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Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Evaluating Recent Major NBA Trades

Three teams that recently reached the NBA Finals made major trades as each team attempts to obtain the final piece to the championship puzzle. The Phoenix Suns, who lost 4-2 to the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2021 NBA Finals, acquired Bradley Beal from the Washington Wizards in exchange for Chris Paul, Landry Shamet, and multiple draft picks/draft pick swaps. The Wizards then traded Paul to the Golden State Warriors in exchange for Jordan Poole; the Warriors defeated the Boston Celtics 4-2 in the 2022 NBA Finals, and are tweaking their roster after losing to the L.A. Lakers in the second round of the 2023 playoffs. The Celtics acquired Kristaps Porzingis and two draft picks in a three way trade in which they sent Marcus Smart to the Memphis Grizzlies while the Wizards received Tyus Jones from the Grizzlies and Danilo Gallinari, Mike Muscala, and one draft pick from the Celtics.

Draft picks can be a very important component of an NBA trade, but it is impossible to know now the impact that those draft picks will have, so this article will focus on the active players involved in each of the above transactions. It should also be emphasized that draft picks are only as good as the executives deciding who to choose, and the coaches determining how to best develop the talents of each player on a team's roster.

The Suns are going all-in with a top heavy roster featuring Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Bradley Beal, and Deandre Ayton. The Suns do not have much depth or size. Durant will be 35 when the 2023-24 season begins, Booker will be 27, Beal will be 30, and Ayton will be 25. Durant is past his prime; he can still be effective, but he has already had one serious injury (Achilles, 2019) and he has not played more than 55 games in a season since suffering that injury. Booker is just entering his prime, but he has not played more than 70 games in a season since 2016-17. Beal averaged 23.2 ppg in each of the last two seasons after posting back to back 30 ppg seasons, and he has played 60 games or less in each of the last four seasons. Ayton is a talented player who should be just entering his prime, but his game has not developed much since his rookie season: he averaged 16.3 ppg and 10.3 rpg in 2018-19 as a rookie, and he averaged 18.0 ppg and 10.0 rpg last season. He has played more than 70 games just once in five NBA seasons.

In short, the Suns are relying heavily on players who have not stayed healthy in recent seasons. Two of those players (Durant and Beal) are past their primes, one of them is in his prime but may be as good as he is going to get (Booker), and the fourth player is a bit of an enigma whose apparent disenchantment with the Phoenix organization is matched by the Phoenix organization's apparent disenchantment with him. When healthy, the Suns should be able to score prolifically and efficiently, but they will have trouble defensively and they will almost certainly be worn down by the time the playoffs begin. Chris Paul is older, more injury-prone, and less effective at this stage of his career than Beal, so the trade is a short term upgrade for the Suns but not nearly enough to put the Suns over the top.

The Warriors have clearly abandoned their two timeline strategy of keeping their veteran championship core (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green) while also developing young players. The veteran championship core is still intact, but Poole--who received a huge contract from the Warriors a year ago with the expectation that he would be the centerpiece of the youth movement--is out of the picture in exchange for Paul, whose body is breaking down (he has not played more than 70 games in a season since 2015-16 and he regularly is injured during the playoffs) and who has presided over more blown 2-0 playoff series leads than any player in NBA history. The pattern throughout Paul's career is that he is the floor general for talented teams that fall apart during the playoffs amid internal dissension; it is puzzling that a player with his resume is often touted as the best leader in the league, because the evidence proves that is simply not the case--unless one believes that playoff failures accompanied by internal dissension are indicators that a team has great leadership.

The Warriors' youth movement failed to impress and failed to deliver during the 2023 playoffs, so it is understandable why the organization chose to go all-in with the veteran championship core plus a veteran like Paul, but it is difficult to picture the Warriors winning another title relying so much on Thompson (who has never returned to his pre-injury form), Green (whose antics are increasingly overshadowing the value he provides), and Paul (whose resume of playoff failure speaks for itself).

The Celtics were forced to pivot in a different direction after the scandal involving Ime Udoka resulted in Joe Mazzulla taking over as coach just before the start of last season. Mazzulla did well as a young rookie coach, but he emphasized offense more than Udoka did, and he had a different rotation of players that he trusted. Smart, the 2022 NBA Defensive Player of the year, started 360 of the 581 regular season games that he played in for the Celtics during his nine years with the team, and he started 73 of 108 playoff games during that tenure. The Celtics reached the Eastern Conference Finals five times (2017-18, 2020, 2022-23) and they played in the NBA Finals once (2022), so Smart was a key contributor to a team that sustained high level playoff success for an extended period. However, his departure will not only open up more minutes for Malcolm Brogdon and Derrick White, but Porzingis will add size, three level scoring, rebounding, and rim protection. There is no doubt that Smart was a productive player for some very successful Boston teams, but Porzingis is younger, bigger, more physically gifted, and more versatile than Smart. Therefore, on paper this trade is a win for the Celtics. 

As for the Grizzlies and Wizards, it is not clear why the Grizzlies exchanged Jones for Smart. Jones is younger, and is widely considered to be the best backup point guard in the league. Even though starting point guard Ja Morant will miss at least the first 25 games of next season after being suspended by the NBA, it seems odd to bring in Smart to start a couple dozen games and then take over Jones' backup role. Perhaps the Grizzlies place a high value on Smart's leadership, but it is unlikely that Smart alone can set Morant on a better path or cure the team's overall immaturity. 

The Wizards have been irrelevant--at least in terms of being a legitimate championship contender--since the late 1970s when the franchise was known as the Bullets. Getting rid of Beal and Porzingis in exchange for the erratic Poole and a bunch of draft picks signals that the "Wheeze-hards" will once again be gasping for air and grasping at straws. Tanking does not work in general, and in this specific instance there is no reason to trust that the Wizards will use those draft choices wisely or that they will fully develop any talented players that they are fortunate enough to draft. 

Injuries, additional trades, and unexpected greatness from future draft picks may change the long term evaluation of the above deals, but for now it is reasonable to suggest that the Celtics improved their team, the Suns went all-in with a top heavy/offense reliant strategy that is not likely to yield a title, and the Warriors are crossing their fingers that Paul and Thompson stay healthy, that Curry does not decline soon, and that Green does not punch out any other teammates (or stomp on opponents). Meanwhile, the Grizzlies are praying that Morant does not mess up again and that Smart will provide veteran leadership, while the Wizards continue to be the Wizards.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:02 PM



At Thursday, June 29, 2023 12:38:00 AM, Blogger Todd Ash-Duah said...


I agree with your assessment of the Suns. I honestly don't think that Beal is a good fit for this team, in my opinion, they needed to replace CP3 with a younger, more reliable floor general at the point and try to add some depth on the bench. Who's going to play point guard for them? I'm guessing Booker, but I don't think he's best suited to be a full-time point guard. And if the best defensive player on your team is a 35-year-old KD, that ain't good.

Paul could be a nice backup PG for the Warriors, but it is an odd fit between his slow, methodical style of play and the Warriors' fast-paced attack.

Losing Smart will hurt the Celtics' point-of-attack defence, and he was without a doubt a great leader for them, but between Brown, Tatum, and Horford, I think they have enough leaders who have been through a lot so Smart won't be greatly missed, plus Porzingis is a great fit for them, only concern there is his injury history (combine that with Robert Williams' injury history too and the Celtics' frontcourt will be in huge trouble if either/both get hurt).

Lastly, I love the addition of Smart to the Grizzlies. Jones is a better offensive player than Smart, but I think what they're trying to do is bring in Smart to replace Jones (in regards to his playmaking off the bench once Morant returns) and Dillon Brooks (in regards to defence).

At Thursday, June 29, 2023 1:44:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Unless the Grizzlies make more moves or have some internal development of their current players, adding Smart but losing Brooks and Jones is not a net gain.

At Thursday, June 29, 2023 4:32:00 PM, Blogger Todd Ash-Duah said...


I gotta (slightly) disagree. Smart is a better defensive player than Brooks, and while Jones is a better shooter, playmaker, and just a better offensive player, Smart is a solid playmaker as well,and much better defensively although he is a below-average shooter (.336 3pt % last year). I think getting Smart to play both of their roles at a cheaper cost than both of them combined (Jones makes 14 mill, Brooks will probably command 12-13 mill on his next deal, while Smart makes 17 mill) is a small win for the Grizz.

At Friday, June 30, 2023 11:12:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


We'll see. Replacing two rotation players with one rotation player does not help the Grizzlies' depth, and Smart is older than either player he is replacing so that also does not help. Perhaps if Smart were a superstar then a "one for two" swap would be good, but here I don't see how these moves made the Grizzlies better.

At Friday, June 30, 2023 3:30:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How do you know Memphis is done making moves? Smart is replacing Jones alone, also. Brooks isn't part of that equation. By letting Brooks go, Memphis has money for his replacement.

While Jones does certain things better than Smart offensively, I still wouldn't take Jones over Smart offensively. And Smart is considerably better than Jones defensively to go along with much more experience. While Smart is older than Jones/Brooks, it's only by 2 years. He's 29 and still in his prime. Who knows how good of a player he'll be in 3-4 years, but right now he's a significant upgrade. If he wasn't traded for Jones, Brooks spot would still be open.

Memphis missed out on the #1 seed by 2 games this past season, and that's with Morant missing lots of games. Getting Smart for the 25 games Morant will miss might very well be the difference between the #1 and #2 seeds, which would've likely changed Memphis' fortunes a lot this past season. Maybe they still wouldn't have made the Finals, but they should've made the WCF at the very least. Also, who really knows what will happen to Morant now. He seems to be a mental headcase. And even when he's playing, he gets hurt a lot.

At Friday, June 30, 2023 10:48:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I expressed no opinion about whether or not Memphis is done making moves, so your comment is not relevant to the current discussion.

I wrote, "Unless the Grizzlies make more moves or have some internal development of their current players, adding Smart but losing Brooks and Jones is not a net gain." That is my response to Todd's contention that receiving Smart while losing Brooks and Jones is a net gain for Memphis. Even if the Grizzlies add other players or make other moves, that does not change Todd's assessment that as of now the Grizzlies have improved themselves by adding Smart and losing Brooks and Jones.

Smart played alongside great playmakers (including Tatum and Brown) plus a host of good shooters in Boston. We will see how well he plays for the Grizzlies when he is not surrounded by the same caliber of playmaking and shooting talent.

At Saturday, July 01, 2023 6:23:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Denver lost Bruce brown and haven't replaced him. The fake dynasty already over

I like smart to grizzlies. He a adult in the room and is better offensive player than Dillon brooks.

Kp to celts is a good get he helps them alot. He brings size a good offensive player and defensive player

The Suns depth will tell the story on if they can go all the way or not.

But the Lakers have done the best so far

Brought back rui reaves and dlo. Added prince, cam reddish, Gabe Vincent and jaxton Hayes

Got size good shooting, wings, depth

If Bron and ad stay healthy watch out. We may win it

Where would u like to see Russel Westbrook go david

At Saturday, July 01, 2023 11:27:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I am going to take your first comment as an attempt at humor. No one called the Nuggets a dynasty, and if the Nuggets are destined to become a dynasty the loss of Brown will not be their downfall. It is interesting that as a Lakers fan you keep mocking a Denver team that destroyed your Lakers--including not only two Top 75 players but the triumphant trio of DLo, Vanderbilt, and Beasley--because if the Nuggets are as "fake" as you keep insisting then what does that make your beloved LeBron Lakers? I take it you are calling the Lakers' "bubble title" the cubic zirconia of all championship rings.

I have nothing against Smart. All I am saying regarding Todd's comment is that--unless and until the Grizzlies make further moves--they have lost two rotation players in exchange for one. That rarely is good, unless the one is a superstar, but Smart is not a superstar.

The Suns do not have enough size, depth, or durability to win a title.

Naturally, you believe that with the magnificent DLo anchoring the triumphant trio the Lakers are destined for greatness. We saw how that turned out last season.

Westbrook signed with the Clippers before I answered your comment. Westbrook is a bargain at a reported $8 million for two years. Players with a fraction of his talent and resume are being paid much more than that. I like Westbrook with the Clippers as long as the Clippers are not foolish enough to sign Harden. I don't like any team with Harden to do anything other than choke, and if the Clippers bring in Harden then Westbrook's role would likely be reduced due to the vast disparity in their salaries.

At Wednesday, July 05, 2023 11:50:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Harden's teams choke, what are Westbrook's teams doing now for the past 8-9 seasons? I'd rather make the 2nd round and a few CFs like Harden has than missing the playoffs, 1st round defeats(usually not close), or play-in game situations like Westbrook has been doing sans Durant.

At Wednesday, July 05, 2023 12:10:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Harden individually chokes, as I have documented repeatedly and in great depth, and as a direct result of that Harden's teams have lost series that they otherwise could have won. This article did not compare Harden's teams to Westbrook's teams.

You may want to ask yourself why an accurate statement about Harden causes you to immediately think obsessively about Westbrook. Even if Westbrook is the worst playoff performer ever (and he obviously is not), how is that relevant to the reality that Harden repeatedly chokes and that either Philadelphia or some other team will be on the hook to pay him over $35 million to (most likely) choke again next season?


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