In the days leading up to the 2012 NBA trade deadline, many experts figured things would be quiet. Yeah, so much for that. While this year's deadline doesn't quite approach the fireworks we saw last season, there were several significant moves that shook up the league. Few suspected the Bucks and Warriors would pull off the blockbuster they did, while nobody saw the Nuggets/Wizards/Clippers three-way deal coming.
Who came away ahead in a surprisingly active trade deadline? Here are our winners and losers.
Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks needed to get over the idea that they could build their team around Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut, and this does the trick. Instead of rolling the dice on Bogut's health when he hasn't been the same player since April of 2010, the Bucks improved both their short- and long-term outlook with a pretty brilliant trade with the Warriors.
In the short term, the Bucks have put themselves in a good position to make the playoffs. Monta Ellis and Jennings are an awkward fit at best, but if anyone can make it work, it's Scott Skiles. On offense, Jennings and Ellis will lead a drive-and-kick system, and Skiles will live with them chucking away because his offense is often designed for 20-footers anyway. On defense, he'll make sure that the two small-guard dynamic is not a liability like it was in Golden State. The Bucks have the versatile wing players and strong defensive point guard to make sure Ellis' liabilities on that end are not exposed. The Warriors didn't.
In the long term, the Bucks save $10 million in cap space next year and get an underrated center prospect in Ekpe Udoh who has been a plus/minus maven. If the Bucks decide the Ellis/Jennings dynamic isn't working, they can easily retool quickly and try something else, and when you factor in health, Udoh on a rookie contract is probably a better value than Bogut on his big deal.
Those who don't like the move point to what Bogut did in 2009-10 and question why the Bucks would give that up, but that Bogut doesn't exist anymore. Bogut is just 27, but he completely fell apart as an offensive threat in 2010-11 and wasn't playing any better this year before suffering an ankle injury. Ellis has his faults, but he's also one of the league's top scorers and has been a much better playmaker than people realize this year. The Bucks need scoring and Ellis certainly provides it. Throw in the cap savings and the addition of Udoh, and this feels like a win/win/win for the Bucks.
Portland Trail Blazers: They didn't quote blow it up all the way, since Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford are still on the roster, but getting a lottery pick for Gerald Wallace is an incredible coup, and there was no point keeping Marcus Camby around anymore.
Los Angeles Lakers: Ramon Sessions is a massive upgrade on their existing point guards, and the Lakers will still able to stay salary-neutral by moving Luke Walton on to Cleveland. Moving Derek Fisher, while surprising, was a good long-term move to at least get a warm body to back up their starters in Jordan Hill. The only assets of any consequence that were lost were two low first-round picks that the Lakers were probably going to sell anyway. Neither move was sexy, but both make the Lakers much better.
Boston Celtics: They played this right: ask for the moon for their aging stars, and if they didn't get it, make one last run in a potentially chaotic playoffs before really moving forward this summer. As Paul Flannery of WEEI wrote several weeks back, the Celtics already were blown up. Just look at their cap situation. If a tremendous deal for Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett didn't present itself, why force it?
Los Angeles Clippers: Nick Young is definitely a flawed player, but for the low price of Brian Cook and a second-round pick three years down the line, how could they not make that move?
Houston Rockets: Sure, they keep riding the treadmill of mediocrity, but nobody accomplishes dual goals better than Daryl Morey. Camby has lost a step this year, but the Rockets gave up nothing of consequence and get an excellent backup center at the very least for a potential playoff run. Trading Jordan Hill, a player who wasn't in the rotation, for another draft pick is a worthwhile swap for taking on Derek Fisher.
Washington Wizards: The deal for Nene could blow up in their faces if his sluggish play, by his standards this year, continues through the duration of his five-year, $67 million contract signed this winter (a legitimate risk). On the other hand, the Wizards needed to find some real players for John Wall. Nene, if healthy, applies perfectly with his ability to play screen and roll on both ends, pass the ball and provide toughness. Nick Young was leaving in free agency anyway and JaVale McGee's asking price was probably going to be too high for the Wizards to meet.
If Nene does continue to decline, though, the Wizards will have a major contract albatross on their hands. You have to wonder if there were less risky options available this summer.
Orlando Magic: Dwight Howard stayed, which is good. Dwight Howard will probably do this all again next year, which is not so good.
Cleveland Cavaliers: I understand trading Sessions, but one more year of Luke Walton's deal seems like a high price to pay for taking on another draft pick. Then again, the Cavaliers are in full stockpile mode, and this trade accomplishes that goal.
Indiana Pacers: They're basically getting Leandro Barbosa for free without sacrificing any future cap flexibility, so it's hard to complain. But I'm not sure how Barbosa really helps them much when they already have George Hill and A.J. Price.
San Antonio Spurs: Stephen Jackson could recapture his mojo with them like he did in 2003, and you can't underestimate that familiarity factor. But Richard Jefferson was a useful player for them, and losing a draft pick to get someone who may not be an upgrade may have been pointless.
Memphis Grizzlies/Philadelphia 76ers: The Grizzlies got under the luxury tax and the 76ers got a potential deep rotation player in Sam Young. Obvious win/win.
Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets' schizophrenia confuses me. Sure, Nene's production is down, but he's still a pretty good player and the Nuggets still were in a pretty good place in the Western Conference hierarchy despite injuries to Nene and Danilo Gallinari. Why make this move now after locking up so many core pieces from the Carmelo Anthony trade? If opening up more cap flexibility going forward is the goal, why turn around and give Wilson Chandler a long-term deal? Given the Nuggets' surplus of somewhat productive wing players behind Gallinari and Arron Afflalo (Corey Brewer, Rudy Fernandez), is paying Chandler preferable to paying Nene? My nagging feeling is similar to the one I had when the Celtics traded Kendrick Perkins for Jeff Green last year. It seems Masai Ujiri may have outsmarted himself.
Of course, there's always the chance that JaVale McGee realizes his incredible potential, but my first instinct is that this is not an especially great place for him. George Karl's system is free-flowing and relies on having good decision-makers on the court to figure things out. McGee would probably fare better in a structured system with a defined role. McGee is a restricted free agent this summer and will likely command a nice-sized payday, so there's not much time for the Nuggets to figure things out. Of course, with someone as idiosyncratic as McGee, it's hard to predict these things, so perhaps the risk was worth taking.
The other possibility is that the Nuggets know something about Nene that we don't. Perhaps they have significant concerns that his body will not hold up over time. So far, all we've heard are vague references to "buyers remorse," but if there's something more to that, then the Nuggets may have dodged a bullet.
Saving that, though, the deal is pretty perplexing.
Golden State Warriors: While I don't agree with the move, I, at least, understand why the Warriors needed to take the calculated risk with Bogut's health and acquire him for Ellis and Udoh. What makes less sense for me is swapping Jackson for Jefferson's contract for an additional $11 million in 2013-14 just to get what likely amounts to the 25th pick in the draft or so. Why not just buy out Jackson's contract?
Atlanta Hawks: This really is the most Hawks trade ever.
New Jersey Nets: To put things in perspective, the Nets traded away a lottery pick in one of the deepest drafts in recent memory for one and a half months of a declining player and the chance that maybe Deron Williams and Dwight Howard look at each other and say, "WHOA, they got Gerald Wallace! I want to play there." This rationale is the same one used by the Wizards when they traded the fifth pick in the 2009 draft, and also the Clippers when they dealt an unprotected pick that turned into Kyrie Irving.