Month: March 2024

Trade Breakdown: Lakers/Jazz/Wolves Three-Team Blockbuster

This is the fourth entry in our series breaking down the significant trades of the 2022/23 season. As opposed to giving out grades, this series explores why the teams were motivated to make the moves. Let’s dive into a blockbuster deal between the Jazz, Lakers and Timberwolves.

On February 9, the Lakers acquired D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt; the Jazz acquired Russell Westbrook, Damian Jones, Juan Toscano-Anderson and the Lakers’ 2027 first-round pick (top-four protected); and the Timberwolves acquired Mike Conley, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and three second-round picks (one from L.A., two from Utah).

Notes: Westbrook subsequently reached a buyout agreement with the Jazz and signed with the Clippers. All three teams involved in this deal generated traded player exceptions, which can be found right here.

The Jazz’s perspective:

The Jazz weren’t invested in continuing the season with their current roster, despite a surprisingly fun ride in a year that they were expected to be at the bottom of the standings.

The move opened up playing time for Ochai Agbaji, Collin Sexton and Talen Horton-Tucker, three young players who had been in and out of the lineup (Sexton has been a rotation regular, but he’s dealt with injuries – this deal moved him into the starting lineup). Vanderbilt had already been moved to the bench due to the emergence of Walker Kessler, and the two were an awkward fit together offensively because neither is much of a threat to shoot (Vanderbilt compensates for his lack of shooting somewhat by being a good passer and ball-handler for a power forward).

Many fans think the Jazz “lost” this deal. That perception seems to stem from two things: the Lakers only giving up one first-rounder, when it was assumed they’d have to move off one just to trade Westbrook’s $47.1MM expiring salary, and the Jazz’s asking prices not being met.

The Jazz were reportedly looking for first-round picks for all three of Conley, Beasley and Vanderbilt. But that was never a realistic expectation.

Based on the structure of the deal, it’s pretty clear the Jazz were motivated to move off Conley’s contract for ‘23/24, which is partially guaranteed at $14.32MM ($24.36MM base salary), and didn’t at all mind adding Westbrook’s expiring deal to do it (it’s worth noting that the Jazz did add Jones’ $2.6MM player option for next season, which will almost certainly be exercised; Toscano-Anderson is on an expiring minimum-salary deal). I viewed Conley’s contract as having negative value leading up to the trade deadline, as he’ll turn 36 years old next season and has already declined on both ends of the court, particularly defensively.

Beasley provides something that every team wants: high volume 3-point shooting. However, he’s a very streaky shooter, and doesn’t offer a ton in other areas. He makes $15.56MM this season with a $16.52MM team option for ‘23/24. I thought Beasley had slightly positive value, but nothing special – maybe a heavily-protected first-round pick or a few seconds.

Vanderbilt was the player who had the most value of the three, in my opinion, due to his age (23), rate of improvement, versatility, strong defense, and team-friendly contract – he makes $4.37MM this season and $4.7MM in ‘23/24 (only partially guaranteed at $300K). I thought Utah could get a late first-rounder this season or a lottery-protected first in the future for him.

In aggregate, that’s one player with solid value, one with slightly positive value, and one with negative. Not a ton of overall value despite the three being rotation players for a decent team.

Obviously, the Jazz highly valued the lightly protected pick from the Lakers. Even in a scenario where the Lakers have the worst record in ’26/27 (they probably won’t, but you never know), there would still be a 47.9% chance the pick lands at fifth overall and goes to Utah. The major downside – and the upside for the Lakers – is if it does fall in the top four, the Jazz only receive the Lakers’ 2027 second-rounder.

Another factor in this trade from Utah’s side of things that I thought was interesting is also pretty cynical. If the Jazz believe Minnesota going from Russell to Conley is a downgrade — and it is at this point in their careers, which is why the Wolves got second-rounders back — then that increases the odds of the Wolves missing the playoffs. In that scenario, the Jazz would get a lottery pick in 2023 (they control Minnesota’s pick due to the Rudy Gobert trade).

They could also reasonably view the deal as a short-term upgrade for the Lakers, which would increase L.A.’s odds of passing Minnesota and Utah in the standings, and thus increase the odds of the Jazz controlling two lottery picks. For the rest of the season, the better the Lakers do and the worse the Wolves and Jazz do, the better it is for the Jazz as far as those first-rounders go.

The Jazz held out for a long time to get the best deal they could. This turned out to be it.

The Lakers’ perspective:

I think the Lakers made out well in this deal, but it did reduce their draft arsenal to go for a star in the future (that may or may not have been realistic). Still, they upgraded their roster, got younger, and the players make sense for what they need.

Los Angeles replaced one player who was a poor fit and two little-used reserves for three potential starters; at worst they’re rotation regulars. None of the outgoing players were shooters, and they picked up a couple pretty good ones.

Russell, 27, is having a strong year from an efficiency standpoint, shooting career highs from all over the court (54.3% on twos, 38.9% on threes, 85.0% from the line). However, he is not a great rebounder or defender, and his decision-making can be questionable as a lead ball-handler.

That’s less of a concern with the Lakers, as he can play alongside James and/or Dennis Schroder. That allows Russell to function both on and off the ball, which is ideal for his skill set. Unfortunately, he sprained his ankle in his fourth game back with Los Angeles, but the injury isn’t considered a long-term concern.

As I’ve mentioned previously, Beasley is a feast-or-famine type shooter who can go off at any given time. It’s a bit of roller coaster ride watching him from game-to-game because you never know if he’s going to be on that day or not, and he doesn’t stop shooting even if he’s off.

While he doesn’t provide a whole lot else, opponents treat the 26-year-old like a sharpshooter who has to be accounted for at all times, and that creates space for teammates. The Lakers didn’t have anyone like that on the roster before the deal, even if Beasley is more of a very willing good shooter than a great one.

Vanderbilt is the player I think fans will be most excited about of the three, despite being the least well known. He brings a much-needed infusion of speed, length, defensive versatility, hustle and rebounding the team has lacked all season.

Still just 23 years old, Vanderbilt instantly becomes the best wing defender the Lakers have had since they decided not to re-sign Alex Caruso in 2021 free agency. His energy is infectious and can swing the tide of games – he was absolutely instrumental in the team’s huge comeback victory over Dallas on Sunday.

The three players were teammates on the Wolves from 2020-22, so they already have some built-in chemistry (strangely, Beasley and Vanderbilt have now been packaged together in three separate trades). Only Vanderbilt has a small partial guarantee for next season, which gives the Lakers the flexibility to move on from any of them in the offseason, though I think that’s unlikely.

Another positive aspect of the deal is the Lakers added more desirable contracts. Almost their entire roster was on minimum- or maximum-salary deals before the deadline, but now they have more variety in that regard, assuming they retain all three players.

I don’t think this trade suddenly transformed the Lakers into title contenders this season, but I do think it made them much better than they were — now and going forward.

My biggest question mark from the Lakers’ side is, if this trade was available in February, could they have done it earlier in the season? Because they have to dig themselves out of a hole to climb up the standings, and there aren’t many games left in which to do it – a task made even more difficult by the foot injury to James.

The Wolves’ perspective:

One of the downsides of dealing away multiple starters at once — Patrick Beverley and Vanderbilt last year in the Gobert trade — is that it can erode a team’s chemistry. The Wolves clearly got on well last season. That matters for a young team, especially one that historically has been a bottom dweller in the standings.

The Gobert trade upended that chemistry, transforming a fun up-and-coming team with low expectations into a win-now team with high expectations. It’s pretty clear some of the remaining players were less than thrilled with the deal, especially at the start of ‘22/23. Some moved on and slowly learned how to work with Gobert. Some did not.

Russell was in the latter group. He frequently had terrible body language this season, specifically anytime Gobert made a mistake (fumbled passes, etc.).

Perhaps more than anything else, this deal was a pretty clear vote of no confidence in Russell. Obviously, the Wolves did not value him at whatever he was asking for in contract extension negotiations.

The Wolves could not have easily cleared a significant amount of cap space in the offseason even if they had let Russell walk in free agency. Instead, they decided to push that decision a year down the line and replace his salary slot with Conley, a mature veteran who should be able to provide leadership for a team that, from the outside looking in, is lacking in that department.

Minnesota is trying to remedy some of the chemistry issues by adding a calming, professional locker-room presence in Conley. The fact that Conley played with Gobert for three seasons was obviously a motivating factor as well. They already have some built-in chemistry, which was clearly lacking with Russell.

He’s also a much better decision-maker than Russell on the court, with his assist-to-turnover ratio at 4.4-to-1, which ranks fifth in the NBA (Russell’s is 2.31-to-1, which ranks 112th). That’s important for a Wolves team that ranks 28th in the league in turnovers per game.

I have a lot of respect for how Conley carries himself, both on and off the court. He was one of the league’s most underrated players during his 12 years with Memphis, and his teams have consistently been better when he’s playing — that was true for Utah this year too (better on offense and worse on defense, but still plus overall). He has a high basketball IQ and generally doesn’t beat himself with careless mistakes.

Alexander-Walker was likely more of a throw-in for salary-matching purposes, but the Wolves will get a closer look at him for the rest of the season (he can be a RFA if they give him a qualifying offer). The former 17th overall pick is having a solid year from an efficiency standpoint and has impressed me in some late-game situations with his defense, even if he wasn’t consistently in Utah’s rotation.

While I understand the logic behind the move from Minnesota’s side of the deal, I also think the Wolves took on the most short- and long-term risk.

Make no mistake, the Wolves knew this was was a downgrade from a production standpoint — that’s why they got back three second-round picks in the deal. Considering his age, size (6’1″, 175 pounds) and contract, if Conley declines any further, it will be very difficult to move him next season.

Russell may have his flaws, but he was also clutch this season, having bailed them out on several occasions during second-half collapses (a season-long problem). He was the team’s second-leading scorer with Karl-Anthony Towns sidelined for most of the season, and removing him from the equation puts a lot of pressure on the rest of the roster to replace Russell’s scoring – the Wolves are just 21st in the league in offensive rating.

The early returns haven’t been promising. Minnesota has gone 1-4 since the deal was finalized, though in fairness some key rotation players have been in and out of the lineup.

The key takeaway from the Wolves’ end is that they preferred to get something back for Russell rather than losing him for nothing in free agency. Not wanting to make a significant investment in Russell makes sense to me if they didn’t view him as a long-term fit. Still, if they miss the playoffs and the Jazz get extremely lucky and that pick lands early, it would be an unmitigated disaster for Minnesota.

Southwest Notes: Pelicans, Williams, Spurs, Sengun

The Pelicans’ inept offense has put them on the verge of a total collapse, William Guillory of The Athletic writes.

Despite Zion Williamson‘s hamstring injury, the Pelicans should have enough depth to hold their own. But even when Brandon Ingram returned from a long-term toe injury, the team continued to sink. New Orleans has a 110.9 offensive rating since Ingram rejoined the lineup, which ranks 23rd during that span, Guillory notes. The club is also shooting just 32.4% on 3-point attempts during that time.

Jose Alvarado and Larry Nance Jr. are now out for multiple weeks, further complicating the Pelicans’ issues.

We have more from the Southwest Divsision:

  • Ziaire Williams, a 2021 lottery pick, has bounced between the NBA and the G League this season. The Grizzlies forward played well for the Memphis Hustle and was recalled on Saturday but he’s not guaranteed of staying with the Grizzlies the rest of the way. “He’s taken full advantage of his G League opportunities as well but we haven’t made those firm decisions on what it’s going to look like on a week-to-week basis,” coach Taylor Jenkins told Evan Barnes of the Memphis Commercial Appeal.
  • The Spurs are one of the prime contenders for the top pick in the draft but the players aren’t thrilled about the losses piling up, according to Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News. “We’re trying to get some wins to end the season, man,” center Zach Collins said. “We can’t fall into the trap of, ‘It’s OK that we’re losing.’”
  • Rockets big man Alperen Sengun is cognizant that he’s not getting crunch time minutes because he needs to improve defensively, Danielle Lerner of the Houston Chronicle tweets. “I just need to be focused on pick-and-roll defense, I think. I can do better job,” he said.

Community Shootaround: Raptors’ Season

The Raptors could have blown things up after underachieving during the first four months of the season.

They have some prominent players headed to free agency and nearly every one of them saw their names in trade rumors.

Instead of hitting the reset button, the Raptors actually added a key piece before the trade deadline by re-acquiring center Jakob Poeltl from San Antonio.

The Raptors started to catch fire before the All-Star break and they’ve picked up where they left off. Prior to losing at Cleveland on Sunday, they had won four straight and seven of their last eight games. The Raptors, who entered Tuesday ninth in the Eastern Conference standings, bounced back with a 104-98 victory over Chicago.

Better health has certainly been a key, though Fred VanVleet hasn’t played since the break for personal reasons. Poeltl has been a major factor at both ends since his return to the organization, solidifying the troublesome center spot in the process.

Toronto essentially has six starters, though the reserve corps beyond Precious Achiuwa is suspect. Those seven players are all capable of big offensive nights, led by Pascal Siakam (25.3 points per game) and VanVleet (19.7 PPG). Toss is last season’s Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes, OG Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr. and the Raptors have the firepower to scare any of the top Eastern Conference teams.

Newly acquired Will Barton, snagged off the buyout market, could fortify the bench.

This group may not be together for long. Poeltl will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, though the Raptors acquired him with the intent of re-signing him. VanVleet and Trent Jr. are expected to decline their player options in order to enter the free agent market in July.

That brings us to today’s topic: Considering the Raptors’ improved play this month, do you feel they made the right decision by holding onto their top players prior to the trade deadline? What do you think their ceiling is this season if their core players continue to remain healthy down the stretch?

Please take to the comments section to weigh in on this topic. We look forward to your input.

Atlantic Notes: Barton, Simmons, Dinwiddie, Tatum

What was the deciding factor for Will Barton as he considered his next NBA home? After getting bought out by the Wizards, Barton chose the Raptors for the opportunity to play and re-establish his value, Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports tweets. Concurrently, the Raptors had been searching for another rotation-caliber guard to help them in their playoff push. Barton officially signed on Tuesday afternoon.

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Ben Simmons hasn’t played since Feb. 15 due to a sore knee but there has been “zero” discussion about shutting him down for the season, Nets coach Jacque Vaughn told Brian Lewis of the New York Post (Twitter link) and other media members. However, Vaughn wouldn’t elaborate on how Simmons is doing or what his next step is.
  • One of the offshoots of trading Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving is that the Nets no longer get “superstar calls” from the officials, Spencer Dinwiddie claims. “I have a lot of last-second shots or game-winners, but it’s the lead up that’s the tough part without superstars. That’s what people miss,” Dinwiddie said, according to Lewis. “If [someone] tries to climb KD’s back, they’re going to call it. If KD says and-one, they’re not giving him a tech. All these things change the flow of the game. [Stars] can cuss them out, they can do whatever, and they’ll let all that (stuff) slide.”
  • Celtics star forward Jayson Tatum got his first career ejection in a loss to the Knicks on Monday but he playfully put a positive spin on it, ESPN’s Tim Bontemps writes. “All the great players get thrown out a few times in their career,” he said. “So, it’s good for my rep.”

Pelicans’ Jose Alvarado, Larry Nance Jr. Out Multiple Weeks

Pelicans guard Jose Alvarado and forward Larry Nance Jr. will be sidelined multiple weeks, the team announced in a press release.

Alvarado has been diagnosed with a stress reaction in his right tibia. He will be reevaluated in three weeks. Alvarado has appeared in 61 games this season, averaging 9.0 points and 3.0 assists in 21.5 minutes. He played 15 minutes against Orlando on Monday.

Nance Jr., who suffered a left ankle sprain during Saturday’s game at New York, will be reevaluated in two weeks. Nance has appeared in 50 games, averaging 7.7 points and 5.9 rebounds in 22.3 minutes.

Zion Williamson continues to make progress with rehabilitation for his right hamstring strain, according to the release. Further updates will be provided following medical imaging next week. Williamson hasn’t played since Jan. 2.

Alvarado’s injury opens up more playing time for Kira Lewis Jr. and Dyson Daniels. Jaxson Hayes, who played 25 minutes against Orlando, will likely absorb most of Nance’s minutes.

Central Notes: Bulls, Cavaliers, Mitchell, Bucks

The Bulls entered a road back-to-back on a two-game winning streak. They’re still very much in the play-in tournament hunt and coach Billy Donovan said there’s been no discussion about going into tank mode to improve their draft status, according to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

“I’ve never had a situation from ownership, front office, that said, ‘Listen, we’ve got an opportunity to potentially manipulate or get a higher draft pick. Let’s sit these guys. Let’s play the younger guys and give them an opportunity.’ That’s never taken place,” the Bulls head coach said. “So. I respect that and appreciate that, because I do think that when you line up and play there’s an integrity, and even to the fans, you’re out there trying to win.’’

We have more Central Division news:

  • Ricky Rubio and Caris LeVert are the only Cavaliers reserves who can count on a rotation spot during the postseason, Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports. Coach J.B. Bickerstaff anticipates an eight- or nine-man rotation and those last two spots could be in flux. “Eight, nine will probably be the most,” Bickerstaff said. “It could depend on our opponent and what we need in the moment. Four of the five starters I think are going to end up playing heavy minutes.”
  • Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell had 35 points as the team snapped a three-game losing streak by pounding Toronto on Sunday. Mitchell and Bickerstaff had a meeting prior to the game in which the coach implored his star shooting guard to set the tone, Fedor writes. “When a coach and you have that talk, you kind of have to go out there and get to it,” Mitchell said.
  • The impending transfer of ownership in the Bucks’ franchise won’t have a financial impact on the team this season, according to Jim Owczarski of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. However, new owner Jimmy Haslam could be on the hook for part of this season’s luxury tax bill if the transfer occurs before the end of the league’s awards season.

Pistons Buy Out Nerlens Noel

FEBRUARY 28: Noel has been placed on waivers, the team’s PR department tweets.

FEBRUARY 27: Nerlens Noel and the Pistons have completed a contract buyout, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweets. Noel will now be placed on waivers before Wednesday’s deadline to preserve his playoff eligibility.

Acquired from the Knicks in a draft-day deal, Noel played sparingly this season as Detroit evaluated younger players. He only appeared in 14 games, averaging 2.3 PPG and 2.6 RPG in 10.9 MPG.

Noel, who has played for Philadelphia, Dallas and Oklahoma City, had a $9.24MM salary this season with a club option for $9.68MM next season. That team option will come off the Pistons’ books and this season’s cap hit also figures to be reduced slightly.

Noel reportedly wasn’t actively seeking out a buyout earlier this month but obviously changed his mind. He’s expected to have multiple contenders pursuing his services once he clears waivers.

As ESPN’s Bobby Marks notes (Twitter link), Noel is the 10th player to be bought out since the trade deadline.

Detroit now has an open roster spot, though the club doesn’t necessarily have to fill it right away.

Northwest Notes: Towns, Sexton, Clarkson, Jokic, SGA

Teams around the NBA are keeping an eye on Karl-Anthony Towns‘ situation in Minnesota and wondering whether the Timberwolves big man might become available via trade in the not-too-distant future, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic said on the latest episode of The Lowe Post podcast (hat tip to RealGM). However, Krawczynski told Lowe that there’s no indication that the Wolves are considering such a move.

“I can tell you from everyone that I’ve talked to within the organization, they very much believe in KAT,” Krawczynski said, per RealGM. “They believe that once he comes back and they have some time to build around (Anthony Edwards) and (Rudy) Gobert and KAT, they very much believe that can still work. (Head coach) Chris Finch believes it. (President of basketball operations) Tim Connelly believes it. They don’t have any plans to trade him.”

There has been skepticism that the Timberwolves’ twin towers duo of Towns and Gobert can be effective, but the organization still believes in the pairing and hasn’t had an opportunity to assess it at length this season — Towns has been limited to just 21 games so far due to a calf strain that has sidelined him since November 28.

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • Jazz guard Collin Sexton will remain on the shelf for at least one more week due to his left hamstring strain, tweets Andy Larsen of The Salt Lake Tribune. The team stated that Sexton is “progressing as expected” and will be reevaluated next Monday. His backcourt mate Jordan Clarkson has also been added to the injury list and will miss Tuesday’s game with a sprained right thumb, tweets Larsen.
  • It remains to be seen whether Nikola Jokic will win a third consecutive Most Valuable Player award, but Nuggets head coach Michael Malone has already made up his mind about this season’s MVP race, per Craig Meyer of The Associated Press. “If you’re looking for a super athlete to win MVP, he’s not your candidate,” Malone said of Jokic. “If you’re looking for a great player that impacts winning in every possible way, whose team is first place in the Western Conference, then he’s your man. Frankly, I don’t give a damn what people think. I know he’s the MVP and his teammates know that and all the fans here in Denver and back home in Serbia know that.”
  • Already hampered by an abdominal strain and right ankle soreness, Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has now entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols, writes Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman. The OKC All-Star has been ruled out for Tuesday’s game vs. Sacramento and will likely miss at least Wednesday’s contest against the Lakers too now that he’s in the COVID-19 protocols, Mussatto adds.

Raptors Sign Will Barton, Waive Juancho Hernangomez

3:56pm: The Raptors have officially signed Barton and waived Hernangomez, the team announced in a press release.

2:35pm: The Raptors are making a change to their 15-man roster, having reached an agreement to sign veteran swingman Will Barton, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (via Twitter).

Shams Charania of The Athletic reports (via Twitter) that the team is waiving Juancho Hernangomez to create an opening for Barton.

Barton became a free agent last week after he reached a buyout agreement with the Wizards. Having been packaged with Monte Morris in an offseason trade that sent Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ish Smith to Denver, Barton had a disappointing season for his hometown team in D.C., averaging just 7.7 points per game on 38.7% shooting in 40 appearances (19.6 MPG).

Still, Barton’s three-point shooting remained strong (38.0%) in 2022/23 and he had several solid years with the Nuggets before last summer’s trade. The 32-year-old will add some depth to a Raptors team that has lacked consistent bench production this season. Toronto also ranks just 27th in the NBA in three-point shooting percentage (33.5%), so signing Barton will give the team another outside threat.

Hernangomez, who starred as Bo Cruz in the Netflix film Hustle, was seeing regular minutes for the Raptors earlier this season, but struggled to produce consistently and had fallen out of the rotation in recent weeks. Although the 6’9″ forward has been effective as a stretch four in past years, he made a career-low 25.4% of his three-point attempts in Toronto, averaging just 2.9 PPG and 2.9 RPG in 42 appearances (14.6 MPG).

Because he’ll be waived by March 1, Hernangomez will retain his playoff eligibility in the event that he signs with another NBA team before the end of the regular season.

As Blake Murphy of notes (via Twitter), because his deal will only cover the last few weeks of the season, the Raptors are in position to stay narrowly below the luxury tax line after signing Barton.