be compensated by the Lakers, something like Austin Reaves or the Lakers’ 2027 first round pick would be sufficient.
Sam Presti has already made his first move of the deadline. The Thunder have acquired KZ Opala from the Miami Heat and gave up a second round pick. On the surface, this is a strange trade that makes little sense but the devil is in the details.
The trade was structured around re-organising the Heat picks the Thunder currently own. Oklahoma City own a protected 2023 first rounder that will likely convey as a late first round pick. Miami are trying to win now and need every asset possible to build a team around Butler.
The Stepien Rule had meant that Miami could not deal a first until 2025 which severely limited their flexibility. The Thunder have agreed to swap the 2023 protected pick for a loosely protected 2025 pick. It is a deal that benefits both parties.
Miami get draft asset flexibility while the Thunder get a more valuable pick. In 2025, Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry will be old and prohibitively expensive. The Heat’s title window will have closed and the team will be rebuilding around Bam Adebayo. It is likely that Miami are really bad in three years and that the pick will be worth a lot.
This is just the first trade, I expect a busy trade deadline for Sam Presti with all that is happening in the NBA.